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The MyPillow Guy, explained by someone who read his memoir

Trump friend Mike Lindell appeared on Anderson Cooper’s show to promote a potentially toxic coronavirus “cure,” oleandrin. It did not go well.

Mike Lindell, the inventor of MyPillow, with President Donald Trump.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
Meredith Haggerty is the senior editor for the Culture section at Vox. Before coming to Vox, she was a senior editor at Racked.

If you are familiar with Mike Lindell, you almost definitely know him as “the MyPillow guy.” That could mean you’ve seen his commercials late at night on cable stations that only play sitcom reruns, hawking “the most comfortable pillow you’ll ever own.” It could also mean you’ve seen headlines like “MyPillow CEO tells Americans to pray and read the Bible during appearance at White House coronavirus briefing” and “Trump ‘enthusiastic’ over unproven coronavirus therapeutic, MyPillow creator says.”

Perhaps stories like these have created for you more questions.

Who is the MyPillow guy? Why is he buddies with the president? Why has he taken such an active role in the White House’s coronavirus messaging? What is oleandrin, the supposed coronavirus cure he’s boosting? Why is he hugging that pillow so tight?

In 2019, Lindell revealed the answers to some of these questions in his self-published memoir, What Are the Odds?, which details his history as a crack cocaine and gambling addict, and the story of Christian redemption that began only after his signature product — a washable, direct-to-consumer pillow that molds to your head — was launched and on the market. While it necessarily doesn’t touch on his moment in the pandemic spotlight, it does provide a window into the man pushing the latest unproven coronavirus cure.

MyCure for coronavirus

On August 18, Lindell appeared on Anderson Cooper’s show to praise oleandrin, a toxic extract he touts as a treatment for Covid-19 (he’s also on the board of Phoenix Biotechnology, a company selling it). Cooper pointed out Lindell’s lack of scientific background, the absence of studies, and financial stake in the issue. Lindell insisted that there “have been human studies, absolutely have been human studies,” but did not say where, when, or by whom they were performed.

“It’s the miracle of all time,” Lindell pronounced, “the media’s trying to take away this amazing cure.”

The CEO told Axios over the weekend that Trump “basically said ... ‘The FDA should be approving it.’”

As Cassandra Quave, assistant professor of Dermatology and Human Health at Emory University explains on The Conversation, oleandrin is derived from the oleander plant, which is toxic and can have seriously negative effects on the human heart. She stresses that there are no studies proving it is safe to ingest.

This is not the first time Americans have seen Lindell outside of a commercial since the pandemic began. On March 30, he appeared at a press conference with the president. Lindell was ostensibly there because the MyPillow factories — like many across the world — had pivoted to making PPE for front-line workers, but he ended up going off-script to encourage Americans to read their Bibles, and saying that “God gave us grace on November 8, 2016.”

Trump, in turn, said, “I did not know he was going to do that, but he’s a friend of mine and I appreciate it.”

According to Lindell in his interview with Cooper, it was this appearance that brought oleandrin into his life. “So this guy called me on Easter Sunday and said he had an answer to the virus,” Lindell insisted, explaining that someone from Phoenix Biotechnology had reached out after seeing him at the press conference telling Americans to pray for a cure. In his own telling, his next move was to take this news directly to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, a friend who wrote the foreword to What Are the Odds? Later, he joined the company’s board.

Cooper has received pushback for giving Lindell a platform. Lindell’s not worried about that: “I think my platform speaks for itself, the platform that God gave me,” he said to Cooper.

A very lucky guy, kind of

Lindell sees MyPillow not only as a product but as the foundation of his platform, the importance of which is repeatedly affirmed in his memoir, What Are the Odds?

The book itself has a holographic cover — first you see Mike smiling and happy, the familiar face from ads on CoziTV, but cock your wrist a hair and you see Mike glowering and strung out. The haggard photo was taken by his crack dealer, he writes, to convince him to quit.

The primary theme in Lindell’s book is his own ability to beat the odds, whether it be his youth full of daredevil moments (like jumping out of a moving bus or taking a skydiving lesson where his parachute failed to open), his time as a card counter (although he often lost despite using the method, lured away from a sure thing by the siren song of actual gambling), or his years trying to maintain as a bar-owner, husband, and father of four while contending with a serious drug addiction. As he explains it, he was a shy kid and awkward adult who handled that discomfort by acting out.

These stories — of intoxicated fights, short-term jail stints, muddy motivations, and (by my count) at least 17 shockingly chill police interactions — dominate most of the book, but there’s a leitmotif to this larger theme: the seemingly supernatural forces that protect Lindell from his worst behaviors and their outcomes. There are prophetic dreams, out-of-body writing jags about the meaning of his life, and a parade of mysterious Christians reaching out to tell him about God’s plan for him.

