Bumbling conservative provocateur Jacob Wohl pitched investors this spring on a scheme to use fraudulent news stories to manipulate political betting markets, according to a fundraising document obtained by The Daily Beast.
The document indicates that Wohl attempted to raise $1 million to fund the Arlington Center for Political Intelligence, which he claimed would “make shit up” to profit from bets on political races and would suppress Democratic turnout in 2020.
“Backers will use ACPI’s insights in order to place profitable bets on political outcomes,” the pitch reads, adding that the group would also place bets themselves to guarantee a source of revenue.
The “confidential brief” makes other ambitious claims—promising to infiltrate 2020 Democratic campaigns and improve on social-media manipulation by Russian troll farms to wreak havoc on Democrats.
It’s not clear how Wohl, who has become notorious for failing at nearly every dirty tricks plot he hatches, would have pulled any of it off.
Last November, Wohl and GOP lobbyist Jack Burkman were involved in a botched attempt to smear Special Counsel Robert Mueller with trumped-up sexual-assault allegations. Their press conference turned comical when the purported victim failed to show up and Burkman pronounced Wohl a “child prodigy who has eclipsed Mozart.” The woman at the center of their plan later accused them of making it all up.
That disaster didn’t stop them from trying to carry out a nearly identical plan in recent weeks.
As The Daily Beast reported Monday, Wohl and Burkman are accused of attempting to persuade a number of gay Republicans to lodge false sexual-assault claims against Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg—including one who recorded part of the recruitment conversation.
A Michigan college student, Hunter Kelly, took the bait. But after accusations under his name were posted on Medium on Monday, Kelly denied all of it and claimed that Wohl and Burkman had tricked and coerced him—which Burkman disputed.
Wohl’s shenanigans have earned him the enmity of nearly everyone in politics and gotten him banned from Twitter. But his effort to influence and profit from political betting markets shows how he little he has been deterred by those admonitions.
On Tuesday, Wohl denied any connection to the ACPI fundraising document. But The Daily Beast obtained an email sent from Wohl’s account making the investment pitch, and also spoke with an investor who said Wohl had asked him to contribute tens of thousands of dollars to the effort.
A conservative activist familiar with Wohl’s operations told The Daily Beast that Wohl had claimed in the past that he could profit by manipulating political betting markets. A phone number listed on ACPI’s now-deleted Facebook page has also been the source of bizarre claims about Wohl and Burkman in text messages to reporters at The Daily Beast and other outlets, apparently in an attempt to fool reporters and generate fake news stories about them.
The Daily Beast is not aware of any involvement by Burkman in ACPI.
The fundraising pitch, which was marked as “priviledged [sic] and strictly confidential” at the bottom of every page, laid out how ACPI would plant fake news stories in the media using a strategy called “Feeding It Up the Chain.”
First, it would find “hungry bloggers” and feed them a “scoop and exclusive,” often a fake one.
“Make shit up,” the document reads. “Leak something sensational, extreme, sexual, scandalous, trending, or hate triggering.”
Then, the document claims, the group would “misdirect with details aimed to confuse.”
That scenario jibes with how the Buttigieg smear circulated on Monday. After the sexual-assault allegation appeared in a vague Medium post under Kelly’s name, the unverified claim was quickly trumpeted by a number of right-wing blogs, including Big League Politics, The Gateway Pundit, and InfoWars. From there, it circulated widely on conservative Twitter accounts and other blogs for hours until the accuser denied the allegations and The Daily Beast revealed that Wohl and Burkman were accused of soliciting men to make up stories about the candidate.
A source told The Daily Beast that Wohl and Burkman said the goal of that scheme was to take down the Democrat who poses a threat to President Donald Trump’s re-election. The apparent aim of ACPI’s plan was profit.
The investor pitch says that ACPI and its backers would make money by using fake stories and other tactics to affect political betting sites, where gamblers wager on the outcome of elections or other events just like they would on horses at a racetrack. It asked for $25,000 in initial investment from each backer.
“ACPI plans to produce positive cash-flow by selling intelligence to friendly campaigns and by placing bets alongside our backers on the political outcomes that we influence,” the document reads.
The outline also claims that ACPI would replicate the Russian social-media efforts from the 2016 election, using bot networks and a “troll farm” to target specific demographic groups, including black and Hispanic voters.
It imagines creating “Suburban Moms” Facebook groups devoted to a particular Democratic candidate, then attacking the candidate right before Election Day in an attempt to depress Democratic turnout.
“With a superior handle on American cultural nuances ACPI will be able to have a devastating impact on Democrat candidates,” the document reads.
The group also planned to create “high-impact political publicity stunts” to affect political races. The pitch praises two recent headline-grabbing conservative efforts—the GoFundMe campaign to fund the border wall and anti-Muslim activist Laura Loomer handcuffing herself to Twitter’s New York office—as activities to emulate.
“ACPI plans to execute similar sophisticated and impactful stunts as frequently as possible in order to influence political outcomes in the favor of our backers during the 2020 election cycle,” the pitch reads.
The group also promised to plant multiple operatives in each major 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, then sell the intelligence gathered by those informants to Republican groups. It claims that most of the spies would not realize they were working for ACPI, instead believing that they were leaking to a rival Democratic campaign.
“They won’t know that they are doing the bidding of ACPI—rather they will be led to believe that they are working to help the interest of their favorite Democrat candidate,” the outline reads. “The prospective agents will be recruited through leftwing college campus organizations, where Democrat campaigns most often recruit campaign volunteers and staffers.”
This would not be Wohl’s first attempt at creating an “intelligence agency.” To find women to accuse Mueller of sexual assault in 2018, Wohl used a front organization called Surefire Intelligence, which purported on its website to be a group of highly trained former intelligence officers. Instead, a shadowy picture of the group’s leader, when brightened, revealed the person to be Wohl himself. Other pictures of Surefire employees were just pictures of models and Hollywood actor Christoph Waltz.
While allegedly hunting for people to smear Buttigieg, Wohl used a phone number that traced back to an outfit called Potomac Intelligence. It had a website similar to Surefire that was taken down after The Daily Beast called Wohl and Burkman for comment on the Buttigieg effort.
In addition, another group called Bolt Intelligence has the same phone number as one for Potomac in an classified recruitment ad in a San Francisco newspaper. An archive of Bolt’s website also contains the phone number of Wohl’s podcast partner. The website, which has since been removed, listed the group’s specialties as “intelligence gathering, government relations and media manipulation.”
The fundraising prospectus for ACPI anticipates a need for more than $700,000 to set up the group and establish a Washington headquarters, including $288,000 in salary expenses. It’s not clear how the rest of the $1 million sought would have been spent.
It’s not clear whether anyone actually invested in the plan. The investor who said he was approached by Wohl—and who asked not to be named because he feared being associated with Wohl would hurt his business interests—said he was initially intrigued by the idea of backing Wohl to support Republican candidates.
He changed his mind, though, after reading the investment pitch and feeling that ACPI would lead to a “Jussie Smollett kind of deal.”
The investor became more cautious after he researched Wohl’s previous failed efforts. Before entering politics, for example, Wohl became famous in the financial world for becoming the youngest person to ever be banned from trading futures contracts.
“I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know,’” the potential investor said.