Note: This article is a revised version of the first part of an article that I had posted on January 15. The second part of this article is posted here.
Triple Amputee Iraqi War veteran Brian Kolfage was sick and tired of waiting for the government to provide funds to build Trump's Wall along the Southern border, so he took matters into his own hands by starting a GoFundMe campaign to fund the Wall. The campaign's goal is ambitious--Kolfage wants to raise $1 Billion of the $5 billion that Trump says he wants to start the Wall. Kolfage's campaign relies on the voluntary contributions of those who want the Wall to pay for it. As such, it has zero chance of receiving significant money from the one half to two thirds of the population who either oppose to the Wall or who do not see it as a priority.
I am not going to go into an in depth discussion of the necessity or advisability of building a Wall on the Southern border in this article. I'll confess my prejudice though. I am one of those deadbeat liberals who has no intention of contributing to the Wall because I believe the threat on the border has been overhyped. (See also here.) After reading Amy Patrick's Facebook post I became concerned that the Wall would lead to flooding and other environmental problems and would cost far more to build and maintain than has been advertised. (See Patrick's LinkedIn page for her qualifications to assess the feasibility of the Wall). (See also "Why the Wall Won't Work" by the Cato Institute). There are also VERY significant problems involving eminent domain that I will write about in my another article. And finally, I believe border security can best be obtained through less drastic means. An in-depth discussion of the advisability of building the Wall may be a topic for a future article, but for the sake of THIS article I want to put these reservations aside and assume that the Wall is an absolute necessity to safeguard our national security.
Instead of discussing the advisability of the Wall, I want to discuss the likely effectiveness of Kolfage's GoFundMe campaign, and in my next article I want to propose a separate, complementary GoFundMe campaign that will entice leftwingers to donate to the Wall and provide a way to avoid another government shutdown.
Effectiveness of Kolfage's Campaign So Far
How effective will Kofage's GoFundMe campaign be and what can we do to supplement it by raising money from people who would never give to Kolfage's campaign? We need to look at the campaign's past success in raising money to evaluate its likelihood of meeting its billion dollar goal. Fortunately, we can monitor the campaign's past by using the Internet Archive to view daily snapshots of the campaign's GoFundMe page. Here is what I found.
The campaign made incredible progress between December 20 and 22 and has slowed down considerably since then. It has raised less than $300,000 a day between December 28 and January 13. People are most likely to get excited and donate to a campaign when it first kicks off. Undoubtedly, some of those who contributed to the campaign in its first days will make monthly contributions while some will only contribute once and be done with it. How many fall into each category is anyone's guess, so predicting how fast the campaign will grow in the future is difficult.
But let's assume the campaign will continue to raise $300,000 a day. At this rate they will hit $1 billion by December, 2027. If they up their game and raise $1 million a day in the future then they will meet their $1 billion goal in September 2021. Perhaps Kolfage will raise his game by significantly more than $1 million a day. That is what we were led to believe would happen by a series of tweets starting on December 28 in anticipation of a blockbuster news release that ultimately occurred on January 11.
We are building the wall! News released next week https://t.co/Po1Uc6Bxym#GoFundTheWall @RyanAFournier @gatewaypundit @SaraCarterDC @DeplorableChoir @SarahPalinUSA @BreitbartNews @IngrahamAngle @TeamCavuto @TuckerCarlson @PeteHegseth
— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) December 28, 2018
What we accomplished in DC will change the course of American History. We will announce our plan late next week! #GoFundTheWall @DonaldJTrumpJr @STEPHMHAMILL @RyanAFournier @RealJamesWoods @MarkDice @DeplorableChoir @PeteHegseth @TuckerCarlson @KatiePavlich
— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) December 30, 2018
Somehow in the middle of Kolfage's busy schedule of hyping his big announcement, he managed to find time to fire off this bizarre tweet that looks like either a threat of violence or an appeal to others to act violently against Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats should they pass legislation that does not meet the approval of the extreme right wing.
