How Mike Lindell’s Pillow Business Propels the Election Denial Movement

Many American entrepreneurs have mixed politics and business. No one has fused the two quite like the chief executive of MyPillow.

Three days after federal agents seized his cellphone as part of an investigation into voting machine tampering, Mike Lindell seemed energized and ready to sell pillows.

He strode onstage at a rally of Trump supporters in western Idaho, defiantly waving a cellphone. Eric Trump greeted him with a hug.

“When they start attacking the MyPillow guy,” the former president’s son declared, “you know we have a large problem in this country.”

Mr. Lindell, smiling broadly in a blue suit and red tie, leaned into the mic. “Use promo code ‘FBI’ to save up to 66 percent!” he yelled, raising his fist in the air. The crowd roared its approval.
And pillows were sold. On Sept. 14, the day after Mr. Lindell’s encounter with the F.B.I., daily direct sales at his bedding business, MyPillow Inc., jumped to nearly $1 million, from $700,000 the day before, according to Mr. Lindell. Propelled by a blizzard of promotions, memes and interviews on right-wing media outlets, sales remained elevated for two days.

American entrepreneurs have long mixed their business and political interests. But no one in recent memory has fused the two quite as completely as Mr. Lindell. In less than two years, the infomercial pitchman has transformed his company into an engine of the election denial movement, using his personal wealth and advertising dollars to propel the falsehood that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald J. Trump.

In the process, Mr. Lindell has secured a platform for his conspiracy theories — and a devoted base of consumers culled from the believers.

By his account, Mr. Lindell has spent as much as $40 million on conferences, activist networks, a digital media platform, legal battles and researchers that promote his theory of the case — the particularly outlandish conspiracy theory that the election was stolen through a complex, global plot to hack into voting machines.

But a analysis of advertising data, along with interviews with media executives and personalities, reveal that Mr. Lindell’s influence goes beyond funding activism: He is now at the heart of the right-wing media landscape.
Already the largest single advertiser on Fox News’s right-wing opinion prime-time lineup, according to data from the media analytics firm iSpot.tv, MyPillow has since early last year become a critical financial supporter of an expanding universe of right-wing podcasters and influencers, many of whom keep election misinformation coursing through the daily discourse.

His chief vehicle for that support is a sprawling system of promo codes handed out to podcasters, pundits and activists, giving them a stake in each sale and incentive to promote Mr. Lindell’s products — and, in the process, his election theories.

Podcasters and advertising executives say the arrangement has cemented Mr. Lindell’s influence. Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump adviser whose “War Room” podcast ranks among the top news shows on Apple, described him in an interview as “the most significant financier in all of conservative media.” Mr. Bannon last year devoted as much as a third of the promotional time on his podcast to MyPillow, although that share has fallen since, according to an analysis by the analytics firm Magellan AI.

Mr. Lindell’s message is being received. He has called on his followers to find evidence to back up his claims, and they have inundated election officials with requests for voting records, audits and even access to voting machines. Mr. Lindell and his network of allies are mobilizing right-wing activists to act as self-styled election vigilantes searching for evidence of misconduct in the midterm elections.

Some critics — including the voting machine companies that have sued him for defamation, libel and slander — charge that Mr. Lindell’s operation is simply an enormous grift. “The lie sells pillows,” lawyers for Dominion Voting Systems argued in a still-pending $1.3 billion lawsuit filed against Mr. Lindell last year.

Mr. Lindell disputes the allegations and insists that his activism has lost him money.

“I didn’t do this to make a profit,” he told The Times in an interview. “I did it to save our country.” He said he pours “every dime I make” into his cause.

It is difficult to assess that claim. As a privately held company, MyPillow does not disclose financial information and Mr. Lindell has frequently given conflicting accounts about his spending.

Mr. Lindell has spent nearly $80 million on advertising on Fox News’s prime-time lineup of opinion shows since accelerating his activism in January 2021, according to estimates by iSpot.TV. His advertising on podcasts in that same period is valued at more than $10 million, according to estimates from Magellan AI. In addition to the tens of millions he says he has spent on activism and lawsuits, Mr. Lindell has given $200,000 to state and federal political action committees since January 2021, public records show.

That investment has built a brand loyalty that goes well beyond appreciation for a rectangle of shredded foam that lists for $49.98 (but sells for as low as $19.98 with a promo code).

His customers are “supporting a guy they believe shares their worldview,” said Benjamin Pratt, an advertising executive who focuses on conservative media. They say, said Mr. Pratt, “we’re going to support him, he’s being attacked and they’re trying to silence him. OK, we’ll buy more pillows.”