The Newest Right-Wing Fundraising Scam Is Fake Movies
They have stock footage, generic clips of police activity, and stock photos—but nothing else that indicates these films actually exist as advertised.
The clickbait industry has a new tactic to turn partisan rage into gold: selling pre-orders of culture war movies that, to all outward appearances, don’t actually exist.
“Conservative American Strategies” has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook ads composed mostly of right-wing memes stolen off the internet to hype their partisan ragebait website. But their otherwise pedestrian conservative news content farm has branched off into advertising movies (“coming soon”) like “Badge of Honor,” and “Choose Life,” an apparent anti-abortion flick, available for pre-order packages of up to $70.
What the movies don’t include is much of anything beyond stock footage, generic clips of police activity, and stock photos—or anything to suggest these films exist as advertised. Taken together, the flicks are another example of how the political grifting industry is constantly innovating new—and lower-margin—tactics to profit off of the growing market for political division.
Figuring out who exactly is getting that profit is tricky. The people behind Conservative American Strategies are difficult both to identify and even harder to contact. The Daily Beast left emails, text messages, and voicemails for the phone numbers and email addresses listed on the network’s various websites and social media accounts and received no response.
Conservative American Strategies is owned by a limited liability corporation of the same name registered in Wyoming, which allows businesses to incorporate without publicly revealing their ultimate beneficial ownership. A Facebook page for the group is managed by administrators in the U.S. and the Philippines, according to information provided by Facebook.
Most political clickbait sites are run on a slim budget and Conservative American Strategies doesn’t appear to be spending big, either on its website content or its copy editors. And in that sense, the group is no outlier. Its articles feature stilted English copy as partisan chum on issues like immigration, critical race theory, and how “the Libtard's viewpoints become increasingly impossible to quiet.”
But whoever is behind Conservative American Strategies appears to have deeper pockets than their fellow grifters. The group spent a total of $300,000 on Facebook ads between May 2018 and November 2021, according to data from Facebook’s ad library.
The group’s ads consist primarily of lame memes of the kind typically found in large-print email forwards from elderly conservatives aimed at driving traffic to the subscription “news” site. But tucked in amongst the boomer-caliber memes are ads for two films, “Badge of Honor” and “Choose Life.”
Facebook pages for the films show they’re controlled by the same folks behind “Conservative American Strategies” but offer few details on the films, who’s behind them, or what they’re about. A trailer for the film features generic stock footage of police from around the country interspersed with clips of former President Trump praising police and a narrator warning that “a thin blue line is all that stands between us and anarchy.”
The closest thing to verifiably original footage for “Badge of Honor” comes from testimonials by “Officer Tom Allen” of the “Kent County police department” and “Officer Kimberly Jones,” supposedly from the Miami Police Department. Both “officers” sing the praises of the film and Allen claims that “for only $20,” you can "set in motion a new film company committed to making the movies you've been longing to see."
But there’s signs that these two officers might not be what they claim to be. Both are depicted with artificial backgrounds depicting police facilities in California—“Jones” stands in front of police cars with California plates and “Allen” stands in front of the West Covina police department near Los Angeles (it’s unclear which Kent County Allen supposedly works in but California has no county by that name).
Even more odd, “Jones’s” uniform shows a generic five pointed star badge, which bears no resemblance to the shield-shaped badges used by Miami’s police department.
The promotional site for “Badge of Honor” promises customers that “10% of every purchase will be donated to The Badge of Honor Memorial Foundation,” which came as a surprise to David Blanchard, the president and CEO of the foundation. Reached by phone, Blanchard told The Daily Beast he’d never heard of the film or its pledge to donate proceeds from it.
“Choose Life” is even shorter on details about its plot, characters, or purpose beyond a threadbare website and Facebook page, which says it’s managed by Conservative American Strategies. A marketing site for the film calls it "A movie about the importance of life, and the beginning of life at conception."
But much like “Badge of Honor,” Choose Life’s marketing shows it relies heavily on borrowed content. The cover for the DVD features a beaming pregnant woman cradling her stomach, suggesting she stars or at least appears in the movie. A quick reverse image search, however, reveals that the image is sourced from a stock photo provided by Getty dating back to at least 2014.
The marketing for Choose Life also offers a similar pledge to readers as “Badge of Honor.” In addition to a T-shirt and a DVD signed by an unnamed “Pastor Taylor,” the filmmakers claim that they will donate 10 percent of all sales to the “Choose Life Foundation for the Unborn.” An IRS database of tax exempt organizations lists no group by that name and The Daily Beast was unable to identify any such organization.
A Facebook spokesperson told The Daily Beast that the company reviewed Conservative American Strategies’ page and found no violations but that the company will continue to monitor it and take action if the group breaks any of Facebook’s rules.
And there are signs that the folks behind Conservative American Strategies are branching out for ways to make money besides the movie business. In addition to their ads for partisan clickbait and dubious culture war films, the group now operates Conservative Investment Strategies, a website that offers investment advice about a “secret IRS loophole” and monthly subscriptions at up to $50 promising “macro-level services and specialized investment research.”