The peaceful transfer of power in the House will end soon once Pelosi refuses funding for Wall in favor of medicare for all. @gehrig38 @RyanAFournier @SheriffClarke @CLewandowski_ @STEPHMHAMILL @DonaldJTrumpJr @JenLawrence21 @BreitbartNews @PeteHegseth @DailyCaller
— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) January 3, 2019
But enough with the thuggery. Time to get back to the hyping. Note that in the next tweet Kolfage predicts the campaign will raise $100 million in the week after the upcoming news release.
As soon as legal clears us to go public, we'll clear $100 Million in a week. #gofundthewall DONATE: https://t.co/gnBlJ1pWco@RyanAFournier @DeplorableChoir @KrisKobach1787 @RealJamesWoods https://t.co/qpGzs1zPjH
— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) January 6, 2019
Getting lots of messages about when the big announcement is coming. Hang tight, its HUGE and I'm at the mercy of lawyers who are finalizing things. We have the backing like you've never seen before. It's Happening guys, we are building that BIG CONCRETE WALL! #GoFundTheWall
— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) January 7, 2019
So how many billionaires will it take for us to get the wall completed?
When we release our plan you will find out that answer! @RyanAFournier @DeplorableChoir @KayaJones @PeteHegseth @JenLawrence21 @gehrig38 @EmeraldRobinson @LouDobbs @FoxNews @BreitbartNews @cnnbrk
— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) January 8, 2019
WE ARE BUILDING THE WALL! And when you see who is backing it you will be going #WallCrazy!!!
ARE YOU READY?!? #GoFundTheWall @RealJamesWoods @SheriffClarke @PeteHegseth @RyanAFournier @trish_regan @DeplorableChoir @CLewandowski_ @MarkDice
— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) January 11, 2019
Kolfage issued his big press release on January 11. He had originally intended the campaign to raise $1 billion TO BE GIVEN TO THE GOVERNMENT so that the GOVERNMENT could build the Wall. However, on January 11 he updated his GoFundMe page to acknowledge that "The federal government won’t be able to accept our donations anytime soon" and he issued a press release announcing that he had restructured his campaign by forming a 501(c)4 organization named "We Build The Wall". The organization's goal was to try to get landowners along the border to sell rights to their land so that the newly formed We Build The Wall organization could start building the wall on its own. The press release also announced that Kris Kobach, Erik Prince, and former Sheriff David Clarke among others would either advise the organization or be on its Board of Directors. The announcement of these three highly controversial figures was expected to fire up Trump's base and get them to flood the campaign with donations.
Kolfage's hype persisted even after his press release.
HUGE DONATIONS TODAY! You guys are crushing it! $100k in hours.
Visit our website to see who is on our team! https://t.co/Ibpt4wmKE3 @Cernovich @DeplorableChoir @gehrig38 @RyanAFournier @DRUDGE_REPORT @RealJamesWoods @SheriffClarke @CLewandowski_ @PeteHegseth @STEPHMHAMILL pic.twitter.com/6veysSPdxV
— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) January 12, 2019
After rolling out our plan to build the wall, we now have huge political backing and our team of experts is growing! So excited for this! What’s even more exciting is the POWERHOUSE donors coming forward to donate directly to https://t.co/qQAdOdxbdj $1BILLION is still our goal!
— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) January 13, 2019
It LOOKS like the amount being raised will fall a bit short of the hype. There was less than $400,000 raised through the GoFundMe site in the two days since the press release. This might not tell the full story of how much was raised Kolfage issued another press release on January 14 stating that We Build The Wall Inc. has received roughly 3,500 checks. This revenue flow is separate from the GoFundMe campaign and is not accounted for in the above graph. Unfortunately, the press release only tells us only the number of checks received and not the total amount raised by check. These tweets, however, suggest that Kolfage had raised at least $2 million in checks through January 11
we technically broke it already including checks
— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) January 11, 2019
However, the ability of the campaign to keep even this pace of fundraising is in doubt now that its egitimacy has been questioned. One of the Kolfage's key selling points in promoting his campaign was his status as a Purple Heart Veteran and his sacrifice in service of the country. This is from a December 19 snapshot of his GoFundMe page.
