Steve Bannon has thrown his support behind a private effort to pay for a wall along the southern US border, amid a political impasse that has held up $5.7 billion in funding for President Trump's signature campaign promise, according to Politico.
The idea for private wall funding began in December, after veteran Brian Kolfage launched a GoFundMe campaign which raised $20 million.
Big name Trump supporters like Bannon, a former Trump campaign and White House strategist, have flocked to the project. And they have initiated talks with the Israeli firm that constructed that country’s border fence with Gaza, the group told POLITICO. They expect to hold a town hall in Tucson, Arizona, as soon as Friday and to visit the border in Laredo, Texas, next week. -Politico
Bannon and Kolfage are joined by several other "#MAGA all-stars," as Politico describes them, including Blackwater founder Erik Prince, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, former Sheriff David Clarke and baseball legend Curt Schilling. The group has formed the nonprofit group "We Build the Wall" which emerged from the original crowdfunding effort.
According to Kolfage, President Trump reportedly blessed the project in a conversation last month with Kobach, while the organizers insist that they can plan a large-scale wall project which could supplement and trim the cost of Trump's federal wall.
"Look, it’s evolving," said Bannon.
"Do we have a billion dollars right now? No. But can we raise one or two hundred million dollars? No doubt about it," added Bannon, whose
Bannon added that they are studying whether the wall can be created from hemp-based building material "hempcrete" - a bio-composite material comprised of extraordinarily durable hemp hurds and lime. The material is lightweight and semi-flexible.
"Do you understand the irony of using hempcrete to keep out marijuana?" asked Bannon, rhetorically. If hempcrete is selected for the project, Kansas-based America's Hemp Academy would be tapped to supply the wall material, according to organizers.
One wonders if "Hempcrete" is made using a similar process to "Fiberweed" - as depicted in this 1978 documentary*
*not an actual documentary
Is this just a political stunt?
Detractors, such as National Immigration Forum Executive Director Ali Noorani, have called the project "a great political stunt," but warned that "it's not going to make the country safer. Noorani suggested that border security resources should be applied to ports of entry. That said, a the private effort would require the consent of private landowners instead of government seizure - something Noorani admitted was an advantage.
Around 2/3 of the 2,000 mile southern border - or around 1,300 miles, is owned privately or by states according to a 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office.
Leon Fresco, a former deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Immigration Litigation, said he was skeptical the effort could make a meaningful dent in migration patterns. He noted that a single mile of border wall could cost millions.
“Twenty million dollars to $30 million is not going to get you very far," he said. Private wall-building efforts could also run into problems with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, said Fresco, now a partner at the Washington office of Holland & Knight -Politico
According to Israeli fencing company Magal Security Systems, a mile of wall would cost between $1.5 and $2.5 million, excluding the cost of land, according to Kolfage.
"They have the right to be skeptics," said Kolfage, a triple amputee Iraq war veteran. "It's something that's never been done, and it’s a very big project, but we're going to give it our all."
Organizers aim to raise several billion dollars for the effort, and will promote the plan at the end of February during the annual CPAC political gathering. The group may follow that with a bus tour and town halls along the border in order to rally support from border residents.
According to Kolfage, citing experts, they could break ground by May or June - which he suspects would result in more fundraising as the group demonstrates that the project is actually happening.
"Once we break ground, it's going to open up a whole new can of worms."
Kobach believes that they can raise $100 million for more than 30 miles of wall within the first year of the project.
"Oftentimes people will just wait for the government to do it," Kobach said. "In this case the need is so urgent that they say they want to do it right now."
Bannon joined the group after Kolfage made headlines when Facebook shut down the disabled veteran's Facebook pages. Kolfage turned to the former Breitbart chairman, and the two hit it off - meeting in Washington for meetings about the wall project in late December.
While Bannon’s involvement had been secret, Prince, Kobach, Clarke, Tancredo and Schilling all serve on the nonprofit’s board. Each of them brings colorful credentials to the mix: Prince, the brother of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has performed extensive private security work in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere. Clarke, a former sheriff of Milwaukee County known for his signature black cowboy hat, has a reputation for espousing extreme law-and-order views on the conservative media and conference circuit. Tancredo made his name as a five-term Congressman with constant calls for tighter border security. And Schilling has pivoted from a storied major league pitching career to a failed video game start-up to hosting a podcast for Breitbart News. -Politico
Kolfage says he expects to formalize an agreement with Magal this week.