The Turkish government currently wields two levers of influence over Donald Trump: Tape of Washington Post journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi being beaten and dismembered alive by Saudi government agents, and Lindsay Lohan.
Let me explain.
For the past week Turkey has been at the top of the headlines, after the dissident former Saudi journalist was murdered at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Istanbul, an assassination almost certainly carried out at the direction of the Saudi Arabian government. It’s also become increasingly apparent that the Trump administration — which reportedly received intelligence about a Saudi threat to Khashoggi but failed to warn him — up to and including Jared Kushner and the President himself, has engaged in a last-minute coverup of the murder.
Actually, Turkey hasn’t really been in these headlines. Most of the story has centered on Saudi Arabia and Trump. We haven’t heard much about Turkey, which during the election and up through Trump’s inauguration waged a concerted and, it turns out, criminal multi-pronged influence campaign that for a while wormed them into the president’s ear. But today we see clearly that Trump has sided with the Saudis against Turkey’s (true) side of the story, most likely in order to protect the business relationship between the Saudis and the Trump family.
A few examples of that. When Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salam visited the United States this spring, he stayed with his entourage in the Trump International Hotel NYC, overlooking Central Park. (Worth noting that Trump also publicly offered his hospitality to Libyan dictator Momar Gaddafi when he was in New York to speak at the UN.) The hotel’s own profit report specifically cites the prince’s visit as a driving force behind the hotel’s unusually high 13% profit margin that quarter. Also, the Saudi government granted Trump eight trademarks apparently related to a hotel project in the Saudi port city of Jeddah. The Trump administration also recently inked a $110 billion arms deal with the kingdom, weapons systems they will use to continue their brutal war on Yemen, all thanks to Kushner’s budding friendship with the prince — a friendship that, with little doubt, carries stakes of financial reciprocation.
Trump, though, also has business with Turkey. In fact, Turkish President (read: dictator) Recep Tayyip Erdogan was one of the first people Trump spoke with after the election. So one question that hasn’t been asked: What happened to the Trump-Erdogan honeymoon over the last two years? Why has he turned his back on Turkey in favor of the Saudis?
Well, in part because Turkey made two equally bad bets: Mike Flynn and Lindsay Lohan.
Now: Anyone who’s up for an insane conspiracy theory involving Lohan, Flynn, and the Erdogan regime, please raise your hand.
Okay that looks unanimous. Let us proceed.
Actually, the conspiracy theory isn’t that nuts, nor is it really a conspiracy theory at all. But we can draw some striking parallels between Mike Flynn and yes, Lindsay Lohan — one a political ambassador, one cultural ambassador — that outline part of the Turkish government’s PR campaign to influence Donald Trump.
We know from reporting, for instance, that a few weeks after the election the Justice Department opened an investigation into Mike Flynn’s ties to the Turkish government. Flynn penned an op-ed in The Hill on Election Day that made the case for a stronger alliance with Turkey, which is a NATO ally. And although Flynn received at least $600,000 from Turkey for his work during the same period, he failed to register as a foreign agent, which subsequently led to his ouster as Trump’s National Security Advisor and put him in significant legal jeopardy. That’s not a conspiracy.
But LiLo? Yes indeed. Lohan has for a few years now championed the cause of refugees in Turkey. She has also bizarrely—though fairly consistently—praised the authoritarian Turkish regime in sporadic media appearances, rendering her the most unlikely face of Western humanitarian advocacy for a predominantly Muslim country.
To be clear, Lohan is a strange bird. Brief recap for the handful of people who don’t already know (Hi, Nana!): After a seemingly drama-free career as a successful child actor — a rarity in Hollywood to say the least — Lohan experienced a meteoric rise to super-fame owed to her critically acclaimed performance in “Mean Girls”, a wildly successful early-aughts comedy-cum-cult classic. But Lohan, whose rapid trajectory met with the apex of the internet-tabloid-fueled era of TMZ and Perez Hilton, would subsequently endure a protracted public meltdown marked by a series of mugshots and rehab stints, a string of failed engagements, and probably a whole lot of trouble and heartache far beyond her control.
For a period of time, Lohan actually succeeded in going somewhat off the grid. She relocated from Hollywood to Europe — first London, then Greece, and even Russia while dating the son of a prominent Putin-connected oligarch.
But it has been Lohan’s emergence on the geopolitical/humanitarian stage that has proven the most gossip- and cringe-worthy, culminating in her unexpected role of Erdogan mouthpiece and advocate for Syrian refugee rights at the height of the unraveling crisis in Aleppo.
