Jim West/ZUMA

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

The right-wing grift, long a staple of the US political scene, reached a kind of apotheosis under Donald Trump, the reality TV mogul who built an empire licensing his name to various dodgy enterprises. Fittingly, the trope he rode to the presidency—that the United States needed to build a wall along our 2,000-mile southern border to keep out undesirables—also anchored a money-making scheme for some of Trump’s political allies, according to a 2020 federal indictment. Last week, one of the principles in the case, Brian Kolfage, agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud conspiracy and three tax charges after raising $25 million in a GoFundMe campaign called We Build the Wall.  

The most high-profile figure associated with the scheme, one-time Trump Svengali and “stop the steal” stalwart Steve Bannon, won’t deal with legal consequences for the alleged crime. That’s because on his last day in office—two weeks after the January 6, 2020, Capital riot—Trump pardoned Bannon

Even by the standards of right-wing griftery, We Build the Wall was bold stuff. According to the Justice Department’s 2020 press release, “to induce donors to donate to the campaign, Kolfage repeatedly and falsely assured the public that he would ‘not take a penny in salary or compensation’ and that ‘100% of the funds raised…will be used in the execution of our mission and purpose’ because, as Bannon publicly stated, ‘we’re a volunteer organization.'” 

In reality, however, Kolfage “covertly took for his personal use more than $350,000,” while Bannon grabbed enough to “cover hundreds of thousands of dollars” in personal expenses. At a 2019 telethon to raise funds for the project, Bannon infamously joked that “we’re on the million-dollar yacht of Brian Kolfage. Brian Kolfage—who took all that money from Build the Wall.”

According to the indictment, the defendants actually did funnel We Build the Wall Funds into purchasing a yacht—a big 40-foot beauty they deemed “WarFighter.” It even appeared at one of those infamous “boat parades” to support Trump’s presidential campaign in 2020. 

And in case you were wondering, yes, Donald Trump Jr. praised Kolfage and We Build the Wall as “private enterprise at its finest” in 2018.

Kolfage is expected to enter his plea on April 21. He could face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate