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Screenshot from Fox News via mediamatter4america/ YouTube

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Florida veteran Brian Kolfage, former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, and two others "orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors" who supported their online crowdfunding campaign effort to construct a barrier on the U.S. southern border, according to an indictment federal prosecutors unsealed Thursday. The group had relied on credulous coverage and support from right-wing media outlets and personalities to drive more than $20 million in donations.

In December 2018, as President Donald Trump prepared to shut down the federal government in hopes of obtaining funds to build his long-sought border wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin suggested that the president's supporters instead crowdfund its construction. "Let the people who support the wall pay for it -- directly and voluntarily," Goodwin wrote.

The next day, Kolfage, a triple amputee who received the Purple Heart for his service in the Iraq War, launched a GoFundMe campaign promising to give them the opportunity to do just that. His effort grew into the nonprofit operation "We Build the Wall," overseen by an advisory board headed by Bannon which included conservative notables like former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), former sheriff David Clarke, and former pitcher Curt Schilling. As part of the fundraising campaign, Kolfage promised that he would "not take a penny in salary or compensation."

The campaign quickly ran into trouble. Journalists at Media Matters and elsewhere quickly discovered Kolfage had a history of shady online fundraising utilizing a network of fake news Facebook pages he controlled. GoFundMe refunded donations in January 2019 after Kolfage broke its rules by saying he would route contributions to the We Build the Wall nonprofit instead of donating it directly to the government, as he had previously claimed. A few months later, The Washington Post and The Daily Beast reported on angry donors upset by the group's lack of transparency and failure to break ground on a wall. A section of barrier the group finally did help fund, constructed by Fox favorite Tommy Fisher on the banks of the Rio Grande, is reportedly on the verge of collapse after poor engineering led to predictable erosion at its base (the president distanced himself from the project following reporting that it was unstable).

And on Thursday, federal prosecutors charged Kolfage, Bannon, Timothy Shea, and Andrew Badolato each with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. The four are accused of devising a scheme to secretly and illegally route more than $350,000 in donor funds to Kolfage through the nonprofit and a shell company. Bannon also allegedly cashed in to the tune of more than $1 million from We Build the Wall's donors. They were arrested Thursday morning, will reportedly appear in court this afternoon, and face up to 20 years in prison for each count.

The group's efforts had received extensive promotion from Fox News and Fox Business. Shows including The Ingraham Angle, Fox & Friends, Fox & Friends First, and Cavuto: Coast to Coast all hosted Kolfage or another We Build the Wall representative to discuss the campaign, and America's Newsroom, Lou Dobbs Tonight, Trish Regan Primetime, and The Story also plugged it, as did several articles, including a lengthy profile of Kolfage.

Outlets One America News, The Daily Wire,, and The New York Post also touted the group's efforts.

Since We Build the Wall's inception, numerous other right-wing outlets and commentators -- including several with ties to the president -- have touted the operation to their followers. Here's a list:

Corey Lewandowski, commentator, former 2016 Trump campaign manager, and current Trump campaign senior adviser:

Corey Lewandowski and We Build the Wall tweet image


Charlie Kirk, Talking Point USA's founder and president:

Charlie Kirk and We Build the Wall tweet image (November 18, 2019)


Charlie Kirk and We Build the Wall tweet image (December 22, 2019)


Candace Owens, commentator:

Candace Owens and We Build the Wall tweet image


Ann Coulter, columnist:

Ann Coulter and We Build the Wall tweet image


Jim Hoft, blogger at The Gateway Pundit:

Jim Hoft and We Build the Wall tweet image


Michelle Malkin, columnist and Newsmax host:

Michelle Malkin and We Build the Wall tweet image


Larry Elder, radio host:

Larry Elder and We Build the Wall tweet image


David Webb, radio host and Fox News contributor:

David Webb and We Build the Wall tweet image


Stacy Washington, radio host and the Trump campaign's Black Voices for Trump advisory board co-chair:

Stacy Washington and We Build the Wall tweet image


Ed Martin, radio host and member of the Trump campaign's Catholics for Trump and Pro-Life Voices for Trump advisory boards:

Ed Martin and We Build the Wall tweet image


Kaya Jones, commentator, singer, and the Trump campaign's Women for Trump advisory board member:

Kaya Jones and We Build the Wall tweet image


Ryan Fournier, commentator:

Ryan Fournier and We Build the Wall tweet image


Jenny Beth Martin, right-wing commentator and co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots:

Jenny Beth Martin and We Build the Wall tweet image


Kevin McCullough, radio host:

Kevin McCullough and We Build the Wall tweet image


Mike Huckabee, Trinity Broadcasting Network host and Fox News contributor. From his May 28, 2019, newsletter:

They said it couldn't be done
By Mike Huckabee
There is a wide gap in the border barrier near El Paso where hundreds of illegal entrants and a lot of drugs pour into the US virtually every day. It was completely open, with not even a barbed wire fence. The Army Corps of Engineers claimed that because of the terrain, it was impossible to build a wall there. And we know about the liberal judges who keep blocking President Trump's efforts to build it.
Yet, over the weekend, a private group called "We Build The Wall," funded by $20 million from 260,000 private donors on GoFundMe, started building a wall there, and reportedly completed half a mile of wall in just four days.
Organizer Brian Kolfage said critics claimed it was impossible and that the fundraiser was a scam. But he found that the entire project, from finding and buying the property to getting a plan to finding a contractor to putting up the wall, took only 57 days. Kolfage told Gateway Pundit, "We threw like 15 people together and we just built an international border wall. So I think this sticks the thumb in everyone's eye who said we couldn't do it." There are more quotes, photos and videos at this link:
It's a testament to how quickly things can get done when you don't rely on the government to do them. Ironically, the one thing government excels at is putting up barriers to getting anything done, except when what you want them to do is put up a barrier, and then putting up a barrier becomes absolutely impossible.


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The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

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As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, certifying their ballots, and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsehoods that undermine election results, administrators, and technologies.

In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

“The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

“The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

The Arizona Template

In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating the state's presidential election.

Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

“I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

“We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

“There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the reportsaid, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

“You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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Photo by Tom Williams via Reuters

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When President Joe Biden announced his first round of cabinet picks just weeks after being elected in 2020, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said: “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America – that reflects the very best of our nation.

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