When Atlanta-based attorney Loren Collins realized President Donald Trump’s namesake hospitality company had neglected to purchase TrumpHotels.org, he leapt at the opportunity, snagging the site for a cool $8—$16 if you count the extra $8 he paid to keep his name detached from the page.
The Twitter hashtag #TrumpHotels had just sprouted from the popularity of posts mentioning #TrumpCamps, a frequently used digital dig at the conditions of the immigrant detention centers on the U.S. border, as well as at the presidential administration’s policy to separate young children from their parents at intake facilities. (On Wednesday, President Trump signed an executive order to end the practice of family separation at the U.S. border, but that did not reunite families who were previously separated and detained.)
“In the past week, when the detention camps story really started to break, there were some people who were trying to make #TrumpCamps into a hashtag and a label,” he tells Atlanta magazine. A Facebook friend, he said, suggested he try to grow visibility for #TrumpHotels, which Collins found “comedically and satirically” apt for the mission of spotlighting immigration policies he considers to be human rights injustices.
“That hashtag has to go viral,” another friend told him.
Then Collins came up with a cheap, simple plan to do just that: A quick internet search told him Trump Hotels, the international chain of luxury lodging options, was inhabiting TrumpHotels.com. The “.org” option, however, was still up for grabs. So on the afternoon of June 21, Collins’s satirical site hit the web, emblazoned with images not of posh hotels but rather of the detention facilities where border patrol agents have been caging men, women, and children who tried to emigrate from Mexico and South America.
The header image of the website—which is a photograph U.S. Customs and Border Protection released last week of a detention facility in McAllen, Texas—was inspired by a tweet from Congressman Tim Kaine, the vice presidential candidate from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run. “The real Trump Hotel,” reads Kaine’s post, complemented by additional handout images from U.S. Customs and Border Protection of people confined to chain-link cages in the McAllen facility.
TrumpHotels.org also features links to different articles showing, among other things, a video of Trump mocking a disabled reporter, a list of the president’s jabs at Mexico and its people, and a story highlighting Trump’s apparent frustration with parenting in general.
Additionally, Collins is thinking about trying to gather testimonials from people who have actually spent time in the Border Patrol’s detention camps and frame them as Yelp reviews. In fact, his website has already earned its own profile on the restaurant and hospitality company review site, replete with comments citing the qualms with living conditions within the lockup.
Although Collins has yet to see his website’s visitor analytics, he knows the page has already garnered national attention. D.C.-based politics blog The Hill ran a brief story about the site, as did Gizmodo, and Ana Navarro, a contributor for CNN, ABC, and Telemundo, shared a link to it on Twitter—together yielding more than 1,000 shares as of publication time.
— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) June 22, 2018
— The Hill (@thehill) June 24, 2018
Collins is not a “cyber squatter,” he says—he doesn’t buy up potentially valuable domain names with hopes to capitalize on their monetary appreciation. He has, however, already received an offer to buy TrumpHotels.org. “I got an offer for $200 anonymously through some sort of domain proxy offer system,” he says.
“I turned it down,” he continues. “I wouldn’t rule out selling it, though. For instance, if Trump himself wanted to buy it, I might be willing to part with it in exchange for 10 years of his tax returns and the termination of 25 [non-disclosure agreements] of my choosing.”
Collins, who runs his own legal practice, is trained in criminal prosecution and mostly practices personal injury law, but he’s knowledgeable about copyright law, too, so he’s not worried about the prospect of a cease and desist order finding its way to his mailbox. “Given the past history of the Trump organization, it would not surprise me to get some kind of cease and desist letter, but I’m prepared for that,” he says. “I wouldn’t comply with whatever the demand was because the Trump organization also has a history of sending cease and desists and not following up.”
Additionally, he says, “I’m on more solid legal ground than [Trump] is.” Collins added a disclaimer at the bottom of his site to clarify that it’s purely satire and, he says, protected from potential litigation. He even cited a couple of legal cases to reinforce his safety.
Per the disclaimer:
The use of any intellectual property, including trademarks or names of public figures, is protected under fair use, as TrumpHotels.org serves to comment on social and political issues and problems regarding the federal immigration policies of President Donald J. Trump, as well as other statements and actions made by Mr. Trump, through the use of ridicule and criticism. See the U.S. Trademark Act of 1946, 15 §§ 1051 et seq. (a/k/a, the Lanham Act), and KP Permanent Make-Up, Inc. v. Lasting Impression I, Inc., 543 U.S. 111 (2004).
Collins is not, however, trying to bait Trump or his lawyers into a courtroom melee. He says he merely wants to challenge people to take a critical look at the immigration laws and policies enforced by the presidential administration. Collins’s distaste for the country’s current leader largely stems from his aversion to so-called “fake news” and the conspiracy theories spawned or perpetuated by the president and his administration.
When Trump made his official bid for America’s highest office in 2016, Collins, who considers himself politically right-leaning, says he knew he wanted to make a significant effort to attempt to block a man he considers “an ignorant, gullible, intemperate, incurious, pathologically dishonest conspiracy theorist” from becoming president. He tried to hamper Trump’s chances by running a “never-Trump” write-in campaign for president during the 2016 race and by publishing a blog called “Barackryphal: A skeptic’s guide to birtherism.” He’s currently pitching book idea to publishers, aiming to wax on the origins of birtherism, the conspiracy theory that, in some ways, helped Trump establish himself among his supporter base and that Collins describes as “a blight on conservatism and the Republican party.” He also authored a book entitled Bullspotting in 2012, which, Collins said, sold a few hundred copies and encourages skepticism toward possible “misinformation campaigns.”
The real Trump Hotels did not respond to emails requesting comment for this story, nor has it yet reached out to Collins, he said.