My name is Brian Kolfage, I have a verified blue check facebook page as a public figure and I’m Purple Heart recipient
triple amputee Air Force veteran. . . .
As a veteran who has given so much, 3 limbs, I feel deeply invested to this nation to ensure future generations have everything we have today. . . .
• How do you know this is not a scam? I'm using my real name, my real information, you can contact me and hold me accountable. People who try to scam you will not be upfront with their information, they will hide and not use their name. I have a public figure Facebook page with a blue check mark issued by facebook that verifies my identity. I'm a retired United States Air Force member who was wounded in Iraq, and lost 3 limbs. I have a website BrianKolfage.com where you can verify more about me. I will respond. I've been on Fox News many times, you can see I'm credible and a real person. The Gary Sinise Foundation also built me and my family a home. Do your research before donating, and contact me if you have any questions.
And if this wasn't enough to convince you of his integrity and willingness to sacrifice for his country, Kolfage included this picture at the bottom of his GoFundMe page to drive the point home.
Unfortunately for Kolfage, at least one veterans group is unconvinced by his sales pitch. Connecting Vets published an article on January 15 accusing the headline of one of Kolfage's press releases of being misleading. You may think that that is no big deal. MANY websites publish stories with misleading click bate headlines. But it got worse for Kolfage because the article then started questioning whether Kolfage's campaign was a scam.
Additionally, Kolfage has a reported history of scamming — and we have questions about the organizations alleged nonprofit status.
It can take months to receive nonprofit status from the IRS. Presumably, it would take even longer to receive that status when every branch of the government is overloaded from the partial shutdown. Yet the We Build the Wall, Inc. website, copyrighted within the last 15 days, proudly proclaims its nonprofit status at the bottom of the page.
A search of the IRS's Tax Exempt Organization Database showed no results for "We Build the Wall, Inc."
We tried to contact Kolfage's media spokesperson, Jennifer Lawrence, to ask how this status was achieved so quickly and why it isn't in the IRS's database. Her phone was off and her voicemail was full.
Kolfage's supporters will no doubt find reason to dismiss this criticism. They might say something like this: "Connecting Vets is a relatively small veterans organization that few people have heard of. And Connecting Vets has written a previous story using Buzzfeed news as a source to accuse Kolfage of being a scammer." And then Kolfage's supporters will pound their chests triumphantly and conclude, "As we all know, Buzzfeed is FAKE NEWS. They're run by a bunch of libtards so of course they're going to lie to smear a conservative. Even Robert Mueller has said one of their stories is FAKE NEWS. We can't trust them or any organization that relies on them as a news source." I disagree with this simplistic assessment, but let us assume for argument's sake that their take on Buzzfeed and Connecting Vets is right. There is still just one teensy weensy problem for Kolfage's defenders. Connecting Vets isn't the only organization that has questioned whether Kolfage's campaign is a scam. The Daily Caller, a conservative Trump-supporting website, has given the campaign the hard side eye. I invite you to read the Daily Caller's article and ask yourself whether Kolfage's refusal to answer key questions about his newly formed organization raises a "huge red flag". Then ask yourself if this article is likely to discourage people from donating to the campaign.
Kolfage responded to questions raised by the Daily Caller about his campaign's legitimacy with this tweet.
@DailyCaller made a huge mistake and never gave us time to respond. They are correcting their article and retracting accusations.
— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) January 16, 2019
The Daily Caller responded with a follow up article that said, in effect, "LIAR, LIAR! PANTS ON FIRE!"
An analyst with the watchdog group Charity Watch, Stephanie Kalivas, said donors should take pause at Kolfage’s unwillingness to provide transparency into his ambitious project.
“With no established track record, Kolfage should be even more willing to be transparent with the public,” Kalivas said. “The apparent lack of established governing documents, and Kolfage’s unwillingness to make available to the public the ‘white paper’ he claims has already been prepared ‘to every detail’ are additional red flags.”
