How MyPillow guy Mike Lindell came to Jesus — and to Donald Trump

Mike Lindell was just a guy who sold pillows on TV — until he met Dr. Ben Carson at the National Prayer Breakfast

Published September 3, 2021 2:43PM (EDT)

Michael Lindell, with My Pillow, laughs with President Donald Trump during a "Made in America," roundtable event in the East Room at the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Michael Lindell, with My Pillow, laughs with President Donald Trump during a "Made in America," roundtable event in the East Room at the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

This article originally appeared at The Young Turks. Used by permission.

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One of a series about the Fellowship Foundation, the secretive religious group that runs the National Prayer Breakfast and is popularly known as The Family. This series is based on Family documents obtained by TYT, including lists of breakfast guests and who invited them.

Perhaps as much as former President Trump himself, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell has become the public face of the Big Lie. Like the Jan. 6 Capitol attackers, Lindell is brandishing openly theocratic, Christian beliefs to secure a Biblically based autocracy led by a man he sees as divinely anointed.

Lindell wasn't always this way. But over the past several years, people with ties to The Family have played key roles behind the scenes in Lindell's radicalization, religiously and politically.

Family insiders and allies, for instance, have dominated the boards of Lindell's nonprofits. One man associated with The Family was part of Lindell's "legal offense fund" to challenge election results.

Lindell's faith journey often features in his speeches. As he tells it, God orchestrated a series of events that changed him from a casual Christian into the hardcore, autocratic evangelical who called for the U.S. military to install Trump in a second term.

"What gave [Lindell] the certainty he was looking for was evangelical Christianity," one Republican operative told Politico. "He was born again."

That religious certitude has proved infectious. A MyPillow employee told Politico, "There's a lot of people calling and saying Mike is a disciple of God."

Lindell's certainty rests on his conviction that God had a hand in key moments in his life. That conviction, he explains, arose from his inability to see any other explanation for those events. He called his memoir, "What Are the Odds?"

What Lindell appears not to know, however, is the full extent of Family involvement in the events that so profoundly changed him.

Publicly, Lindell has only addressed his Family ties in relation to one incident: The 2016 National Prayer Breakfast. And even there, he elides important details that we can now fill in. He has never said, for instance, who invited him or why. 

Cue Stephen Baldwin

Lindell met actor Stephen Baldwin at a New York radio station. "I'd felt led to visit the station in early 2014, though at the time I wasn't sure why," Lindell wrote in his book. "Now I know it was to meet Stephen, who became like a brother to me."

In a brief call this week, Lindell told TYT how he came to attend the 2016 prayer breakfast: "I was invited at the last minute by my friend Stephen Baldwin." The Christian actor also attended that year's breakfast.

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Baldwin, a Trump supporter, would be at Lindell's side for a number of important events. But, according to an internal Family document, it was not Baldwin who invited Lindell to the breakfast; at least, not directly. (Baldwin and others with ties to The Family did not respond to requests for comment, unless noted otherwise.)

The year before Baldwin met Lindell, the Christian actor and movie producer started his own religious endeavor: Friends of Stephen Baldwin Ministry. All three principals of Baldwin's nonprofit have had ties to The Family. 

One of the three principals was Margie Frank, connected by court records to a Texas oil inheritance. A six-figure donor to conservative causes, including reducing reproductive rights, Frank more recently has backed Republicans pushing the Big Lie.

Frank's husband, Jonathan, was quoted in Philippine media as a spokesperson for the National Prayer Breakfast, in relation to boxer Manny Pacquiao's attendance in 2015. The religious, right-wing fighter ostensibly was invited by Congress, but the invitation reportedly was delivered by a Texas pastor named Wilfred Job.

Job, whose church had a significant Filipino population, was the second Family affiliate running Baldwin's ministry. The third principal at Baldwin's ministry was a Pennsylvania real-estate developer named Todd Hendricks. Both Job and Hendricks are connected to The Family.

A source close to The Family told TYT that Job did virtually nothing without Hendricks. Internal Family documents support this: The two men are listed as collaborating to invite 29 people in 2016. Job invited no one on his own.

