One thousand, two hundred and seventy-two dollars. That’s how much money I spent to learn exactly how Donald J. Trump does business.
In August 2012, I purchased the domain name Trump.org for $1,272 in an online public auction. I had heard rumors that Trump was considering running for president one day. When I came across the auction, I thought it would be a great platform for me to put a message out there. To put it politely, I was not a fan. Many times, he had flipped his position on key topics. What he says today may not be where he stands tomorrow. His questionable business practices had been a subject of news over the years. But most important, I thought Donald Trump was a self-serving man. He had no experience putting others before himself. It is always about him. That wasn’t what I wanted in a potential president, and I said so in text I posted on Trump.org.
Less than a week later, I had a FedEx overnight courier package in my hands. It contained a letter that started out, “I am writing to you on behalf of Donald J. Trump, the well-known businessman, real estate developer, and star of the television show The Apprentice.”
The bright gold letterhead on the letter read “TRUMP: The Trump Organization” — clearly, this was a man who was proud of his name. I was surprised Trump and his company didn’t own this domain already. He owns thousands of domains — the majority of them, like DonaldTrumpSucks.com, probably purchased not so that he could use them, but rather so someone else couldn’t. Buying Trump.org would have made sense for him, too, but neither he nor his employees or attorneys participated in the auction and won. I had.
One of Trump’s attorneys, Alexis Robinson, told me in the letter that I was unauthorized to use this domain name and that I illegally registered the domain. “Your unauthorized use of such Domain Name constitutes willful trademark infringement and cyber piracy,” she wrote. She claimed I was liable to pay Trump $100,000 for buying the domain. “Mr. Trump considers this to be a very serious matter and has authorized our legal team to take all necessary and appropriate actions to bring an immediate halt to your blatant and unauthorized use of his trademark,” Robinson wrote. “In the interest of avoiding what will certainly be a costly litigation process for you, we are prepared to offer you the one-time opportunity to rectify this matter.” All I had to do to avoid being sued was immediately transfer the domain I had just paid $1,272 for to Trump, for free.
Instead of purchasing the domain at the public auction like anyone with a little foresight and common sense would do, Trump waited until I bought it, then tried to threaten and bully me to get the domain for free. This is precisely the type of guy that I was hoping to warn America about.
The legal threats were empty, because I never intended to use the site to profit from Trump’s name. Instead, my use of the domain was for a noncommercial opinionated “gripe site” about Trump. There’s legal precedent in favor of gripe-site owners over trademark holders. After John Berryhill, the lawyer I hired, sent a sharply worded letter back in reply, Trump and his legal team went away and never bothered me again. “Put simply,” Berryhill wrote, “your employer is a national laughingstock and disgrace, and any citizen of this great country of ours has the right to point that out.” (Trump representatives did not reply to a request from The Washington Post for comment on the domain name.)
I’m sure they knew the law, as well, but that didn’t stop them from trying to strong-arm me into handing the domain over to them. When faced with public criticism, Trump resorted to lies, threats, intimidation and the prospect of legal action. He has done the same thing during this campaign.
Less than a year later, the domain name Trump.tv went up for sale via public auction, too. I also purchased that domain, this time for only $251, and redirected it to point to Trump.org. I guess Trump and his team fell asleep on the job yet again.
Some people might have balked at paying more than $1,500 for two domains, but I was able to reach people 365 days a year for four years — which works out to about $1 a day.
I’ve had an anti-Trump message up on the domain since 2012. If Trump loses the election next week, I plan to put the results up on the site and leave them there for years to come as a reminder. If he wins, I’ll record every broken campaign promise, track every harmful action and display every single reason we should never reelect him if that time comes. Being our president requires honor, selfless dedication and morality. These are qualities that Trump has shown us time and time again he does not possess.