Mike Lindell has a lot going on.
Along with a business empire, the “My Pillow” entrepreneur has been one of the primary promoters of false conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election. And, nearly three years after those votes were cast, Lindell has not given up on the idea that the man he calls “our great, real president Donald Trump” was robbed. Lindell has formed a constellation of activist groups and other enterprises dedicated to the cause of Trump dead-ender election denialism and, for months, he has been working on a project, the unveiling of which he vowed would be one of the “most important” moments in our nation’s history.
This week, Lindell finally revealed his grand plan, which involved a device he dubbed the “W.M.D.” and an army of his fellow conspiracy theorists supposedly staking out vote counting facilities around the country.
Lindell’s presentation, streamed live from a stage in Missouri, showed how real and persistent election conspiracy theory ideology remains, even as its highest-profile enthusiasts, in many cases, find themselves in mounting legal trouble for actions they took to keep Trump in, or return him to, the White House. However, paradoxically, even as it demonstrated the staying power of Trump-fueled vote paranoia, Lindell’s presentation also was yet another example of how far-fetched and poorly executed the movement’s plans have been and continue to be. And, importantly, the pillow pitchman’s grand event also showed how, for many prominent election deniers, conspiracy theory culture remains a money making opportunity.
The event, which was billed as the “Election Summit,” took place on Wednesday and Thursday at the Springfield Expo Center. There were 24 total hours of programming on stage in an online broadcast that Lindell repeatedly claimed was translated into “85 languages.”
Scheduled speakers included a who’s who of fringe far-right influencers like the former cable news pundit Lou Dobbs, an ex-Army captain who worked to challenge the election results, vote conspiracy theorist Douglas Frank (who, like Lindell, said he had his phone confiscated by the FBI last year amid investigations into an alleged breach of voting machines), and Emerald Robinson, the TV reporter who was taken off the far-right channel Newsmax for suggesting COVID vaccines contained a Satanic “bioluminescent marker” and now broadcasts on a streaming site affiliated with Lindell. Even with all of these very special guests, the star of the event was the grand plan that Lindell unveiled on Thursday.
“This is what we’ve been working on for over a year,” Lindell declared shortly before the big reveal. “We have it everybody!”
Before unveiling his plan, which he claimed could instantly and completely secure elections by the end of the week, Lindell spent all of Wednesday and Thursday rehashing his complaints and concerns about voting. Lindell began with what he advertised as a “historical” speech that laid blame for the “sham” 2020 election and for “the American dream being destroyed” on a shadowy international cabal including: “the globalists, the [Chinese Communist Party], and the Deep State, and the uniparty.”
“I’m going to refer to them today as ‘The Evil,’” Lindell said, a promise which he made good on throughout the event.
Lindell went on to host a series of panels that went through all the greatest hits of 2020 election denialism, including the debunked attacks on Georgia election worker Ruby Freeman that led to a real-world campaign of harassment against her, supposed reports based on faulty data, and alleged evidence of “algorithms” that could have manipulated the vote nationwide. As he discussed the laundry list of election grievances and aired questionable material including a video that he admittedly simply scoured from the internet, Lindell suggested that he had “extrapolated” data showing malfeasance and malevolent technology were the only things that prevented Trump and the Republicans from dominating the government to this day.
“Our country is 68 percent red if you take the computers out,” Lindell said.
Lest anyone doubt his confident calculations, Lindell also presented his bonafides.
“I look into deviations in machines. That’s all I do every single day,” said Lindell. “Look at math, numbers.”
Of course, there are no real numbers that show any substantive fraud in American elections. Experts and officials from both parties and the Trump administration have affirmed the former president’s loss in the 2020 election. Yet Lindell had an answer for the role Republicans played in certifying Trump’s loss: It was The Evil.
“They got to our secretaries of state,” Lindell said. “They got to them.”
The notion an algorithm could have worked across the many different systems in all 50 states and thousands of local jurisdictions is virtually impossible. But Lindell had an answer for that, too. He brought on Douglas Frank, who made the case that all of these disparate systems were actually connected through a “vast network” that injected a mathematical expression into the system through the “internet,” “the cellular networks,” and “all these electronic connectability things that are going on.”
“If you’re going to have manipulation by computers, you have to have an algorithm and that’s basically the sixth order polynomial, which we’ve talked about,” said Frank, who was wearing a large bowtie festooned with an American flag motif.
However, despite Frank’s assertion, many election systems were not actually connected to the internet, which effectively rules out any theory of widespread technological interference in the results.
This fact is one Lindell grappled with throughout his summit. He repeatedly blasted the idea any election system was offline as a “lie” (a term which he tended to say at least three times each time he deployed it). In fact, trying to catch that “lie” was the main aim of Lindell’s grand plan.
“The big lie that they were not online is over,” Lindell said. “Everybody, that’s over.”
However, before Lindell could reach the end of his presentation and reverse the truth, there was some business to take care of. In the half hour before the main portion of Lindell’s event on Thursday, an associate hawked a variety of products from the My Pillow extended universe including pet beds, whole-bean coffee, mattresses, and “Gevity,” an energy drink purportedly made from “red wine extract, bilberry extract, grapeseed extract, pine bark extract, and vitamin C” that Lindell sells on a website along with religious paraphernalia, election denial merch, and his memoir about recovering from crack addiction. In addition to the pitch from the stage, people who registered to stream Lindell’s event online received at least a dozen emails that included ads for “Giza Dreams Bed Sheets” and a “Bed Pillow Special!” In a nod to the supposed purpose of the summit, some of these deals came with an offer to “use promo code PLAN” for a discount.
With the sales out of the way, it finally was time for what Lindell called “the moment we’ve been waiting for.” He began with a prayer that made clear that what the audience was about to hear wasn’t just his plan, it was God’s will.
