Anatomy of Another Right Wing Scam

Anatomy of Another Right Wing Scam February 5, 2014

Zack Beauchamp has a detailed analysis of yet another of those scams being marketed to wingnuts through the email lists built by right wing magazines, blogs and websites. This time it’s survival supplies, which is a staple of the genre, sold by Food4Patriots. It’s sold with the usual bullshit about FEMA camps and “watch this video because I don’t know how long it will be up” because, of course, Obama is going to order it taken down.

Since being added to National Review’s subscriber list, I had received four emails from the venerable publication selling me on Food4Patriots’ plan to “make darn sure your family won’t go hungry or get herded into a FEMA camp” by purchasing the dehydrated food they’re hawking. Indeed, Food4Patriots is deeply ensconced in the conservative movement, placing its ads in both more mainstream outlets (Fox News, Townhall.com) and fringier sites (Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, RedState, WorldNetDaily).

Food4Patriots is a lucrative enterprise. Its parent company, Reboot Marketing, took in $11.8 million in 2012, an astonishing 1,428 percent increase over its 2009 revenue.

But the company’s skyrocketing revenues came on the back of some (arguably) really shady practices. In fact, when I wrote National Review’s editor and publisher to give them a heads up about what I learned about the company, they promptly suspended future Food4Patriots ads.

“Communist food brainwashing,” Frank Bates solemnly warns us, “is infecting America.”

Bates is the pitchman for Food4Patriots; when you click the link in National Review’s email, you’re immediately directed to a crudely animated infomercial breaking down the brainwashing threat. Frank’s biography is one of the first things you learn in the shockingly long presentation (full thing’s on YouTube here). Bates is a resident of a small town outside of Nashville, where he lives with his wife Michelle and 2 kids. He lost his job a few years ago and since then, teaching people how to live free of both big government and big business has been his passion.

“Promise to keep this information to yourself and close family and friends ONLY,” Bates asks. “I don’t know how long it’ll be online, so watch it while you can” — before FEMA takes Frank’s video, and perhaps Frank himself, out of the picture.

It’s a good thing that the National Review decided to stop selling access to their mailing list to Food4Patriots — assuming that they actually did — but it still prompts the obvious question of why they allowed it in the first place. Do they not even look at the ads they’re sending out and encouraging their readers to base purchasing decisions on? And I guarantee you that the Worldnetdaily, Human Events and other websites won’t be stopping such solicitations to their followers. Indeed, one could make the argument that this is a perfect match of product and audience. Those right wing publications spend all their time and energy spreading ridiculous conspiracy theories, harrowing tales of seized guns, collapsing economies and martial law, and then Food4Patriots takes advantage of that paranoia to sell their products.

Pairing survivalist panic to more mainstream conservative tropes is Frank’s calling card, pervading his pitches for the other products in the 4Patriots line. Power4Patriots reveals “the dirty little secret that president [sic] Obama and the big energy monopolies have been trying to bury.” There’s a “cover-up,” a “conspiracy that runs all the way to the top” to make “power rates skyrocket.” Moreover, “thanks to the shaky state the liberals have put our country in, our government isn’t ready to handle the situations that are coming our way…Ask anyone who lived through Hurricane Katrina!” The solution is to buy Power4Patriots’ books, videos, and “CD-ROMs,” which will teach you how to cut your power and heating bills by “up to” 75 percent.

Likewise, Frank’s SurvivalSeeds4Patriots missive warns that “the frightened hordes clear out the grocery stores in hours and people [will] get more and more desperate” in the crisis “about to hit the US.” Save yourself by purchasing Frank’s “painstakingly researched” personal plant seed vault.

And in reality, Frank Bates does not seem to exist:

The glue that ties all of this together is Frank’s personal story. He and his family were victimized by the business that fired him, by the terrifying power costs in their former Northeastern home, and by the shadowy forces that bent Frank’s knee in the direction of Obama and FEMA. Bates’ testimonial — up from dependence, through three neat products — is the beating heart of the 4Patriots brand’s public image.

Except there’s no evidence that he exists.

I jumped through a lot of hoops to try to find Frank Bates. I tracked the only public image ever identified as Bates back to its source, a now-deleted stock photo taken by an Austria-based photographer named Kemter. I used a variety of tools to track down contact information for anyone in the Nashville area named Frank Bates, and found no one by that name connected to the 4Patriots brand. The customer service operator at the end of Reboot’s public line said “they didn’t give us” Frank’s contact information.

But when I checked the domain registration on every 4Patriots site, as well as FrankBates.net, I found the only ones that didn’t direct you back to the company’s main phone line were either anonymous or registered to someone named Allen Baler. Baler, is listed as the principal of Power4Patriots by the Nashville Better Business Bureau. He’s the founder of Reboot Marketing, the company that operates all of the 4Patriots product lines.

Well there’s a shock. There’s a lot more in the article and the whole thing is worth reading.

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