Amid an investigation from the state of Florida and a dust-up over permitting, the GoFundMe-fueled “We Build The Wall” group announced Thursday that it was pressing ahead with construction on a short stretch along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a celebratory press conference broadcast via livestream, as heavy machinery whirred in the background, leaders from the group — including Air Force veteran and triple amputee Brian Kolfage, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and former Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke — celebrated the construction of what’s been described as “just under 1 mile” of fencing.
Contractor Tommy Fisher of Fisher Sand & Gravel Co, a Trump donor and frequent Fox guest who has reportedly has caught the President’s attention, confirmed Thursday that it was closer to 2,300 feet. He also plugged his business about a half dozen times, implying that the he saw the donor-funded effort as a stepping stool of sorts for the big prize: a federal contract.
“We have the ability to build in the multi-billions, and build miles and miles and miles,” he said at one point, adding: “We’ll continue to work with Build The Wall. My hope is is that they’ll raise a billion dollars.”
Assuring the audience that he opposed only illegal immigration, Fisher said later: “We probably have 400 Hispanics working for us. They’re great.”
We Build The Wall has previously sought to distance itself from militia groups that patrol the border, specifically the “United Constitutional Patriots (UCP).” The militia recently received international attention for making mass armed “arrests” of asylum-seekers, during which some members falsely identified themselves as federal agents. (The group’s leader was subsequently arrested, and it has changed its name.)
“Neither Kolfage or Kobach has any relationship with the UCP or its members,” spokesperson Jennifer Lawrence told the Phoenix New Times earlier this month.
But it was Kolfage himself who referenced the UCP twice in his remarks.
Describing when he first selected Sunland Park as the wall site, Kolfage recalled: “I actually rolled across into Mexico and rolled back in in my wheelchair. At that point I knew this was a bad area.”
He left out that it was UCP members who helped him navigate the border at the time; UCP spokesperson Jim Benvie filmed the whole thing.
A few minutes later, Kolfage referred to “videos popping up on Facebook from the members who were on the other side of this hill.” Left unsaid, again: Those were armed UCP members filming mass arrests.
“At that time, we knew that this was going to be a spot for We Build The Wall. We knew that we were going to have to build here,” he said.
The livestreamed event, like the wall itself, had a DIY feel: Organizers at one point asked members of the media if they had duct tape to hold a “We Build The Wall” graphic to the front of the podium; earlier, they shooed away a protester heckling from the public access road on the few feet of United States soil on the other side of the wall.
Speaker celebrated the resolution of a permitting issue that had temporarily stalled the group’s work.
Though Sunland Park, New Mexico’s mayor said in a press conference Tuesday that the project’s permitting documents were incomplete and contradictory, “the city now agrees with us that there was no violation of any ordinance,” Kobach said confidently.
In a separate press conference on Thursday afternoon, Sunland Park’s mayor, Javier Perea, asserted that while city staff had “prematurely” issued permits for the project, “we are now in communication with the company and the owner of the property.” The stop work order, he said, had been lifted.
It was a quiet resolution to a hectic week for Perea. We Build The Wall had launched an aggressive publicity blitz about finally breaking ground in Sunland Park, and the group went ballistic after the city’s cease-and-desist letter came down. They posted the small city government’s contact information on social media, urging supporters to give them a piece of their mind.
“So Sunland Park official support open borders, the sex slaves and illegal drugs coming into their communities?!” Kolfage wrote on Twitter. “Sounds like they are quite sympathetic with the Mexican cartels [sic] ideology.”
“What cartel paid off the Sunland Park City officials to lie and shut down our wall project?!” another of his tweets read.
Kolfage defended the attack on Thursday.
“That was a question,” he said, adding: “Because of the history that Sunland Park had with their corruption, it’s a big issue.”
“People in the government,” he said, have “confirmed all our suspicions about what goes on on the border. The cartels have a big influence financially on people.”
Kobach, perhaps realizing his partner had just accused the mayor of being a cartel shill, jumped in.
“Let me add something to that,” he said. “I just want to thank the city of Sunland Park for working with us. You all who’ve lived here know the area far better than we do, but I can say, working with the officials of Sunland Park this week, they worked very quickly.”