Donald Trump’s grifting appears to know no bounds. But now, an apparent Trump critic has charted new territory, turning Trump’s grift into their own—and duping national media organizations in the process.
A website purporting to associate itself with Trump’s “Patriot Legal Defense Fund” is now being denounced as “fake,” as it appears to be trying to swindle Trump supporters into lining the pockets of an anti-Trump scammer.
And while the identity of the site’s owner is still unknown, it’s clear the person is no fan of the former president.
It would be hard to draw that conclusion from just looking at the site today. But over the last few weeks, the page—patriotlegaldefensefund.com—has expressed contradictory views of Trump so stark that major publications, including the tech-savvy site Gizmodo, attributed the work to hackers.
A person with direct knowledge of the real Patriot Legal Defense Fund, however, told The Daily Beast that it wasn’t hackers—there is no official website, and never has been.
“It’s a fake site selling fake merch,” this person said. “The legal fund does not have a website nor do we sell merch.”
But the fake site is selling merch. And it is not directing donors to Trump’s real fund, which campaign aides set up last month to help take the sting out of legal fees incurred by his alleged co-conspirators, allies, and various witnesses. While today those sales appears to be the page’s only purpose, it had a markedly different tone just weeks ago, when it implored users, “DO NOT SUPPORT DONALD TRUMP’S FRAUDULENT PATRIOT LEGAL DEFENSE FUND.”
While some people may find it difficult to cry too hard for Trump—who has run a mind-boggling array of grifts over the years and is reportedly leaving some of his Georgia co-defendants to fend for themselves despite the new fund—the fake website has already claimed its share of innocent bystanders, including a number of media outlets, and it appears to be doing the very thing it once deplored: stiffing unwitting Trump supporters by lying to their faces.
In that sense, the page appears authentically Trump, by its own definition, and only perpetuating the cycle of scams.
The website’s confusing saga fits within a larger narrative, one woven of Trump’s own ever-increasing legal woes, the sprawling legal fees that his associates are racking up, his history of donor exploitation, and a new question of whether Trump even has the rights to fundraise off of his own mugshot.
That mugshot is the most prominent feature on the fake website. In its current form, the page is a full-on Trump swag shop, hawking an array of unauthorized shirts, mugs, and bumper stickers—almost all of which feature Trump’s visage as the Fulton County sheriff captured it last month. (Almost all of the mugshot items for sale include the phrase “Never surrender,” after Trump was widely mocked for tweeting that phrase alongside his mugshot, which was taken precisely because he had surrendered himself at the courthouse.)
The links on the items bring users to a page where they can enter their personal and financial information. The payment process also demands a shipping fee—$6.29 for a $25 mug—and offers the option to add a tip to “Show your support for the team at Patriot Legal Defense Fund.”
But one detail about those payment forms stands out and gives away the game: They don’t include the disclaimers legally required of federally registered political fundraising groups like the real PLDF.
The current page—which claims a 2023 copyright under “Patriot Legal Defense Fund”—also features a logo in the style of Trump’s official 2024 campaign badge, including his “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” slogan. Under a header that reads “PATRIOT LEGAL DEFENSE FUND,” the page asks donors to “Help DEFEND Donald Trump!!!!”, alleging there is “seemingly no boundary the radical Left won’t breach, no depth to which they will not plunge.”
That same language appeared on the site in mid-August, when The Daily Beast reported a glaring typo that has since disappeared. But two days after The Daily Beast’s report—which was picked up by other outlets—the site underwent a dramatic shift, replacing its pleas for support with a page-long screed attacking the repeatedly indicted former president as dishonest and selfish.
“DO NOT SUPPORT DONALD TRUMP’S FRAUDULENT PATRIOT LEGAL DEFENSE FUND,” the new version said, just beneath a slick send-up of the Trump campaign logo declaring, “America is already great.” The rest of the page was an eight-paragraph screed about the pitfalls of lying, followed by links to donate to entities like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Brennan Center for Justice, and Rock the Vote.
The fake website was first registered on July 30, according to public data, through a private domain service. That was the same day The New York Times first publicly reported the launch of the new fund, which itself was created in Virginia on July 18 and filed with the IRS the next day. This chain of events would have given the entity behind the fake website enough time to create the first bare-bones version.
Notably, the site’s original pro-Trump donation links, as The Daily Beast reported on Aug. 13, sent viewers to Trump’s official campaign site—not to a form for the fund. Had the website been run by the fund, that move would have raised potential ethical questions about potential coordination between the two entities, The Daily Beast noted. But given that the fund does not have an online donation portal, it now appears that those links were a measure of verisimilitude included by a clever imposter.
In fact, the link to “support Donald Trump for President” at the top of the current, purportedly pro-Trump version of the site still sends users out to the official campaign webpage.
But the real giveaway is what the site looked like when it was captured on Aug. 24 and Aug. 25. On both days, the site featured the anti-Trump “America is already great!” banner alongside the original text asking to support Trump, which was at some point reinserted. By Sept. 1, however, the site had made the full pivot and was slinging the unauthorized merch.
The website’s saga is layered with irony, not the least of which is the ire that the proprietor once displayed toward Trump—a billionaire—for asking small-dollar donors to fork over petty cash to help support his ballooning and self-perpetuating legal bills. (Trump has been criticized for fundraising techniques that exploit unwitting donors.) However, the site’s owner is now apparently showing no shame in suckering unwitting targets out of their money.
While it isn’t out of the question that someone in Trump’s orbit could be behind the site, it’s exceedingly unlikely. The anti-Trump version would have had to be a legit hack that for some reason was only partially remedied for a stretch of multiple days after the true owners regained control. Alternatively, the anti-Trump version could have been an elaborate ruse designed to distract from The Daily Beast’s Aug. 13 report. In either event, a person with direct knowledge of the real legal defense fund insists that the site is as it appears—totally bogus.
It’s unclear whether the Trump aides behind the fund will take any action against the site, and it’s impossible to know—with any tools short of a subpoena—whether the page has successfully sold any pro-Trump merch. But the site still walks a legal line by using the fund’s name without authorization—as well as Trump’s name—under the guise of soliciting donations.
And here, the site and Trump appear to have something in common. As legal experts have noted, neither entity appears to have the rights to use the mugshot; that copyright, those experts said, belongs to the Fulton County sheriff. Those fake T-shirt and mug sales, therefore, may end up funding a legal defense after all—just not Trump’s.
“A lie is when someone doesn’t tell the truth on purpose,” the anti-Trump version of the webpage once lectured, noting that lying is “bad because it breaks trust.”
“In some cases, like when people lie to the courts or the police, it’s not just bad, it’s a crime,” the site said.
The post The ‘Fake’ Trump Legal Fund Playing Both Sides and Duping Everyone appeared first on The Daily Beast.