5 Shocking Ways People Turned Tragedies Into Cold, Hard Cash


How do you react to a national tragedy? There's no real "right" way. Some people pray, some look to help, some seek out a cozy corner that looks ripe for some cryin'. But then there are those who just see dollar signs. There might not be a right way, but that doesn't mean there are no wrong ones. So today we're following the timeless advice of Mr. Rogers: "Look for the scammers, and then shame those bastards on the internet."

George Zimmerman Auctioned Off His Gun -- Yes, That Gun

After George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, he immediately got to work making the justice system look even worse. He used Twitter to show off the Confederate flag, he called Obama an "ignorant baboon," he mocked another shooting, threatened his critics by tweeting "We all know how it ended for the last moron who hit me," and he once retweeted a picture of Martin's dead body with the caption "Z-man is a one man army." He was only booted from the platform after posting two topless photos of his ex-girlfriend, along with her phone number and email address, while accusing her of cheating on him with a "dirty Muslim." And that's only slightly over par for the burning hellscape that is Twitter.

Then Zimmerman managed to auction off a painting of the American flag for over $100,000. He teamed up with a Florida gun store to sell prints of a Confederate flag painting with the inscription "The 2nd protects the 1st," which is tacky enough to embarrass Jefferson Davis. Zimmerman also got in the habit of carrying around bags of Skittles to sign for his fans, so he can at least be found guilty of killing good taste. In 2016, he decided to further capitalize on Martin's death by auctioning off the gun he used to shoot him. Several gun auction sites refused to work with him, but he eventually found a willing vendor which, in a stirring endorsement, noted that the auction was technically legal.

5 Shocking Ways People Turned Tragedies Into Cold, Hard Cash
Sanford Police Dept.
Much in the way that it's technically legal to masturbate to crime scene photos. Probably a big overlap with those guys and people who want to own George Zimmerman's gun.

Zimmerman called the gun "an American Firearm icon," and billed it as "The firearm that was used to defend my life and end the brutal attack from Trayvon Martin on 2/26/2012." He even tried to drum up hype by claiming that the Smithsonian was interested (which, of course, was an outright lie). Zimmerman was deluged with fake bids, but ultimately claimed that he accepted a bid of $250,000, which could have bought a nice house in some parts of America, but was instead used to purchase racist murder pornography.

Zimmerman said that part of the proceeds would go toward "combating the violence against police officers by members of the Black Lives Matter movement" -- a cause that must be near and dear to him ever since he was arrested for allegedly assaulting an undercover cop.

Related: 6 Insane Ways People Made Money Off Famous Crimes

Jerry Sandusky Merchandise Sells Big On eBay

Jerry Sandusky was really good at two things: coaching football and sexually assaulting dozens of children by abusing his position of power. Some people consider the first talent more important than the second, and so eBay was flooded with Sandusky memorabilia after the Penn State scandal. There's still some available today, and they're the perfect gift for anyone who calls themselves a "history buff" to justify their antique child pornography collection.

A Penn State hat signed by Sandusky went for $225. A "Halloween costume" made up of Penn State equipment went for $80. Signed copies of Sandusky's memoir Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story (yes, that is the actual title) went for anywhere from $50 to $200. For comparison, a book signed by legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who sports five NCAA Championships, the most wins in college basketball history (and zero children raped, arguably the more important number) went for less than $10.

A Penn State mini-helmet went for more than $200, and it came with a program for the 2003 Second Mile gala, a fundraiser for the foundation Sandusky used to groom young boys to abuse. The tone-deaf buyer claimed he bought it for a sports-themed gag gift swap and expected everyone to get a good laugh out of it. His wife disagreed, as does everyone else who is even marginally smarter than drywall.

Related: 5 Terrible Tragedies Exploited By Cash-Obsessed A-Holes

People Tried To Trademark "Je Suis Charlie" Immediately After The Charlie Hebdo Attacks

After the attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo, the phrase "Je Suis Charlie" went viral as a show of solidarity. It would have been a touching moment had the story ended there, but these kinds of stories never end there. 52 people tried to trademark the slogan before the victims had even been buried. Free tip from the Cracked Marketing Department: Don't do that.

Among the ghouls was Greta Grossberg, an Australian fashion designer. She said, "It was just something that I felt someone ought to do," and "It's just a moment in time that needs to be crystallized." See, this attempted profiteering was selfless. "There is tremendous power invested in those phrases," she said, presumably while making the money gesture. She even had the nerve to act surprised by the backlash. How could making money off of mere words which happen to remind everyone of a mass shooting be offensive? At least she eventually retracted her application, presumably after market research revealed that she was the only person who thought that a line of "clothing, footwear and headgear" commemorating the deaths of 12 people would be a good fashion investment.

