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POLITICO: MAGA all-stars visit border to plot private wall project

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POLITICO: Steve Bannon, Kris Kobach and Erik Prince are among the backers of an improbable effort to start building a border wall without federal funding.

It could have been an outtake from a hard-right reboot of “Ocean’s 11” for the Trump era: a gathering of some of President Donald Trump’s most notorious and outspoken supporters, who descended last week on the Mexican border town of McAllen, Texas.

In what amounted to a kind of #MAGA field trip, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, baseball legend Curt Schilling, and former Sheriff David Clarke convened to discuss a new plan for building a wall along the southern U.S. border. Blackwater founder Erik Prince phoned in from South Africa.

With Congress refusing to pony up the $5.7 billion Trump has demanded for the project, his allies now are plotting to kick things off with private money and private land.

The idea, which began in December as a Florida man’s quixotic online crowdfunding campaign, is becoming something more, well, concrete. 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.

The new details come as Trump, who reportedly blessed the project in a conversation last month with Kobach, one of the country’s most prominent advocates of restrictionist immigration policies, is expected to renew his demand for a border wall in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

Organizers insist they are serious about developing a large-scale infrastructure project, one that could supplement — and trim the cost of — Trump’s proposed federal wall. Whether they can achieve anything close to that remains an open question.

“Look, it’s evolving,” said Bannon, whose involvement in the project has not previously been reported.

“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 compatriots have formed a nonprofit group, We Build the Wall, that grew out of the original crowd-funding campaign.

Still, the endeavor has the air of political theater.

Bannon told POLITICO that his team is studying whether their wall could be constructed from the hemp-based building material hempcrete. “Do you understand the irony of using hempcrete to keep out marijuana?” Bannon said. The group has already entered into a partnership with the Kansas-based America’s Hemp Academy to supply the material if it is ultimately selected for use, according to organizers.

“What these individuals are doing is a great political stunt, but it’s not going to make the country safer,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a Washington-based, pro-immigration advocacy group. Noorani argued that border security resources would be better deployed at ports of entry.

But even Noorani conceded that the private wall scheme had one advantage over Trump’s border wall proposal: It requires the consent of private landowners, rather than government seizure of their land through eminent domain.

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

“They have the right to be skeptics,” said Brian Kolfage, a triple amputee Iraq war veteran who started the online GoFundMe campaign in December. “It’s something that’s never been done, and it’s a very big project, but we’re going to give it our all.”

About two-thirds of the 2,000-mile border, or roughly 1300 miles, is owned privately or by states, according to a 2015 Government Accountability and Oversight report, which did not offer a more detailed breakdown. Bannon said the group has identified roughly 250-400 miles of privately owned land that the project will target.

After consulting with experts, including representative of the Israeli fencing firm Magal Security Systems, the group believes it can build a mile of wall for $1.5 to $2.5 million, excluding the cost of land, Kolfage said.

Organizers said they plan to use traditional political fundraising methods, like direct mail and email campaigns, to get from the $20 million raised so far to the projected multi-billion-dollar cost of constructing hundreds of miles of wall.

The group plans to promote the wall plan at the annual CPAC political gathering, which begins at the end of February. They are also considering following that with a bus tour and more town halls on the border, Kolfage said. From there, actual construction could be only weeks away. “We should be turning dirt on this thing by 1 May, 1 June at the latest, according to our experts,” he said.

Kolfage said he expects the beginning of construction to spur more fundraising, especially if the group can demonstrate competence to potential mega-donors. “Once we break ground, it’s going to open up a whole new can of worms,” he said.

Kobach suggested raising $100 million for over 30 miles of wall could be achievable in the project’s first year.

The former Kansas secretary of state, who served as vice chair of Trump’s abortive and much-maligned voting fraud commission, said he expected to remain in touch with the president and other federal officials about the project. He said the goal was not to replace but to supplement a federal wall-building effort, and to channel pent-up demand for a barrier, which was a signature 2016 Trump campaign promise.

“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.” The White House did not respond to a request for comment about Kobach’s account of his conversation with Trump about the project.

The effort began when Kolfage, an operator of conspiratorially mind right-wing websites, began a GoFundMe site dedicated to raising private donations for the Treasury Department to fund Trump’s proposed border wall.

But that approach quickly came to look like a dead end. Even if citizens donate funds to the Treasury, Congress would still need to approve their use for a wall. So Kolfage and company switched tacks, forming We Build the Wall to fund a private construction effort on private lands.

Behind the scenes, Bannon has lent the project his connections and star power. Bannon got to know Kolfage after Facebook shut down pages the veteran maintained there last year, and Kolfage turned to Bannon for help. Kolfage said he began flying to Washington for meetings about the wall project facilitated by Bannon 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.

