MyPillow CEO’s Trump conspiracy theories put company in the spotlight

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Over the past four years, most American businesses have tried to avoid the appearance of partisanship while distancing themselves from the inflammatory rhetoric of former President Donald J. Trump and his supporters, walking a tightrope to satisfy customers and employees.

It was a different story for MyPillow. Mike Lindell, founder and CEO of the company, has remained one of Mr. Trump’s strongest supporters. His sustained peddling of debunked conspiracy theories about voter fraud kicked him out of Twitter on Monday night. With retailers like Kohl’s and other big companies cutting ties with the private maker, Mr Lindell has managed to make his pillows supporters.

“It goes my money, you know where my money is going,” Mr Lindell said in an interview this month with a pro-Trump online channel called Right Side Broadcasting Network, offering viewers a discount code to use. on the MyPillow website.

Mr Lindell’s baseless allegations of electoral fraud have sparked a backlash against MyPillow in recent weeks, with several retailers deciding to stop selling his products, an example of how his personality dominates public perception of his business.

Mr. Lindell, a former crack and gambling addict, founded the company after the idea for MyPillow came to him in a dream in 2004, according to his memoir. He is now a pious Christian and credits God with helping his recovery.

MyPillow is based in Chaska, Minnesota, and Mr. Lindell said in an interview this week that it employs nearly 2,500 people. His products – he wears more than 100 of them – have been distributed widely through national chains, and Mr. Lindell’s face is prominently featured in infomercials and boxes bearing his patented pillows. Two former MyPillow employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation, said they were asked to display several cardboard cutouts of the executive in stores and act out its infomercials.

Politics has become a bigger part of Mr. Lindell and MyPillow’s identity over the past decade, following the success of his infomercials, which first aired in 2011 and were subsequently successful. on Fox News, according to submissions and interviews with former employees.

The company has said in court that it spends an average of $ 5 million per month on advertising. While Mr Lindell said he advertised in The New York Times and TBEN, a large chunk of his spending was with Fox News – 59% of the company’s total TV spending last year, according to the reports. data from MediaRadar – which raised its profile with the former president, an avid viewer of the network.

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“Politics don’t hurt your business,” he said in this week’s interview. “I haven’t alienated anyone except for bots and trolls and successful media jobs.”

Mr Lindell said MyPillow’s 2019 revenue exceeded $ 300 million. MyPillow sells through its website and is carried by retail giants like Walmart, Amazon and Costco.

The company is tight-knit and its leadership is rather conservative, with Mr Lindell employing many members of his own family and even a sister of former VP Mike Pence, according to Aaron Morgan, a purchasing planner at MyPillow between September 2019 and last march.

“Most companies say not to talk about politics,” Morgan said, noting Mr. Lindell was nice. “But a lot of people there talked about politics. The people there obviously leaned towards Mike’s beliefs because they were all family. It was not uncommon to see MAGA hats on desks.

Mr Morgan shared photos of playing cards Mr Lindell gave to employees last year, which used a king card to display Mr Trump as Julius Caesar’s proxy, Hillary Clinton in an orange prison jumpsuit on a Queen card and President Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer as pranksters. Mr Lindell, whose likeness was also featured in the deck, said the cards were given to him as a gift and kept in his office and employees could take them away if they wanted.

Mr. Lindell’s politics entered his business by other means. On January 6, the day of the riot on Capitol Hill, MyPillow’s website accepted a “FightForTrump” discount code that a conservative radio host promoted on his show. Mr Lindell, who retweeted the discount code that day, claimed without evidence that Twitter employees gained access to his account and retweeted the post on his behalf.

“We have examined the rule violations and subsequent enforcement activity and have found no evidence to support Mr. Lindell’s claims,” ​​said a representative for Twitter.

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The violence in Washington sparked a social media campaign against MyPillow and Mr Lindell, led by the Sleeping Giants group, which was formed in 2016 to prevent companies from advertising on Breitbart News. The pressure prompted retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s, HEB, Today’s Shopping Choice in Canada and Wayfair to ditch MyPillow products, according to Mr Lindell, who said without providing evidence that the protest was led by “robots. and trolls ”.

Bed Bath & Beyond and Kohl’s cited the brand’s poor performance for their releases, while Today’s Shopping Choice did not comment beyond confirming the withdrawal. Wayfair declined to comment and HEB did not respond to requests for comment. Zulily said he quit wearing MyPillow in July. Affirm, the fundraising startup, separately confirmed that it severed ties with MyPillow last week.

Matt Rivitz, co-founder of Sleeping Giants, said the bot claim was “ridiculous.” Throughout the Trump presidency, he said, consumers have become more aware of their collective power, starting with the advertisements on Breitbart and the boycotts of Ivanka Trump products at Nordstrom. This was the culmination of these efforts.

“There have been a number of videos that have been released with Lindell making these rants about how the election was stolen and which clearly led to violence,” Mr. Rivitz said. “It was just a natural tendency to ask companies if they supported this because at the end of the day these companies have benefited greatly from democracy and they probably don’t want to see the country sink into chaos because of these lies. . “

Mr Lindell said that only one of the companies that had discontinued their products had cited false information about the voting machines, but added, “It’s more of a coincidence when more than nine companies are doing so on the same day.” Still, he said he was not concerned about the impact on his business. He added that he did not view his comments to Right Side Broadcasting as “politically biased” and blamed “cancellation culture” for the actions of retailers, although he expected they would return to sell his products.

Until around 2011, MyPillow was run by a former Minnesota bus garage, with around 40 employees, according to Tonja Waring, who worked there from 2009 to 2012 and appeared in its infomercials. Ms Waring said Mr Lindell was fiercely loyal and has regularly opposed conventional wisdom on issues like keeping manufacturing in the United States.

“He doesn’t care what people think or what they say – he cares about doing the right thing,” she says. She added that Mr. Lindell had become more comfortable in the spotlight than when she first met him, when he was “barely able to go to television”.

While the infomercials fueled the rise of MyPillow, they also sparked complaints. In a 2016 settlement, MyPillow paid $ 995,000 in penalties after a group of district attorneys in California challenged the company’s claims that its products could soothe insomnia, fibromyalgia and other medical conditions. Last year, Mr Lindell also came under fire after offering Mr Trump an unproven Covid-19 ‘cure’.

When customers asked about the health claims made in the MyPillow ads, the two former store workers said they would try to evade the topic without confirming or denying the promises made in the ads. A former employee said Mr Lindell had also pushed stores to sell other products that workers were reluctant to approve of, such as a powder that claimed to prevent wounds from bleeding in seconds.

In his memoir, Mr Lindell referred to “a dubious bankruptcy” he declared in 2003 to avoid a lawsuit involving a bar he owned, working with a lender he had met through his stepson. of his bookmaker, who encouraged Mr. Lindell to concoct bogus creditors.

“It wouldn’t be my first time coloring outside the bounds of the law,” he writes of the episode.

Even now, as retailers cut ties and he has been kicked from Twitter, Mr Lindell is provocative, convinced that “real people” don’t care about the claims he perpetuates.

“The people on the left, the Democrats, they buy the same amount of product that they always buy from me,” he said, “and the people who support me to cancel the culture buy more.”