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Sunday, November 10, 2019

Kooks and cash

Who Makes Money When a Bunch of Conspiracy Theorists Throw a Party at Trump’s Hotel?
By Alice Wilder and Matt Katz, WNYC for ProPublica


Image result for American Priority Conference and Festival
Right Wing Watch
This month, about a thousand supporters of President Donald Trump gathered at his resort in Florida to discuss a variety of unsupported theories. 

There were panels on the “Russia Hoax” and “Voter Fraud in the USA.” One speaker endorsed the theory that former President Barack Obama had planned to “turn over” North Africa to al-Qaida.

The American Priority Conference and Festival at the Trump National Doral Miami drew national attention for a video shown that depicted a fake Trump shooting and stabbing members of the media. 

And as ProPublica and WNYC detailed, speakers also told conference-goers to prepare for “war” and invoked other violent imagery. (The conference organizers said they oppose all political violence.)

Alice Wilder of “Trump, Inc.” was there during it all. (Listen to the episode.) And we explored who profited from the three-day event.

Here is what we know about who got paid.

1. Trump: The President Won’t Say How Much He Made

Neither conference organizers nor the Trump Organization would say how much the festival paid to rent the Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom and adjacent event rooms over the three days. Disclosures by the Republican National Committee and Republican Governors Association show they each spent about $400,000 for multi-day events at the resort.

Also, many of the thousand attendees stayed at the Trump Doral. Neither the conference organizers nor the Trump Organization would say how many. Those who did stay there paid $199 per night.

2. Donald Trump Jr.: He Won’t Say if He Got Paid, but He Made $50,000 for Speaking the Night Before

Donald J. Trump Jr. was the conference’s headline speaker. During his speech, he alleged that Instagram suppressed the prominence of his profile. “I typed in my handle. Like my full handle, ‘Donald J. Trump Jr.’ I came up on Page 6,” he said. “It’s not an error.” (We searched his name. It’s the first result.)

Trump Jr. did not answer our questions about any pay he received for speaking. The night before, he addressed an audience at the University of Florida with his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle. They were paid $50,000.

3. Corey Lewandowski, Pizzagate and QAnon:

Another speaker was former Trump campaign manager and possible Senate candidate Corey Lewandowski. It was Lewandowski who endorsed the idea that Obama planned to hand over North Africa to al-Qaida. Lewandowski did not respond to our questions.

Other speakers included a leading proponent of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which falsely alleged that top Democrats are involved with child sex trafficking, and one who helped spread the QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits that a ring of pedophiles controls the deep state and Hollywood and the media and that only Trump can stop it. Other conference speakers told us they were given free attendance and rooms at the Doral.

4. The Conference Organizers, Who Said It Was a “Half-Million Dollar Event”…

The conference was organized by American Priority, a for-profit company that describes itself as supporting free speech and free association. The company charged $250 for general admission and said about 1,000 people registered. The conference also sold entry to VIP events, such as photo ops with Trump Jr.

The head of American Priority, Alex Phillips, declined to say exactly what the company took in. But he did give an estimate of how much the conference cost. “This is pretty much a half a million-dollar event,” Phillips said. “Our next one probably will be a million-dollar event.”

Phillips also said he would have the conference at the president’s hotel again: “The only thing that would keep us from coming here again is if our attendance projections got higher than they can handle.”

5. The Nonprofits

The conference hosted golfing and poker events for two charities: The WalkAway Campaign and the American King Foundation. The WalkAway Campaign aims to convert Democrats to the Republican Party. The American King Foundation is a pro-Trump nonprofit that supports job training for former inmates. Phillips said that the conference will announce the amount raised for charity “in the next several weeks.”

And then a new (profitable) meme was born…

During Trump Jr.’s speech, he repeatedly raised the idea that Hunter Biden — former Vice President Joe Biden’s son — is missing. “Where’s Hunter? Where’s Hunter?” people in the audience yelled. That phrase later took off outside the conference, amplified by the president himself, who tweeted it.
“Where’s Hunter?” T-shirts are now available on Trump’s reelection site. They are $25 each.

And don’t forget the Private Prison Company That Gave Money…

One of the event’s sponsors was the GEO Group, a private prison company that the government uses to house immigrant detainees. A GEO Group spokesman said the company sponsored the conference by donating $25,000 to the American King Foundation.

It’s not the first time at the Doral for the GEO Group. The company also held its annual leadership conference there in 2017.


ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.