On October 17, a truck parked in Times Square beamed a digital ad that asked: “Do you believe #Ken Griffin lied?”
The question and the ad are part of an ongoing brawl between meme stock–loving retail investors and Wall Street heavyweight Citadel Securities, which Griffin owns. And the row shows no signs of ending soon — at least not if 40-year-old California bartender Katherine Larsen has any say in the matter.
Larsen began investing in movie theater chain AMC Entertainment in January, around the time it got caught up in the meme trading frenzy. She had been in the stock market for a few years when she learned about AMC from her then 22-year-old son — and Reddit member — who wanted to borrow money from her to buy shares of the movie theater chain. AMC’s stock had been heavily shorted after the business was torpedoed by Covid-19 restrictions, making it a target of retail investors — a so-called meme stock.
Since then, movie theaters have reopened, AMC stock has skyrocketed, and Larsen’s investment has gone from $120,000 to more than $520,000. Despite her newfound wealth, however, Larsen is now wary of Wall Street practices — like payment for order flow — that were revealed during the GameStop trading fracas in January. Many other retail investors felt the same way after the price surge of heavily shorted meme stocks led upstart Robinhood Markets and other brokers to stop processing buy orders through market makers like Citadel Securities.
The resulting market plunge was followed by hastily convened congressional hearings on the topic, regulatory investigations into the companies at the center of the storm, and an investor lawsuit against Robinhood, Citadel Securities, and others alleging that they acted in concert to protect themselves at the expense of retail investors. (The Securities and Exchange Commission does not agree with the plaintiffs. Its report on the GameStop trading phenomenon concludes that broker-dealers restricted trading owing to margin calls from clearinghouses, and makes no mention of any role played by Citadel Securities.)
Larsen is not a party to the lawsuit, but she has taken up its cause. She has hired firms to run digital billboards and banners lambasting Citadel and its billionaire founder in the streets — and skies — of New York and elsewhere. Griffin’s lawyers have sent dozens of cease and desist letters.
Two days after running the Times Square ad, Larsen, known on Twitter as Kat Stryker or @katstryker111, tweeted out one of those letters, which targeted an advertising firm she’d used. The letter claims an “online mob” led by Larsen was “disseminating unfounded conspiracy theories and debunked narratives” about Citadel Securities.
“[Larsen] has published a series of tweets containing pictures of these ads, which contained demonstrably false and defamatory statements about Mr. Griffin — including the inflammatory and outrageous claim that he perjured himself by lying under oath,” it continues.
In response, Larsen says Griffin’s lawyers are “bullying companies,” noting that the letters were sent to some 28 firms — some of them no longer in business — that offer mobile billboard ads, but that she herself has not received one. “They’re trying to silence us, and we don’t appreciate it,” she tells Institutional Investor. “We do have freedom of speech, and the right to speak our opinion.”
Investors like Larsen have become convinced the system is stacked against them. And the more they hear about the plumbing of Wall Street — from payment for order flow to dark pools to latency arbitrage — the more skeptical they become.
“A retail investor that is on a Reddit subchannel or the like is pretty sure that something shady is going on, but he just has no idea what,” says Ben Hunt, a former hedge fund manager and chief risk officer who runs Epsilon Theory, a popular online newsletter that is critical of Wall Street. “And by shady, I don’t mean illegal,” he is quick to point out.
You can read the rest of my Institutional Investor story here: