Snake oil salesmen thrive in the social media age | Whale’s Tales

Like Teddy Daniels, a former candidate for Pennsylvania lieutenant, who is prominently featured in a series of doomsday, deep-fake ads on Facebook and Youtube.

I watched an original Star Trek episode the other day.

The plot centered on this character called Redjac, a parasitic, disembodied entity that shuffles from planet-to-planet feasting on the pain and fear of its victims — and, with the help of a humanoid host, commits dreadful crimes and is also known as Jack the Ripper.

Of course, like Star Trek, Redjac is fiction.

But monsters that feed on our pain and fears do walk among us. I’ve seen them.

Like Teddy Daniels, a former candidate for Pennsylvania lieutenant, who is prominently featured in a series of doomsday, deep-fake ads on Facebook and Youtube, where he spreads conspiracy theories of an imminent Chinese or Russian attack on the American power grid.

I call Daniels and his ilk, “the internet mountebanks,” as they are the direct descendants of those hucksters of bygone days who rode into town, set up on a bench in the square and hawked their snake-oil remedies to a credulous public.

Unlike those earlier salesmen, however, the internet mountebanks take advantage of social media, where they often appear on our screens in respectable suits and ties, dangling implements on their persons that imply know-how, boasting of an expertise that in many cases they do not possess.

From what I’ve seen, the prime time to fatten up on our fears, pain and angst is late at night and in the early morning hours when the surrounding darkness easily makes any fear, no matter how far-fetched, seem all the more real.

As a conjunct to the current poisoned political climate, their message seems designed to bring people to or beyond the point of paranoia, jumping at bogus devils in the mist, reading conspiracies into every tragedy, maligning people who disagree as imps of Satan, making everything that happens part of some conspiracy.

In that world, the greater the “skeer,” the more money they make, and that seems to be all that matters. What I don’t detect is any genuine concern for their patrons or any awareness of the consequences of keeping people in a state of permanent scare. Nothing wrong with making a buck, of course, except when the buck-maker seems singularly lacking in conscience. Fact is people who are scared to death may easily be led into stupid and potentially lethal acts alone or in mobs.

Kyle Tharp of the FWIW newsletter recently reported that two right-wing conspiracy pages on Facebook, “The Patriot’s Digest” and “Patriot’s Digest,” had spent $75,000 on ads showing Daniels in fake, AI-made videos, making false claims of that imminent attack on the U.S. power grid.

In one of the deep fakes, the simulated voice of former president Donald Trump thanks Daniels for making a documentary revealing the supposed attack on the power grid.

“Listen, folks, America is under a very serious threat from Russia and China right now,” says the deep fake. “Meanwhile, the media and Sleepy Joe are doing nothing to inform and prepare the great American people for what’s about to happen any day now. Our food and water supply along with our entire power grid are at a great risk. My trusted military experts tell me that 300 million Americans will perish during the first few weeks of this attack.”

The ad then goes on to thank Daniels for making a “documentary” exposing this supposed attack.

As Tharp reports, another deep fake ad presents a simulated video of podcaster Joe Rogan talking about the impending attack, and then praises Daniels for releasing a “documentary” on the made-up conspiracy theories. The documentary in question is a bit longer than 50 minutes, narrated by Daniels, and runs through the doomsday scenarios of an electromagnetic pulse attack on the power grid carried out by the two superpowers and what the impending aftermath may look like.

“If you ignore this message and do nothing, there is a 90% chance you and your family will die,” Daniels says in the documentary.

Daniels then hawks his products on camera to help Americans “prepare” for the supposed 365-day blackout, including a “hemp-proof source of energy,” a “magic five inch device you can install on your breaker box that will instantly turn your entire home into a hemp shield.”

Despite the blatantly conspiratorial and reckless nature of the ads, Facebook is allowing them to run on their social media platform. Tharp warns that “for those who care about the spread of misinformation ahead of the 2024 elections, this should sound major alarm bells.”

The article could not confirm that Daniels himself is responsible for the ads, but he appears to be capitalizing off these deep fakes by promoting a doomsday survival guide named “Operation Blackout: How to Survive 365 Days of Darkness.” The online guide — which he also repeatedly promotes in the “documentary” — costs $67 and comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee.

To tell you the truth, I’d prefer old Redjac to guys like this. That Star Trek villain was a parasite all right, but it came by its parasitism honestly. I don’t know about Daniels.

Robert Whale can be reached at