As Steve Bannon faces 40 years in prison for wire fraud and money laundering, the trend of privately-funded border walls his organization started comes up against federal, international, and political barriers
A three-mile private border wall in South Texas backed by Steve Bannon’s We Build The Wall non-profit is at risk of failing, according to a new engineering report that questions the structural integrity of the controversial barrier.
Bannon’s scheme was started back in December of 2018 by Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage, who set up a GoFundMe page and raised $17 million online in its first week to “build a border wall faster than the government and at a fraction of the price,” as alleged by the National Butterfly Center, one of the parties currently suing We Build The Wall and contractor Fisher Industries. “They fail to mention that they can build it faster and cheaper because they do not (1) get approvals for their plans, (2) comply with any laws regarding construction or (3) conduct any studies to ensure that they will not cause more harm than good,” states the recently amended complaint.
Fisher Industries, which built the South Texas wall, has “severed ties” with Bannon’s organization after receiving only $1.5 million of the $8 million it was promised. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is pursuing its own case against Bannon and his association. Bannon was arraigned last month on federal charges of defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors through the We Build The Wall project.
The scheme was compromised from the start. GoFundMe had warned Mr. Kolfage that he would have to return the money he had collected if he failed to find a “legitimate nonprofit organization” to handle the money. It was at this point where Bannon entered the picture with an old business associate and venture capitalist, Andrew Badolato, as well as Timothy Shea and his wife, Amanda, who served as the non-profit’s CFO.
Kolfage, it is claimed by prosecutors, received $100,000 upfront and a $20,000 salary from the newly-incorporated 501c4, despite claims that he did “not get a cent” from the initiative, which was enthusiastically embraced by Donald Trump and his son, Don Jr. In August 2019, Amanda Shea posted a photo of herself and other members of We Build The Wall and President Trump to her Instagram account, captioned: “A summer of winning came to a high note in the Hamptons.” Donald Trump, Jr., meanwhile, had earlier attended a We Build The Wall event in July of that year, where he was recorded saying that “This is what capitalism is all about. This is private enterprise at its finest.” Both father and son Trump have since distanced themselves from the organization.
The first wall
Before the wall in South Texas, We Build The Wall, erected another $8 million-dollar private metal wall in Sunland, New Mexico, which was equally rife with controversy. Raised over Memorial Day weekend in 2019, municipal authorities issued a cease-and-desist order after it was discovered that the application submitted by American Eagle Brick Company, the owner of the land, was incomplete.
Sunland Mayor Javier Perea found that in addition to violating a city ordinance, the privately-funded border wall created a different set of problems for the city, as it potentially encroached on federal and international laws and would require consultation with “other state and federal organizations, such as the International Boundary and Water Commission.”
Advocates, like Border Network for Human Rights executive director Fernando Garcia, exposed the socio-political implications of the New Mexico wall: “They are part of the same militia groups that are posing as law enforcement agents, arresting migrants at gunpoint and promoting fear in Southern New Mexico,” he said in a story carried by the El Paso Times. “These extremist groups do not belong to our border community,” he continued, “they do not know our border and we will not allow them to come and define it for us.”
In the Justice Department’s indictment, Brian Kolfage is accused of secretly taking more than $350,000 in donations and spending it on home renovations, boat payments and many other lifestyle expenses, including cosmetic surgery. In a recently resurfaced video, Bannon is seen joking about how Kolfage took the We Build The Wall money to buy himself a yacht, which turned out to be somewhat ironic when Bannon, himself, would later be arrested aboard a yacht owned by Chinese billionaire and alleged fugitive, Guo Wengui.
“This entire fiasco is to stop people who want to build the wall, Bannon told reporters as he left federal court on $5 million bail. Predictably, Trump attempted to disassociate himself from the project run by his former campaign manager, stating that he didn’t “like that project,” and thought paying for the border wall privately was “inappropriate.”
The federal investigation had been ongoing for, at least, one year when President Trump fired SDNY prosecutor, Geoffrey S. Berman, on June 20. The federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan gave Attorney General William P. Barr, who had been briefed on the inquiry months prior, notice that the indictment would be unsealed on Thursday, according to the New York Times. In May, the federal government determined that a stretch of the private border wall south of violates a 1970 international boundary treaty between the United States and Mexico.
Feature photo | President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon leaves federal court, Aug. 20, 2020, after pleading not guilty to charges that he ripped off donors to an online fundraising scheme to build a southern border wall. Craig Ruttle | AP
Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.