Reported by Anna Giaritelli | | May 31, 2019 12:05 AM
A group of immigration hardliners who used millions of crowdfunded dollars to build a border barrier on private land along the U.S.-Mexico border unveiled the nearly completed half-mile steel bollard fence Thursday following construction delays.
The 2,300-feet-long project marks the first time a nongovernment organization or individual has built a wall on privately owned land on the international boundary. It runs up a rocky 320-feet-tall hill and is 18 to 20 feet tall, depending on the point on the hill where it is measured.
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, former Kansas State Secretary Kris Kobach, World Series MLB player Curt Schilling, Blackwater USA founder Erik Prince, and other longtime supporters of President Trump were on site at the project in Sunland Park, N.M., to showcase the fence, which stands on less than half a mile of the 1,954-mile border.
The undertaking has evolved, prompting questions about how money is being spent and the Trump administration’s involvement in the process.
Brian Kolfage, a triple amputee veteran, created a crowdfunding page in December with the intent of raising $1 billion for border wall construction following the Trump administration’s failure to obtain $25 billion for the project last December. The GoFundMe website did not state where the wall would be built or any other details. Kolfage vowed to return everyone’s money if the project did not reach $1 billion.
Kolfage insisted the campaign was not a scam despite having run a since-shuttered Facebook “news” page known for spreading conspiracy theories. He was also sued in 2017 after he reported the wrong name of the suspect involved in the fatal car accident during a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Kolfage’s page did not come close to its $1 billion goal and topped out at $22.9 million earlier this year. The more than 330,000 people who donated were informed by GoFundMe that they were eligible for a refund because Kolfage had changed the terms of the fundraiser to move to a different fund money people did not request back.
Weeks ahead of the crowdfunding campaign’s failure, Kolfage had launched We Build the Wall, Inc., a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization. Bannon, Kobach, and other staunch conservatives who have been criticized as anti-immigrant were appointed to the organization’s board. The money from the crowdfunding campaign was then funneled to the outside organization.
About the same time this spring, Bannon and fellow board members, including former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, held a couple rallies in Midwestern cities to raise money for the organization, though they have not shared how much they raised in addition to the crowdfunding dollars.
Tommy Fisher, president and CEO of Fisher Industries, was paid to install the steel fence and said it is expected to come in at $7 million after taxes.
We Build the Wall has raised nearly $23 million for the project, though it is unclear how the nonprofit group plans to spend the remaining donations. The group did not respond to a request for comment.
Fisher told the Washington Examiner on Thursday he got involved in the project in April after receiving a call about his company’s claims it could build a mile of border wall per day. We Build the Wall officials, including Kobach, attended a demonstration of the construction in Coolidge, Ariz., last month.
Fisher said the organization signed a contract for him to build the half-mile portion of steel fence over the course of eight days, but it took longer because the city of Sunland Park shut down construction for two days. The suspension was lifted Wednesday.
Despite the board’s connections to Trump, organizers have insisted the project is not affiliated with the White House.
That claim was called into question in a recent Washington Post article that said Trump was adamant about the Army Corps of Engineers hiring Fisher Industries to carry out border wall projects.
Fisher dismissed being described as having lobbied Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., to get his name in front of Trump and insisted Trump was calling for the Pentagon to hire his company because of personal frustration with the less than 40 miles of border wall that has been installed in the two years and four months that he has been in office.
“I’d be mad if I were him,” Fisher said.