(Job's nine other invitations were submitted in conjunction with two then-leaders of The Family: Doug Coe, now deceased, and former South Carolina governor David Beasley, now head of the UN World Food Programme.)

By contrast, Hendricks appears to have had more autonomy. Hendricks submitted names on his own for both 2016 and 2018. Aside from Coe, no individual submitted more guest names for the 2016 event than Hendricks did: 109. He had at least 59 people attend in 2018.

Three years after joining Baldwin's ministry, it was Job, with Coe's sign-off, who invited Baldwin's new friend, Lindell — best known back then as TV's pillow pitchman — to the 2016 National Prayer Breakfast, along with his girlfriend. According to the same internal Family document, Hendricks invited Baldwin and Pacquiao.

Asked about Job, Lindell said, "I don't know who you're talking about." Asked whether he was aware that the Lindell Foundation listed Job as its president on its 2017 tax filing, Lindell said, "No." Pressed for details, Lindell said, "Go to jail. Go somewhere and find yourself a nice jail cell because that's where you're going to end up. Goodbye."

Whether or not Lindell knows Job and Hendricks, that's how TV's pillow guy — not yet very religious, let alone political — ended up at the National Prayer Breakfast. It was at the breakfast where he would meet Dr. Ben Carson, and hear a prophecy that would change everything.

The prophecy

Although the president's Thursday morning speech is the public highlight, the National Prayer Breakfast is actually a four-day event. It's in breakout rooms and prayer sessions where the real work gets done.

The night before the breakfast, Lindell met retired Army Maj. Gen. Bob Dees. Dees told TYT he has attended a number of breakfasts over the last decade and "various other events with Fellowship members," but has "no direct association with the Fellowship Foundation."

A source close to The Family agreed with that characterization, saying Dees had ties to The Family, but was nowhere near the inner circle. Dees had, however, just started working very closely with someone who was in the inner circle.

Carson, a future Trump cabinet member, was already a Family star — having ripped into then-President Obama during a speech at the 2013 breakfast. Now, Carson himself was running for president. Dees was running Carson's campaign. And the campaign had just brought on a Family board member to head up communications.

Dees declined to reveal some specifics about his discussions with Lindell, but did share a few. "I can offer that we had a far-ranging discussion in a breakout room the day prior to the prayer breakfast," Dees said.

Lindell is only slightly more expansive in his book. "I talked with [Dees] for over an hour," Lindell writes, "in a discussion about the direction of the country."

Now the president of Resilience Consulting, Dees has worked with a wide range of conservative Christian organizations, including Liberty University and Military Ministry, which strives to convert members of the armed forces. He has also drawn scrutiny for his LGBTQ positions and views on Islam.

After the breakfast, Lindell says, he and Baldwin were "randomly" invited to a breakout room where a dozen would gather for prayer, including Ben Carson. Lindell doesn't say who picked him.

And it's not clear how random it was. Dees told TYT, "After the prayer breakfast, the NPB leadership asked me to bring Dr. Ben Carson to a small room for follow-up prayer with a small group of perhaps 15 individuals, including Mike Lindell." 

Dees wouldn't say who asked him to bring Carson to meet Lindell and the others. "From my perspective," Dees said, "it was simply a courtesy to put a man of Dr. Carson's prominence together with a seemingly randomly selected group of NPB attendees."

Baldwin, however, apparently already knew Carson, because Lindell says it was Baldwin who introduced him to Carson in the breakout room. And Carson's communications director, A. Larry Ross, was also at the breakfast.

Whether Lindell knew it or not, Ross is also The Family's spokesperson and a key leader. A Texas public relations man who long worked for Billy Graham, Ross has been on the board of the Fellowship Foundation, The Family's legal entity, since 2011. If Job and Hendricks brought Lindell to the starting gate, it would be Ross who eventually got Lindell to the finish line.

It's in the breakout room after the breakfast that Lindell hears the prophecy. He loves the story enough to have told it many times since, but not enough to tell it consistently. 

