So first things, first. How’s that GoFundMe for the southern border wall going?
In December, Brian Kolfage, an Iraq war veteran and triple amputee began a crowd funding campaign to raise $1 billion to go towards the construction of the southern border wall.
Now, first of all, Kolfage has sacrificed his limbs for this nation, so much thanks for his service.
Apart from that well-deserved praise, however, we need to keep in mind that he’s still just a man, and humanity, at it’s core, is prone to lean to their most base, awful inclinations.
Being a good soldier doesn’t make one a good person.
This is also Kolfage. He’s the guy that wants to be seen as a patriot and philanthropist, capitalizing on his sacrifices for the good of the American people, but apparently, he’s just a mean-spirited grifter.
Buzzfeed News has spoken with former employees of Kolfage’s far right, click-bait news sites, such as Right Wing News and Freedom Daily, and gotten a much different picture – one that those throwing money into Kolfage’s latest venture should be mindful of.
Lindsay Lowry wrote for Freedom Daily, under the alias Prissy Holly, in 2017.
“After I started challenging some of his business decisions that I felt were reckless for the company and for my career, the real Brian emerged,” she told BuzzFeed News. “Everything is only about his ‘war hero’ persona and money. If there’s a perceived slight on his part, he viciously attacks people…and, in my case, tries to destroy their life and livelihood.”
Lowry, along with three other sources showed internal emails and documents from Kolfage that reveal how hard he worked to knowingly push fake, sensationalized stories on Facebook, just for the clicks and ad revenue. He boasted of running a “multi-million dollar company.”
Former employees told BuzzFeed News that Kolfage instructed his crew to produce Facebook content to more flagrantly convey a false narrative, in one instance photoshopping former president Obama’s head onto another body to make it appear as though he was having an affair, with the caption, “BREAKING!! OBAMA BUSTED!!! VIDEO LEAKED!!”
“You’ll love this one ;),” he texted employees during a conversation about manipulating images.
In one message to Lowery, Kolfage sent a screenshot of an article making it appear as though the FBI was arresting Hillary Clinton with the bold headline: “BREAKING!!! TRUMP’S DOJ JUST DID IT!!! It’s FINALLY Happening!” The example, she said, was meant to show how to persuade more people to click on the site’s stories.
He even harassed Lowry for not being more provocative and shocking in her content.
Jazz up those fake stories! Use fake images!
One of the stories he pushed her to write was to go after former FBI Director James Comey, claiming he had committed treason.
That’s pretty radical, just to hear. It makes you wonder exactly what he did and how authorities found out, right?
Except it was made up, out of thin air.
“So get creative like using fake photoshopped images?” she responded. “I was kind of taken back at this…”
“Yup it’s just a graphic. Best story of [the] day,” he said.
“It’s fake,” she replied. “I don’t see how this [is] making us a legit website”
“That’s not for u to worry about,” Kolfage texted back. “And it’s only on Facebook. Not the website.”
“Adds mystery to the entire story… he was part of FBI at same time,” he added. “Use that exact image of comey or the cia director in some shady looking pic.”
This is the real “fake news,” folks.
So Facebook has some explaining to do.
On several occasions, Kolfage discussed purchasing Facebook pages, which he acknowledged in one message is a violation of the social network’s policy and urged employees to remain quiet about. In a group text dated Sept. 22, 2017, he informed employees that “we purchased the Facebook pages belonging to Patriot Nation,” collecting its 2 million fans to “significantly increase our traffic” and generate more revenue.
Right Wing News was another such page with Facebook.
“One day of big daddy running the show,” Kolfage wrote, referencing an attached chart showing a significant spike in user traffic. “Those f**kers had no clue…The page reach is actually 14 million this week. When I got it [it] was 1 mil.”
He apparently is devoted to the fake news cause. One employee said he spent about $100,000 to purchase Right Wing News.
So while building these fake news sites, he used that platform to launch his GoFundMe drive for the border wall, but it’s not the first time he’s dabbled in crowd funding for what appears to be patriotic purposes.
In 2014, he used GoFundMe to raise money for his own legal fees, because of someone he described as a “radical, leftwing extremist” – a favorite term of the radical, rightwing extremists.
A year later, he used GoFundMe to collect $16,246 for a veteran mentorship program. The campaign closed in February 2015, and the funds went directly to Kolfage, Bobby Whithorne, a GoFundMe spokesperson, confirmed to BuzzFeed News.
In now-deleted Facebook posts, Kolfage appealed to followers to donate to “get vets back on track” and said his program worked in conjunction with military hospitals, such as Walter Reed, Brooke Army Medical Center, and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, which treated Kolfage in 2004 after the horrific explosion at Balad Air Base in Iraq that left him injured.
That sounds like something I’d certainly like to donate to.
Here’s the thing: No one representing those hospitals know what he’s talking about. They have no records of any such peer-mentoring program, or of Kolfage doing any sort of peer work with their organizations.
“We do not have a record of Mr. Kolfage visiting Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in any official capacity after 2012,” Gia E. Oney, chief of public affairs for Landstuhl, told BuzzFeed News. “We have no record of a donation made in his name to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.”
Hey, Kolfage, what happened to the money?