But her humanitarian transformation hasn’t apparently quite taken: Lohan recently made headlines when she posted a video on Instagram showing her attempt to physically remove Syrian refugee children from their parents on a dark street in Moscow. In a Middle Eastern/European-inspired accent, which can only be described as batshit insane, Lohan accused this indigent family of human trafficking — which, naturally, culminated in her getting punched in the face on Facebook Live.
Hey — I get that nothing about the following means Lindsay Lohan is in fact some secret Turkish agent, nor do I necessarily believe her to be. At the very least, though, she seems to be an unwitting pawn of the Erdogan government. Let’s look at how the Flynn-Lohan Turkey timeline syncs up, because honestly, it’s weird.
First, Turkey has showcased Lohan for a few years now. Her first truly public moment came in October 2015, when she was photographed holding a copy of the Quran and dressed in a head scarf and thigh-high crushed velvet boots, which sparked rumors that the star of The Canyon had converted to Islam. Later that month, Lohan posted a since-deleted tweet vocalizing her support for Erdogan’s political party, the AKP, in coming elections.
And with that context we fast-foward to the summer of 2016. That July, Erdogan put down a military coup against him, which he followed up with a sprawling and unforgiving crackdown that targeted perceived dissidents in the military, government, universities, and press. Only days after Erdogan defeated the attempted coup, Flynn signed his $600,000 lobbying deal with Turkish representatives. The next month, Turkey upped its lobbying game.
On September 19, Mike Flynn met with Turkish government representatives, including Erdogan’s brother-in-law, Berat Aybarak. In that meeting, Flynn, who took in half a million dollars from Turkey that year, apparently “proposed” that a future Trump administration could kidnap — kidnap — and extradite to Turkey the cleric and Erdogan dissident Fetullah Gulen, whom Erdogan accuses of orchestrating the coup and for years has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. The Turkish government allegedly offered Flynn $15 million for Gulen, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating the kidnapping plot.
Cut to LiLo: A week after the Flynn meeting, on September 26, the I Know Who Killed Me star visited a refugee hospital in Istanbul. A Turkish PR firm called Bosphorus Global, which like almost all Turkish corporations has close ties to the Erdogan regime — Bosphorous’ ties run through Erdogan’s brother-in-law Aybarak, who won’t do anything without his stepfather first signing off — sponsored both Lohan’s September and October 2016 visits to the country.
Lohan, October 2016
The last month before the U.S. election found LiLo popping up all over the globe doing PR for Turkey. She kicked it off with a visit to refugees in Gazantiep. In an interview there she praised Erdogan, and she also vouched (inaccurately) for Turkey as a champion of women’s rights, as opposed to the oppression of women in the U.S. “In Turkey you have free will as a woman,” she said. “It’s amazing here, you can do what you want and it’s accepted, whereas I am in America and I am holding the Quran and I am the devil.”
That month Lohan also began using the phrase “the world is bigger than five,” a propaganda line lifted verbatim from the Turkish government, which wants the U.N. to expand its five-member security council to include Turkey, among other countries. If you doubt Lohan knows the implications, she made clear in that interview the UNSC should be restructured, and used the phrase repeatedly and very publicly for the next two months.
On October 15, 2016, the star of Herbie: Fully Loaded held a red-carpet opening for her eponymous Athens nightclub. The project, which claims to donate a portion of its profits to aid refugees, was for some reason a rush job, put together in the space of a single week and “aggressively marketed” for two days.
Then the day after the Lohan club opened, LiLo returned to Turkey for another visit with Syrian refugees and to do cross-promotion with an energy drink, which had been arranged — ding ding ding! — that September.
Days after that visit, Lohan dropped by the Daily Mail New York office to give an interview in which she praised Erdogan again and seemed to suggest her Athens nightclub brand might spin out to include spas and refugee camps. Oh, and she called for the United States to unite behind Donald Trump.
That month, Lohan in an interview with Turkish TV said Erdogan had done a great job handling the coup. (Erdogan’s reaction has been to arrest and kill dissidents in order to consolidate power into what is currently a dictatorship in all but name.)
Flynn, November 2016
This was a big month for Flynn, who published, unexpectedly, a pro-Turkey op-ed in The Hill, on Election Day. That op-ed was the result of a November 2 meeting between Flynn Group representatives and Turkish counterparts, who insisted the partnership deliver better returns.
