In the world of right-wing fundraising, We Build the Wall was a small-time operation, even though it had some very big names – Steve Bannon and Chris Kobach fronting and pushing for it. The $25 million raised for the project financed just two media-friendly stunts, tiny bits of border wall, built and paid for by private citizens.
But the idea of a stunt is that a very small event, properly presented, can have a very large impact. In this case, the project succeeded. Two stunt walls were built – across half a mile of desert separating Mexico from New Mexico, just west of El Paso, Texas, and three miles of wall along the Rio Grande deep in the heart of the Tex-Mex border.
For the short, straight strip in New Mexico, We Build the Wall paid for everything and a North Dakota-based builder named Tommy Fisher did the work. For the longer, more expensive three-mile wall in Texas, We Build the Wall kicked in $1.5 million, but Fisher himself ate the rest of more than $40 million.
But that little bitty demonstration stunt paid off big time. For Tommy Fisher, whatever he sunk into the two small wall projects will be more than covered by the subsequent $1.7 billion worth of wall-building contracts awarded him by the Trump administration.
But wait, there’s more. Tommy Fisher says he took on wall-building, something his companies had never been into before, out of patriotism and passion, which means to him, “To protect the Southern border you got to build the border fence on the border.”
Which meant to him, if the U.S.-Mexico border is the Rio Grande, you build as close to the river as you can. Which, it turns out, may have been two different kinds of very bad ideas. First, structurally, within months of its emplacement, portions of the riverside base started showing signs of erosion, and experts say, without a quick fix could tumble into the river in a flood. Then, hydrologically, the positioning of the wall may violate an international water-sharing agreement between the U.S. and Mexico.
But here’s the worst news of all, President Donald Trump, the man who dreamed up the wall, and reportedly enabled Tommy Fisher’s profitable role in building it, is embarrassed, and mad at him. In fact, Trump tweeted recently that he hated the idea from the start. “I disagreed with doing this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private group which raised money by ads. It was only done,” the Tweet continued, “to make me look bad.”
Jeremy Schwartz has been an investigative reporter in Texas for nearly a decade, covering issues including voting rights and border security for the Austin American-Statesman and USA Today Network. His work has resulted in the overhaul of Texas’ inspection process for farmworker housing, sparked Congressional investigations of a failed Department of Veterans Affairs research program and uncovered misleading border arrest and drug seizure statistics maintained by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Schwartz won the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ Latino Issues award for his 2017 investigation into the political underrepresentation of Latinos in Texas cities and counties, and the Headliners Foundation of Texas Reporter of the Year award, among other honors. He previously served as Cox Newspapers’ Latin America correspondent in Mexico City from 2005 to 2009, and before that, he covered the U.S. Border Patrol and immigration at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.