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‘Disappointed’ donors who raised £17m to build Trump’s wall demand answers

Campaign founder, Brian Kolfage, was previously accused of misusing funds

Michael Brice-Saddler
Sunday 12 May 2019 16:34 BST
GoFundMe page raked in millions over a few weeks. Now some donors are getting worried
GoFundMe page raked in millions over a few weeks. Now some donors are getting worried (GoFundMe)

A December fundraising campaign brought in more than $22m (£16.9m) over the course of a few weeks, its thousands of donors united by a common goal: the construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border, often promised by Donald Trump.

Some four months later, a contingent of those supporters is ready to see what their money has built.

The border wall GoFundMe page was conceived by Brian Kolfage, who wrote at the time he was upset by “too many illegals ... taking advantage of the United States taxpayers” and the “political games from both parties” when it came to border security.

The veteran, a triple amputee, pressed on despite falling short of his $1bn goal – launching a nonprofit to build portions of the wall on private land for a “fraction of what it costs the government”.

While the majority of donors continue to believe in Mr Kolfage’s efforts, the nonprofit’s clandestine operations and assurances of progress are insufficient for others.

Some have taken to social media, seeking photos, videos – anything – for evidence they are not being misled.

“I am very disappointed in you Brian Kolfage, where are the progress photographs?” one woman posted to the We Build The Wall Facebook page.

“Quit talking about it and do it,” another commented.

“I’ve been away for FIVE months,” one person tweeted in April. “When’s the groundbreaking?”

A story reporting on the apparent lack of progress on the private wall, published on Friday by the Daily Beast, drew criticism from Mr Kolfage.

The veteran called out the story’s author, Will Sommer, who indicated he repeatedly asked Mr Kolfage for proof that work on the wall was beginning to start.

“Omg this is PERFECT timing by the liberal rag news site. They are about to look more stupid than @hillaryclinton on election night 2016!” Mr Kolfage wrote. “I guaranteed we would build the wall ... and I’ll leave it at that!”

Mr Kolfage did not respond to requests for comment.

While the nonprofit has floated various dates for work to begin in the past, it is not exactly clear when, or if, construction will begin.

“We should be turning dirt on this thing by 1 May, 1 June at the latest, according to our experts,” Mr Kolfage told Politico in February.

In a 21 March interview with American Family Radio, however, the veteran asserted the project was going to “start breaking ground” in April.

In the interview, Mr Kolfage said his nonprofit had identified eight locations to build along the border, but failed to name them, stating that his efforts could be thwarted by liberals if they were revealed.

“I wish I could name where it’s at, but we can’t name it because of the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union], these other liberal groups who want to sue us and impede our progress,” he said.

“But it’s actually happening, the process is happening ... the project is moving forward.”

An artist has recreated Trump's mexico border wall - with cheese

He continued: “But as soon as we start breaking ground, we’ll be putting that information out there to show the American people what they’re doing.”

Mr Kolfage has previously indicated that We Build The Wall Inc is seeking to develop segments of the wall on private property, which he told The Washington Post in January would cost $2m to $3m per mile.

His GoFundMe page says he has visited the border to scope out potential sites and negotiate with private land owners.

Mr Kolfage has also enlisted the help of several high-profile politicians, among them former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach, the former secretary of state for Kansas.

Back in January, Mr Kobach told The New York Times the nonprofit would hopefully be breaking ground “within weeks”.

Some critics noted Mr Kolfage was accused of shady behaviour in the past, including allegations of misusing funds he raised.

NBC and BuzzFeed investigations earlier this year alleged that Mr Kolfage peddled false articles and conspiracy theories with the intent of harvesting reader email addresses.

The purported scheme would draw people back to his websites and Facebook pages, generating hundreds of thousands in advertising revenue, BuzzFeed reported.

Facebook removed several of the pages he operated last year, according to NBC.

In response, Mr Kolfage created a new campaign, Fight4FreeSpeech, which also accepts donations.

BuzzFeed looked into Mr Kolfage’s previous crowdfunding efforts, which included an initiative to mentor wounded veterans at military hospitals – among them Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre in Bethesda, and Brooke Army Medical Centre in San Antonio.

New Mexico's governor literally runs through walls in response to Trump's border wall

He raised thousands for the project, according to BuzzFeed, but spokespeople for the medical facilities told the outlet they have no record of him working at the hospitals or donating money.

Asked about the story in January, Mr Kolfage said that BuzzFeed “100 per cent lied” and had fabricated the investigation to slander him.

He said the money was raised to cover his travel expenses, and that he only used them for that purpose.

On Friday, many supporters of Mr Kolfage called the Daily Beast story “fake news” intended to stymie donations.

We Build The Wall occasionally replied in agreement, reassuring commenters the wall was on its way.

“This is what we call FAKE NEWS,” it wrote in a post. “We didn’t stop anything and we are full steam ahead. The wall is being built.”

As of Friday night, the group said it will be breaking ground “shortly”.

In a separate comment, one woman indicated she had heard enough.

“Saying it doesn’t get it done,” she wrote. “Do it.”

© The Washington Post

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