The Trump campaign reportedly cheated donors who thought they were making a one-time contribution, collecting recurring donations

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Former President Donald Trump.

  • The Trump 2020 campaign reportedly duped supporters into making recurring donations without their consent.
  • Donors, including cancer patients, who intended to make a one-time contribution ended up making more.
  • According to the New York Times, donations were automatically set to repeat when supporters got to the final stages of contributing.
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In what seemed to be an effort to bolster political contributions in the heat of the 2020 election against now President Joe Biden, the Trump 2020 campaign reportedly duped supporters into making recurring donations without their explicit or known consent.

An investigation of Federal Election Commission records done by the New York Times found that the Trump campaign, in the last two months of 2020, was forced to give hundreds of thousands of refunds in the amount of about $64 million. In total the campaign refunded $122 million, the newspaper said.

Many of these accidental repeat donors believed they were signing up to give a one-time contribution, the New York Times reported. Some of the victims of this scheme, like 63-year-old Stacy Blatt, were cancer patients who found themselves unable to pay bills and rent because of the repeated donations to the Trump campaign, the newspaper reported.

It started with an unusual and “aggressive” move: the addition of a small, bright yellow box on Trump’s campaign donation portal in March 2020.

“Make this a monthly recurring donation,” the text in the box read. The box had automatically been checked off as soon as donors landed on the page, the Times reported.

In order to avoid this recurring donation, donors had to manually opt out, the Times said.

Months later, the donation portal added a second pre-checked box. This time, the box automatically directed an additional contribution from the donor in honor of Trump’s birthday in June, according to the Times.

Between June and September, contributions were pouring into the Biden campaign. So the Trump campaign ramped up its approach.

By September, the text in the initial pre-checked box silently changed from “monthly” to “weekly” donation, according to the newspaper.

At this point, the Biden campaign had outraised Trump’s by about $150 million, the Times reported. At the same time, Trump’s own campaign finances were depleting.

Unrealizing Trump supporters began to make several repeated donations to the campaign over the course of a month.

Critics who spoke to the Times blasted the move.

“It’s unfair, it’s unethical and it’s inappropriate,” Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, said.

“It should be in textbooks of what you shouldn’t do,” London-based Harry Brignull, a user-experience designer familiar with manipulative digital marketing practices, told the paper.

Jason Miller, a spokesperson for Trump, told the Times: “The fact we had a dispute rate of less than 1 percent of total donations despite raising more grass-roots money than any campaign in history is remarkable.”

The repeat donations became particularly rampant in the months between September and October, after the campaign employed the series of aggressive moves, the Times reported.

In total, the Trump campaign returned a staggering 10.7% of money secured through WinRed, the Republican Party’s contribution portal. In contrast, the Biden campaign returned just 2.2% of the money raised through ActBlue, the Democratic Party’s counterpart.

Trump supporters who had unwittingly donated their money to the campaign filed fraud complaints upon noticing unauthorized withdrawals, the Times reported.

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Parler allegedly warned the FBI of ‘specific threats of violence’ more than 50 times ahead of the Capitol riot

Parler
This illustration picture shows social media application logo from Parler displayed on a smartphone with its website in the background.

  • Parler said it alerted the FBI more than 50 times to threats at the Capitol ahead of the January 6 riot.
  • The platform, known for its userbase of conservatives and far-right extremists, said it reported “specific threats” to the FBI.
  • The Department of Justice has previously said insurrectionists used Parler to plan the violent events.
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Conservative social media network Parler asserted in a letter to a Democratic lawmaker that the platform warned the FBI of “specific threats of violence” days ahead of the January 6 Capitol riot.

The letter, addressed to Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York on Thursday, said the platform reported these threats to the FBI more than 50 times, the Washington Post reported.

Parler, which advertises itself as a platform for unregulated language and “free speech,” said it alerted the FBI to posts containing specific references to the Capitol, according to the Post.

One post, published December 24 on the platform, was from a user who “called for the congregation of an armed force of 150,000 on the Virginia side of the Potomac River to ‘react to the congressional events of January 6th.'”

