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Small-time investors in Trump’s Truth Social reckon with stock collapse

Jerry Dean McLain first bet on former president Donald Trump’s Truth Social two years ago, buying into the Trump company’s planned merger partner, Digital World Acquisition, at $90 a share. Over time, as the price changed, he kept buying, amassing hundreds of shares for $25,000 - pretty much his “whole nest egg,” he said.

That nest egg has lost more than half its value in the past two weeks as Trump Media & Technology Group’s share price dropped from $66 after its public debut last month to $22 on Tuesday. But McLain, 71, who owns a tree-removal service outside Oklahoma City, said he’s not worried. If anything, he wants to buy more.

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“I know good and well it’s in Trump’s hands, and he’s got plans,” he said. “I have no doubt it’s going to explode sometime.”

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For shareholders like McLain, investing in Truth Social is less a business calculation than a statement of faith in the former president and the business traded under his initials, DJT.

Even the company’s plunging stock price - and the chance their investments could get mostly wiped out - doesn’t seem to have shaken that faith. The stock plunged 14 percent on Tuesday, and the company has lost nearly $5 billion in value since its market debut.

As a business, Trump Media has largely underwhelmed: The company lost $58 million last year on $4 million in revenue, less than the average Chick-fil-A franchise, even as it paid out millions in executive salaries, bonuses and stock.

And in two years, Truth Social has attracted a tiny fraction of the traffic other platforms see, according to estimates from the analytics firm Similarweb - one of the only ways to measure its performance, given that the company says it “does not currently, and may never, collect, monitor or report certain key operating metrics used by companies in similar industries.”

But for some Trump investors, the stock is a badge of honor - a way to show their devotion beyond buying Trump merchandise, visiting Trump golf courses or donating to Trump’s presidential campaign.

Trump Media spokeswoman Shannon Devine said in a statement that “Truth Social has created a free-speech beachhead against Big Tech for a fraction of the start-up and operating costs that the legacy tech corporations incurred, while having no debt, more than $200 million in the bank, and the support of hundreds of thousands of retail investors who fervently believe in our mission.”

Trump Media has boasted that it has benefited from a flood of “retail investors” - small-time and amateur shareholders betting their personal cash. Its merger partner, Digital World Acquisition, said its shares were bought by nearly 400,000 retail investors, and Trump Media’s chief executive, Devin Nunes, told Fox News anchor Maria Bartiromo on April 7 that the company had added over 200,000 new ones in the previous couple of weeks.

“There’s not another company out there that has retail investors like this,” said Nunes, who this year will receive a $1 million salary, a $600,000 retention bonus and a stock package currently worth more than $2.6 million.

In an interview last month with conservative commentator Sean Hannity, the former Republican congressman recounted a recent discussion with Trump in which the men celebrated having “opened up the internet and kept it open for the American people.”

“I’ll never forget the conversation we had,” Nunes said. “He said, ‘You know, once we’re all dead and gone, this will last forever.’”

Many of Truth Social’s investors say they’re in it for the long haul. Todd Schlanger, an interior designer at a furniture store in West Palm Beach who said Trump had been one of his customers, said he’s invested about $20,000 in total and is buying new shares every week.

Schlanger said he now watches his stock performance every day hoping for positive signs. In a Truth Social post last week, he encouraged “everyone who supports Donald Trump and Truth [Social to] buy a share everyday” and asked, “Do you think we have hit bottom?” (The stock has slid about 35 percent since that post.)

He suspects the recent drops in share price have been the result of “stock manipulation” from an “organized effort” to make the company look bad. There’s no proof of such a campaign, but Schlanger is convinced. “It’s got to be political,” he said, from all the “liberals that are trying to knock it down.”

That range of emotions is on full display on Truth Social, where thousands of mostly anonymous accounts have flocked to meme-filled investor groups, one of which is emblazoned with a computer-generated image showing Trump pumping his fist on a Wall Street trading floor.

Some accounts there have recently encouraged traders to keep investing in a fight they said was about “good vs evil” - a way to defend Trump from the liberal elites laughing at him and, by extension, them. The user @BaldylocksUSMC said that “the fight has been long and hard on most of us” and that “this stock is not for the weak,” but that one day they would triumph over critics who were “brainwashed beyond repair.”

