GoFundMe border wall donation fight ends; refunds promised

A migrant jumps the border fence to get into the U.S. side to San Diego, Calif., from Tijuana, Mexico, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. Discouraged by the long wait to apply for asylum through official ports of entry, many migrants from recent caravans are choosing to cross the U.S. border wall and hand themselves in to border patrol agents. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida man says people who contributed more than $20 million online to help build a wall along the southern U.S. border can get refunds or shift their support to a new nonprofit effort. Although when you check the GoFundMe page, it appears to be up and running and still collecting donations.

Air Force veteran and triple amputee Brian Kolfage, 37, says on the GoFundMe page he started in December to raise money for President Donald Trump's wall that his new nonprofit endeavor will be more successful than the GoFundMe effort. The message tells donors they can get a refund if they do nothing or they can redirect their donation to the nonprofit.

"There is a lot of work ahead of us, but this has never deterred me in the past. With the help of our highly experienced team, and your support, we will make this work!" Kolfage wrote. "I will personally not take a penny of compensation from these donations."

So far, about 339,000 people have contributed. The new nonprofit is called We Build The Wall Inc. and Kolfage says he hopes to raise $1 billion.

Under his plan, segments of the wall would be privately constructed through negotiations with landowners along the border. Kolfage says his group is identifying areas that are frequently crossed; looking into wall solutions based on terrain, environment and other issues; and asking landowners if they would provide free or low-cost easements for its construction.

"We are better equipped than our own government to use the donated funds to build an actual wall on the southern border," he wrote. "Our team strongly believes that we can complete our segments of the wall for less than half of the government's estimated costs on a per mile basis."

It's not clear how this private effort would interact with any federal plans sought by Trump to build a wall with government funds in many of the same areas. Democrats in Congress have refused to support the $5.6 billion Trump seeks for the project, leading to the ongoing partial government shutdown — now the longest in U.S. history.

According to his website , Kolfage was severely wounded in a 2004 rocket attack at an Iraq air base, losing both legs and one arm. He and his family live in the resort community of Sandestin, in Florida's Panhandle. Kolfage did not respond Saturday to an email seeking further comment.

NBC News previously reported on Kolfage.
An internet fundraiser for Donald Trump’s border wall took in more than $7 million from over 131,000 donors by early Thursday evening.

The Florida man behind the GoFundMe page, a triple-amputee Iraq War veteran named Brian Kolfage, spent a large portion of the fundraising campaign’s description outlining his past, including a bolded section titled “How do you know this is not a scam?”

He implored users to look up his history, pointing donors to his verified Facebook page, and saying “I'm credible and a real person.”

The pitch has worked. One anonymous donor gave over $50,000 to the cause at 4 p.m. on Thursday. The GoFundMe trended on Twitter most of Thursday and received widespread media attention.

Kolfage told NBC News he’s plans to rely on connections in the White House to make sure the wall is funded, saying “we have a lot of people watching this,” which would “serve as a motivating factor not to screw this up.”

“We have someone who is tied in with the White House that’s in their inner-circle,” Kolfage said. “We can work on a way where we can guarantee with a contract where [the funding] can only go to the wall.”

The fundraising page doesn’t mention Kolfage’s most recent business venture, a Facebook page titled Right Wing News and a ring of affiliate sites that frequently trafficked in conspiracy theories. In October, Right Wing News was pulled down by Facebook in a sweep of more than 559 pages that the company said were “using fake accounts… to drive traffic to their websites” or “were ad farms using Facebook to mislead people into thinking that they were forums for legitimate political debate.”

Days after the pulldown, Kolfage created a group called Fight4FreeSpeech, which accepts donations, and is also not referenced in the GoFundMe.

Kolfage told NBC News he didn’t want to mention Right Wing News or Fight4FreeSpeech because he “didn’t want it to be a distraction.”

“I don’t wanna mix the two. That shouldn’t be the focus. My personal issues have nothing to do with building the wall,” he said.

Kolfage also ran Right Wing News’ shuttered affiliate sites including VeteranAF and FreedomDaily, which pushed false conspiracy theories, like ones claiming Hillary Clinton was secretly hiding deadly illnesses and fake voter fraud stories days before the 2016 election.

Those sites stopped operating in March, replaced with a string of text that said “This Website Has Gone Out of Business.”

The shuttering of Kolfage’s sites came a month after Michigan man Joel Vangheluwe sued FreedomDaily and other right wing sites for misidentifying him as the driver of the car that plowed into a group of peaceful protestors at a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The FreedomDaily article relied on the image board 4chan as its major source, according to a letter provided to the court by the contributor named in the suit. Kolfage was not listed as a defendant.

The sites often trafficked in false, inflammatory and racist content, including headlines like “Obnoxious Black People Lose Their Minds When Victoria Secret Models Say This 1 Word On Live Video” and “Trump Just Released Embarrassing Vids Of Obama’s Muslim Friends That He Never Wanted Seen.”

FreedomDaily and VeteranAF frequently ran identical stories by users with different bylines. Several stories on FreedomDaily written by “Liberty Belle” also appear on “VeteranAF” under the byline “Lady Liberty.”

Following Facebook’s takedown, Kolfage’s story drew considerable interest from right-wing media sites including Breitbart and WorldNetDaily. He has since appeared on Fox News to tout Fight4FreeSpeech, a group against “social media censorship.”

Meanwhile, Kolfage’s new crowdfunding effort is thriving. He said if there’s another major conservative cause in the next two months, it will have to be someone else’s problem.

“If there’s another big thing that comes up, somebody else is gonna have to take it. I have two kids and a wife. I wasn’t planning for this thing to be massive — maybe just in the conservative circle,” he said.