Another user allegedly wrote on the platform that a planned event on January 6 was “not a rally” and “no longer a protest,” lawyers wrote in the letter, according to the Washington Post.

“This is the final stand where we are drawing the red line at Capitol Hill,” one user allegedly wrote, according to the letter. “I trust the American people will take back the USA with force and many are ready to die to take back #USA so remember this is not a party until they announce #Trump2020 a winner . . . And don’t be surprised if we take the #capitalbuilding” [sic].

The Capitol riot left at least five people, including one police officer, dead. Members of the Proud Boys, which is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, were present, according to authorities.

Organizers were emboldened by President Donald Trump’s calls to protest the results of the 2020 election, despite Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory. While members of Congress were meeting inside the Capitol to certify the results, supporters organized an attempted coup and stormed it.

Upon news that the riot breached the building, lawmakers began to shelter in place and many evacuated.

Parler, which has become a mainstay in alt-right communication, has been criticized and scrutinized for its alleged role in the Capitol riot.

As Insider’s Jacob Shamsian reported, Parler’s userbase is largely made up of far-right extremists. The Justice Department has previously said many of those extremists organized the violent events planned for January 6 using the platform.

And after former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account was disabled, top conservatives began sharing their Parler accounts on the platform, encouraging their followers to gravitate there. Among them was Angela Stanton-King, a Republican QAnon supporter who ran in November to represent Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, the seat last held by the deceased Rep. John Lewis.

In the days following the Capitol riot, Apple and Google app stores blocked Parler for violating terms of service. Amazon Web Services also dropped it. These actions effectively took the platform offline.

In February, the company announced that site was up and running with a Tea Party co-founder serving as interim CEO. Mark Meckler, an attorney, political activist, and founder of the Tea Party Patriots, replaced former CEO and co-founder John Matze, who was fired by the company’s board.

Parler has previously shared information with the FBI during the DOJ’s investigation into the Capitol riot. It’s not clear whether Parler handed over information to the FBI after the Department of Justice issued a warrant or subpoena for it or whether the company gave the information over of its own accord.

Parler, Maloney’s office, and the FBI did not immediately return Insider’s requests for comment.

Insider’s Jacob Shamsian contributed to this report.

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Michigan state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey caught on video calling Capitol attack a ‘hoax’

Mike Shirkey
  • Michigan state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey was recorded spreading conspiracies about the Capitol riot.
  • The video emerged a day before he was censured by the Hillsdale County Republican Party for “complete surrender” to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
  • In the video, Shirkey defends rioters and makes sexist comments about Whitmer.
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Michigan’s most powerful Republican state official Mike Shirkey was recorded pushing various conspiracies about the Capitol insurrection on January 6, and making lewd comments about Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Shirkey was attending a meeting with Hillsdale County Republican Party, a day before the local party would censure him for not standing up to state Democrats and Whitmer. 

The video, posted by a group called R.O.A.R (Reclaim Our American Republic), was first reported by the Detroit Metro Times, runs for an hour, and features a tense back-and-forth between the local party officials and Shirkey. 

According to the Detroit Free Press, on Tuesday, Hillsdale County Republican Party Chair Daren Wiseley told the outlet that he met with Shirkey alongside Hillsdale County Republican Party secretary Jon Smith and party vice-chair Lance Lashaway. Smith told the Free Press that he recorded and uploaded the video.

On February 4, a day after the video surfaced, the Hillsdale County Republican Party censured Shirkey for supporting a ban on firearms at the Michigan Capitol building, as well as for a “complete and utter surrender to Governor Gretchen Whitmer”. 

“That’s been a hoax from day one. It was all staged,” Shirkey tells the officials in the video, adding that the January 6 rioters were not “Trump people.” Later in the same video, Shirkey conceded Trump supporters were among the mob but said they were “caught up in the emotion.” 

