It’s amazing he has gotten away with this for so long….

“It’s a wake-up call to the middle class,” a booming voice assures listeners during the intro to Grant Cardone’s weekly podcast, This Is Not Your Daddy’s Economy. For listeners, Cardone has become the apotheosis of financial influencers: waking up the middle class and heralding a new economy for its chosen sons and daughters. Brash and populist, he promises anyone who listens that they too can ascend into the realms of passive income by following his real estate playbook.

An ostentatious Louisiana-born salesman with a penchant for down-home relationship advice, Cardone is a practicing Scientologist who casts himself as a plucky opponent to mainstream financial institutions. He rose to fame as a cold-calling guru, building a large online following with videos and courses that promised to reveal the secrets of salesmanship. He subsequently became a fixture on reality TV shows such as Turnaround King and Undercover Billionaire. He now operates a conference circuit that straddles the line between dumbed-down business school and a clumsy revival meeting (Donald Trump was a recent guest speaker). In Cardone’s videos on YouTube and Instagram, he champions a swaggering, somewhat cruel form of hustle culture aimed at a generation struggling to make sense of its economic misfortune.

Crucially, Cardone has been able to make money not just by imparting financial advice but by exploiting his fan base to build a $4 billion residential real estate portfolio. “We are becoming a renter nation,” Cardone explains in a video from 2020. He’s not wrong. But Cardone’s business model relies on increasing rents and squeezing tenants to maintain his debt-laden portfolio.

A newly filed class-action lawsuit against Cardone, however, threatens to unravel his empire. Last month, lawyers filed a suit alleging that he had misled small-time investors who’d put money into one of his recent Cardone Capital real estate funds. Whether Cardone has been cynically leveraging his followers is up to a court to decide. But the image Grant Cardone has fostered through his real estate ventures is as much about what it’s like to be an eccentric internet celebrity as it is about America’s unwieldy and ever-precarious property market—and the potential toxic admixture of the two.

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