Episode 38: Brian Kolfage and We Build The Wall, Inc

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In their fifth installment of None Dare Call It News, Dylan and Brent (with Forrest in orb form) discuss Brian Kolfage, who made news last December when his GoFundMe campaign to build a border wall between the US and Mexico went viral. But just who is Kolfage, and should we be worried about how he paid for his yacht and his taste for faked images? Find out that and more in this episode!

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Brian Kolfage and the  “We The People Will Build the Wall” GoFundMe campaign

In our fifth installment of None Dare Call It News, we discuss Brian Kolfage, who started a GoFundMe in December 2018 called “We The People Will Build the Wall” to raise funds to build a border wall between the US and Mexico. After raising over $20 million dollars, Kolfage used the funds to start a non-profit, We Build The Wall, Inc., tasked with finding private land on the border to begin construction.

But who is Brian Kolfage? Kolfage is a triple amputee veteran who received the Purple Heart during the Iraq War. According to his website, he is “the most severely wounded airman in history.” (It is unclear whether that is correct or how it is even quantified.) He sustained his injuries on September 11, 2004 when a 107 millimeter shell exploded three feet away from him while on his second tour in Iraq.

Kolfage started the GoFundMe because he was sick of the House Democrat’s refusal to fund the wall (and the subsequent government shutdown) and decided that the free market and private will of the people would be up to the task of fulfilling Trump’s immigration policy. Kolfage notes on the GoFundMe page that he “takes the security of the American people very seriously, which is how I find myself building wall on the southern border.”

Who does Kolfage think threatens American security? One hint is the YouTube video featured on the GoFundMe entitled “Invasion of El Paso”. If that isn’t explicit enough, Kolfage spells out the threat America faces: “Too many Americans have been murdered by illegal aliens, and too many illegals are taking advantage of the United States taxpayers with no means of ever contributing to our society.”

When the “We The People Will Build the Wall” GoFundMe started, it went viral. In only a few days, the campaign raised $13 million from 215,000 donors. As of today, the GoFundMe campaign has raised over $22 million from over 260,000 contributors. It appears the campaign originally raised even more than that, but a portion of the original donations were refunded. GoFundMe has a policy that if a campaign does not reach its funding goal, then donors can opt to receive refunds. Although over $20 million raised is impressive, it fell far short of the $1 billion dollar goal of the campaign. Thus some donors received refunds but some reports that all the donations were refunded were false.

Kolfage expected attacks from haters and losers even in the beginning, but he refused to let them slow him down. “There's always a way to do something. People who say you can't would never survive living in my life. I keep hearing “you can't”, or “it's not even legal”. But those are people who will never step up to try to make a difference. Anything is possible.”

It’s convenient that Kolfage would not let something as pesky as the law get in the way of building the wall, since it isn’t clear that it’s legal at all. How does a private citizen raise money for the federal government? Kolfage points out that there was a time when a US citizen covered the cost of the Washington Monument restoration. Currently, the only difference between Kolfage’s wall project and the Washington Monument restoration is that the Washington Monument restoration was fully financed and then also completed. But Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will a potentially illegal border, so let's give him some time.

More promising is that Kolfage’s White House connections. Kolfagetold NBC News that his plan is to rely on connections inside the White House to guarantee that the wall is funded saying, “we have a lot of people watching this which should serve as a motivating factor not to screw this up. We have someone who is tied in with the White House that's in the inner circle. We can work on a way where we can guarantee with a contract where the funding can only go to the wall.”

The GoFundMe campaign ended in January, so how is Kolfage taking this from campaign to reality? Instead of the original plan to donate the money to the Federal government and earmark the funds to construct the wall, Kolfage decided this project was too important for the public sector. Instead, he used the money to start a nonprofit, We Build the Wall, Inc. The plan was to find private landowners along the US-Mexico border and use their land to build the border wall. Chris Kobach, former Kansas Secretary of State and member of the board of directors of We Build the Wall, Inc., claimed in February 2019 that We Build the Wall would probably break ground in April. Kolfage himself was too ambitious for this “probably” talk. In a March 2019 radio interview Kolfage said that April would be the month the wall began to be constructed. We Build the Wall was even planning on inviting contributors to a groundbreaking ceremony, presumably sometime in April. With over 260,000 donors to the GoFundMe, think Coachella meets the Unite the Right rally. That's the kind of spirit you're going to get there.

