In the summer of 2021, conservatives aggrieved over Big Tech censorship saw a new smartphone as their savior. Dubbed the “Freedom Phone,” the $500 device was the creation of Bitcoin mogul Erik Finman, who promised customers a phone loaded with conservative apps and free from liberal Silicon Valley influence.
Conservative influencers encouraged their fans to buy the phone, receiving a sizable cut of each sale for themselves. Even after The Daily Beast and other media outlets revealed that the Freedom Phone was just a cheap Chinese-made phone sold at a hefty markup, it was a hit, quickly selling roughly $4 million worth, according to court records.
“I’m holding a freaking phone that is not controlled by Apple or Google,” conservative personality Candace Owens said in an Instagram video. “We made the switch immediately.”
Two years later, though, Freedom Phone’s business is falling apart amid customer complaints. In a bitter, previously unreported legal battle that began in April 2022, the men behind Freedom Phone’s backers have accused one another of blowing their windfall profits—in one case, in a $10,000 shopping spree for video games. Finman has even sued to keep his face and name from ever being associated with Freedom Phone in the future.
In Freedom Phone’s first days, it seemed like Finman, the self-proclaimed “youngest Bitcoin millionaire,” might have the tech and marketing prowess to pull off the creation of an entirely new smartphone. His promotional video for the phone quickly went viral on the right in July 2021, with Finman promising a phone loaded with apps for conservative outlets like Newsmax and One America News.
“Imagine if Mark Zuckerberg censored MLK or Abraham Lincoln,” Finman said in the promotional video.
The video was a hit, but Freedom Phone’s promotional materials were curiously devoid of technical details. In reality, it was a rebranding of a Chinese phone that was available online for $120—substantially less than the Freedom Phone’s $500 price tag.
Still, buoyed by endorsements from conservative influencers like Owens, former Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone, and Twitter pundit Ian Miles Cheong, Freedom Phone orders flooded in. Finman quickly sold at least 8,000 units, according to court records, raising somewhere between $3.5 and $4 million. But payment processors handling the orders refused to hand the money over to Finman, apparently concerned that the phone was a scam.
With millions of dollars held in limbo and angry customers waiting for their phones, Finman cut a deal with ClearCellular, a Utah-based company that had made its own phone before. Finman sold the Freedom Phone branding and its parent company, Finman LLC, to ClearCellular. While the sales contract has been sealed in the ensuing court battle, itincluded a $300,000 one-timepayment to Finman, an annual $240,000 salary for the Freedom Phone founder as its chief marketing officer, and a $75 payment for each phone sold, according to court filings.