Even though she’s been wiped clean from the web, I still found Nicole Mincey. The Nicole Mincey who was personally thanked by President Trump on Twitter over the weekend. The one everyone thinks is a bot.
She’s a real person—with a slightly different name—living in Newark, New Jersey. The online phone number listed for the real pro-Trump tchotchke and sweatshirt website where she and her made-up colleagues used to work is now disconnected.
Within 48 hours of the president’s tweet, any trace of Nicole Mincey had been feverishly scrubbed from social media. The gaggle of troll accounts tied to Mincey were gone along with her.
In the end, the president’s biggest Twitter fan and her handful of fictional friends simply messed with the wrong stock photo company.
It all started on Saturday night, when a user going by the name Nicole Mincey, under the handle @protrump45, tweeted “Trump working hard for the American people” while the president was golfing. By 7 p.m., from the start of his 17-day vacation at Trump National Golf Club, the president tweeted back “Thank you Nicole!”
Instantly, Twitter users got to sleuthing. Who was Nicole?
She certainly wasn’t famous. Mincey’s entire online identity appeared to revolve around her online store, protrump45.com, which sold knockoff Make America Great Again hats and Deplorable Lives Matter garb. The site’s blog gave its founder an inscrutable but glowing profile, a variation of which had somehow been reposted on The Daily Caller weeks before.
“An african american trump supporter named Nicole Mincey from Camden NJ and humble beginnings became an entrepreneur and began a Pro-Trump empire after the inauguration of our 45th president Donald J Trump,” the post reads, riddled with typos.
Key parts of Mincey’s identity began to crack under the slightest examination. Users noticed that @protrump45’s friends, which the account retweeted frequently, had obvious stock photos instead of pictures of themselves, alongside vague biographies that all followed the same format.
There was Lex, the electric blonde “model, brand ambassador, and Trump supporter” from North Arlington, New Jersey. She blogged on Mincey’s website and was actually a stock photo on Twitter. There was Rio Grande from the “Great Land of Texas,” with the gun emoji in his profile. He wrote articles on protrump45.com like “Religion of Peace Strikes Again” after the Manchester Arena bombing, and was also a stock photo on Twitter. There was Kendra Manning from Miami Beach and David from South Carolina and Chinami K, “a Japanese American LEGAL immigrant,” emphasis hers.
And then there was Mincey. The profile picture for @Protrump45 was not a photo of a woman actually named Nicole Mincey. It was a stock photo of a black model whose face had been substantially lightened and cropped by whoever was running @protrump45.
“Sorry, I can’t tell you who she is out of respect for her privacy, but I can tell you that [the woman in Mincey’s Twitter photo] is obviously not the person that the president tweeted at,” Navid Safabakhsh, the CEO of PlaceIt, a logo mockup and stock photo company, told The Daily Beast on Sunday afternoon.
Mincey had apparently stolen a stock photo owned by PlaceIt for her social-media bio—and now Safabakhsh and the employees at his stock-photo company are trying to find out how many identities Mincey’s site pilfered to push anti-CNN memes and sell trinkets.
Safabakhsh was not happy when he learned that his company’s stock photo was linked to @protrump45, and he launched a mission to stomp out the fake accounts before they were thanked by the president again.
All the accounts retweeted by @protrump45 are gone from Twitter now, because they were all stock photos attached to Twitter accounts that only existed to like @protrump45’s posts and share its memes, which mostly and ironically decried mainstream media as fake news funded by liberal billionaire George Soros.
“I also, so far, can only find one main account and the rest feed off of it. The main, popular account (@protrump45) just retweets and likes the other ones that have less [content],” said Safabakhsh.
“Those are who are using PlaceIt models to create bot accounts are committing identity fraud,” the company wrote on its Twitter account shortly after The Daily Beast reached out. “We will be reporting every single one of them.”
Safabakhsh quickly started an interoffice Google doc to get the accounts taken down, since identity impersonation violates Twitter’s terms of service. They began falling like dominoes on Sunday.
Still, as of Sunday afternoon, Mincey and her 146,000 followers remained live. For the moment.
Nicole Mincey had already changed her profile picture from the stock photo to a picture of an entirely different black woman—also not named Nicole Mincey—when her account began to change dramatically on Sunday night.