“Donors are taking a huge risk in blindly trusting that Kolfage will keep to, or be able to execute on, his claims, especially considering the magnitude of the purported mission,” she added. . . .
TheDCNF reported on Jan. 14 that Kolfage was refusing to respond to questions about his new organization, including why it was directing check donations to an entirely different organization. (RELATED: ‘Huge Red Flag’: Border Wall GoFundMe Founder Refuses To Answer Basic Questions About His New Nonprofit)
Following publication, Kolfage tweeted that TheDCNF “made a huge mistake” in its reporting and is “correcting their article and retracting accusations.”
TheDCNF made no such promise to Kolfage. In fact, its reporting prompted Kolfage to correct his website and GoFundMe page to address check donations to We Build the Wall Inc.
Unfortunately for Kolfage and his supporters, there is no way to spin The Daily Caller as a hostile website. Not after they published the following stories that had put Kolfage and his promotion in a positive light:
December 21: CAN THE $13 MILLION GOFUNDME FOR TRUMP’S BORDER WALL ACTUALLY WORK? (This article actually had a VERY mildly skeptical take on Kolfage's Fundraiser. It is the first to raise the question of whether it would work, but it did not provide a definitive answer)
Remember Kolfage's January 6 tweet predicting that they would raise $100 million within a week of their blockbuster announcement (which took place on January 11?) Let's see how much they actually raised through their GoFundMe site since then.
You will notice that the amount raised WENT DOWN between January 22 and 25th. That is because some of those who had given to the GoFundMe campaign to raise money to give to the government for the Wall decided they wanted their donations refunded when they heard it was to be given to a 501(c)4 organization instead. Evidently, the amount that patrons wanted to have refunded during those days exceded the amount that patrons donated through the GoFundMe site.
Clearly the campaign fell a bit short of raising $100 million after the January 11 press release. However, on January 25 they issued a press release announcing that Donald Trump had given his blessing to their campaign. (See also this New York Times story about Trump's blessing). It is unsurprising that President Trump would give his blessing to the project. But note what the President did not say. He did not say, "I have ordered an audit of We Build The Wall's charter and its money flows so far and determined that this organization is legitimate." And even if he had said this, given his history of lies, highly questionable business practices, poorly vetted cabinet appointments, and tax cheating, his endorsement might not be enough to convince those who became skeptical after reading the Daily Caller's articles to donate. Judging from the donations raised through the GoFundMe site the five days since the the announcement of Trump's blessings, donors are unimpressed.
Breitbart published a story based on an interview with Kolfage on January 31 that provides more details about Kolfage's plans. And though the story was a puff piece intended to promote the Wall, it unintentionally raised some red flags that any critical thinker would spot.
Kolfage said their wall will supplement President Trump’s plan to build a physical barrier along 238 miles of the border in strategic locations.
“That’s not a lot, so we’re going to match what they’re doing, and we’re going to build another 238 miles,” he said. “We’re going to work alongside them and get the other part done.”
Kolfage said the government is currently paying $18 or $19 million for every mile of bollard steel fencing. He said he thinks it can be done privately for less than $3 million per mile.
So Kolfage is claiming he can build the wall not for 1/2, or 1/3, but 1/6 what it would cost the government to build the wall. (In this tweet he claims he can do it for $5 million/mile or less, and in this tweet he claims he is looking at a version of the wall which would only cost $1 million/mile.) When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Let's assume that Kolfage is somehow able to outsmart the government wall builders and figure out how to do this. Building 238 miles of wall at $3 million per mile will cost $714 million. Admittedly, this is a more realistic fundraising goal than the $1 billion he has established. But he has raised less than $200,000 in the three weeks since January 13 through his GoFundMe campaign. If he can increase his rate of fundraising to $500,000/week then it will take over 27 years to raise enough money. If he raises it to $1 million per week it will take 13.7 years to raise the money. And if somehow he can fire up enough enthusiasm to raise $2 million/week it will still take 6.8 years to raise this money.
