The Trump University scam started years before Donald Trump ran for President, though many people are just now learning about the extent of the deception. Using fraudulent claims and high-pressure sales techniques, the University scammed many people into enrolling for courses for increasingly higher prices. Some victims lost their savings, and at least one victim lost their home. 

So, how can regular people receive justice when high-powered people and organizations wield deception and cult-like practices? That’s where Tristan Snell comes in. Snell is a lawyer and legal commentator featured on MSNBC, NPR, in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. He served as Assistant Attorney General for New York State, leading the investigation and prosecution of Trump University. Snell has developed a playbook for going up against Trump and others like Trump in court.  

The Trump University grift followed the same playbook as many predatory organizations, like Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) organizations. Victims are hooked through legitimate sounding offers, like a weekend sales course for $1,500. However, once the victims attend the weekend sales course, they are pressured into buying more courses for more money to achieve goals too good to be true. It’s a classic bait-and-switch.  

These techniques are similar to what people who have escaped Scientology report experiencing in terms of spending more and more money to achieve a goal that keeps moving further and further away. It’s human nature to stay with a course of action once you have invested time and money towards that course of action, even if abandoning it would logically be more beneficial. This is what’s known as the Sunk Cost Fallacy, and it’s the reason many people stay in cults or other groups that are harmful.  

Trump University used Trump’s cult-like following after the success of his show “The Apprentice” to lure people in. The University made promises like doing a meet and greet with Trump to excite prospects and get them to sign up. However, the meet and greet would, in reality, only be taking a picture with a cardboard cut-out of Trump. Trump is continuing to run scams today. He plays on peoples’ fears primarily through social media and disinformation. The scams look different than Trump University, but the fear and false promises are the same. For example, the Trump campaign recently sent a text message offering trips to Mar-A-Lago for a $10 donation to the campaign. His followers don’t realize they are donating to his defense fund, not his campaign, and they will likely never visit Mar-A-Lago. 

In his book Taking Down Trump, Tristan Snell outlines how he has been successful up against a high-powered person like Trump. Snell highlights how courage and persistence helped him keep going until he was successful against Trump. He overcame many obstacles to bring the case against Trump, including legitimate reasons not to continue. Snell also highlights the importance of staying focused on your case and facts when going up against people like Trump. One of the tactics used by organizations like Trump’s is to distract, whether it’s to distract the judge or jury from the most essential facts. Or it might be to distract the public by filling their social media feeds with disinformation. Managing the audience’s attention through misdirection is a powerful way to control what people see.  

So, how can people who have been defrauded use the Law to bring about positive change in the face of fraudulent organizations? As Snell points out in his Freedom of Mind interview, the common law approach to situations of undue influence blamed the victim, and it wasn’t easy to get convictions. However, statutory Law now allows for more consumer protection against undue influence. The statutory standard is much easier to prove and can lead to more companies being held liable. Even with these statutes, though, the hard part is making sure people know their rights and are empowered to bring civil cases when they have been harmed.  

For more information about Tristan Snell’s book, the case against Trump University, and continuing education about statutory Law, follow Tristan on social media and check out his book, Taking Down Trump.  

Resources:  

Taking Down Trump: 12 Rules for Prosecuting Donald Trump by Someone Who Did It Successfully Tristan Snell 

Order Tristan Snell’s book, Taking Down Trump 

Follow Tristan: Instagram, Threads, TikTok, and Twitter