We’re working on more reporting on this as we speak. But I wanted to introduce the topic here in the Editors’ Blog to get us started. You may have heard of this, probably not. Over the weekend, President Trump RT’d a shout-out of praise from a woman on Twitter named Nicole Mincey.
Around the same time, I noticed that Mincey’s tweets had been showing up high in Trump’s twitter threads. And as I mentioned in this tweet from Saturday evening, while I wasn’t sure whatever details there were about her, the accounts had all the tell-tale signs of a grift, most notably because of the stylized personal presentation and the focus on a Trump store where this woman – probably better to call her a “persona” – sold all manner of low-tier Trump shirts, hats, hoodies, etc.
This person showing up high in Trumps tweet threads does not seem at all grifty pic.twitter.com/cevpTSH5Yj
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) August 6, 2017
In the course of looking into this I noticed that Trump had actually just RT’d her. That made me even more interested. It certainly seemed like Trump had RT’d a pro-Trump scam account, not a real person, just a faux Trump supporter used as a vehicle to make a quick buck on Trump hats. But then it got a bit more weird.
I dug into “Nicole Mincey’s” online record and I found her store and her ubiquitous up-from-Obama life story. It went like this: Nicole was a young African-American woman from a rough part of Camden, NJ who got tired of seeing no results from President Obama and decided to support Donald Trump. She got so supportive and so inspired by his example of entrepreneurship that she’d started her own Trump merch store.
She’d even been written up in conservative publications like Daily Caller, WND and others. Those write-ups had provided the partial basis for an explainer about Mincey on a site called Heavy.com. This further elaborated Mincey’s life story and before Trump RT’d her on Saturday, it was the clearest piece of evidence online that Mincey was a real person.
But as one follower on Twitter pointed out to me the Caller and WND stories were actually “sponsored articles” that allowed the publications to get a cut of proceeds from the Trump merch store.
In other words, these journalistic write-ups of Mincey’s story, which seemed to provide some back-up to her being a real person, were actually purchased by the people who’d created her. There were other efforts to bolster her realness like this bizarro breaking news item …
What’s more, seemingly all the pictures of Mincey were stock model photos from around the web.
I was looking at all this stuff late Saturday evening. It was quite the rabbit hole as you can see. But what got me more interested is that the elaborateness of the Mincey ‘legend’ seemed much more detailed than would be necessary to make a quick buck off hats and t-shirts. One thread in “Nicole’s” twitter account was about a new organization she was forming for other pro-Trump black conservatives like her – ‘Young Black Republicans’ or YBR. She had a large number of other bot accounts which were her notional friends, which mainly seemed to exist to retweet her posts. But among these were some with vlog type videos of young African-American men talking up the YBR group. Notionally, these were followers of hers also planning to join YBR and looking for support for the group.
AI is pretty advanced. But it can’t do that. Someone got these men to make these videos. As I said, it all seemed like a very elaborate operation just for a merch store.
I was off doing other things on Sunday. But Sunday evening I dialed back into the story and a lot had happened. Nicole’s twitter account and all her pro-Trump ‘friend’ bot accounts I’d identified had been suspended by Twitter. (So a lot of things I described above I can’t show you since they’re offline.) There was also a woman in New Jersey by the name of Nicole Mincey who allegedly filed a police report alleging her identity had been stolen to create the “Nicole Mincey” persona. The merch store “Nicole” had founded, proTrump45.com, was and is still online but she’d disappeared from the site to be replaced by a new dark complected young woman modeling pro-Trump shirts.
As I said, we’re trying to dig into this right now. It seems like and it probably is just a quintessentially Trump-era story: Trump suckered into retweeting a post from a bot persona, which was created to push a merch store to make a buck selling Trump paraphernalia. In the Trump era it’s always the grift. The skids were greased by the confection of a persona primed to appeal to ‘not racist’ Trump supporters: a young black woman who decided that ‘living on the Democrat plantation’ was a scam and complaints about racism are wrong and that Trump is the best.
But as I said, it was and is a very detailed story just to push a store. Perhaps there’s something more to it. We’re looking.