The ill-conceived attempt to crowdfund President Donald Trump’s border wall through GoFundMe, a campaign that was launched last month, is wonderfully emblematic of the latest, dumbest incarnation of American conservatism. The GoFundMe’s creator, Brian Kolfage, a triple-amputee veteran whose past endeavors include allegedly pocketing donations meant for veterans’ hospitals and running several of those fake news Facebook pages your aunt loves, is a Trump-era con man straight from central casting. His border-wall campaign doesn’t make sense on any level — there is no mechanism in place that would allow individuals to donate to hypothetical government projects, and even with $20 million raised, his stated goal of $1 billion is impossibly far off. That astronomical sum is still only a fifth of what Trump is asking for in budget negotiations, and wasn’t Mexico supposed to pay for the wall in the first place?
The paradoxical nature of Trump’s slogan-centered approach to politics is on full display with this crowdfunding scheme — while the core “build the wall” applause line has rooted itself so firmly in the amygdalae of the nation’s decrepit racists that its non-negotiability has caused the longest-ever government shutdown, the parts about building it out of concrete (Kolfage says the material is “to be determined”) and making Mexico pay for it, which were repeated ad nauseum during Trump’s campaign, have been discarded without a second thought.
We're in for $300. Will do more later if we can. There's everything from $5 to $50,000 patriots so step up to the plate if you can. Every little bit helps. Show Pelosi & dems that #WeThePeople put our money where our mouths are to get OUR wall & to #MakeAmericaSafeAgain 🇺🇸— 🇺🇸 Nationalist Cat ⛧⛧⛧🔴 2020 🔴 (@Mermaid7474) January 18, 2019
Conservatives’ complete disregard for the details of their desired political projects has been advantageous to Kolfage, who altered the description of his GoFundMe on January 11 apropos of nothing to state that donations would not go to the federal government, but to a private nonprofit organization that he set up for the purpose of constructing a border wall. This abrupt change in the terms of the fundraising campaign caused GoFundMe to issue refunds to all donors unless they specifically opted to have their money redirected to Kolfage’s Florida-based nonprofit We Build the Wall, Inc. (donations by check are curiously being directed to a P.O. Box in Houston). We Build the Wall’s website boasts the participation of a number of public figures ranging from the obscure to the disgraced, including former Sheriff David Clarke, Blackwater founder Erik Prince, and several off-brand Tomi Lahrens who worked on Kolfage’s now-defunct fake news pages. But given that one of Kolfage’s past endeavors, the Facebook page “Right Wing News,” used a horizontally-flipped version of Shutterstock’s “business man headshot” image to represent its supposed CEO, any staff listing should be taken with a grain of salt.
While the organization’s FAQ page provides exacting answers on where to send money, it only gives vague, noncommittal ones on the actual details of the wall. When will construction begin? “We are beginning extensive due diligence and the commencement of feasibility studies and will be engaging leading experts in a variety of fields necessary to construct our Border Wall.” What will it be made out of? “To be determined.” Regarding widespread media skepticism of Kolfage’s motives and the project’s feasibility, the GoFundMe states: “DO NOT BELIEVE WHAT YOU HEAR IN THE LIBERAL MEDIA THEY ARE LYING! THEY FEAR OUR MOVEMENT!”
THE FAKE NEWS WAS BUSTED! So far over 50% of donors contacted and 94% opted in! HUGE! @RyanAFournier@DeplorableChoir@MarkDice@DonaldJTrumpJr@gatewaypundit@gehrig38@RealJamesWoods@JacobEngels@replouiegohmert@Lrihendry@SheriffClarke@mamendoza480pic.twitter.com/DWS3CphYyt— Brian Kolfage (@BrianKolfage) January 17, 2019
Naturally, everyone dumb enough to get swindled the first time fell for it once again. According to Kolfage, 94 percent of people who donated prior to January 11 actively chose to redirect their money to the new nonprofit rather than receive a refund. As of this writing, the GoFundMe is still receiving donations to the tune of around $20 per minute, and those new donors will not get the option of a refund unless Kolfage decides to alter the terms of his fundraiser yet again. Logically, this should not still be happening. Fox News coverage of Kolfage’s project dried up after the refund debacle. The president, understandably enough, hasn’t given his support to a project that makes him look weak and invalidates his campaign promises, and the big names attached to We Build the Wall are tangential to the Trump administration. Trump, who has endorsed figures as dubious as Alex Jones, Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft, and Kanye West, has yet to acknowledge Kolfage as a legitimate entity despite his desirable status as a photogenic pro-Trump veteran. How, given all this, is money still pouring in? The only reasonable conclusion is that the Trump demographic is uniquely gullible, a trait that attracts hucksters and con men in search of the easiest possible score.
Why are the 55-and-up white conservatives who provide the core of Trump’s base so prone to falling for obvious scams? Part of it is old age itself. “People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s,” according to the FBI’s guide to common fraud schemes, “were generally raised to be polite and trusting.” This is perhaps an overly sentimental way to put it — I know a few retail employees who would contest the assertion that Baby Boomers are known for their politeness — but it comes close to describing a real phenomenon.
In the idealized white exurban world of the mid-20th century, economic decisions were typically a function of personal relationships. Your job, your mechanic, your barber, and your favorite restaurant were probably chosen for you based on who your parents knew in high school. Without the option to find the numerical average of 500 ratings or sort by price on Yelp, your best bet when choosing who to patronize was to go with whoever seemed nice and had the best in-group credentials. (It is not a coincidence that multi-level marketing schemes, which soured younger generations on “business opportunities” from high school classmates, were born out of this context.) Kolfage’s past shady business dealings might be incredibly easy to find by searching his name, but he is also a clean-cut white military veteran, a family man, and boy howdy is he ever so polite.
The other factor at play is that, for decades, the conservative movement has been actively cultivating its base to be easy marks. The writers Rick Perlstein and Alex Pareene have been warning us for years that American conservatism has morphed into a chimera of politics and snake-oil miracle cures, with the precise line between them becoming blurrier with time. The extent to which separating senior citizens from their savings has become an integral part of the right-wing ecosystem is apparent upon sitting through a single Fox News commercial break. You will see ads for hemorrhoid cream and diabetes medication alongside ludicrous pitches for the Trumpy Bear, a $40 teddy bear that slightly resembles the president, and MyPillow, a company which has been repeatedly sued for false advertising and received an F from the Better Business Bureau. Ads for commemorative coins and brain supplements abound in the sidebars of Breitbart and Gateway Pundit, and even superficially respectable conservative figures like Ben Shapiro are now openly selling doomsday prepper food buckets.
As-seen-on-TV products are a recurring theme in Trump’s career, which has always functioned closer to the grimy underworld of direct-mail ads and multi-level marketing than the rarefied confines of high finance. Failed scams like Trump Steaks and Trump University work much better when paired with the ever-popular narrative that any information that casts doubt onto a scheme adjacent to right-wing politics must be part of a conspiratorial scheme funded by George Soros and the globalists. The liberal deep-state sickos don’t want you to sign over your Social Security checks to that nice man who was polite on the phone, or to put all your money into gold doubloons advertised in the back of a magazine, or to give $500 to an obvious scam on GoFundMe and then refuse a refund because the creator reassured you that an opaque Florida nonprofit can build a border wall on private property in Texas with 0.5 percent of the money the president is asking for. The libs are only warning you against all this because they know it works.