In late 2018, a GoFundMe online blew up, raising millions in support of then-President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. We Build the Wall, started by disabled veteran Brian Kolfage, exploded in popularity, receiving at least $25 million in donations for the project.
It was a fundraiser aided, at least in part, by someone at U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), who donated to the GoFundMe, according to emails obtained by the Daily Dot by a public records request.
CBP, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, is tasked with enforcing immigration and safeguarding the U.S. border. It came under some fire after Kolfage claimed he was in contact with the agency about his private endeavor to build part of the border wall, with accusations that a government agency was abetting a partisan entity.
We Build the Wall added pro-Trump immigration hawks such as Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach to its board as it grew in scope and size. The fundraising, though, eventually ended in indictments, guilty pleas, and presidential pardons after it turned out Kolfage and Bannon misappropriated the money.
The plan to build a wall came after Trump supporters grew frustrated with his efforts routinely being stymied by both Congress and the courts. The GoFundMe launched with an explicitly partisan bent, declaring that if every one of the people who voted for Trump donated $80, they’d have the $5 billion needed to finish what Kolfage called the “Trump Wall,” which the president struggled to start.
Eventually, the group was able to, on private land, construct a section of fencing, news of which went public in May.
In response to many media requests that came as the story grew and video of construction on the border wall on privately held land went viral, CBP’s common refrain was that it was a private project and “not connected to our efforts.”
But according to emails released by CBP to the Daily Dot, someone in the agency appears to have given the project financial support when it first started to go viral. Three images of emails from GoFundMe appear in the documents. Although the recipient’s name is redacted—given the documents released to the Daily Dot were for Border Patrol employee’s communications that involved the phrase “We Build the Wall”—the GoFundMe emails were likely sent to an address of someone within CBP, indicating a donation occurred.
On Jan. 31, 2019, the email asked the donor to confirm they still wanted their money to go to the wall efforts.
That email appears to track with the news that GoFundMe required Kolfage to ask all his donors if they wanted their money to continue to support the project after the group re-established itself as a 501(c)(4) charity in the wake of its initial success.
A follow-up email in February asked the same question.
In March, whoever had originally donated money appeared to agree to have their initial donation transferred to We Build the Wall, indicating the money then officially went to the organization: “Thank you for confirming that you would like your donation to go to We Build the Wall, Inc.”
It’s unknown if someone from CBP donated to the cause to perhaps monitor the GoFundMe, or if someone in CBP was a believer in the far-right organization and its anti-immigrant stance.
Other emails in the thousands released to the Daily Dot do indicate a sympathetic bent to We Build the Wall, as officers attempted to keep news of a symposium in July 2019—attended by Donald Trump Jr.—about the wall under wraps to prevent anti-wall protesters from showing up.
Border Patrol agents hinted in emails that they would assist “with security” and that they should keep a “close hold” on the news as they didn’t want leaks to create additional safety concerns, noting anti-wall protests could be a possibility if the news got out.
Regardless, the founders of GoFundMe were indicted for misappropriating funds in the wake of the success of We Build the Wall. Kolfage recently pled guilty for his role in the scam, admitting that he pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars. Bannon, was arrested and charged for his role. However, he was pardoned by Trump before he could be prosecuted.
We’ve reached out to CBP for comment.