Last Tuesday, for one flickering moment, a Mankato Hardee's was at the center of the news universe.
Via Facebook, My Pillow founder/MAGA election conspiracist Mike Lindell claimed that FBI agents had "surrounded" his truck in the drive-thru lane. "I said to my buddy, 'That's either a bad guy or the FBI,'" he said on his podcast, The Lindell Report, adding that the feds confiscated his phone that "everything runs off"—five companies, his hearing aids, etc. In a boilerplate statement issued to reporters, FBI spokeswoman Vikki Migoya confirmed "that the FBI was at that location executing a search warrant authorized by a federal judge."
The aftermath was a hilariously dumb thing to behold. The Hardee's marketing department trolled Lindell; another recent FBI raid target, former President Donald Trump, claimed that "The majesty of the United States is gone. Can't let this happen"; closer to home, the Mankato Free Press declared "Hardee's drive-thrus make us famous." Within hours, sympathetic and/or opportunistic Trump acolytes like Rudy Giuliani and Millie Weaver were already capitalizing on the alleged seizure, telling followers to "fight back" by buying discounted My Pillows. Lindell is using it as a sales pitch, too.
There's one big problem, according to Hardee's GM Adam Mahowald: The execution of the search warrant didn't happen at his Hardee's on 1405 Madison Ave. or the one across town off Hwy. 169, which he says is run by his girlfriend. Mahowald said as much while being interviewed by the Free Press, though that paper quickly dismissed his experience by citing the FBI confirmation.
"I know for a fact it didn't happen, I was here all day Tuesday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and my girlfriend was at other store at the same time," Mahowald tells Racket, acknowledging that the raid could've taken place elsewhere in town. "Biggest fake news story I have ever seen and my store is at the middle of it."
Mahowald's drive-thru skepticism is supported by several claims. The nine-year Hardee's veteran says he reviewed all available camera footage from both stores, and detected no evidence of a multi-vehicle incident. He cites the total absence of eyewitness accounts, including photo and video evidence. And he points to Lindell's alleged order, which the pillow tycoon outlined to Business Insider: a mushroom swiss cheeseburger and a chocolate shake. (Lindell also told Insider that he found the Hardee's viral tweet "Funny!") Mahowald says he scanned the systems at both stores for a transaction matching that order on that day, but claims he couldn't find a match.
"If somebody storms one of my guests, in my drive-thru? I'm probably calling 911," he says. "Everybody has a cellphone, somebody is going to pull it out and get a recording."
At least one report surfaced of an anonymous Hardee's worker who witnessed "about a half dozen federal agents who suddenly boxed-in a vehicle in the drive-thru" last Tuesday; Mahowald says it was one of his closing-shift workers having a goof. (I chatted yesterday with an on-the-ground investigative reporter who was unable to find any eyewitnesses.)
"It's hard for me to believe that the whole town missed it," Mahowald says, noting that Lindell supporters have been stopping by his store to snap selfies with their My Pillows. "But all the other reporters are more inclined to believe the crackhead over the general manager who has run this store for nine years."
At the root of this story that made international rounds: The media's willingness to run with the ambiguous FBI phasing of "that location"—Hardee's? Which Hardee's? Mankato? Central Minnesota?—as supporting evidence to Lindell's specific fast-food sting scenario. Hoping to clear everything up, we enjoyed a brief, agitated phone conversation with Lindell. Fifteen seconds in, he asserted that I "should be arrested" and repeatedly mocked Racket's small yet committed readership. (Fight back by subscribing to Racket!)
"Are you kidding me? We're holding all the subpoenas. I got nothing more to say to you," Lindell said before hanging up on me. "Write your crap, nobody reads your garbage anyway. It really happened, it was at the Mankato Hardee's... You're some kind of weird bot-troll—don't call me again, you're a disgusting human being."
Vikki Migoya, the spokeswoman with the FBI's Denver field office, declined multiple requests to specify where, exactly, the feds nabbed the pillow man. Ditto for Cynthia Barrington, a spokeswoman at the Minneapolis FBI office who confirmed that her team "assisted FBI Denver with court authorized law enforcement activity." In search of any clarity from officials, we reached out to Blue Earth County Sheriff Brad Peterson, who couldn't comment "because [he] wasn't there." He steered us toward City of Mankato PR rep Edell Fiedler; she said neither the city nor its police department had any involvement in the raid. Hardee's corporate ignored our plea for the beefy, melty truth.
Which leaves us with: Is Lindell lying or is Mahowald lying? Only the FBI can confirm that, but they're apparently not eager to set the record straight.