How a shepherd dressed as a pirate helped ignite the Trump Media market frenzy

One afternoon last month, Chad Nedohin, a part-time pastor and staunch supporter of Donald J. Trump, donned a pirate costume, set up his microphone and said a prayer.

Nedohin was opening his latest live stream on the right-wing video site Rumble, where he has about 1,400 followers who share devotion to Trump Media & Technology Group, the former president's social media company.

“Faith comes from listening, that is, hearing the good news about Christ,” said Mr. Nedohin, 40, his face framed by fake dreadlocks under a pirate-style hat.

Nedohin and his viewers were awaiting the results of a merger vote that would determine whether Trump's company could start selling shares on Wall Street. Soon the news on Trump Media arrived via an audio feed: it would be made public.

Mr. Nedohin raised his arms in celebration. A few minutes later, he cut to a video of a rocket exploding in the sky, which Trump Photoshopped onto. “We own Trump stock,” he said. “We are now financial investors in him.”

Nedohin is one of hundreds of thousands of amateur investors who own shares of Trump Media, convinced that his unique platform, Truth Social, will become one of the most popular and profitable social media sites in the world. In recent months, tens of thousands of Trump fans have tuned into Nedohin's webcasts, in which he urges viewers to invest in the company, arguing that “Trump always wins in the long run.”

The enthusiasm of Nedohin and other Trump supporters has turned Trump Media into the latest “meme stock,” driven more by Internet hype than business fundamentals. In the public markets, these amateur investors found themselves pitted against professional short sellers, specialized investors betting on stocks to fail, as well as frenetic day traders looking for a quick profit.

As a result, Trump Media's stock price has fluctuated wildly, sometimes dropping as much as 18% or rising as much as 28% in a single day. The company is “a meme stock on steroids,” one analyst recently wrote.

The stock's unpredictable swings have major implications for Trump's finances. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee owns more than $4 billion in Trump Media stock, including recently awarded bonus shares — a potential lifeline as he faces large legal bills related to the lawsuits against him. Stock volatility could add hundreds of millions of dollars to his paper wealth – or vaporize it.

A Canadian citizen, Nedohin cannot vote for Trump in November. But he owns more than 1,000 shares of Trump Media, which are trading at about $36, down about 50% from their March peak.

Nedohin began buying the shares in late 2021, after Digital World Acquisition Corporation, a publicly traded shell company, announced plans to merge with Trump Media. At the time, Digital World was trading at $93 per share.

Once the merger was final on March 25, Trump Media began trading on Wall Street, and the original Digital World shares were converted into Trump Media shares under the ticker DJT.

Mr. Nedohin said he had held onto his shares and had no plans to sell them. During the live stream, he interacts with viewers who use aliases like GOATPOTUS, urging them to maintain faith even when prices drop. “Don't be scared,” he said at a recent show.

Truth Social “has the potential to easily eclipse Twitter,” the app now known as X, Nedohin said in an interview. “I'm not worried about my investment at all.”

Nedohin doesn't like the term “meme stock” and prefers “populist retail investing.” But if he is wrong on the bet, the financial impact on his viewers and other Trump Media investors could be devastating, given the risks of these volatile stocks.

By traditional metrics, Trump Media is not a successful business. Last year the company reported revenue of $4 million and losses of $58 million. Compared to traditional social sites, Truth Social has a tiny audience: 1.5 million people visited the site last month, according to Similarweb data, a small fraction of the 75 million who logged in to X.

However, loyal investors like Nedohin are one reason why Trump Media shares are now trading at a valuation roughly equivalent to that of established companies like Wendy's and Western Union. This month, Devin Nunes, CEO of Trump Media and a former Republican congressman, cited retail investor enthusiasm as a sign of the company's strength.

Any suggestion that these traders might lose money amounts to “punching hundreds of thousands of everyday American retail investors,” Shannon Devine, a spokeswoman for Trump Media, said in an email.

From his home in Edmonton, Alberta, Mr. Nedohin works as an engineer, calculating the mechanical stress on pipes. But his passion is ministry: Although he has not been ordained, he said, he has held part-time positions in local churches, leading worship groups as a nondenominational lay pastor. He is also a guitarist, with a portfolio of original Christian songs, some of which have received airplay on Canadian radio.

Before Truth Social, he said, he sometimes posted on Facebook but never had much success. She wanted an alternative.

In 2021, Trump co-founded Trump Media after being kicked out of Twitter for his incendiary posts before the U.S. Capitol riot on January 6. A year later, Truth Social was released, run by two former “The Apprentice” contestants. “

Nedohin has been a fan ever since Trump came down the escalator at Trump Tower in Manhattan to announce his 2016 campaign. He considers the former president a supporter of Christian values ​​and believes the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Mr. Nedohin created a Truth Social account in May 2022 and soon found a community that shared his two main interests: Christianity and Digital World stocks.

“I have never met such an amazing group of people so happy to have free speech,” he said.

But Truth Social was problematic, and it took Trump months to post his first message. In 2022, the two “Apprentice” contestants left Trump Media after the Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation into the Digital World merger.

That investigation delayed Trump Media's plans to go public, and Digital World's stock price plummeted. Mr. Nedohin was worried. But in the spring of 2022, he said, he received a message from God.

“You ask him to move a mountain and sometimes he gives you a shovel,” Nedohin said. This time, he said, “that little voice inside” told him to start a podcast.

Mr. Nedohin began the Rumble show, “DWAC'd Live!” – a reference to the Digital World stock symbol. On the show, he tried to mobilize Truth Social users, urging them to send letters to Congress protesting the SEC's investigation.

He adopted the pirate persona to get attention, he said, calling himself “Captain DWAC” on the live stream. On Truth Social he emerged as what passes for an influencer, with 6,600 followers.

Mr. Nedohin's defense caught the attention of Eric Swider, a Trump Media board member and former chief executive of Digital World, who appeared on “DWAC'd Live!” last year.

“Make sure you help spread the word,” Mr. Swider said on the show, adding that “we are very, very grateful for your help.”

In July, Trump Media settled with the SEC for $18 million, paving the way for its merger with Digital World to be approved last month. Mr. Nedohin was ecstatic.

But the decline in Trump Media's share price has caused consternation online, with some Truth Social users complaining of losing money. Much of the frustration has been directed at short sellers.

Trump Media posted instructions for shareholders on its website explaining how to prevent brokerage firms from lending shares to short sellers. Last week, Nunes wrote a letter to Nasdaq, where the stock is listed, complaining about “potential market manipulation.” On Tuesday he followed up with letters to the Republican chairmen of several congressional committees. Trump had previously warned that short sellers could “be seriously hurt.”

“As a Christian, I don't believe in shorting,” Nedohin said. “I believe in building only for the positive.”

He remains fully committed to Truth Social. During the SEC protest, he said, he returned to X, hoping to raise awareness about the campaign. Now that Trump Media is a public company, “I'll never need to reach any of the people who are there,” he said.

After the livestream ended, Mr. Nedohin deleted his X account.

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