Shortly after 5 p.m., @ProTrump45 became @AlexandriaM0ra. Nicole’s name had been replaced with a single period. @AlexandriaM0ra had adopted all of @ProTrump45’s 146,000 followers. Elsewhere, a user set up a new @ProTrump45 account, which retained all of its other characteristics and began tweeting in the same pro-Trump voice, mirroring earlier talking points. Mostly, I’m not a bot.
In direct messages with The Daily Beast, the user behind @ProTrump45 after the followers switched—who still identified herself as Nicole—claimed she had been hacked and had her followers stolen by a mysterious entity behind the new @Alexandriam0ra.
“I was texted a link concerning a password change request and I logged on to see all of this. I was prompted for my password when I logged on (which is unusual on my phone) and was told that my password was incorrect. I double and triple checked,” she wrote.
The person running @ProTrump45 insisted she doesn’t know anyone named Alexandria Mora (the new name, as of Sunday, for the original @protrump45 account).
A few minutes later, the new @ProTrump45 tweeted one last time.
“I will be moving the #ProTrump45 store to other social media platforms. This Twitter handle is available for purchase,” it read.
Selling your Twitter handle breaks a rule in Twitter’s terms of service. Within minutes, @ProTrump45 and @AlexandriaM0ra were banned from Twitter.
Nicole Mincy, without the “e” in her last name, has had a strikingly similar life to Nicole Mincey, the woman behind the stock photo who runs @ProTrump45]. They both grew up in New Jersey, according to the real Nicole’s Facebook page and Mincey’s ProTrump45 profile. Both are now in college, and wrote blogs for ProTrump45.
Nicole Mincy, the real live person who goes to St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, puts another name in front of Nicole on Facebook. She repeatedly insisted we not print that name, which appears on her Facebook page, as a precondition for an interview. Her biography on ProTrump45 and its social media pages is otherwise basically identical to her life story.
Nicole Mincy stressed to websites like Heavy.com all day Monday that she wasn’t the same person as Nicole Mincey. Someone had stolen her identity entirely, but she wouldn’t say who or how.
I reached out to her on Facebook. What a crazy 24 hours that must’ve been, I said.
“Not responding to media inquiries,” said Mincy. “This has been one large headache. Hope you understand.”
I tried again later.
“If I need you I will message you thanks a lot,” she wrote back. She added a thumbs up emoji.
Then I reached out one more time.
“I’d really like a chance to talk to you—even if you really ran that store!” I wrote. I said I wasn’t doing “nearly anything as productive” in college, which was true. “You can ignore this if you’d like, but I’d just really like to hear your side of it.”
“Not everyone likes trump,” she wrote back. She added a crying emoji. “And what exactly are you publishing?”
Then this: “What’s your story I’ll verify it.”
I think you were running an online store, I told her. You were making some money, then the president retweeted you and people went nuts, saying you weren’t the woman in the picture.
“It was a group you need the whole story,” she wrote. “Call?”
About a half-hour later, Nicole Mincy called me. The group, she said, was about “10 of us.” They were just called ProTrump45, “full of people with Republican opinions.”
The group reached out to Nicole in January through her Instagram, where she had been posting pro-Trump memes and the occasional picture of herself. It was a woman named Lorraine, specifically, who asked her to join ProTrump45’s blog. Lorraine, she said, was from Texas, and there was another guy named William. Lorraine was selling clothes and writing blogs on ProTrump45.com and they wanted Nicole to help.
“I was the one writing the blog posts. I wrote, like, the second most blogs,” she said.
Lex, the Twitter model from North Arlington? Not real. That’s Lorraine, she said. So is David from South Carolina. So is Chinami, the supposed legal immigrant.
All of @protrump45’s Twitter followers were entirely invented, except for her and a woman named Mary Mack, who went by @MtSaintMarys on Twitter, she said. That account is now suspended for using a stock photo.
Nicole doesn’t even have a Twitter account of her own, she said. Just an Instagram and a Facebook account.
That’s why she and Lorraine and William had a big falling out. They started using Nicole’s identity, and college address, for ProTrump45 business, she claimed.