After the billionaire media mogul Barry Diller called Trump Media a “scam” stock bought by “dopes,” one account, @Handbag72, claimed to have bought more shares, arguing Diller didn’t “get it” or was “at risk of [losing] $$$$.” The next day, the account shared a 2021 blog post from the investing forum Seeking Alpha saying Truth Social could be worth $1 trillion in the next 10 years.

But there are also flickers of uncertainty and disenchantment, with some saying they faced thousands of dollars in losses or had “risked [literally] everything.” One user who had posted “Tired of WINNING yet?” earlier this year when the stock spiked posted that the recent losses were “painful to stomach.”

“Come on DJT, every time I buy more, the price drops more,” the user @bill7718 wrote. “When will it be the BOTTOM!!” (He posted a chart Thursday showing the stock rising slightly alongside the caption, “moving!!” The price has since gone back down.)

The user @manofpeace123, who said they bought shares at $65 and that 71 percent of their portfolio was DJT stock, said on Wednesday that investing was a way of telling Trump, “I believe in you and I stand with you through good times and bad.” But a day later, the user added: “can’t help but feel sad. … feel like I’m trying to catch a falling knife.”

Another account, @realJaneBLONDE, posted on April 7 that she was “NOT panicked NOT worried” before, two days later, posting a message to Trump and congressional Republicans urging them to make it “illegal” to bet against or short-sell stocks.

“Sick of MY investment money being stolen!!” she wrote. “They’re stealing peoples money and you’re allowing it!!”

Some users said they were “baffled” by the stock’s ups and downs, and one asked for advice on how to tell her husband she didn’t want to sell. One user posted a meme image saying, “If you’re worried about your Money, Remember This, DJT stock is about FREE SPEECH & Without FREE SPEECH Money won’t mean much.”

But other users saw such questions as displays of unacceptable doubt. When the user @seneca1950 asked whether anyone was concerned that the company’s upcoming plans to issue tens of millions more shares would sink the stock price, two accounts criticized the account for spreading “FUD” - fear, uncertainty and doubt.

“Are you a Fudster,” wrote a user named “Jesus Revolution 2024.” Wrote another, called Rabristol: “You must be short with no way out!”

In moments of apparent despair, some users work to lift one another up by arguing that they are enduring the same kinds of “deep state” attacks that had long shadowed Trump himself. When user @BingBlangBlaow said they were embarrassed to be so “deep in the red” and questioned why “everyone [was] acting like everything is fine,” Chad Nedohin, a Canadian investor and prominent cheerleader of the stock on Truth Social and the video site Rumble, responded, “No [one’s] fine with it, but we are DJT now. The deep state is making their run at Trump … and us.”

The user, however, posted afterward that the argument left him unconvinced. “I’m tired of blaming the deep state,” he said. Later, he added, “You would think that the ‘biggest political movement of all time’ would want to support the man leading it and get much better numbers than” this. (The accounts did not respond to messages and offered no way to contact them.)

Carol Swain, a prominent conservative commentator in Nashville who previously taught political science at Vanderbilt University, said she invested $1,000 in Trump Media stock earlier this month, at $48 a share, over the objections of her financial adviser, who predicted the stock would dive.

“If I lose it, fine. If I make a profit, wonderful. But at the end of the day, I wanted to show my support,” she said. “There’s such an effort to destroy him and strip his wealth away, and so much glee about it. I would like to see him be a winner.”

She, too, suspects stock manipulation, arguing that “the people who hate Donald Trump would do anything to try to hurt him.” As for Truth Social itself, she said she posts there only sparingly and prefers X, where she has 35 times as many followers. “I have always wanted not to just preach to the choir,” she said.

McLain, the tree service owner in Oklahoma, said he believes the stock could “go to $1,000 a share, easy,” once the media stops writing so negatively about it and the company works through its growing pains. The company’s leaders, he said, are being “too silent right now” amid questions about the falling share price, but he suspects it’s because they’re working on something amazing and new.

McLain is an amateur trader - he invested only once before and “lost [his] butt” - and said he hasn’t talked to his family about his investment, saying, “You know how that is.” But he believes the Trump Media deal is a sign he is “supposed to invest,” he said.

“This isn’t just another stock to me. … I feel like it was God Almighty that put it in my lap,” he said. “I’ve just got to hold on and let them do their job. If you go on emotion, you’ll get out of this thing the first time it goes down.”

- - -

Razzan Nakhlawi contributed to this report.

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Video: Shares of Trump Media & Technology Group ended its second week on the Nasdaq at their lowest level since the Truth Social owner went public March 26.(c) 2024 , The Washington Post

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