Last week, former Trump campaign manager and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was arrested, along with conservative activist Brian Kolfage, and two other men, on charges of defrauding donors through an organization known as “We Build the Wall.” The endeavor billed itself as a private enterprise solution to constructing Trump’s signature project: a wall on the southern border of the United States. The implosion of “We Build the Wall” is yet another reminder of just how stupid and expensive “the border wall” is, and why it’s maddening to see so many Texas Republicans cling to the campaign promise.
In December 2018, Kolfage launched “We The People Will Fund The Wall” on the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe. After a week, the page had raised more than $15 million. That prompted GoFundMe to shut down the venture because of concerns that the money was going to the federal government, instead of a nonprofit organization. The platform was later relaunched as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit. Kolfage and his new partner, Bannon, assured donors that all the money raised would go to construction of the wall and they would receive no compensation.
According to indictments from the Southern District of New York, Bannon and Kolfage paid themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars. For Bannon, a man who led chants of “lock her up” in the runup to the 2016 election, a possible prison sentence now looms.
We Build the Wall hosted events in border states, including Texas, and attracted visiting promoters like Donald Trump Jr. (who has now unfollowed Kolfage on Twitter). One of their largest donors was a seven-year-old boy from Texas, Benton Stevens. He and his family set up a hot chocolate stand as part of his initial fundraising effort. In July of last year, they appeared with Bannon at a symposium for We Build the Wall in New Mexico.
Rep. Louie Gohmert was also a fan of We Build the Wall. He attended the symposium in New Mexico as well. He is featured in testimonials on We Build the Wall’s website. “They did this wall beautifully, it’s just incredible.” The website is still active and Kolfage has posted a message from his Facebook passage vowing to “fight back.”
A joint investigation by the Texas Tribune and ProPublica found that We Build the Wall was responsible for only three miles of construction. The US Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, Ryan Patrick, sued both the contractor and We Build the Wall. In a Twitter thread, Patrick , the son of the Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, noted the project’s many problems. “What they built is one step beyond vaporware. We said it was too close to the water, erosion would be an issue, the location made no sense, etc. Now we risk the thing falling down in a big storm/flood.”
For Trump’s staunchest defenders in Texas, building the wall remains a promise they want to see fulfilled. When Rep. Dan Crenshaw gave his first speech on the floor of Congress in February 2019, he defended Trump and the border wall, and chastised Democrats for opposing new construction. “If you think winning means a porous border with 400,000 people apprehended illegally every year, then your definition of winning is different than mine,” he said on the House floor.
Rep. Chip Roy circulated a petition calling supporters to help “finish building the wall.” He also posts regularly on Twitter about supporting the wall. Dr. Ronny Jackson, the former White House physician and a GOP nominee for Congress in Texas, has also voiced his support for building the wall. After Trump toured a portion of the border wall in Arizona, Jackson posted his defense on Twitter and also called Democrats “haters, race-baiters [and] anarchists.”
During the March primary in Texas, a number of Republican candidates also adopted Trump’s signature pledge by endorsing the wall. Tony Gonzales, who prevailed in a chaotic GOP primary run-off that was decided only last week, is running against Gina Ortiz Jones in what many are calling the most flippable red to blue district in the country, which includes over 800 miles of the border. “Do we need a wall? Absolutely,” he told a program for WOAI-TV.
Gonzales is seeking to represent the district currently held by Rep. Will Hurd, who did raise concerns about building the wall in his district, particularly as it relates to the impacts of eminent domain on Texans. Hurd beat challenger Ortiz Jones by less than 1000 votes in 2018 and is retiring after deciding against running for re-election. Last Week Tonight pointed out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration continues to file eminent domain lawsuits.
The border wall was always stupid. The idea allegedly came from Trump campaign advisors as a type of memory mantra to keep an erratic candidate on message. Mexico was never going to pay for it. We Build the Wall could land several people in jail. And thousands of Texas homeowners could lose their property. For many Texas Republicans, that’s the price required to prop up a candidate able to remember only three words in “Build the Wall” as the sum of his campaign platform on immigration.
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