Wow. So he’s really dipping into the well of crowdfunding on everything, isn’t he?
In addition to his build-the-wall campaign, Kolfage is still raising money on GoFundMe for his “Fight 4 Free Speech” initiative to “take on Facebook in an unprecedented legal case that will shape our nation for future generations.” It has raised more than $73,350 of its $100,000 goal in two months.
I guess he’s gotta make a buck, somehow. Facebook, in its crackdown on fake news, yanked his scam sites, pushing photoshopped images and sensationalized lies.
Before that, in 2016, he employed about six writers to conjure up these lies and spread them across at least ten Facebook accounts.
He was paying his employees about $2 per 1000 clicks, just to write.
Then, however, it got to where the mission was to create the bigger, more fantastic lies.
One former employee explains:
“He started creating more [Facebook] pages. I think he had around 10 when I was there and I remember I would see shares and be like, ‘Where did this page come from?’” she recalled. “He was very smart in how he would do it. He never wanted the truth. It was all just for clicks, and the more inflammatory, the better. I felt dirty writing the stuff.”
Lowery detailed a similar experience, describing how her role as a writer and editor for Freedom Daily morphed into creating more outlandish content on Facebook.
“Toward the end is when it got really bad with the fake news. I had no control over how my stories were titled,” Lowery said. “Brian only cared about the money.”
At the end of 2016, Freedom Daily had about 1.6 million followers. During Trump’s first year, Kolfage decided to ramp it up and become more extreme.
In November of that year, a text message exchange shows Kolfage claiming to have been affiliated with the president “to grow a massive Facebook group” called America FIRST, and boasting about having created a Nevada business license for “President Donald Trump Official LLC” to troll a competitor and “show that he could do it.”
Freedom Daily licensed “President Donald Trump Official LLC” in Nevada in November 2017, according to state records.
Kolfage even took steps, such as adopting a pseudonym, in order to hide his involvement and to stay clear of the sketchy work, in the event someone tried to trace it back to him.
In one email to employees, Kolfage warned to “NEVER tell anyone who operates Freedomdaily. It’s a tightly guarded secret, and our LLC has a privacy veil set up to protect it. It allows us to operate without consequence where we can’t be sued or attacked by trolls.”
It would appear Kolfage is the biggest troll, of all.
Sadly, there are suckers born every minute. Records show over 28 million people viewed the fraudulent stories on Freedom Daily, in August 2017. That pulled in around $300,000 for the site.
However, Frank Bojazi, a writer for the Right Wing News site in 2017, said in his experience the site’s top editors were responsible for altering and intensifying headlines to make them “more clickbait.”
“Brian didn’t do the titles, someone else did those,” he told BuzzFeed News, though he emphasized that “his only job was to write stories,” and he had nothing to do with Facebook.
Bojazi went on to express his disappointment in being used to push fake news.
“They sucked,” Bojazi said. “Inaccurate isn’t cool. I wanted more accurate headlines so readers weren’t confused. I was bottom of the totem pole though, don’t get to talk much.”
It’s all about the clicks.
Kolfage has actually been banned from Facebook, because of harassment complaints and because of his manipulation of the platform to make money.
Some of his pages are still there, but he’s not allowed to act as administrator.
Employees who left, such as Lowry, report harassment and nasty exchanges with Kolfage.
She began her own website after leaving. Kolfage took issue with what he said was her recruitment of one of his writers, as well as what she said was his breaking an agreement not to run her stories after she’d left. He then went after she and her husband.
Text messages to Lowery show Kolfage telling her to “go f**k yourself” and threatening, “Your website is going down today.”
Then one day last July, her husband called in a panic. FBI agents were at the door of their Colorado home responding to an anonymous tip that the mother of two was planning “on going on a killing rampage and talked about killing people,” Lowery said, which she insists never happened.
An FBI spokesperson said the agency would not comment on any specific tips it received.
I’m sure that was just a coincidence, right?
It gets better.
A month later, an anonymous tip into her husband’s workplace at Northrop Grumman, a major aerospace and defense contractor, also sparked an investigation. The family had just returned from vacation when her husband, Tyler Lowery, was approached about a report that they had been in contact with “foreign nationals,” he told BuzzFeed News.
“They came to my home and said that there was a report on the open line…about how Lindsay was working for Macedonians,” he said. “I explained the situation with Brian and showed them the same text messages.”
A source familiar with the matter confirmed the account to BuzzFeed News, saying Northrop Grumman “investigated what they understood to be the allegation, and it was not substantiated.”
Of course it was unsubstantiated.
“I had seen him go after people firsthand, but it was terrifying being on the other end of it,” Lindsay Lowery said. “I am honestly terrified of what he might do to harass or retaliate. He thinks he’s untouchable.”
No one should have to feel threatened just because they left a job they were unhappy with.
Meanwhile, just over $20 million has been raised for the southern border wall by over 330,000 people since December, all of them convinced that a man like Kolfage is who he says he is, and will do what he says he will do with that money.
I suspect the government will get that money at approximately the same time Walter Reed, Brooke Army Medical Center, and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center receive the $16,000 or so raised for the non-existent peer mentoring programs Kolfage touted.
That is to say, never.