So … Where’s the wall?

You may have noticed that April has come and gone and there is nary a wall in sight. And if you haven’t noticed, the GoFundMe donors definitely noticed. Here are some of the responses to the donors on either Twitter or Facebook

“Why no updates on the status of the wall. I have a feeling this is a scam.”

“Show me video of the wall being built, and I'll pony up my next donation.”

“I am very disappointed in you, Brian Kolfage. Where are the progress photographs?”

So what's going on? One issue might be the dearth of private land on the US-Mexico border. Kolfage and the board of directors of We Build the Wall visited Arizona presumably to find potential wall-building areas. But the vast majority of donor land in Arizona is federally owned, so they wouldn't be able to use that land. The Phoenix New Times contacted many people who do own private land on the border in Arizona, and they confirmed that they had not been contacted by Kolfage or anyone at We Build the Wall.

But there might be another explanation for the delays. It's not just that Kolfage and We Build the Wall are having difficulty getting started. Perhaps the delay can be explained by the need for secrecy in these anti-Trump and pro-illegal-alien times. Kolfage noted in March the importance of secrecy to thwart Trump's foes. “I wish I can name where it's at, but we can’t name it because of the ACLU, these other liberal groups that want to sue us and impede our progress. But it's actually happening.

The We Build the Wall Facebook page has made similar pleas about the need for secrecy in order to calm angry donors. “VERY soon we can release the details but have to keep that information secure for the time being as to prevent giving our detractors a heads up to derail our progress. Soon, everyone will have the update they've been waiting for which we can't wait to share. This updated delay is just the unfortunate process of building a controversial barrier some people don't want to happen.”

But, sadly, there might be another explanation about where all this money is going, and why maybe this whole process isn't going so well. And, no, the fact that he needed a section called “how do you know this is not a scam” on the GoFundMe page was not at all a hint that there would be any problems.

Kolfage’s History of Falsehood

Kolfage has a history of GoFundMe ventures. According to BuzzFeed, he promised to help get veterans back on track and mentor fellow veterans at military hospitals. However, “spokespersons for the medical centers said they have no record of Kolfage working at their facilities or donating any money.”

Kolfage in a now-deleted Facebook post said he was working in conjunction with Walter Reed, Brooke Army Medical Center, and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. This is the same military hospital that treated Kolfage after his horrific accident at Balad Air base in Iraq in 2004. However, according to all three medical centers, they have no record of any of these peer mentoring programs by Kolfage.

The chief of public affairs for Landstuhl, Gia E. Oney, told BuzzFeed news, “We do not have a record of Mr. Kolfage visiting Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in any official capacity after 2012. We have no record of a donation made in his name to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.”

But Kolfage’s flirtation with falsehood doesn’t end with non-existent peer mentoring programs for veterans. Before his current plan to crowdfund immigration infrastructure improvements, Kolfage ran a number of Facebook pages that traffic in conservative and conspiratorial stories, including Right Wing News, VeteranAF and Freedom Daily. The conspiracies peddled included claims that Hillary Clinton was deathly ill and fake voter fraud stories a few days before the election. Here are two of the cuter headlines from some of these pages:

“Obnoxious Black People Lose Their Minds When victoria Secret Models Say This 1 Word On Live Video”

“Trump Just Released Embarrassing Vids of Obama’s Muslim Friends That He Never Wanted Seen”

This is just a taste of the kind of investigative journalism that you're finding on Kolfage’s Facebook pages. But Kolfage’s biggest mistake involved Joel Vangheluwe. Vangheluwe sued Freedom Daily, along with other right wing pages, for falsely claiming that he was the driver that plowed into protesters during the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. A month later in March 2018, Freedom Daily and VeteranAF shut down.

Right Wing News itself was closed in October 2018 after a Facebook crackdown on conspiracy mongering pages. Days later, Kolfage created the Facebook page Fight 4 Free Speech, which accepts donations and generates ad revenue for the site that took away Kolfage’s free speech in the first place. Kolfage’s battle against censorship was picked up by Breitbart, WorldNetDaily, and even Fox News.

Kolfage: Best Boss Ever?

