Not only is the group behind organizing paid speaking events and conferences for post-White House Trump not able to pay its bills, but The American Freedom Tour, founded by motivational speaker, Chris Widener, has been plagued with cancelations and complaints from stiffed vendors, employees, and investors—resembling little more than a membership selling pyramid scheme aimed to grift Trump’s disgruntled MAGA base after he lost the 2020 election.
“The American Freedom Tour provides patriotic, educational events that promote freedom and conservative ideas to shape opinions and culture nationwide.”
According to The Washington Post, tour co-founder Chris Widener—motivational speaker turned political rally promoter —told far-right propaganda news network One America News:
“They’re deplorable, they’re racist, they’re sexist, xenophobic, transphobic — they’ve been beaten up for five years,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we did some rallies around the country, and got conservatives together so that folks could look around and say, ‘I’m not alone.'”
Widener took his idea to four times bankrupt, cash-strapped fellow motivational speaker, Brian J. Forte, who agreed. In October 2021, the American Freedom Tour kicked off in Jacksonville, Florida.
“The tour was inspired by a nation of disappointed voters and a love for President Donald J. Trump,” – AFT Spokesperson, Larry Ward
Forte suffered multiple business and financial setbacks related to his motivational speaking and corporate success business “Get Motivated.”
In a February 2018 bankruptcy filing, the Maserati driving, private plane flying grifter, claimed debts of over $2.1 million—almost a million dollars less than the serial entrepreneur’s assets—and listed a monthly income of $3326— leaving the down on his luck serial entrepreneur looking for a new payday.
By 2020, Forte was 48 and unemployed, with no income to cover his court-ordered child support, according to an affidavit. “I am currently trying to get sponsors for new events,” Forte wrote.
Tickets for the splashy events, mimicking that of MAGA rallies, ranged from a seemingly affordable $55 per ticket to over $4000. The Washington Post reported:
Those who pay more are granted access to backstage events, such as photos and private Q&As. Top dollar garners a “patriot” experience with a private after-party and access to Trump — though the site doesn’t list how much this costs. The group declined to specify the rate, only that it was more than $4,000.
Attendees are treated to an evening of gaslighting, election lie whining, lib “owning,” hate, and fearmongering from not only the ex-President but a rotating list of former Trump White House employees, loyal right-wing pundits, and sycophantic election deniers. AFT promotes the “all-star” lineup on its website:
The American Freedom Tour with President Donald J. Trump is a historic must-attend event featuring America’s top Insiders and Influencers, live-and-in-person including President Donald J. Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Dinesh D’Souza, Kayleigh McEnany, Dan Bongino, Laura Ingraham, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Judge Jeanine Pirro, Sheriff Mark Lamb, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and many more.
Take a trip around the American Freedom Tour webpage, and you’ll eventually land on its “Become a Member,” and “Become a Sponsor,” pages. Offering “exclusive access,” to the former President starting at just $100 a year, and misleading potential members to believe that they are contributing to the “saving of America.”
“President Trump needs you. America needs you! Join Today!”
“This is your chance to be a part of a history-building a group of Patriots who will make America Great Again!”
The American Freedom Club promotes itself in a way not unlike Trump’s political fundraising. Seeking recurring “donations,” or contributions in the interest of saving America. The problem is there is no indication of where the money is going. The Washington Post reported:
“Paid presidential speeches are nothing new. It’s nice to work if you can get it,” said Mark K. Updegrove, president of the LBJ Foundation and author of “Second Acts: Presidential Lives And Legacies After The White House.” “The difference here is Trump is doing this under the guise of a political rally. There might be a little deception there.”
That’s an understatement.
Despite selling tickets, memberships, and “educational” coursed, the American Freedom Tour still managed to fail financially—not unlike its headliner who bankrupted a casino. Donald Trump got his dough, while those working on his AFT rallies got the shaft.
Only the December Mar-a-Lago event remains on the schedule after multiple cancelations by AFT, begging the question: where did the money go? It didn’t go into Trump’s official Save America PAC, it didn’t go to pay workers and vendors, and American Freedom Tour CEO Brian Forte filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a Tampa, Florida court—his fifth—on July 23rd.
“The tour has had a slate of problems, including angry investors, speakers, and vendors who have not been paid.”
Reports of financial troubles for the Tour were dismissed as “growing pains.”
“The tour did have some unexpected scheduling issues over the summer that slowed things down, but we are working through it,” said Larry Ward, a spokesman for the company. “We are positioning the tour for greater strength and success going forward.”
As far as AFT skipping out on its fiduciary obligations, a five-times bankrupt motivational speaker partners with a six-times bankrupt twice impeached ex-President under federal investigation – who didn’t see this coming?
Original reporting by Josh Dawsey and Isaac Arnsdorf at The Washington Post.
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