Trump's inner circle funding secret influence campaigns through teenage memers
First son Donald Trump, Jr. (screengrab)

Donald Trump's inner circle is paying teenagers and young adults to push out right-wing memes to promote the former president's re-election.

Those memers first caught the attention of MAGA merchants, who paid them to display ads for their products, but some high-profile campaign funds and individuals associated with the twice-impeached one-term president have also paid these high schoolers to promote their content, reported HuffPost.

"Since the 2020 election, these meme moguls have quietly collected payments to run ads for the Trump campaign's 'Election Defense Fund'; former senior Trump aide Jason Miller's new social media network, GETTR; Trump confidant Mike Lindell's bedding company, MyPillow; and, as recently as a few weeks ago, the National Republican Senatorial Committee," the website reported. "In a few cases, the memers have included high-schoolers as young as 14. Some of these discreet ad deals were brokered directly between teens and former members of the Trump White House."

Most of those ads are links inserted in the memers' Instagram bios, which captions urging social media users to click through to the advertiser's website, and the teens are paid a small fee through a third-party marketing agency for each person who clicks the link.

"There's a lot of money to be made," said one memer with hundreds of thousands of followers. "You just gotta know the right people."

Those people include Ory Rinat, the former chief digital officer of Trump's White House who now operates the influencer marketing platform Urban Legend; Sondra Clark, the former marketing director for Trump's executive office, and Donald Trump Jr., who shared some of their memes on his own Instagram account.

"Advertisers set up campaigns where they pay for ― and creators are paid for ― driving specific results like newsletter sign-ups, event registrations, or visits to a landing page," said a spokesperson for Urban Legend. "In the past year, brands have launched 175 campaigns through the [Urban Legend] platform, mobilizing creators across the ideological spectrum and beyond politics, in verticals like healthcare, parenting, and sports."

The memers spread false information about COVID-19 and public safety measures, including vaccines, and call for deporting elected officials who are women of color and QAnon-adjacent claims that President Joe Biden is a pedophile, with links to sponsored content from MyPillow, GETTR and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

These influence campaigns, which are largely shielded from advertising regulations, could open the door to dark-money campaigns and targeted disinformation operations conducted by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency in 2016, and none of the ads reviewed by HuffPost were labeled as paid advertisements -- a deceptive practice known as "stealth shilling" -- and most were deleted within a day or two.

"A lot of this stuff is very down-low," the memer said.