For years, seemingly, he flirts with Christianity, receiving signs from God in the form of literal phone calls (at one point, five in a 72-hour period), attending church, and considering himself holy, only to have another and another more serious awakening.

The name and subsequently the idea for MyPillow come to him in a dream, he writes, but he still struggles, and at one point almost loses his business to partners who aim to use his personal problems against him. It is only after a third, fourth, fifth, hundredth chance that, in the final pages of the book, Lindell fully embraces Christ, kicks drugs, and is reborn as the cross-sporting TV pillow pitchman we recognize today. Long before that, the platform and the need to create it pops up again and again.

The purpose of the platform is a little less clear, at least in his book. Perhaps to help people, as Lindell told Cooper. Even before he got sober, Lindell writes that he discovered an ability to talk others out of their own addictions. He also founded the Lindell Foundation in 2012; he explains in the book that it “directed private-sector donations to vetted needs with no administrative costs.” The current status of the foundation is unclear; the website links back to his personal site.

Perhaps its purpose is to evangelize Christianity? That seems clear from the way he uses his time in the spotlight, but there’s a bit of circular logic to it: God has a special plan for Mike to have a special platform for God.

Enter Donald Trump.

A late-in-life political awakening

For the first 270-some odd pages of his just-over-300-page memoir, Mike Lindell appears to have no personal politics to speak of. In fact, it’s more than 200 pages in that the central relationship in his life — his relationship with Jesus — even begins to form. But once Lindell gets something in his sights, according to his own estimation, he tends to take to it.

As Lindell tells it, not long after finding God (and a good woman), he found Republicanism, specifically on a 2015 flight to Israel sponsored by Salem Radio with his friend Stephen Baldwin and conservative radio host Kevin McCullough. Somewhere over the ocean, McCullough, author of The Kind of Man Every Man Should Be and MuscleHead Revolution, started explaining politics to the 54-year-old bedding CEO. “I was like a student in elementary school who was just being introduced to an entirely new subject,” he writes. Through McCullough’s tutelage, he found himself agreeing with conservative positions; he describes this literal identification of his own beliefs as “not a value judgement.”

At this point, Lindell was already a Fox News fixture thanks to his commercials, which had proven unusually successful when aired on the network. Lindell explains that he “wasn’t buying a political point of view,” but that the ads resonated with the “fired up” audience, who liked his “invention made in small-town U.S.A.” He’d also long been a friend and frequent guest of Don Imus.

The actual political conversion he describes took place shortly after Lindell had — yup — a dream where he met Donald Trump and the two posed for a picture together. At this point in 2015, Trump was weeks away from announcing his candidacy for president, and the men had never met, but by August of 2016, they were coming together in Trump Tower, in fulfillment of Lindell’s “premonition.” Lindell had become active in Republican circles, honored with the Federal Enforcement Homeland Security Foundation’s 2015 Patriot Award (nominated by buddy Stephen Baldwin), popping up at the National Prayer Breakfast to feel disappointed in President Obama, attending the RNC and becoming friendly with the Trump kids.

His relationship with Trump makes sense for Lindell — if ever a man was going to increase his platform it would be by aligning himself with a kindred spirit pitchman, a man with whom he shares a checkered past and evangelical overtures. In this way, it makes sense for Trump as well; Lindell has the religious bona fides. Immediately upon meeting, Lindell writes, Trump asks Lindell about God.

Right away, his eyes fell on the silver cross at my neck. “In your commercials, I always see you wearing your cross. Are you a Christian?”

Lindell laughs and confirms it, saying “this is a divine appointment for sure.” It’s a match made, well, somewhere. Lindell finds Trump to be “genuine and sincere,” with “no particular agenda other than to get one citizen’s opinion on things.” Since then, Lindell has been a die-hard supporter. And the president does love his supporters.

It’s in Mike Lindell’s apparent self-conception — as a man with a particular calling from God — and his presentation — as but a babe in the world, learning about Democrats versus Republicans in late middle-age, an adult who believes that a candidate for president would meet with a stranger just to shoot the shit — that his relationship to oleandrin starts to make some sense.

In his life, according to his book, people do just call him up out of the blue and tell him he’s special. And it’s not for him to wonder exactly why. For Lindell, a message from a stranger claiming to have the cure to the coronavirus, one that only he — and his platform — can bring to the masses, well, that’s par for the course. That’s just a fulfillment of the big, hazy plan. That the answer to everyone’s problems would be him might be improbable but, well, why not? What are the odds?

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