A large part of Donald Trump’s appeal in 2016 was based on his vague promises to “drain the swamp” of political corruption in Washington. Once he became president, however, Trump spent much of his time trying to line his own pockets, particularly through forcing U.S. government agency officials to pay “exorbitant” rates to stay at his various hotel properties. Taxpayers were also forced to cough up $144 million for Trump’s 298 games of golf at his resorts.
But the people Trump has taken the most advantage of have been his own supporters. According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, as of 2019, various national and local Republican party organizations had held 100 different political events at Trump properties. In 2019, the hotel he owned at the time in downtown DC tripled its rates when Republicans’ Senate campaign operation held a retreat there.
As he ran for re-election, Trump forced his campaign to purchase $2.8 million in goods and services from his company. A joint organization he ran with the Republican National Committee was forced to spend $4.3 million with Trump companies.
The grifter-in-chief also shook down his small-dollar donors via a scheme run by WinRed, a Republican fundraising platform which tricked contributors into making donations that automatically repeated. The practice resulted in so many complaints to credit card companies and banks that Trump and the various Republican organizations involved were forced to return over $122 million in ill-gotten gains.
After Trump’s 2020 defeat by Joe Biden – and the failure of his January 6 coup attempt – led to the collapse of his brand name, Trump’s financial status was extraordinarily precarious.
Even before the attack, most American and international banks had no interest in doing business with him, given his serial business failures and bankruptcies. The Capitol invasion scared off Deutsche Bank, the only large financial institution that was still willing to do business with Trump. In January 2021, after the attack, the company decided to end their relationship. Potential investment partners have also likely been spooked by a $250 million civil fraud investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James, which Trump has been trying to delay by evading formal service of the lawsuit like a low-rent check kiter.
Unable to do business with an enterprise-grade financial institution, Trump has made a beeline for monetizing his supporters. In February, he convinced a group of mostly anonymous investors led by former boxer Floyd Mayweather (who in 2017 defended Trump’s infamous claim to have grabbed women by their genitals and attended Trump’s inauguration) to purchase the Trump hotel in DC at a price that was drastically higher than its market value, even though it had lost tens of millions of dollars under his ownership and had never been close to profitable.
Besides swindling cash from his rich supporters, the disgraced ex-president has also turned to monetizing his grassroots admirers, particularly through “Save America,” a political action committee that’s become infamous for spamming email subscribers many times a day with deceptive pleas for money.
After losing the 2020 presidential election, Trump sent over 500 messages to supporters demanding their help to fund an “election defense fund.” He got results, raking in over $250 million in 8 weeks, almost none of which was used to fund the ludicrous and absurd lawsuits which all went down in court before Trump’s last-ditch coup attempt.
Trump hasn’t changed a thing since his Capitol Putsch failed. As of July, Save America had raised nearly $130 million, largely with claims that Democrats needed to be defeated in next month’s elections.
But despite the PAC’s solicitations, the organization has spent almost nothing on boosting Republican candidates. Most of the millions that have been spent have been used to pay Trump’s ballooning legal fees and to enrich the staff of Save America, according to a Washington Post report. The PAC also spent $158,000 purchasing the book attributed to Trump’s adviser-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Overwhelmingly, however, Trump has mostly just let the cash he’s hoovered up from his fans sit in the bank. As of the end of September, Save America had nearly $100 million in the bank while Senate Republican candidates were raising almost nothing compared to their Democratic rivals. Finally, after months of Republican complaints that Trump was sucking up all the grassroots cash for himself, the ex-president decided to start another PAC that has been willing to throw a few crumbs to actual candidates.
Wanting to do more than just fleece his supporters in a political context, Trump proclaimed in October 2021 that he would be launching a Twitter clone called “Truth Social” which would be funded through a merger with a publicly traded company called Digital World Acquisition Corp (DWAC), which had been trading beforehand at around $10 per share.
Digital World is a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC), a time-limited organization commonly used by companies looking to evade the traditional delays and public disclosures required by conventional Initial Public Offerings. SPACs are supposed to begin their short lives with no set investment in mind and then merge with a target company; if not, they must liquidate.
It was a perfect fit for Trump, given his decades-long obsession with evading scrutiny for his shady business practices and his disturbingly close financial connections to murderous foreign dictators.
But the DWAC acquisition of the Trump Media and Technology Group has been star-crossed from the very beginning. By the time of Trump’s announcement, Wall Street had begun to sour on SPACs. Additionally, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the federal agency charged with regulating stock markets, had begun stepping up enforcement against SPACs in order to protect investors. But none of that mattered to Trump’s fanbase, which immediately began buying the stock as a sign of faith, not just in the authoritarian Republican leader but in Jesus Christ himself.
Chad Nedohin, a Canadian worship leader, has even launched a web show dedicated solely to promoting DWAC and a religious worldview that blends Christian fundamentalism with daytrader fanaticism.
“Father, we pray for continued strength for this investment group, to hold and buy and be strong in building what we know you’ve put us up to, Lord. We know you put us here for this. You’ve made us for a time such as this,” he said in one episode’s opening prayer. Before pumping up the DWAC stock, Nedohin performs a scripture reading which usually involves random Bible verses with the word “truth” in them.
Although not many people tune into Nedohin’s show beyond DWAC CEO and repeat-guest Patrick Orlando, the prayerful Canadian definitely hasn’t been alone in his devotion to the company. Thousands of worshipful Trump acolytes piled in after the merger was first disclosed publicly, turning DWAC into a meme stock, a security valued not for its potential future growth but as a protest against the larger world.
But memes rarely become reality. After trading for a few weeks above $90 per share, DWAC’s value has fallen drastically as its merger plans have been beset with a civil fraud lawsuit, formal investigations from the SEC and federal attorneys in New York, and allegations by a Truth Social co-founder that Trump had criminally deceived investors. The ex-president has even been accused of trying to force Truth Social’s co-founder to give away some of his shares of the company to Melania Trump and pay taxes on the gift.
As of Thursday afternoon, the stock was trading at just over $16 per share as company executives continued to struggle to obtain shareholder permission to extend the life of the company past a mandatory Dec. 9 liquidation date.
Throughout the stock’s decline and fall, Nedohin has urged fellow believers to hold fast.
“In the name of Jesus, we are calling on you to help us get the merger across,” he asked God during Monday’s program. “Stop all of the attacks on this investment.”
God doesn’t seem to be doing much for DWAC, but Trump seems to be doing even less. Aside from some tossed off complaints about the SEC, the ex-president hasn’t done a thing to inform DWAC shareholders that he needs their help to keep the company from going out of business.
That’s really no surprise, however. As Trump’s entire career has repeatedly demonstrated, there will always be people willing to throw their money at obvious scams. And now that Trump has managed to fully tap into the televangelist fanbase, he truly has perfected the art of the steal.
TYT National Correspondent Matthew Sheffield reports about politics, media, and technology. Follow him on Twitter: @mattsheffield.