In mid-December 2018, as the federal government spiraled toward the longest shutdown in U.S. history over how much money, if any, should be allocated to a border wall, one Florida man had an idea.
In the American tradition of raising money for things our government won’t pay for, 37-year-old Brian Kolfage took to GoFundMe. But he was not joining the hundreds of thousands of Americans who use the platform each year to cover exorbitant medical bills. Instead, Kolfage wanted to help Trump build a border wall … by crowdfunding $1 billion.
As Kolfage’s GoFundMe page went viral, questions began to emerge. How exactly did he plan to deliver the money to the U.S. government? Would he write a giant check? And who even is this guy?
It turns out that the Iraq War veteran, Purple Heart recipient and Panhandle resident has a storied past of manufacturing misinformation for profit through his now-deplatformed Facebook page, Right Wing News. In January 2019, BuzzFeed reported that, according to Kolfage’s former employees, he regularly directed his staff to write misleading headlines and Photoshop images. In one instance, a doctored image of an FBI agent arresting Hillary Clinton was paired with the headline, “breaking!!! trump’s doj just did it!!! it’s finally happening!”
BuzzFeed also reported Kolfage used GoFundMe in 2015 to collect $16,246 for a veteran mentorship program at three military hospitals. But representatives of all three medical centers said they never received any donations from Kolfage. Sounds like that campaign was fake news!
And it doesn’t seem like the U.S. is going to receive a donation from Kolfage, either. Though he’s raised more than $20 million as of Jan. 13, it’s likely every penny will be refunded to nearly 340,000 donors after Kolfage announced he now plans to direct the money to his recently created nonprofit “We Build The Wall, Inc.” — not, as he originally promised, to the federal government. This was a violation of GoFundMe’s rules.
Kolfage also promised when he started the campaign that, “100% of your donations will go to the Trump Wall. If for ANY reason we don’t reach our goal we will refund your donation.” $20 million is a lot of money, but it’s barely two percent of the campaign’s $1 billion goal.
I guess you could say it looks like Kolfage has hit a wall.
By Molly Minta.
In August 2004, 16-year-old Cyntoia Brown shot and killed a 43-year-old Nashville man who solicited her for sex while he was sleeping. She stole his money and fled. Brown told police and the court that she acted in self-defense after Allen took out his shotguns and grabbed her genitals. She testified she stole the money because she feared returning empty-handed to “Cut Throat,” her pimp.
Yet prosecutors tried Brown as an adult, arguing she took the money as part of a robbery. She was convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery in 2006 and sentenced to life in prison.
Nearly 15 years later, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam granted clemency in January to Brown, who is now 30 years old. The pardon came after a lengthy campaign by Brown’s family and Tennessee organizers that was amplified by multiple celebrities. At one point, a request by a coalition of on-the-ground organizers for people to call Haslam to demand clemency for Brown resulted in the governor receiving over 1,500 calls an hour, the Daily Dot noted.
“I think [her case] resonated with a lot of folks because everybody knows a Cyntoia,” said Brittany Paschall, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Nashville. “It was an intersection of a lot of different violences—sexual violence, gendered violence, the violence of mass incarceration in this country. I think that people were seeing themselves and their communities in Cyntoia and that compelled them to act.”
Brown spent her adulthood behind bars, so she is a transformed woman. She’s been working on getting an education in prison, and in 2015 she earned an associate’s degree from Lipscomb University.
Brown will be released on August 7. A GoFundMe for her life after prison has already been started. The fundraiser will also support a documentary that focuses on the fight for Brown’s freedom.
“I think that’s a huge thing—that liberation is totally within our reach, that things like getting our people released from these cages is not utopian,” said Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, co-executive director of Highlander Center, which built visibility around Brown’s case. “It’s a thing that we can literally do and we have to keep fighting and continuing to use that energy to get more and more of our people free.”
By Edysmar Diaz-Cruz.