In June, Lindell told it this way:

[I]n that room we were praying, the, a guy in there prophesied in there. He said, "Two of you in this room are gonna become great friends and change the course of history." And Ben and I are great friends! And he said, and I'm sitting there, though, as they're praying and he's saying that, I go, I go, "If one of them's me, who would the other one be?" and this, things started happening to me.

In his 2019 book, he tells the story differently. It's not just two of them, and the prophecy isn't directed specifically at him. "Two or three of you in this room are going to become great friends," the unnamed prophet says. "And you will be part of a great change in our nation."

Either way, the prophecy hit Lindell like a thunderbolt with his name on it. What he may not have known was that The Family throws the exact same thunderbolt at pretty much everyone, even printing it on breakfast literature.

It's based on Matthew 18:20: Where two or three of you gather in my name, there am I with them. As Coe put it to journalist Jeff Sharlet, "Two, or three, agree? They can do anything." 

What they would do was also a topic of discussion at the breakfast breakout room. And it wasn't just faith.

"I suddenly found myself surrounded by people talking about God and politics," Lindell says in his book.

The dozen people in the room gathered in a circle and began talking about the critical importance of the 2016 election. We agreed it was going to be a real spiritual turning point for the country. One path could lead us toward national renewal. The other could lead us down a dark path from which there might be no return, a path that had begun with the removal of God from the public square.

Lindell's discussion in the breakout room — with Carson, Dees, Baldwin and others — he writes, "opened my eyes to the impact of politics on ordinary people."

After dropping out of the Republican presidential race in March 2016, Carson tells Trump about Lindell, who then gets invited to meet with Trump on Aug. 15. The day before their meeting, Lindell donates $2,700 to Trump's campaign, $17,300 to the Republican National Committee, and $20,000 to Trump Victory. (Trump Victory was later accused along with state party committees of circumventing donation limits. The first federal donation of Lindell's life had been $527.27 to the Republican Party of Virginia on May 25, the day Trump Victory was formed.)

The Family had helped to open Lindell's eyes to Trump, but his soul still needed work. Within a year, though, Lindell would be on his knees.

The operation

In the months after bringing Baldwin and Lindell to the prayer breakfast, Family insiders expanded their sphere beyond Baldwin and his nonprofits to Lindell's.

Why the interest in Lindell — who wasn't yet an evangelical?

The source close to The Family said they weren't aware of the relationships with Baldwin and Lindell, but had heard of tensions between Hendricks and Job and the internal team, including Beasley, that oversaw much of the breakfast logistics. 

Referring to Hendricks and Job specifically, the source told TYT, "Those guys were always hunting a big fish like a Mike Lindell that would support their stuff."

The source said, "If you can convince him, 'Oh, we're doing this amazing work,' he might just be the kind of guy that gives you $10 million. Or he might be the kind of guy that puts you on his charitable foundation board and gives you a salary."

Baldwin's ministry never filed any federal tax forms, so it's not clear whether anyone got paid. The Lindell Foundation, however, is another story.

Tax filings for the Lindell Foundation don't list any board members for 2016, but Lindell writes that Ross joined the board that year. The following year, the Lindell Foundation lists six people as officers or directors — half of them tied to The Family.

In addition to Lindell's niece and a lawyer from Texas (where Ross and Job are based), the four other people named are three board members — Lindell, Ross and Dees — and a new president: Wilfred Job, who takes home $55,385 that year.

Asked about Job by TYT, Lindell said, "I don't know who you're talking about." 

In 2018, Lindell brings on a right-wing Republican from his home state, Doug Wardlow — a former intern of Family friend Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa — who soon becomes MyPillow's general counsel and is now enmeshed in the company's Big Lie legal battles. Job doesn't appear on the filings anymore.

Ross, however, the Family board member and former Carson spokesperson, expands his role in the Lindell-verse.

How much Ross's communications company makes from his work we don't know, but Ross ends up serving as a spokesperson for Baldwin, Lindell, the Lindell Foundation and MyPillow. And helping Lindell get Trump elected.