And this is based on the assumption that Kolfage will be able to get the wall built for 1/6 of what it would cost the government will build it. How is this possible? According to the Breitbart article, Kolfage said that some companies were willing to build the wall for free, except for the labor costs. A little skepticism about this claim is in order because the article doesn't say WHAT companies will do this or how much of the wall they will be willing to build for free. For all we know it could be two companies, each willing to build a mile of wall for just the labor costs, and anything beyond their introductory offer of one "free" mile will be charged at full price.
The article further states:
Asked what materials they are considering using for the wall, Kolfage said, “We’re looking at every option, but we’re also going to do whatever the border patrol wants … whatever works for them.”
”We don’t want to be slapping up a wall and have it be mismatched,” he said. “What we’ve been learning is that … what’s needed in one area could be different from what’s needed in the next area.”
“If there’s a region with more tunneling going on, there might be technology for anti-tunneling detection.”
So now we have Kolfage saying that he can build the wall for 1/6 of what it would cost the government, but he doesn't even know yet what the designs will look like or what material the wall will be made of. This raises enough red flags to cover Moscow's Red Square.
Finally, the Breitbart article states that some landowners are willing to let him build the Wall on their land and that the building will start within a few months. I don't doubt this is true. In fact, I'd be shocked if Kolfage didn't build anything within a few months. He'll build some wall-perhaps a few hundred yards, perhaps a couple of miles, and use this fact as the basis for future fund-raising press releases. But that doesn't prove this isn't a scam. It doesn't prove that all money donated to the fund will go to building a wall. And it certainly doesn't prove that Kolfage or others associated with this project won't skim a little off the top from the money donated to build the wall. (Money donated via checks outside the GoFundMe campaign will be especially easy to skim off of since it will not be subject to monitoring by the GoFundMe staff.)
Don't get me wrong. I don't think this is a total scam. I can guarantee at least SOME of the money will go to the Wall and SOME wall will be built. After all, the initial investors in a Ponzi scheme are paid off handsomely. And then the ponzi scheme organizers will point to the success of the initial investors to convince others about the legitimacy of their investment.
This may be at least partially a scam. It may be totally legit. But I agree with the sentiment of the latest Daily Caller article. Those who donate to his campaign do so at their own risk.
I doubt that Kolfage will be pleased by my questioning the legitimacy of his campaign. But one thing I think we can both agree on--his campaign is limited becausle only conservatives are donating to it. Any fundraising to build the wall would be far more successful if liberals would donate money for it as well. And there IS a way to get liberals to do just that--by enticing them to bet that Emperor Donald has no clothes. I will discuss this in more detail in Part II of this essay.
Update 7/12/2020: Pro Publica just published an article about a 3-mile stretch of wall built in Texas VERY close to the Rio Grande. It was built so close that it is already showing signs of erosion and may topple into the river if the river rises. This wall was built by Tommy Fisher with the backing of We Build the Wall, the organization that grew out of Kolfage's campaign. Fisher had been awarded $1.7 billion in federal contracts to build this wall and a portion of the wall in Arizona despite questions about his qualifications. The work on this wall was so shoddy that Donald Trump disassociated himself from the project ten days after Pro Publica published their article.
I disagreed with doing this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private group which raised money by ads. It was only done to make me look bad, and perhsps it now doesn’t even work. Should have been built like rest of Wall, 500 plus miles. https://t.co/L8RUPCAhqc
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 12, 2020
Trump may try to distance himself from the wall now. But on January 25, 2019, Kolfage and Kris Kobach issued a press release claiming that Trump had offered them his blessing
Kobach's claim that they had Trump's blessings was also mentioned in this New York Times article as well. So who is lying? Did Trump give this project his blessing or not? I suspect that Trump didn't specifically approve of this wall, and he almost certainly wasn't involved in the decision to build it too close to the Rio Grande. He is not exactly a micromanager and he wouldn't have troubled himself with the nitty gritty details of this project. However it is a bit more difficult to determine whether Trump has given his general blessing to Kolfage's fundraising project or not. Neither Kolfage/Kobach nor Trump are particularly trustworthy and it is difficult to determine which side has the bigger scammer.