“I followed this plan that you gave me and I just pray, Lord, that this goes off,” Lindell said solemnly. “We have to have secure elections, Lord.”
Then, after some brief technical difficulties, Lindell began playing a video from outside the Expo Center as a small drone buzzed into view. This was it. The doors to the auditorium burst open as the drone floated into the building and towards Lindell. He was ecstatic.
“Special delivery everybody!” he bellowed. “Special delivery!”
But the drone alone was not the main attraction. The real focus of Lindell’s event was a small device it carried. Lindell — who, at one point, became “so excited” he abandoned his microphone — described the device as unprecedented. A video with a British-accented narrator explained that the device was, in a perhaps unintentional nod to an earlier generation of right-wing paranoia, called the “the W.M.D., or wireless monitoring device.” The clip described it as “a sophisticated network-connection monitoring system.”
Lindell had his own way of describing the “W.M.D.” He suggested it was capable of identifying “all the internets in the room” and explained that this would, finally, prove that all election systems were connected to the internet.
“There is a device that has been made for the first time in history that could tell you that that machine was online,” Lindell said.
There are myriad problems with that statement. Wi-Fi sniffers and other tools to display network connectivity are nothing new. And merely showing the presence of networks and online devices in an area would not necessarily prove any one of them was improperly tied to an election system. Of course, the biggest problem of all with Lindell’s scheme is the fact that experts far more credible than he have confirmed, despite his insistence, that many election systems are not online.
Obviously, none of those realities stopped Lindell. Reality never has gotten in his way much and, like other election deniers, he has a history of his grand declarations falling flat. In 2021, Lindell held a “cyber symposium” where he insisted he had irrefutable evidence of Chinese interference in the 2020 election. He even offered to pay $5 million to anyone who could prove that a trove of data unveiled at the symposium did not show foreign meddling, and dubbed it the “Prove Mike Wrong” challenge. Earlier this year, a court ruled that he had to pay up because someone did, in fact, prove Mike wrong.
But this plan was bigger than any of his prior efforts to question the vote. In addition to his “W.M.D.,” Lindell claimed he had built up a substantial infrastructure to collect data from the devices.
“This gathers information,” Lindell said as he held the device aloft before the Expo Center crowd. “I have a command center. I’m not even going to say what state so they don’t go after that, but there’s a command center where this information goes down and flashes.”
Lindell punctuated his description of the data moving back and forth with animated onomatopoeia. Amid the series of shouted bloops and beeps, he also described how the short-range devices would make it to vote counting centers around the country. One of the entities Lindell has set up is something called Cause of America that is dedicated “to enable, facilitate and support citizen grassroots action to restore trust in local elections.” On stage at his summit, Lindell suggested the group has put together a “big team” of thousands of people who would soon receive his W.M.D.s and use them to test elections from school board votes on up.
“We’re going to have these devices. … For this fall’s election we want to get every single parish in Louisiana covered. We’re doing this right now; Mississippi, Kentucky … everyone that has an election,” Lindell said.
Lindell showed off graphic “ONLINE DETECTION” maps that he said his team would have access to displaying nearby devices.
“This will show up right away in this red alert, red alert, kind of like ‘Ghostbusters,’” Lindell explained. “We got one! We got one!”
But Lindell’s vision doesn’t stop with drones, red alerts, and his digital detection team. One of his web ventures is FrankSocial, a site that promises to be “the platform for Americans who want to defend life, liberty, and freedoms.” Lindell said people who join this network will be able to watch his team put out a “real time crime stream” secure in the knowledge that the claims in the app were being made by “real people we trust.”
“These people, I’ve filtered them for the last two-and-a-half years,” said Lindell. “The information coming in is real. It’s true. It’s real-time crime.”
Lindell proudly declared that viewers would be able to watch his data pour in from their “easy chair” or “backyard.” While he said the app would allow them to “comment” on the team’s findings, Lindell wants his audience to do more than serve as an online conspiracy theory peanut gallery. He stressed that this information would allow users of his social network to take action.
“We are now the police of our own elections,” Lindell declared.
He went on to paint a picture of citizens presenting the data from his W.M.D.-armed amateur election detectives to local election officials. Lindell also suggested people should take it to neighbors who dared to disagree with their fears about the trustworthiness of elections.
“You can go to that person that argued with you and say, ‘Look at this. This is real. It’s right here,’” Lindell said.
And that’s where, for all of his bluster and illogical theorizing, Lindell’s plan went from bizarre to disturbing. In a climate where there is a rising wave of far-right domestic terrorism, a spate of harassment against officials who have crossed Trump, and specific threats to election workers, Lindell’s dream of sending out an army of election deniers with devices and dubious data to challenge local governments is a chilling one.
The ambitions of Lindell and other election conspiracy theorists are unquestionably ominous and authoritarian. However, like his past cyber symposium and the legions of lawyers whose vote challenge cases floundered in court, Lindell’s plan seems to be falling well short of feasibility. Rather than thousands of vote vigilantes displaying irrefutable evidence of corruption, as of this writing, the “Elections” tab on Lindell’s FrankSocial site features just 32 pages, many of which have not been updated for months. The active accounts, including one dedicated to Alaska that is headlined by a whimsical portrait of a dachshund in a Hawaiian shirt, largely seem to be promoting pictures and videos from Lindell’s events in a self-reinforcing ride down the rabbit hole.
Of course, the harsh reality that he almost certainly can’t rally enough troops to blanket any state with his devices won’t deter Lindell. On stage, he repeatedly declared victory and proved that nothing will stop him from living the fever dream.
“If I was ‘The Evil,’ I don’t know what their plan’s going to be,” Lindell said. “Because we’ve got them now.”