“I know a predator when I see one,” Kamala Harris assured viewers during her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention this week. This thinly veiled reference to Trump gained even more relevance when Steve Bannon was arrested on Thursday. You know, the architect of Trump’s 2016 campaign, especially the central theme of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Or perhaps you remember his more recent exploits here in Europe advising right-wing populist campaigns and even trying to create a Europe-wide populist ‘supergroup’. Yeah, that guy was arrested for defrauding donors to a foundation that promised to build, well, the wall.
This brings it to total of seven Trump advisors who have been criminally charged in one way or another, a testament to the breathtaking corruption of Trump and his minions. It took place the same day that Joe Biden accepted the Democratic nomination and just four days before the Republican Party kicks off its own convention. Most importantly, it puts into stark relief that Bannon’s big idea of building a wall across the Southern border of the U.S. with Mexico that he gifted to Trump was nothing more than a con.
Brash, cynical, red-faced and unshaven, Bannon came to international prominence as the Trump campaign’s chief executive and later chief strategist during the first seven months of Trump’s presidency. The self-described propagandist ran the far-right media outlet Breitbart both before and after his time with Trump and it speaks volumes that he once described Donald Trump Jr. as “a guy who believes everything on Breitbart is true.”
Even more revealing is what he told the Hollywood Reporter just after Trump’s election, “Darkness is good: Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they (liberals) get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.” He was Michael Wolff’s key source in the explosive 2018 book “Fire and Fury” making disparaging comments about Trump, who returned the favor by tweeting “He (Wolff) used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!”
You can’t make up this kind of ego circus, but the important point here is that the wall was little more than propaganda meant to work Trump’s supporters into a frenzy. No one should have taken the bait because it was easy to predict that a project of this magnitude would face a nearly unsurmountable funding battle along with the laughable idea that Mexico would fund it. There are 3144 kilometers of border between the U.S. and Mexico and Trump promised to finish 804 kilometers before the end of 2020. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, about 442 kilometers have been completed as of this month.
Enter Brian Kolfage, a decorated Air Force veteran and triple amputee who created the “We Build the Wall” page on the GoFundMe crowdfunding website in December of 2018 when even less progress had been made on the wall. It was successful beyond his wildest dreams, raising $17 million in its first week and eventually reaching $25 million. Bannon joined up with Kolfage, who made a compelling spokesperson while Bannon provided the necessary Trump connection (apparently, he and Trump are back on speaking terms). They eventually brought in Andrew Badaloto, a venture capitalist and Timothy Shea. Despite promises to donors that 100% of the money would be used to build the wall, only about 8 kilometers were constructed.
According to the indictment, Bannon siphoned off $1 million to a separate non-profit organization and from there, sent some of the money to Kolfage through a shell company set up by Shea. Kolfage used the cash for “home renovations, payments towards a boat, a luxury S.U.V., a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments and credit card debt.” And so it goes.
Bannon, of course, has denied any wrongdoing and on his podcast said “This (the fundraising effort) was to show support for President Trump.” Trump denied knowing anything about the campaign, the, characteristically, contradicted himself: “I didn’t like that project. I thought that was a project that was being done for showboating reasons.” Trump ally Kris Kobach also confirmed Trump’s knowledge of the project, saying they had spoken about it on three occasions and that he was enthusiastic saying “well, you tell the guys at We Build The Wall, that they have my blessing.”
The same theme plays out over and over: sell people an emotional bag of goods, take their votes or take their money then use it for personal gain. It’s the grift that pervades Trump world that his adoring fans have so much trouble seeing though. Hopefully enough Americans will come November.
This op-ed was published in Spanish in El País.