A decorated veteran who raised more than $20 million to finance construction of a wall along the southern U.S. border has announced that he will instead use the money to finance a new nonprofit group that will build the wall itself—or at least a couple miles of it.
Brian Kolfage’s crowdfunding campaign on the website GoFundMe went viral in December, before news outlets uncovered previous instances in which the triple-amputee veteran appeared to have pocketed funds raised through similar, if far smaller, campaigns billed as efforts to assist wounded warriors.
Now Kolfage, a prolific operator of conspiracy theory Facebook pages, has recruited a team of prominent figures in President Donald Trump’s orbit to run a new nonprofit outfit named We Fund The Wall to do some wall construction of its own. The new group’s board, Kolfage announced on Friday, includes Erik Prince, the founder of infamous military contractor Blackwater; David Clarke, the scandal-plagued former sheriff of Milwaukee County; Fox News contributor Sara Carter; Tom Tancredo, an immigration hardliner and former Colorado congressman; and former Kansas Secretary of State and voter fraud crusader Kris Kobach.
“I joined the organization because its mission is of the highest importance to our country,” Kobach told The Daily Beast. “The wall needs to be completed, and it needs to be done as soon as possible. The best way to accomplish that is through a combination of both public and private efforts.”
The group’s formation comes amidst heated fighting in Washington over financing for Trump’s border wall. A partial shutdown of the federal government has persisted for nearly three weeks as Trump and Democratic congressional leaders spar over the president’s demands for more than $5 billion in border wall funding.
Kolfage’s fundraising campaign was initially designed to help finance that construction with private contributions. He insisted that he had been in contact with a number of federal officials and members of Congress devising ways to funnel the massive amounts of money raised on GoFundMe to the federal treasury.
It appears that plan went awry.
“The federal government won’t be able to accept our donations any time soon,” Kolfage said in an update on the GoFundMe page on Friday.
It’s not clear how much money from the crowdfunding effort will make it to the nonprofit. GoFundMe is emailing donors with an option to proactively agree to send their money to We Fund the Wall, but if donors decline or never respond to that option, they’ll receive a refund.
In a statement, GoFundMe cited Kolfage’s initial statements on the fundraising page as proof that the initial campaign had failed to achieve its goal. In GoFundMe’s view, that means they can refund donors’ money.
“When the campaign was created, the campaign organizer specifically stated on the campaign page, ‘If we don’t reach our goal or come significantly close we will refund every single penny,’” GoFundMe’s statement reads. “He also stated on the campaign page, ‘100% of your donations will go to the Trump Wall. If for ANY reason we don't reach our goal we will refund your donation.’ However, that did not happen.”
Even without GoFundMe, though, Koflage may reap another benefit from the crowdfunding and a related petition, since those have provided him with a large email list of fired-up conservative donors willing to spend money on a cause that they believe in. On Friday, NBC News reported on Kolfage’s history of harvesting large political email lists, including one text message in which Kolfage discussed using petitions to “steal/collect emails.”
Dustin Stockton, a conservative activist and We Fund The Wall spokesman, said he expects that enough people will agree to redirect their GoFundMe contributions for the group to retain a sizable portion of the funds.
Rather than financing federal efforts to build the wall, We Build The Wall plans to go the route that its name suggests and finance construction on its own, according Stockton. He said the group hopes to secure enough funding from its initial GoFundMe supporters to build “at least two miles” along the southern border, which is nearly 2,000 miles long.
The group has already been in touch with landowners in Texas about buying or leasing their land for wall construction, Stockton said. It’s also retained two law firms to deal with regulatory issues that are sure to dog the project, Barnes & Thornburg and Foley & Lardner. Cleta Mitchell, an attorney with the latter, who Stockton said is working with the new nonprofit, is a prominent conservative lawyer representing a host of political and nonprofit groups aligned with President Trump’s agenda.
We Build The Wall is also staffing up administratively, a hiring spree that Stockton said is being financed by private donors, not GoFundMe contributions. He declined to name any of the donors.
“As a message, getting 330,000 people to dip into their pockets to get money is already having an effect on the debate,” Stockton said, citing assurances from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) that the GoFundMe campaign had encouraged House conservatives to include border wall funding in a key federal funding bill last month.
But We Build The Wall is convinced that private funding for wall construction, to the extent it can be marshaled, is preferable, given Washington’s inability to agree on a funding package. “We expect we’re going to be able to construct the wall so much more efficiently than the government,” Stockton said.
With reporting by Sam Stein