Three days before the Trump/Clinton matchup, Manny Pacquiao stepped into the ring with Jessie Vargas for the WBO welterweight championship. Lindell was ringside, along with The Family.

Lindell and Baldwin had flown to Las Vegas for the fight at the invitation of a "group of [Baldwin's] friends," Lindell writes. He doesn't name these friends, but says, "One of the men in our party was a prominent Democrat I'd met at the National Prayer Breakfast."

Wilfred Job — who had delivered Pacquiao's 2015 breakfast invite — reportedly traveled with Baldwin on at least two occasions. Ross was also in town and joined Lindell for a big group dinner.

During the meal, the Trump campaign called: They wanted Lindell back in Minnesota the next day to join Trump for a rally two days before the vote. The only problem: No flights.

The group — apparently all Trump supporters — start hunting online for tickets. "Suddenly," Lindell writes, "Larry called out, 'Got it!' ... Larry hustled me out of the restaurant, and we jumped in a car for McCarran."

At a meeting of the Lindell Foundation board that same month, Ross comes to Lindell's aid again. He encourages Lindell to attend a program for military veterans. The program, Lindell writes, had helped hundreds of veterans "come to a place of freedom by locating primary points of pain in their pasts, and inviting God in to heal them."

Operation Restored Warrior (ORW) has multiple connections to The Family. Ross had participated in the program, as had retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, now a vice president at the Family Research Council.

The man who ran Operation Restored Warrior was Paul Lavelle, who had met Lindell at the 2016 breakfast. Like Dees, the source described Lavelle as well outside the inner circle, but having ties to The Family.

One of ORW's funders had invited Lavelle to the breakfast (along with six people from Compassion International, a Ross client that has been accused of trying to proselytize the vulnerable children it serves). At the breakfast, Lindell later wrote in his book, Lavelle "felt led" to invite Lindell to ORW. 

Pressed by both Ross and Kendra, his girlfriend, Lindell agrees to go to ORW, but he's still reluctant about it. That changes at his second National Prayer Breakfast. 

There, he writes, he was inspired by the "powerful, jaw-dropping message" of Senate Chaplain Barry Black. Lindell doesn't give specifics, but in his speech, Black argued for the existence of an interventionist God, still active in the matters of humanity, who takes action in response to prayers.

Three months after Ross's suggestion and just weeks after Black's speech, Lindell flies to Colorado and delivers himself up first to Lavelle, and then to Jesus. 

"I went in there with hope," Lindell later told the Christian Broadcasting Network. "I said, 'God please, show me you're real, show me, you know? I want that personal relationship,' And on the second day, on Feb. 18, 2017, I did a full surrender on my knees."

"I can now," Lindell says later, "talk about Jesus Christ in the same way I used to talk about a pillow."


As TYT reported earlier this year, a number of known Family leaders and backers have donated to Trump and other Republicans after they began telling Americans the election was stolen. Future reports will identify others, in addition to those named here.

Much as many Family leaders reject separation of church and state, Lindell observes few distinctions between his personal, commercial, philanthropic, religious and political pursuits. Ross has continued to represent not just the Lindell Foundation but Lindell himself and MyPillow, which has been an active participant in Lindell's Big Lie crusade..

On March 17 of this year, Lindell created a new nonprofit: The Lindell Legal Offense Fund. Its purpose: "Advancing legal efforts regarding election integrity issues …"

The three-man board includes Lindell and lawyer Kurt Olsen, a lawyer and special ops veteran whose assistance to Lindell included last month's disastrous election-security summit. The third man is Paul Lavelle.

Despite the summit's outcome — which Lindell blamed on outside forces — his faith remains steady, his political convictions unshaken. 

A report this summer by the conservative outlet The Dispatch says that Lindell starts most of his days on the phone with his prayer group. But it doesn't say who they are.

With additional research and reporting by TYT Investigates News Assistant Zoltan Lucas and Intern Jamia Zarzuella.

By Jonathan Larsen

Jonathan Larsen is the creator of The F**king News.

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