The right-wing grift, long a staple of the US political scene, reached a kind of apotheosis under Donald Trump, the reality TV mogul who built an empire licensing his name to various dodgy enterprises. Fittingly, the trope he rode to the presidency—that the United States needed to build a wall along our 2,000-mile southern border to keep out undesirables—also anchored a money-making scheme for some of Trump’s political allies, according to a 2020 federal indictment. Last week, one of the principles in the case, Brian Kolfage, agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud conspiracy and three tax charges after raising $25 million in a GoFundMe campaign called We Build the Wall.
The most high-profile figure associated with the scheme, one-time Trump Svengali and “stop the steal” stalwart Steve Bannon, won’t deal with legal consequences for the alleged crime. That’s because on his last day in office—two weeks after the January 6, 2020, Capital riot—Trump pardoned Bannon.
Even by the standards of right-wing griftery, We Build the Wall was bold stuff. According to the Justice Department’s 2020 press release, “to induce donors to donate to the campaign, Kolfage repeatedly and falsely assured the public that he would ‘not take a penny in salary or compensation’ and that ‘100% of the funds raised…will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose’ because, as Bannon publicly stated, ‘we’re a volunteer organization.'”
In reality, however, Kolfage “covertly took for his personal use more than $350,000,” while Bannon grabbed enough to “cover hundreds of thousands of dollars” in personal expenses. At a 2019 telethon to raise funds for the project, Bannon infamously joked that “we’re on the million-dollar yacht of Brian Kolfage. Brian Kolfage—who took all that money from Build the Wall.”
According to the indictment, the defendants actually did funnel We Build the Wall Funds into purchasing a yacht—a big 40-foot beauty they deemed “WarFighter.” It even appeared at one of those infamous “boat parades” to support Trump’s presidential campaign in 2020.
And in case you were wondering, yes, Donald Trump Jr. praised Kolfage and We Build the Wall as “private enterprise at its finest” in 2018.
Donald Trump Jr. praised We Build The Wall and Brian Kolfage at a 2018 event: "This is private enterprise at its finest. Doing it better, faster, cheaper than anything else. What you guys are doing is amazing.” pic.twitter.com/hOL25JoZPI
— andrew kaczynski (@KFILE) August 20, 2020
Kolfage is expected to enter his plea on April 21. He could face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.