Last week, the group convened for the first time in Texas.

There, they encountered groups of migrants crossing the border to seek asylum. Tancredo said he was surprised that the migrants were “Completely, totally unconcerned about being confronted by us,” and instead were eager to find the Border Patrol so that they could request asylum.

Organizers also conferred with representatives of Magal Security Systems, which built a border barrier between Israel and the Gaza strip. In the weeks following Trump’s 2016 election, Magal publicly offered itself as a natural candidate to build Trump’s proposed wall. Kolfage said he expects to formalize a consulting deal with the firm this week. Magal did not respond to emails requesting comment.

As it pursues its wall, the group has formed several committees, including on site selection, building and fundraising, Tancredo said.

But the ragtag effort remains relatively informal, he said: “I got the impression nobody had a particular title.”

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NM Governor Tells Militia To Stop Arresting Illegals, Sheriff Clarke Responds

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A militia in New Mexico is arresting illegal immigrants as they cross the border. The Democrat governor of that state told them to stop. We Build the Wall advisory board member Sheriff David Clarke commented on the story.

NBC News reported:

“New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday lashed out at members of a militia group who are stopping migrants at the border, declaring “regular citizens have no authority to arrest or detain anyone.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico has demanded that Lujan Grisham and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas investigate the militia organization, United Constitutional Patriots. Some of the group’s members are armed.

“That migrant families might be menaced or threatened in any way, shape or form when they arrive at our border — often times after an unimaginably arduous journey — is completely unacceptable,” Lujan Grisham said in an email to NBC News.

“It should go without saying that regular citizens have no authority to arrest or detain anyone,” she said. “My office and our state police are coordinating with the Attorney General’s Office and local police to determine what has gone on and what can be done.”

Sheriff Clarke Tweeted:

“This is the result when the government abandons its responsibility to enforce the law on behalf of the people of the state. They take their RIGHT to defend against invaders into their own hands. The social order collapses. NO ONE should be surprised.”

Balderas warned in a statement that “these individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement,” he said.

The ACLU of New Mexico raised the alarm about the arrests in a letter sent Thursday to Lujan Grisham and Balderas.

The letter said that on Tuesday members of the group arrested nearly 300 people near Sunland Park, New Mexico. The ACLU posted excerpts of the letter on its website with video that appeared to have been made by one of the militia members.

“The Trump administration’s vile racism has emboldened white nationals and fascists to flagrantly violate the law,” the ACLU said. “This has no place in our state: We cannot allow racist and armed vigilantes to kidnap and detain people seeking asylum. We urge you to immediately investigate this atrocious and unlawful conduct.”

According to Reuters, the group, made up mainly of veterans, has been patrolling in the area near Sunland Park since late February. They’ve been posting videos almost daily of members in camouflage and armed with semi-automatic rifles holding asylum-seekers who have crossed the border until Border Patrol arrives to arrest them.

Kevin McAleenan, acting Homeland Security secretary, said in a March 27 visit to El Paso, Texas, that Border Patrol did not help from “civil society groups” in policing the border, Reuters reported.”

Mary Ann Mendoza (R) with We Build the Wall board members on the border in Texas (L-R): Tom Tancredo, Brian Kolfage, Kris Kobach, Sheriff David Clarke

Sheriff Clarke speaks at our border town hall in Detroit. (Photo by Jeff Rainforth for WBTW)

DONATE NOW TO BUILD THE WALL WITH BRIAN KOLFAGE, CLICK BELOW:

CHECK DONATIONS:
We Build the Wall, Inc.
PO Box 131567 Houston, Texas 77219-1567

The official wall fundraiser & construction site is at www.webuildthewall.us
Follow Brian Kolfage on Twitter HERE
Like his verified Facebook page HERE

Contacts:
Jennifer Lawrence – Communications Director
media@webuildthewall.us
Cell: 845-800-1552

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VIDEO: Chinese Nationals Caught Crossing Border In Texas – Flew From China To Mexico

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Charlotte Cuthbertson from the Epoch Times reported:

“Out with #BorderPatrol in Mission, Texas, and just caught 7 Chinese, 1 Mexican, and 1 El Salvadoran minor. All trying to evade capture. Chinese man said he paid $15k for the whole package (flights to Mexico, smuggled across border)”

DONATE NOW TO BUILD THE WALL WITH BRIAN KOLFAGE, CLICK BELOW:

CHECK DONATIONS:
We Build the Wall, Inc.
PO Box 131567 Houston, Texas 77219-1567

The official wall fundraiser & construction site is at www.webuildthewall.us
Follow Brian Kolfage on Twitter HERE
Like his verified Facebook page HERE

Contacts:
Jennifer Lawrence – Communications Director
media@webuildthewall.us
Cell: 845-800-1552

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