Believe it or not, it has been 25 full days since decorated veteran Brian Kolfage launched a viral GoFundMe campaign to raise the funds to make President Donald Trump’s signature campaign promise of a southern border wall come true. (Well, not the full signature campaign promise, since this wall would be paid for by private American citizens instead of the Mexican government, but you get the gist.)
Kolfage’s campaign caught fire and to date, the We The People Will Build the Wall campaign has raised 20 million dollars. That’s a lot of money, even considering that it’s a long ways from the campaign’s billion dollar goal. But now it looks like Kolfage won’t be getting his wall after all, although everyone who donated his campaign will be getting their money back. Buckle up, because this one’s got some twists and turns.
The whole saga was recorded by Buzzfeed’s Brianna Sacks, who noted that the campaign’s language around how refunds would work has subtly shifted over time. The initial pledge was to refund all the money if the one billion dollar goal wasn’t hit “for ANY reason.” But by the following day, that language said they would hold all funds and grant a refund if “we don’t reach our goal or come significantly close.” By the next week, the refund promise had disappeared altogether. As of now, the campaign simply says that it will “hold all funds.”
But on Friday, Kolfage changed his campaign altogether. Now instead of raising money to donate to the U.S. government for the building of a wall, Kolfage says he is starting a non-profit that will build the wall itself, without the government’s help, saying “we are better equipped than our own government to use the donated funds to build an actual wall on the southern border.” Kolfage says that he has spoken with “some of our country’s leading professionals in law, politics, national security, construction, and finance” and now thinks he can build the wall at half the cost the government itself was estimating (the White House’s most recent estimate is $15 billion, while outside experts predict it will cost closer to $25 billion.)
Just one problem. Well, actually 20 million problems — since that’s how many dollars Kolfage’s project is short now. Since this new plan of his is decidedly different from his original GoFundMe pitch, GoFundMe automatically refunds all the money back to the over 300,000 donors. This puts Kolfage back at square one.
?? The $20million Build the Wall campaign is getting refunded. @gofundme is refunding everyone (~330,000 people) who donated because, according to a spokesperson, Brian Kolfage broke the original promise of the campaign to give the money back if they didn’t reach their goal pic.twitter.com/3HDAzTqrgf
— Brianna Sacks (@bri_sacks) January 11, 2019
And that may be for the best. A Buzzfeed News investigation revealed that Kolfage himself has a history of questionable business practices, including a news site that pushed so many fake news stories that Facebook shut it down. In one instance, Kolfage told his team to photoshop former President Barack Obama’s head into a photo to make it look like he’d been caught in an affair. That story ran under “BREAKING!!! OBAMA BUSTED!!!” Another story claimed Hillary Clinton was being arrested by the FBI.
Maybe even more suspect, Kolfage raised thousands of dollars on another GoFundMe site he claimed was to help mentor his fellow veterans while they were hospitalized. But when contacted by Buzzfeed News, none of the hospitals Kolfage claimed he’d be helping had any record of him volunteering or donating any money.
Kolfage is a Purple Heart recipient who lost three limbs while serving in Iraq. According to Buzzfeed News, he spent several years cultivating a loyal following online as a conservative cable news guest. His early forays as conservative commentator were pretty straightforward, but slowly grew more extremist and deceptive, particularly after Facebook shut his page down for fake news.
So Kolfage may not be the most trustworthy keeper of your funds, which is just as well since he doesn’t have access to them anymore. But then, you didn’t bother donating to this whole wall GoFundMe, right? Not when there were so many other causes.