The digital newsletter “I Love My Freedom” regularly blasts out emails hawking flagrant scams and snake oil, such as a dementia-reversing “miracle” treatment, a “diabetes destroyer” substance and a “life-saving” cancer therapy that a Nazi chemist supposedly developed at Hitler’s command. Peppered between these messages sponsored by third-party hucksters are official ads from Donald Trump’s presidential reelection campaign.
For months, members of the president’s inner circle — including Donald Trump Jr., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and even Trump himself — have been issuing calls for donations through the newsletter, which typically goes out five or more times per day. Many recipients were likely unwittingly subscribed; I Love My Freedom, the group that runs the eponymous newsletter, has acquired a growing list of Americans’ contact information through a covert email harvesting scheme involving a web of pro-Trump Facebook pages.
Right-wing politicians, organizations and media outlets have a history of working with shady entities behind the scenes to make money and push their agendas. The Trump campaign’s business with I Love My Freedom is no exception.
By design, its emails look as if they’re sent directly from Trump and his allies, though they’re actually distributed via firstname.lastname@example.org. At the bottom, they bear disclaimers noting they were paid for by either the National Republican Senatorial Committee, its House counterpart, the McConnell Senate Committee, or the Trump Make America Great Again Committee (which is jointly run by the Republican National Committee and Trump’s reelection campaign).
Renting out access to harvested email lists is a common and highly lucrative practice exercised by conservative and liberal groups alike, often for political fundraising purposes. But things get ethically murky when email distributors don’t vet their sponsors — which can result in email recipients being inundated with ripoffs and hoaxes, like the phony cancer cure. In this case, however, the real question is whether Trump’s team bothered to vet I Love My Freedom.
The campaign did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Fraud, Scams And Trump Ads
I Love My Freedom, which comprises the newsletter and a right-wing blog called Trending Politics, is part of Making Web LLC, an obscure marketing firm that’s registered in Minnesota to a 51-year-old man named Allan G. Ferretti.
Through the newsletter alone, I Love My Freedom has amplified a litany of predatory scams — including some that misleadingly implicate Trump, despite its dealings with his campaign. Hours before distributing a fundraising email from the McConnell Senate Committee this month, I Love My Freedom fired off a sponsored message promoting a “breakthrough” stem cell treatment — which it baselessly implied Trump is receiving.
“This has got Liberals jumping out of their seats,” the email reads. “President Trump is in perfect health ... how is it that he’s so seemingly immune to old age? Well in recent years, billionaires like President Trump have increasingly turned to the power of Stem Cells.”
Titled “Trump Health Bombshell,” the email links to a rambling product pitch that touts $67 bottles of “stem cell” pills as “the Holy Grail of aging backwards.” These pills make “cells inside your body become physically younger,” it claims, without offering a shred of scientific evidence. I Love My Freedom has also spammed its subscribers with sponsors’ get-rich-quick schemes including a “secret IRS loophole,” and has directed them to videos suggesting seniors should swap their prescribed medications for swindlers’ supplements — even warning that they could die if they don’t.
Recent newsletter editions have propagated literal fake news, too, embedding ads disguised as articles that link to websites deceptively imitating legitimate media outlets.
One such ad features the text “Royal Family Mourns As Tragedy Is Confirmed,” alongside a photo of Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex. Clicking on it leads to a website mimicking USA Today that raves about a skincare line, which it falsely claims Markle launched. Another, bearing the headline “[BREAKING NEWS] Prayers Go Out to Oprah Winfrey,” links to a bogus news site peddling a “Brain Booster” supplement, which it brazenly says is responsible for Winfrey’s career success.
In addition to Trump, his eldest son, McConnell and Gingrich, I Love My Freedom has also sent out fundraising emails on behalf of former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer.
All were paid for by the NRCC, NRSC, McConnell Senate Committee or the Trump Make America Great Again Committee. Only the NRCC responded to a request for comment.
“We rented this list to prospect new donors. We do our best to vet each vendor, but similar to renting a car, it is impossible to know or control what every other renter does with a list they too are renting,” spokesman Chris Pack told HuffPost.
“We will not be using this vendor going forward.”
Inside The Machine
I Love My Freedom built its cash-cow email empire by investing nearly $2 million into Facebook ads, which draw people in with clickbait polls or promises of “free” MAGA gear, and lead to pages instructing them to submit their email addresses. This automatically signs them up to receive the newsletter, along with its many sponsored messages.
The group also makes money by selling Trump-themed merchandise such as “Make Liberals Cry Again” hats, and hosting third-party ads on Trending Politics — which was visited a million times last month alone, according to digital analytics tool SimilarWeb.
I Love My Freedom did not agree to HuffPost’s requests for an interview.
Ferretti launched ilovemyfreedom.org along with the Facebook page Trump for President Fan Club (now President Donald Trump Fan Club, which has 1.6 million followers) in the summer of 2015, as journalist April Glaser reported last fall in an article about I Love My Freedom’s viral growth on Facebook.
It’s one of more than a dozen popular pages the group operates to run its thousands of Facebook ads, including Donald Trump Is My President, Donald Trump 2020 Voters, President Trump Has My Vote, Donald Trump’s Americans, Team Trump Fan Club, The President Trump Fan Club, We Need Trump 2020 and President Trump’s Patriot Army.
These pages churn out a stream of hyper-partisan memes and Trending Politics blog posts to their audience of millions. Boosted by Facebook’s algorithm, the ads — which primarily target seniors — are sometimes viewed hundreds of thousands of times each.
“This looks like an operation that’s got a very highly engaged audience that would be a prime target for a lot of conservative politicians to try to raise grassroots money from,” said Michael Beckel, research director at the political reform group Issue One.
“When you operate a pro-Trump Facebook group with more than a million members, that can make your [email] list an alluring asset.”
Trump’s campaign has already accumulated a voter email list that’s so large it rents it out to outside parties. So why would his team want to fundraise through I Love My Freedom’s list — especially given the group’s longstanding ties to grifters and con artists?
“It’s kind of striking that the Trump campaign is making an investment in ... [I Love My Freedom’s] list,” noted Beckel. But at the end of the day, he said, more emails “still means more potential voters or donors for them.”