“They altered the spelling of my last name so it would be hard for me to find it,” she said. “I’m very angry at them because I told them to stop using my identity before. They would temporarily stop and then start back up again. This isn’t my first time telling them to stop. They wrote articles about a fake identity that doesn’t exist.”
Nicole said she got a call from the dean at her college saying someone in her name was using the college’s mailing address for business purposes. (I called St. Peters Dean Scott Stoddart, but he didn’t pick up.)
“When I Googled ProTrump45, I dropped out of the group. I saw they were using my name without my permission [on Twitter]. When I told them to take my name off, they did,” she said.
She said she stopped working for ProTrump45 in early June. “It does make perfect sense, marketing-wise why they would do that. I was talking to someone who said, ‘You’re black, so they took the opportunity there.’”
Then, on Sunday, Nicole said, an aunt had been reading a story with her name in it. She’d been retweeted by President Trump—except she hadn’t.
It was Lorraine and William, she claimed. They had access to the account using her name that was retweeted by the president. She’d never even met these people, she said. She had videochatted with them a couple of times, but that’s all.
Now they were controlling her name, and a stock model’s face.
“[ProTrump45] started trolling Trump’s twitter, saying nice things in the replies. Everyone is tracing it back to me, but it isn’t my picture,” she said. “We all joined the group to be anonymous Trump supporters.”
Lorraine apologized to her today, but William has been unresponsive, she said.
Oh, and there was another member, Nicole told me. Her name is Naijana. There was an interview done with a national right-wing radio show called Trending Today USA, Nicole said, and it was performed in the “Nicole” character, but it was actually Naijana.
“She went on as a fake character,” she said.
She manages the store, too. Naijana, William, and Lorraine. That’s it.
Nicole said she was never paid, that she never even asked for money, that she “wanted to write blogs and get the conservative view out.”
“The reason I was so reluctant to talk to the media is that people were assuming without talking to me first,” Nicole said.
She then gave me an email address and a phone number for Lorraine to confirm things.
The phone number rang through. There was no voicemail. The email address responded within minutes.
“I’m declining all interviews at this time,” Lorraine wrote back.
The username for the email Nicole gave me was LorraineElijah53. But there’s no Lorraine Elijah in Texas, according to public-records searches. There are only a handful of Lorraine Elijahs in the country. However, there is a Lorraine Elijah, born in 1953, who lives in Newark, just like Nicole.
I called Nicole back.
“I don’t even know if [Texas] was her real location,” she said. “Maybe she misspelled her own name to be harder to find.”
I asked her for William’s email. She told me it’s email@example.com, the one I’d found that was associated with ProTrump45’s website. That one doesn’t respond. I asked for William’s phone number. It immediately redirected to an app that hands out instant, free phone numbers. I asked if he gave her another number. Nicole sent me one more phone number. It went straight to voicemail.
I asked her for some screenshots, or some documented proof of any kind that Lorraine and William texted her before today. All of her emails and texts before June were deleted, she said. “I needed to save space on my phone,” she said.
I asked for some documentation since June, then. It took Nicole 90 minutes to send five screenshots of her phone. She was “blurring out names and curse words.”
She sent call logs, where names can be swapped out. It appeared she called Naijana 11 times on July 21, two weeks after she stopped working at ProTrump45.com.
One of the screenshots was a text exchange featuring comic-book-level villainy, but no timestamps.
“Yall not slick. I’ve told yall this before stop using that fake alteration of my name,” Nicole wrote.
“Nicole mincey generates more traffic, sorry hun,” wrote Lorraine.
“Nicole mincey is already all over the web your name doesn’t come up,” said William.
Wait, I thought William hadn’t responded to her all day?
“He responded late asf [as fuck],” she said.
“I can’t prove anything with these,” I said.
“Ah I’m not familiar with investigative journalism,” she said.
“Trust me when I say the real story is better than having a fake story out there,” I said.
“It was really a group, however I don’t want my name exposed or anyone else’s,” she said.
She then went back to pleading for her first name, her real one, to not be included in the article. And it wasn’t just because of the potential backlog of unfilled orders at ProTrump45, an off-brand apparel company with no working contact information and imaginary employees.
“It’s hard with Trump. A lot of people don’t like him, unfortunately,” she said.