Belgian businessman Yannick Uytterhaegen applied for a trademark within 24 hours. He wanted to slap the phrase on cleaning products, toys, Christmas tree decorations, fruit juice, and beer, comparing the expression to "a brand name, just like Dior, Guess or Adidas." But don't worry, he insisted that he was heroically trying to keep the trademark from falling into the wrong hands, like those of, uh, the French artist who came up with the phrase, and who explicitly rejected any attempts to monetize it.

Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images
"If you liked the phrase on a candle-lit memorial, then you'll love it on a novelty beer coozie!"

And while we're on the subject ...

Related: 6 People Who Were The Scum Of The Earth During Tragedies

People Constantly Grab Domain Names And Run Scams After National Tragedies

The URLs that emerge in the wake of any tragedy are in a grey area, legally speaking. You're not exploiting a trademark if you register 911.org or sandyhookshooting.biz, and there's nothing technically illegal about being an asshole. In the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, one man rushed to buy dozens of URLs like campuskillings.com, virginiatechmurders.com, and the ever-classy slaughterinvirginia.com for around ten bucks a pop in the hopes of flipping them for thousands. He said, in his own terrible words, "Everybody is profiting from this. I'm not hurting anyone." Indeed, who in America hasn't rushed to profit from a school shooting? OK, put your hands down, Everybody With A Soul, we get the point.

This practice is generally more distasteful than profitable. There's no particular need to give some jackass $5,000 for kentuckypuddingfloodvictimsfund.com when you can simply go register kentuckypuddingrelief.org instead. But if you make a speculative purchase of 100 post-tragedy domain names, you only need one grieving parent who doesn't really understand the internet to strike it rich. Even sleazeballs miss 100 percent of the shots they don't take. Or you could just run a more conventional straight up scam.

kentuckypuddingfloodvictimsfund.com CONGRATS. YOUR DOMAIN IS AVAILABLEI kentuckypuddingfloo victimsfund.com
By the way, it's available if you want it, you soulless monster.

Fake fundraising efforts backed by official-sounding URLs pop up after pretty much any national tragedy. After Sandy Hook, someone bought a URL in one victim's name and solicited donations and care packages for the family (read: themselves). In a nice touch of irony that will surely earn them a ringside seat in Hell, they even included a gun control petition. The aftermath of a national tragedy is when people are most willing to make donations and least likely to apply a lot of critical thought, which makes them a good target for people who misplaced their souls long ago.

Related: 6 People Who Responded To Tragedies In The Most Soulless Way

A Far-Right Publication Used A Tragic Accident To Fundraise

Rebel Media is a publication working hard to singlehandedly disprove every stereotype about Canadians being nice. They not only spread conspiracy theories about how Muslims in the Western world are secretly plotting to install a theocracy, but they're also a less reliable news source than the nearest parrot. Founder Ezra Levant has been repeatedly found guilty of libel, but that never kept a serious asshole puckered for long.

In 2018, the Humboldt Broncos, a junior hockey team, suffered a serious accident. Their bus was hit by a semi-truck, killing 16 and inuring 13 more. This became a huge news story in Canada, and a GoFundMe for the survivors raised over $15 million. One journalist, Nora Loreto, was impressed by the effort, but noted that the victims being young, white, and male likely played a factor in the outpouring of grief. She lamented that other victims (like the families of murdered indigenous women) don't receive the same level of public support. And this was all that Levant and Rebel Media needed to slither into the story.

5 Shocking Ways People Turned Tragedies Into Cold, Hard Cash
Raj Taneja/flickr
Which is the only way we can imagine Ezra Levant getting anywhere.

Levant sent a mass fundraising email to Rebel Media's followers claiming that Loreto "publicly attacked the sixteen Humboldt Broncos killed in a tragic car accident" as part of an ongoing campaign by Canadian journalists to "routinely attack people for being white or male or culturally conservative." Again, this was one (not particularly influential) writer saying "This tragedy was awful; I just wish that more people cared about other awful things too." This became "She attacked them. Again and again."

But don't worry, Levant had a solution to this manufactured crisis. If you used the promo code "BRONCOS," you could fight the power of that one lady on Twitter and get $20 off a year's subscription to Rebel's premium content. Wow, what a steal! Literally!

Levant was denounced for trying to profit off of tragedy, and it was undeniably the sleaziest thing he'd done ... since pulling the exact same shit a year prior. He'd responded to the Quebec City mosque shooting with a fundraising campaign promising that Rebel Media would prove the crime had been committed by a Muslim man, rather than a white nationalist. You know, like those lying hucksters in the mainstream media, the police, and the perpetrator who freely admitted his ideology claimed.

V.R. Craft wrote a science fiction book called Stupid Humans, drawing on her previous experience working in retail and subsequent desire to get away from planet Earth. She also wrote a political satire book called Fail To The Chief, wastes time on social media, and continues to write science fiction, humor, and satire pieces on her blog, Sharable Sarcasm. Christian Markle is your writer waiting for your next instructions. Ping him at christian.p.markle@gmail.com.

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