Claims that the insurrection was staged by antifa are false. On January 6, hundreds of pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol on January 6 to disrupt Congress’ certification of the Electoral College results. 

The New York Times did an expose on Shirkey’s ties to militias in Michigan, where he also expressed empathy for the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6.

The House impeached Trump for his incitement of the attack, and his impeachment trial is currently underway in the Senate. 

In the video, Shirkey pushed another conspiracy about “darker forces” at play around the insurrection. “I think there are people above elected officials,” Shirkey said.

One Hillsdale official asks, “George Soros?” and Shirkey responds, “I don’t know, people like him. There are puppeteers.”

“I think they wanted to have a mess,” Shirkey told the officials, implicating Mitch McConnell as well. In the video, the Michigan senate majority leader also expressed frustration at Rudy Giuliani’s failed legal efforts in Michigan and concedes that Trump lost Michigan.

In another section of the video, Shirkey also makes sexist comments about Whitmer.

Shirkey said, “we’ve spanked her hard on budget, spanked her hard on appointments.” He then makes a violent joke to one of the officials, saying, “I did contemplate, once or twice, I did contemplate inviting her to a fistfight on the Capitol lawn.”

“She might whoop your ass,” the county official replies. 

Bobby Leddy, a spokesman for Whitmer, told the Free Press: “It’s disappointing that Sen. Shirkey is spending his time on political potshots, indulging conspiracy theories, and expressing empathy for the insurrection at the US Capitol building.”

On Tuesday, Shirkey issued a short and general apology, which did not address specific comments he made in the Hillsdale video. 

“I said some things in a videoed conversation that are not fitting for the role I am privileged to serve. I own that,” Shirkey said. “I have many flaws. Being passionate coupled with an occasional lapse in restraint of tongue are at least two of them. I regret the words I chose, and I apologize for my insensitive comments.” 

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Angela Merkel says Twitter’s decision to ban Trump is a threat to free speech

Merkel Trump
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposes Twitter’s decision to block President Trump’s Twitter account.
  • A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel argued that lawmakers rather than private companies should decide on the limits to freedom of speech.
  • “The right to freedom of opinion is of fundamental importance,” Merkel’s chief spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday.
  • The company said it had banned the president’s account because he risked inciting further violence after a pro-Trump mob of protestors stormed the US Capitol.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has criticised Twitter for blocking US President Donald Trump’s Twitter account, arguing that lawmakers rather than private tech companies should decide on the limits to freedom of speech.

“The right to freedom of opinion is of fundamental importance,” Merkel’s chief spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday at a regular news conference, in comments reported by Reuters.

“Given that, the chancellor considers it problematic that the president’s accounts have been permanently suspended,” he said.

Twitter on Friday permanently suspended President’s Trump’s Twitter account, which he used dozens of times a day to communicate with over 70 million followers and which helped him to capture the Republican nomination and the presidency in 2016.

The company said it had banned the president’s account because he risked inciting further violence days after a group of pro-Trump protestors stormed the US Capitol where lawmakers were gathered to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory.

Facebook and Instagram also blocked the president’s accounts, but Twitter’s decision will likely prove particularly impactful because it was the president’s main communication tool.

Merkel’s intervention highlights a growing unease among European countries about Twitter’s decision on Friday to permanently suspend President Trump’s account, with the governments of France and the United Kingdom among those which questioned the decision. 

Clement Beaune, France’s junior minister for European Union Affairs, said such decisions should be taken by governments rather than chief executives.

“This should be decided by citizens, not by a CEO,” Beaune told Bloomberg TV this week. “There needs to be public regulation of big online platforms.”

Matt Hancock, a UK minister, said on Sunday that the decision by social media companies to ban Trump’s accounts raised a “very big question” in terms of regulation because it meant they were making editorial decisions.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called it “an unacceptable act of censorship.”

“This precedent will be exploited by the enemies of freedom of speech around the world,” he tweeted.

“In Russia as well. Every time when they need to silence someone, they will say: ‘this is just common practice, even Trump got blocked on Twitter.'”