On November 18, U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings sent Mike Pence a letter alerting the Trump transition team to Flynn’s connections with Turkey. The letter apparently went ignored, and later that month the Department of Justice opened its investigation into Flynn.
Lohan, November 2016
This month, Lohan’s bizarre shilling for the Turkish government finally attracted the attention of the U.S. press. On November 2 and 3, days before the election, BuzzFeed and the Daily Beast: both ran pieces speculative of LiLo’s motivations. Considering her recent parroting of government propaganda, the Daily Beast piece said, it’s “strangely plausible” that Lohan is “in the pocket of the Turkish government.”
On November 2, Lohan gave an interview to Vanity Fair in which she explained her new bizarre pseudo-Arabic accent.
Then Trump got elected. In his first call with Erdogan, which he made the day after the election, Trump touted his business ties to Turkey — he has a hotel in Istanbul. Then within a week Lohan invited the president-elect — who in a 2004 interview with Howard Stern said Lohan was “probably deeply troubled and therefore great in bed” — to visit Turkey and Syria with her to see the refugee crisis in person. Lohan used the #theworldisbiggerthan5 hashtag in the Instagram invitation.
Also in mid-November, the star of Liz & Dick retweeted President Erdogan’s post-coup tweet from early August, in which he thanked his country for unity and their help stopping the insurrection.
Flynn, December 2016
With the DOJ investigation into his Turkish ties fully underway, Flynn took another meeting with Turkish officials. In the meeting Flynn reportedly discussed returning Gulen to Ankara.
Flynn, January 2017
On January 4, Flynn finally confessed to the transition team that he had for the last month been the subject of a DOJ investigation into his Turkish connections. Later that month Flynn lied to the FBI about his connections to Russia, for which weeks later he was fired.
But Turkey was no doubt pleased with the results of their soft coup. Later in January, Flynn, still under DOJ investigation and who you can tell by this point is a goddamn genius, opposed and then delayed a new U.S. military strategy against the Islamic State because it wasn’t in Turkish interests. This is, obviously, horrible, but it looked to Turkey like its investment was paying off.
Lohan, January 2017
To welcome the new golden dawn in U.S.-Turkey relations, Turkey invited Lohan back. This time her visit, in late January, included a photo-op with President Erdogan and seven-year-old Syrian-turned-journalist-turned-refugee-turned-celebrity Bana Al-Abed. Lohan of course shared the photo on her Instagram account. At the beginning of the month Lohan had scrubbed her Instagram except for her new bio, which said simply “Alaikum Salam.”
Flynn, February 2017
This month was curtains for Flynn. Trump fired him on the 13th for lying to Mike Pence about the nature of conversations Flynn had that previous December with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. And Turkey wept.
Lohan, February 2017
Weirdly, at this same time Lohan went on a PR blitz. On February 10, the day after the Washington Post first reported that it appeared Flynn lied about the Kislyak calls, Lohan stopped by the Daily Mail to give an apparent impromptu Facebook live interview in which she said the U.S. needs to unite behind Trump, whom she hoped to persuade to change his position on refugees and follow Turkey’s example. She also said Erdogan had a “very big heart.”
Lohan did interviews right after Flynn was fired, too. She claimed in one her headscarf led to her being “racially profiled” at Heathrow Airport. Asked if she would be converting to Islam, Lohan said she hadn’t yet but was considering it.
After Flynn’s ouster, Turkey-U.S. relations quickly and unsurprisingly cooled. That spring Flynn had to retroactively register as an agent of the Turkish government, at which point we can probably assume he severed his ties. But at perhaps the low point, in July 2017 a Turkish state-run news agency unexpectedly and inexplicably published the locations of ten U.S. operating bases in Syria. Though we can’t draw a straight line from here back to Flynn’s firing, as if it’s retribution or something, it’s still fairly safe to say that with Flynn in their pocket, Turkey probably wouldn’t have done anything so extreme.
As for Lohan, she too has chilled a bit over the last year. At one point she tried to slide into Kendrick Lamar’s DMs, but other than that — until the recent child kidnapping attempt on Facebook Live thing — she’s kept pretty quiet. But today, as Khashoggi’s assassination threatens what’s left of U.S.-Turkey relations, and with most of the world and most of U.S. leadership taking Turkey’s side over Trump, we might expect her to mount a comeback. Insert bad Freaky Friday joke here.