Perhaps we can learn about Kolfage’s management style while helming We Build the Wall by delving into what his employees thought of him during his Right Wing News days. These Facebook pages were big business. According to Kolfage in one text he ran a “multi million business”. The unit of measure was not included, so it could have been dollars or maybe cents, peppercorns, or shoes. We simply do not know.

Lindsay Lowery, who goes by the pseudonym Prissy Holly and worked for Freedom Daily in 2017, had this to say about Brian Kolfage: “After I started challenging some of his business decisions that I felt were reckless for the company and for my career, the real Brian emerged. Everything is only about his ‘war hero’ persona and money. If there’s a perceived slight on his part, he viciously attacks people...and, in my case, tries to destroy their life and livelihood.” In other words, Kolfage was boss of the year.

BuzzFeed News received multiple personal text messages and internal emails from former employees. These messages apparently show how he “pushed to sensationalize and fabricate right-wing content on Facebook to amass clicks, manipulate users, and in the process, make hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in advertising revenue.”

Several former employees said Kolfage told them to create content for Facebook to “more flagrantly convey a false narrative, in one instance photoshopping former President Obama's head onto another body to make it appear as though he was having an affair, with the caption, “BREAKING!! OBAMA BUSTED!!! VIDEO LEAKED!!”

Past employees said Kolfage loved faking images, sending texts that said, “You’ll love this one ;)”. Kolfage also sent an image via text to Lowery altered to make it look as though Hillary Clinton was being arrested by the FBI with the headline reading “BREAKING!!! TRUMP’S DOJ JUST DID IT!!! It’s FINALLY Happening!”

Before she quit in 2018, Kolfage scolded Lowery via text for not getting creative enough with her images in a story she wrote stating that the FBI Director James Comey “just committed treason.”

“So get creative, like using fake photoshopped images?” Lowery asked.

Kolfage responded with, “Yup it’s just a graphic. Best story of [the] day.”

“It’s fake,” she replied. "I don't see how this [is] making us a legit website."

Kolfage texted back, “That’s not for u to worry about … And it’s only on Facebook. Not the website … Adds mystery to the entire story ... he was part of FBI at same time … Use that exact image of Comey or the CIA director in some shady looking pic."

One former employee said, “Brian is a genius. He knows how to manipulate people and the system. The stories were doing more harm than good. Hillary’s face would be on someone else’s body with handcuffs and the story had nothing to do with that.”

According to another employee who opted to stay anonymous she enjoyed her job at first saying she was paid about $2 for every 1,000 clicks on Facebook. She said things started to change with the company, “He started creating more [Facebook] pages. I think he had around 10 when I was there and I remember I would see shares and be like, ‘Where did this page come from? He was very smart in how he would do it. He never wanted the truth. It was all just for clicks, and the more inflammatory, the better. I felt dirty writing the stuff.”

In Nov. of 2016 in a text message exchange acquired by BuzzFeed, Koflage claims to have been associated with President Trump’s plan to “grow a massive Facebook group”  called America FIRST. He also bragged about creating a Nevada business license for “President Donald Trump Official LLC” specifically to troll a competitor and “show that he could do it.” According to state records, Freedom Daily licensed “President Donald Trump Official LLC” in Nevada in November 2017

According to those that worked for Kolfage, he did everything in his power to make sure he was untraceable over his many different Facebook pages. Lowery said that he posted under pseudonyms such as Ronnie Martin to distance himself “from all the shady stuff.” A quick Google search for Ronnie Martin links to a pastor and founder of Substance Church. Ronnie Martin is also the author the books Finding God in the Dark (w/ Ted Kluck), Stop Your Complaining, and The Bride(zilla) of Christ.

Kolfage sent out a warning via email to employees that read, “NEVER tell anyone who operates Freedomdaily. It’s a tightly guarded secret, and our LLC has a privacy veil set up to protect it. It allows us to operate without consequence where we can’t be sued or attacked by trolls.”

Lowery and several other employees said Kolfage allegedly threatened her and her husband after she quit Freedom Daily. Lowery started a new website and Kolfage apparently accused her of stealing one of his writers. According to Buzzfeed, Kolfage sent text messages to Lowery which read “go fuck yourself,” and “Your website is going down today!” Unlike the other text messages from Kolfage, this one DIDN’T end with a winky face.

