Minnesota man making mega-money marketing misinformation

Sean G. Turnbull displays many of the hallmarks of a successful upper-middle-class family man, a former film producer and marketing manager for one of the country’s largest retail corporations who lives in a well-appointed home in this Minneapolis-St. Paul suburb. Former colleagues describe him as smart, affable and family-oriented.

But for more than a decade, the 53-year-old has also pursued a less conventional path: anonymously promoting conspiracy theories about dark forces in American politics on websites and social media accounts in a business he runs out of his home. His audience numbers are respectable and his ad base is resilient, according to corporate records and interviews.

Turnbull has identified himself online for 11 years only as “Sean from SGT Reports.” He has amassed a substantial following while producing videos and podcasts claiming that the 9/11 attacks were a “false flag” event, that a “Zionist banker international cabal” is plotting to destroy Western nations, that coronavirus vaccines are an “experimental, biological kill shot” and that the 2020 election was “rigged” against President Donald Trump, according to a Washington Post review.

His online venture became profitable enough that Turnbull acknowledges he left his film production job in 2015 to run it full time. He continues to do so, despite being barred from major platforms by social media companies in recent years.

An examination of Turnbull’s activities — based on an interview with Turnbull and interviews with former colleagues, as well as court and corporation records — offers a view of how online conspiracy promoters have flourished in the past decade.

Turnbull’s accounts have been terminated by seven tech companies, including Twitter, YouTube and Vimeo, but he has managed to keep his business going by repeatedly jumping to new outlets. He is challenging the YouTube ban — which he contends is politically motivated — in federal court.

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