The My Pillow Guy Could Really Destroy DemocracyRoundup
tags: authoritarianism, Donald Trump, MAGA, My Pillow, Mike Lindell
Anne Applebaum is a staff writer at The Atlantic, a fellow at the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and the author of Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism.
When you contemplate the end of democracy in America, what kind of person do you think will bring it about? Maybe you picture a sinister billionaire in a bespoke suit, slipping brown envelopes to politicians. Maybe your nightmare is a rogue general, hijacking the nuclear football. Maybe you think of a jackbooted thug leading a horde of men in white sheets, all carrying burning crosses.
Here is what you probably don’t imagine: an affable, self-made midwesterner, one of those goofy businessmen who makes his own infomercials. A recovered crack addict, no less, who laughs good-naturedly when jokes are made at his expense. A man who will talk to anyone willing to listen (and to many who aren’t). A philanthropist. A good boss. A patriot—or so he says—who may well be doing more damage to American democracy than anyone since Jefferson Davis.
I met Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, in the recording studio that occupies the basement of Steve Bannon’s stately Capitol Hill townhouse, a few blocks from the Supreme Court—the same Supreme Court that will, according to Lindell, decide “9–0” in favor of reinstating Donald Trump to the presidency sometime in August, or possibly September. I made it through the entirety of the Trump presidency without once having to meet Bannon but here he was, recording his War Room podcast with Lindell. Bannon has been decomposing in front of our eyes for some years now, and I can report that this process continues to take its course. I walked in during a break and the two men immediately gestured to me to join the conversation, sit at the table with them, listen in on headphones. I demurred. “Anne Applebaum … hmm,” Bannon said. “Should’ve stuck to writing books. Gulag was a great book. How long did it take you to write it?”
In the room adjacent to the basement studio, an extra-large image of a New York Times front page hung on the wall, featuring a picture of Bannon and the headline “The Provocateur.” A bottle of Bio-Active Silver Hydrosol, whatever that is, sat on the desk. The big-screen TV was tuned to MSNBC. This wasn’t surprising: In his podcasts, Bannon carries on a kind of dialogue with Rachel Maddow, playing her sound bites and then offering his own critique. Later, Lindell told me that if it weren’t for attacks by “the left”—by which he means Politico, the Daily Beast, and, presumably, me—his message would never get out, because Fox News ignores him.
Bannon, too, lives outside the Fox bubble these days. Instead, he inhabits an alternate universe in which every minute of every day seems to be entirely devoted to the discussion and analysis of “electoral fraud,” with just a little time devoted to selling wellness products and vitamins that, despite his claims, won’t actually cure COVID-19. Bannon’s podcast, which he says has millions of listeners (it is ranked 59th on Apple Podcasts, so he might be right), is populated by full-time conspiracy theorists, some of whom you have heard of and some of whom you probably haven’t: Peter “Trump Won in a Freakin’ Landslide” Navarro, Rudy Giuliani, Garland Favorito, Willis @treekiller35, Sonny Borrelli, the Pizzagate propagator Jack Posobiec, and, of course, Lindell. Bannon calls them up one by one to report on the current status of the Trump-reinstatement campaign and related fake scandals. There are daily updates. The guests talk fast and loud. It is very exciting. On the day I was at the studio, Bannon was gloating about how President Joe Biden was now “defending his own legitimacy”: “We are going to spring the trap around you, sir!” He kept telling people to “lawyer up.”
Even in this group, Lindell stands out. Not only is he presumably much richer than Garland Favorito and Willis @treekiller35; he is willing to spend his money on the cause. MyPillow has long been an important advertiser on Fox News, so much so that even Trump noticed Lindell (“That guy is on TV more than I am”), but has since widened its net. MyPillow spent tens of thousands of dollars advertising on Newsmax just in the week following the January 6 attack on the Capitol.