A presidential retweet brings lots of attention, whether you want it or not.
But for “Nicole Mincey,” who until recently was associated with the online merchandise store ProTrump45.com, you’d think the attention would be a boon for business and a well-deserved reward for collecting more than 100,000 Twitter followers.
Instead, the Twitter account associated with the store, @ProTrump45, has since been suspended from the site, along with a pool of accounts that acted as bots to amplify advertisements for Trump gear. The t-shirt mockup company Placeit had complained to Twitter that the accounts had used its models, with their own pro-Trump designs super-imposed on Placeit’s placeholder clothing, to advertise ProTrump45. It was identity fraud, Placeit said. Twitter acted with surprising speed, taking down a large number of accounts.
“So far, we’ve only reported to Twitter,” Placeit CEO Navid Safabakhs told TPM in an email Monday. “Our current plan is to report to federal authorities via https://www.identitytheft.gov/ Once we know for sure the identity of the person, we will know what we will do. We may use legal action if it makes sense.”
TPM reached Mincy via email Monday. Her real last name is slightly different than her former online persona’s. “Not responding to media inquiries,” she replied. “Please don’t post my name on any article. This has been one large headache. Hope you understand. Also won’t be answering any questions.”
She added in a separate email: “My apologies but I’ve had a bad experience with a media outlet and do not wish to interact with any more. Please respect my privacy. Thanks for understanding.”
But Mincy did eventually speak to two other news outlets, confirming that she was in fact behind the Twitter account, along with a handful of others who used it and its associated accounts as a promotional network. Though her story still isn’t completely straight or verifiable, it sheds light on how a small group of cunning, and deceptive, entrepreneurs gamed the rich social media ecosystem of Trump shoppers.
“It grew pretty fast and then [a group member] bought some Twitter followers and it grew even faster,” Mincy told BuzzFeed, referring to the @ProTrump45 Twitter handle. Mincy was a “marketing tool,” she told BuzzFeed, “because I’m black, so it’s easier to market black people [as Trump supporters].”
Mincy told the Daily Beast that there were about “10 of us” behind the network of accounts, with individuals writing and blogging on behalf of multiple online personas. One partner, who Mincy told the Daily Beast was named Naijana, represented herself as Mincey in an audio interview on the Trending Today USA radio show, Mincy said.
“Everything is pro-Trump, pro-Republican, and it’s all made in America,” the person presenting herself as Mincey said in the interview.
Mincy told BuzzFeed that the Twitter account took off when they bought fake followers and Twitter advertisements. Mincy told the Daily Beast that, in the publication’s words, “all of @ProTrump45’s Twitter followers were entirely invented,” except for the group of people in on the operation.
And in an odd Twist, just as Mincy had moved Placeit to report the bots to Twitter for what it claimed was identity fraud, Mincy claims to have had a falling out with the group over its use of her identity, even before that identity was retweeted by the President.
It started, Mincy claimed, with her college dean calling her about a scam being run under her name, and with the college’s address. She told the Daily Beast that she left the group in early June. A July 4 press release for ProTrump45 included an address that matches Mincy’s college.
She sent the Daily Beast screenshots of what she said was a text exchange with two individuals — whose identity the publication couldn’t confirm — in which she argued unsuccessfully for her name to be disassociated with the scheme.
“Nicole mincey generates more traffic, sorry hun,” the screenshots purported to show one business partner, Lorraine, responding.
Mincy told the Daily Beast that her associates kept her account up, but that “they altered the spelling of my last name so it would be hard of me to find it,” and “I’m very angry at them because I told them to stop using my identity before. They would temporarily stop and then start back up again. This isn’t my first time telling them to stop. They wrote articles about a fake identity that doesn’t exist.”
She claimed that she found out about Trump’s retweet from her aunt, on Sunday.
“[ProTrump45] started trolling Trump’s twitter, saying nice things in the replies. Everyone is tracing it back to me, but it isn’t my picture,” she said. “We all joined the group to be anonymous Trump supporters.”
Mincy told the Daily Beast that she’d first gotten involved at Lorraine’s request, after she posted pro-Trump memes on her Instagram account. Lorraine and someone named William were already running the ProTrump45.com blog and store, she said.
“They asked did I want to be part of a group where you could be a [Trump] supporter and not disclose your identity, and I joined and here I am today in the middle of this mess,” she told BuzzFeed.
Eventually, it appears, Mincy’s identity became the primary vehicle through which ProTrump45 was advertised. On May 14, the popular conservative website World Net Daily declared: “Black, Liberal Woman Dumps Obama To Run Trump Store.”
Mincy told both publications that she never made any money from the venture. Rather, she said, she “wanted to write blogs and get the conservative view out.”
Still, Mincy’s business partners are still little more than digital ghosts. Few reporters have heard from them directly.
“I’m declining all interviews at this time,” Lorraine told the Daily Beast.
Responding to Yahoo Finance’s emails for a report published Tuesday, however, a person claiming to be Lorraine Elijah confirmed part of Mincy’s story: “We used an alteration of the real girl’s name for attention,” she wrote, referring to Mincy.
Mincy had claimed to the publication that her partners’ names were Lorraine Elijah and Dr. William Byrd. “We came up with this idea to make some money off of this. We bought advertising. We bought articles,” she said, referring to ProTrump45.com and its corresponding Twitter account.
But, this time, Mincy cited different reasons for Yahoo for leaving the venture.
“The store was getting disorganized,” she said. “They weren’t keeping up with the orders. I wasn’t getting paid.”
Yahoo itself ran into problems when they attempted to purchase a flag from ProTrump45.com. After paying $47.40 via PayPal for the flag, tax and shipping, the item was never delivered.
In an email to the publication, Lorraine Elijah blamed it on her supposed business partner: “William forgot to mail it out.”
This post has been updated.