In July of that year Lowery’s husband called her freaking out saying that FBI agents were at their door saying they received an anonymous tip that she was planning on, “going on a killing rampage and talked about killing people.” A month later, another anonymous call came into Lowery’s husband’s workplace, Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense contractor. An investigation followed. According to Buzzfeed, “The family had just returned from vacation when her husband, Tyler Lowery, was approached about a report that they had been in contact with “foreign nationals,” “They came to my home and said that there was a report on the open line...about how Lindsay was working for Macedonians,” he said. “I explained the situation with Brian and showed them the same text messages.”

After being cleared by the FBI, the Lowerys hope they have seen the last of Kolfage (and his text messages). Lowery told BuzzFeed News,  “I had seen him go after people firsthand, but it was terrifying being on the other end of it. I am honestly terrified of what he might do to harass or retaliate. He thinks he’s untouchable.”

#yachtgate

So Kolfage has a history of unsavory business practices and shady GoFundMe campaigns. That still doesn’t answer the question: What is he using the We Build The Wall money for?

One source close to Kolfage told Grant Stern, journalist and head of The Stern Facts, that Kolfage is using the money to fund a lavish lifestyle, including the purchase of a million dollar yacht featured on Kolfage’s Instagram account.

Brian Kolfage himself responded to the allegations in the comments section of the article:

“Piss poor reporting. The boat was ordered in 2017, manufacturing began in 2018 and boat delivered in August of 2018. It’s all document on my instagram with time stamps, dates and images. Hope you like being sued, because I’m going to buy a bigger boat after my attorney owns you.”

“Go ahead and look at my instagram...scroll down to 2018 you scumbag.”

While we are not the scumbags being addressed, I took Kolfage’s advice and scrolled through his Instagram feed, and he is right! The very same yacht is on his Instagram account way back in August of 2018.

I will note, however, that all the photos are either of the boat still being constructed or docked at the harbor. There are no photos of the boat out in open water until March 2019. Maybe he didn’t feel like going out in the boat when he first got it? Fall was approaching after all.

But there are a few weird things here. First, Kolfage lives in Florida. It would have been warm in August, especially living near a warm water gulf. Did Kolfage buy a brand new boat and not want to use it at least once before Winter?

Perhaps he ordered the boat and had it built, but was unable to complete payments at the time. The anonymous source suggests that something like this might be going on. “Those new toys are very expensive as is flying private. Where did he get the money if his business was destroyed by Facebook?”

The last Updateand the wall watch clock

On Saturday, May 11th, 2019, Brian Kolfage posted the following update to his Facebook page:

“WALL UPDATE: there’s no update because we are remaining silent for a very good reason. You all will have the best present very soon. Remember powerful people want to stop our progress, so to not tip anyone off we are radio silent! The ACLU would file a lawsuit to impede our wall success if they knew where and when. But when I guaranteed we’d build the wall I meant it, and we are working with many congressmen and senators to help us mitigate these issues from the left wing attack groups! We are in the homestretch and it’s on a need to know basis. We have been talking with Fox News and prime time shows to break the news for you, you’re going to see it very soon! And it’s going to be GLORIOUS!”

“Don’t believe the lying left wing media... Steve Bannon, curt schilling, sheriff David Clarke and others would not be backing me on this if they thought it wasn’t happening!”

On Tuesday, May 14th, 2019, Kolfage reiterated the importance of maintaining a balanced media diet:

“Let’s not forget this last round of FAKE NEWS from the liberal mainstream! We caught them red handed and made them look stupid! DON’T BELIEVE ANY BAD PRESS ABOUT OUR PROJECT!”

We at None Dare Call It Ordinary want to give Brian Kolfage the benefit of the doubt. However, it is now May 27th and there are still no updates about where the border wall will be built or when We Build The Wall, Inc plans on breaking ground.

To keep Kolfage and We Build The Wall honest, we have created the Wall Watch Clock. The Wall Watch Clock keeps track of how many days have passed since Kolfage started his GoFundMe back in December. If you donated to Kolfage’s GoFundMe and demand answers, perhaps send the link to the Wall Watch Clock his way. We recommend the hashtag “#wallwatch”.

Update (5/28/2019)

It appears Brian Kolfage and We Build the Wall has successfully begun construction. We’ll be keeping track of these developments on our Wall Watch page.