No right-wing cause célèbre would be complete without some on-air boosting from Fox News. And in the case of Steve Bannon’s allegedly fraudulent “We Build the Wall” fundraiser, the conservative cable channel obliged.
Bannon, a former chief strategist to President Donald Trump, was arrested Thursday morning on charges of using that border wall fundraising campaign to enrich himself and the fund’s founder Brian Kolfage, a triple-amputee Air Force veteran who was also arrested.
According to federal prosecutors, Bannon and Kolfage, along with two others, defrauded the hundreds of thousands of donors who gave $25 million to their effort to privately fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The alleged wall scammers used those funds—despite publicly claiming “All money donated to the campaign goes directly to the wall!”—to line their own pockets and purchase luxury items, the indictment claimed.
Since the viral fundraiser launched in late 2018, Bannon and Kolfage separately appeared on Fox News on more than a few occasions to tout their efforts to the network’s audience and its uncritical, often credulously supportive on-air personalities. While the effort garnered some mainstream media attention, few outlets were as openly supportive of Kolfage and Bannon in their endeavor.
“A story of the can-do American spirit in action,” Fox News primetime host Laura Ingraham beamed about the fundraiser before interviewing Kolfage during her Dec. 20, 2018 broadcast.
During their chat, Ingraham repeatedly praised Kolfage and teed him up to bash critics who argued against a border wall or called the fundraiser a publicity stunt. “I’d say they’re full of crap. And this is the United States and we can do anything we want,” Kolfage said. “And if people want to donate to that wall and give their money, they can do it. I mean, what’s 80 bucks for 60 million people? The common person can give that kind of money.”
That same month, Fox Business Network host David Asman heaped praise on Kolfage in an interview, declaring that the veteran is “a terrific person and I really appreciate what you’re doing for the country.”
Fox has also repeatedly played host to Bannon—an already controversial, fringe figure—for segments touting his border-wall effort. For example, the former Breitbart chief received a particularly big boost for his allegedly fraudulent scheme in an August 2019 interview with Fox host Maria Bartiromo, who fawned over the project.
“This private group is ‘We Build the Wall,’ that the triple-amputee hero Brian Kolfage, the Air Force veteran, has founded,” Bannon said from the border area. “We have raised about $25 million. I’m down in Arizona. We’re in the Rio Grande Valley. We have had about 30 different private landowners approach us now.”
After insisting their mission was to “to actually help” the government build a border wall, Bannon added that the fundraiser was filling “niches” outlayed by the Army Corps of Engineers as Trump builds “long runs of wall” along the border.
“This, of course, is a campaign promise that the president is keeping,” Bartiromo excitedly responded.
In another friendly interview, this time in May 2019 with Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum, the former Trump campaign chief boasted that he was “already cutting deals” along the border to privately build sections of the wall.
“There’s certain aspects [the feds] are not going to build,” Bannon added, further touting the fundraiser’s credibility. “Brian Kolfage and Kris Kobach and others have raised this money. We are going to go around, we are already cutting deals all up and down the border on private property where the government is not going to build, we are going to be there and try to build the wall.” The former Trump strategist then noted they were nearly done building a three-quarter mile stretch of wall near El Paso. (A year later, however, the president would trash the group’s wall, noting it had already shown signs of erosion and claiming it was “only done to make me look bad.”)
MacCallum, in return, called the We Build the Wall effort a “very interesting project.”
Similarly, in Jan 2019, Fox News anchor Shannon Bream interviewed Kris Kobach—a We Build the Wall advisory board member who was not among those indicted Thursday—and called the project “an interesting concept” and asked the former Kansas secretary of state to “keep us updated. We would like to know how it’s going as you get this done.”
Kobach also appeared on overtly pro-Trump morning show Fox & Friends in early 2019 to present an “exclusive” update on the fund’s progress to a very impressed and supportive host Pete Hegseth.
Elsewhere, the project got an on-air Fox boost from a popular conservative lawmaker in Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). Seated beside then N.C. GOP Rep. Mark Meadows (now Trump’s chief of staff), Jordan praised Kolfage’s fundraiser to Hannity fill-in host Jason Chaffetz, also a former congressman, and said that congressional Republicans were working on a way to funnel such fundraiser cash to the feds in order to pay for a wall.
“Those are the kind of things that Americans—because that’s good common sense, that makes good sense, let’s continue to make the case and let’s get this done for the American people,” Jordan said.
Overall, outside of the occasional due diligence, e.g., several hosts asked the basic-level question “Where will the money go?”, Fox was overwhelmingly supportive of Bannon and Kolfage’s effort. A new compilation video from liberal watchdog Media Matters shows We Build the Wall receiving positive press from the above Fox programs, as well as shows like Lou Dobbs Tonight, Cavuto: Coast to Coast, and Fox & Friends First.
And though it is highly unlikely Fox’s anchors and hosts were aware of the allegedly fraudulent scheming behind-the-scenes, they had plenty of warning signs about Kolfage’s past.
On the same day as Ingraham’s interview with him, in which she praised We Build the Wall as embodying the “can-do American spirit,” NBC News reported how Kolfage had withheld from donors information on his previous schemes, which included running a conspiracy theory-churning network of ad farms and fake social-media accounts.
And even before he began promoting the wall project on Fox, the network had already given Kolfage a free platform to spread misinformation about his past. In late 2018, for example, he appeared on Ingraham and Tucker Carlson’s shows complaining that Facebook had unfairly removed several of his pages after he claimed to have raised $300,000 in support of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation fight.
Of course, while he was painted as an aggrieved victim of censorship by “liberal” tech companies, the reality was much simpler: In January 2019, BuzzFeed News reported how former employees said Kolfage pushed fake news to get rich, and was booted from Facebook after repeatedly encouraging staff to create photoshopped images misrepresenting news stories.
BuzzFeed also reported that Kolfage had previously raised money for a veteran mentorship program that claimed to have partnerships with three medical centers, which all denied having any record of any peer-mentoring programs involving Kolfage.
Not that this seemed to matter much to some people on Fox. On the same day BuzzFeed published its deep-dive into Kolfage’s questionable ventures, he appeared on then-Fox Business Network host Trish Regan’s show to promote his wall fundraising efforts.