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Photos show how a pro-Trump mob armed with sticks and metal pipes forced their way through police barriers to storm the US Capitol

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A man raises a beam as police block an entrance to the Capitol.

  • The US Capitol went into lockdown as thousands of rioters stormed past police barricades. 
  • The protesters, armed with sticks and metal pipes, fought off tear gas to force their way into the halls of government. 
  • The melee sparked outrage and delayed certification of the results of the 2020 general election.  
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The crowd gathers opposite police.

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Pro-Trump supporters react to tear gas.

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One of the first rioters to break through the police line.

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Rioters overwhelm a police barricade.

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Rioters at the Capitol carry American and pro-Trump flags.

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An inured Trump supporter outside the Capitol.

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Protesters on the Capitol steps.

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A confrontation between police and a mob of Trump supporters.

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Rioters, armed with a seized police shield, attempting to force their way in to the Capitol.

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Police use tear gas to clear the area as dusk falls.

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White House says Trump has no plans to leave for Scotland the day before Biden’s inauguration

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President Donald Trump.

  • A plane that President Donald Trump sometimes uses is scheduled to land in Scotland the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration, a Scottish newspaper reported.
  • The Sunday Post reported that the US military plane is scheduled to land at Prestwick Airport, near Trump’s Turnberry golf resort, on January 19.
  • Multiple reports have suggested that Trump is planning to skip Biden’s inauguration to host a rival, attention-grabbing event at the same time.
  • However, a White House spokesman, Judd Deere, told Insider the president has “no plans” to visit Scotland adding: “anonymous sources who claim to know what the President is or is not considering have no idea. When President Trump has an announcement about his plans for Jan. 20 he will let you know.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The White House has denied that President Donald Trump will fly to Scotland for Joe Biden’s inauguration following a report that a US military plane the president sometimes uses is scheduled to land in the country the day before the event.

The Sunday Post, a weekly Scottish newspaper, reported that a US military Boeing 757 was scheduled to land at Prestwick Airport – near the president’s Turnberry golf resort – on January 19, one day before Biden’s inauguration in Washington, DC. The report fueled speculation that the president plans to leave the US for his luxury Scottish golf resort rather than attend Biden’s inauguration.

While White House spokesperson Judd Deere initially said Trump was not ready to announce his plans for January 20, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany later told Business Insider: “This is not accurate. President Trump has no plans to travel to Scotland.”

McEnany’s denial on Tuesday afternoon came after Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that President Trump would not be permitted to visit the country because COVID-19 restrictions prevent non-essential travel there.

“We are not allowing people to come into Scotland, and that would apply to him just as it applies to anybody else,” Sturgeon told Scottish reporters on Tuesday. “And coming in to play golf is not what I would consider to be an essential purpose.”

The president has used the plane on previous trips abroad, though a source at the airport told the newspaper it is more frequently used by the vice president or the first lady.

A White House spokesman, Judd Deere, told Business Insider on Tuesday morning: “Anonymous sources who claim to know what the President is or is not considering have no idea. When President Trump has an announcement about his plans for Jan. 20 he will let you know.”

Trump visited his Turnberry resort as part of a wider European trip in 2018.

Sources at Prestwick Airport told The Post that US surveillance aircraft had flown above Turnberry in recent weeks, adding to speculation about a presidential visit.

Reports have suggested that Trump, who has refused to acknowledge Biden’s election victory and has claimed without evidence that the election was rigged against him, is planning to skip Biden’s inauguration.

Even if he does not travel to Scotland,  he could be planning attempt to host a rival, attention-grabbing event at the same time. That could complicate several things, including the transfer of the so-called nuclear football, a suitcase giving the president the means to conduct a nuclear strike.

Axios reported in December that Trump was considering a plan to fly in Air Force One to Florida, then address supporters at a rally held at the same time as Biden’s inauguration.

And NBC News reported that Trump was considering announcing a presidential run in 2024 on Inauguration Day.

Prestwick Airport did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

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