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That Russian bot Trump retweeted? Not so fast

Not every conspiracy emanates from Russia.

The Washington Post ran a story on August 7 about a phony Twitter account President Trump had retweeted two days earlier. “The curious case of ‘Nicole Mincey,’ the Trump fan who may actually be a Russian bot,” the headline read.

The account Trump retweeted no longer exists.

Nicole Mincey is, in fact, a phony, as Yahoo Finance has documented—and Trump was duped into believing she was real. But the people behind the fake persona don’t appear to be Russians at all. Instead, they’re a handful of small-time hustlers who created the “Nicole Mincey” persona to help sell pro-Trump hats and T-shirts.

“The Washington Post article about me being Russian is BULLS–T,” a woman calling herself Lorraine Elijah, believed to have created the Nicole Mincey persona, told Yahoo Finance in an email. “I live in America and have never been out of the country.”

“Nicole Mincey” arose from the web site, which until recently hawked pro-Trump merchandise. She was supposedly a young black woman who supported Barack Obama in the past, but had an awakening in 2016 and became a vocal Trump supporter, starting an online store in the process. Articles about her appeared on sites such as the Daily Caller and Buzzfeed.

In reality, the store was started by two people using the names Lorraine Elijah and Dr. William Byrd. They recruited a handful of supporters by reaching out to people they found on social media, who seemed to have pro-Trump leanings. The Mincey Twitter account, using the handle @ProTrump45, had 146,000 followers before Twitter shut it down in early August. But those followers were mostly purchased by “Lorraine Elijah,” and the images of Nicole Mincey were scraped from other web sites and purchased from Placeit, a site that allows users to overlay logos and designs on images of their choice. In that way, various images of “Nicole Mincey” depicted an attractive young black woman wearing “Make American Great Again” hats and T-shirts.

Yahoo Finance cannot verify who, exactly, Lorraine Elijah is, but the purpose of the whole caper seems to have nothing to do with disrupting American democracy or aiding the Trump agenda.

“The purpose was so me and William can make some money,” she told Yahoo Finance in an email. “I joined Twitter to make money and now this is a nightmare gone wrong. I may have criminal or civil charges against [me] so if you can imagine I want this over as quickly as possible.”

At this point, a quick end seems unlikely.

Confidential tip line: Encrypted communication available.

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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman