When Peter Accetturo declared he was running for president, the 60-year-old actor and voice-over artist — who has more than 1 million YouTube subscribers — did what came naturally: He shot a video and posted a link to it on Twitter. “We are fighting for our right to live,” he shouts before a cheering crowd. “We will not go quietly into the night, we will not vanquish without a fight!” The first response on Twitter read simply, “Can’t tell if this is serious.”

Accetturo is among a surprising number of people — more than 800 as of early September — who have filed a presidential “statement of candidacy” with the Federal Election Commission. They’re not official candidates in the eyes of the FEC until they raise or spend more than $5,000. But anyone can file a statement of candidacy, and the FEC will add their name to its public database of candidates.

You’ve probably never heard of 97% of the people who have filed statements. They include Republicans and Democrats, third-party candidates and no-party candidates. The vast majority have recorded not a single contribution. And some are clearly not serious; one candidate is registered as “Cocaine.”

Of the four minor candidates I recently spoke to, Florida Democrat J.J. Walcutt, a 43-year-old psychologist, may have the strongest credentials. She is a former federal employee who first set her sights on the Oval Office in 2016. But since launching her 2020 campaign in April, she’s learned that her experience in government doesn’t mean much. “The number of consultants that asked me how many people knew my name and how much money do I have independently was a mile long,” she told me. “The number of people who asked if I was qualified? Literally zero.”

She thinks she would make a good president because “my talents lie in national and international problem-solving.” She has raised about $4,000 in individual donations, FEC records show, but has spent about $14,000. (By contrast, President Trump has raised almost $125 million.) If she doesn’t win, she says, she’d be open to a Cabinet position, or at least chronicling her campaign experience in a book.

Texas Republican Christopher Brainard, a 41-year-old former electrical engineer who now owns a real estate company with his wife, decided to run after being dissatisfied with the current crop of candidates, including Trump, for whom he voted in 2016. “I’m not very proud of it,” he told me of his former support for the president. “We hoped that once Trump won the election, he’d quit campaigning and actually run the country, but clearly that hasn’t happened.”

Brainard has lent about $100,000 to his own campaign. At first, he and his wife, Kelle, searched for a seasoned campaign manager and phoned some prominent Republican strategists. “To their credit, everybody’s answered our messages,” Brainard says. “But the message from all of them was the same: No thanks.” (Currently, he said, he and his wife are sharing the job.)

On his campaign website, Brainard has a platform — “The Eight Pillars for Empowering America” — that is mostly in sync with the GOP, with two glaring exceptions: support for universal health care and free college. He says that’s not a ploy to garner favor with liberals, but a reflection of his personal beliefs. “I’ve talked to a lot of Democrats. I’ve talked to a lot of Republicans, and mostly everybody wants the same thing,” he explains. “To make the country better.”

Brainard knows he won’t win, but he says he’s still getting something out of the exercise, “things like improving my public speaking.” And: “I’ll finally for the first time in my life be able to vote for someone that I absolutely believe in.”

Democrat Valerie McCray, a 60-year-old psychologist from Indianapolis, is also a political novice. Of her decision to run, she says: “I have never, ever been so sure about something that I’m so unsure about in my whole life.” Her qualifications? “I know what it feels like to be poor,” she explains.

And as a prison psychologist, she sees what happens when people fail to find meaning and a sense of self-worth. She thinks the United States needs a way to help people live purposeful lives and to fix the environment. Her campaign is self-financed, but by the time we spoke in late July, she said she’d gone through her savings. She hopes that once bigger-name candidates drop out, more people will focus on her candidacy.

McCray, Brainard and Walcutt came off as sincere about their motives. Then there’s Accetturo, who registered with the FEC as “Sir Voice Over Pete.” FEC records show that, as of late July, he had reported zero dollars in campaign contributions.

When I asked why he’s running, Accetturo, who listed his affiliation as the “Ace” party, said, “I would like to see a party of common sense.” When I pressed him on what he meant by that, he replied that he wants to do away with gridlock for two years, “and then we can go back to the inefficiency that we have today.”

Accetturo sounded a little more serious when he accused social media platforms of making money off content creators, then randomly stifling them. I inquired whether his complaint had anything to do with his being banned from Fiverr, a site where freelancers offer services such as translation and graphic design, and where he was a popular voice-over artist. (An email he received from Fiverr’s trust and safety team, which he showed in a video, states that his account was removed due to “credit card scam” videos he starred in. Accetturo says the videos are supposed to be satirical.) He conceded that he’s speaking “from personal experience,” but insisted that he wants to advocate for gamers and content creators who face similar issues.

Have you picked a running mate? I asked. He laughed. “Yes! Elon Musk.” I asked if Musk is aware of this. “He and I are friends on Twitter,” Accetturo replied. (Not quite. Accetturo follows Musk, but Musk does not follow Accetturo.)

I asked if his campaign was serious. “Are you implying something?” he said. I told him that I suspect this is all an elaborate prank. Accetturo paused, then said: “Well, stay tuned.”

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