Steve Bannon leads call in Detroit for border wall

Mark Hicks Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

On a day when the U.S. Senate voted to block the national emergency the president has declared for building a border wall with Mexico, more than 300 supporters gathered in Detroit to push for the barrier.

"Until we seal the border, and I mean really seal the border, then we can begin to fix the other aspects of this very complex problem," David Clarke Jr., a former Milwaukee County sheriff and Fox News commentator, told the crowd at Cobo Center in Detroit.

Vocal Metro Detroit supporters of the border wall cheered and sounded off as prominent Trump backers described why they believe the move is necessary during the event led by We Build The Wall Inc.

Beverly Marshall of St. Clair Shores pays tribute during the national anthem. Supporters gather to listen to speakers at a "We Build The Wall" town hall meeting at Cobo Center in Detroit on March 14, 2019.

The Florida-based nonprofit evolved after military veteran Brian Kolfage launched a GoFundMe campaign to seek money for the wall. The effort initially raised millions of dollars before Dec. 31, but after consulting with “some of the country’s leading professionals in law, politics, national security, construction and finance,”  supporters learned that the government couldn't accept or use the donations, according to the organization's website.

The group believes its team can construct significant segments of the wall faster and cheaper than the government. Kolfage and others who headed the town hall repeatedly called for financial support through GoFundMe to allow them to act instead of the government.

In less than four months, support continues to grow, he said. "It’s just a gigantic movement and here we are today."

There is no clear evidence how well border walls or other barriers actually work.
The Government Accountability Office, Congress’ auditing arm, reported in 2017 that the government does not have a way to measure how well barriers deter illegal immigration from Mexico. 

However, the supporters who spoke Thursday insist the southern border is vulnerable and people who want to bypass the immigration process continually find openings.

"They’re not immigrants — they’re trespassers," Clarke said.

The speakers also called out lawmakers' role in not helping complete Trump's proposed wall.

The Republican-run Senate rejected Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southwest border on Thursday, setting up a veto fight and dealing him a conspicuous rebuke as he tested how boldly he could ignore Congress in pursuit of his highest-profile goal.

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon talks to the media before the "We Build The Wall" town hall meeting at Cobo Center Thursday night.

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon highlighted the situation as a reason for the private wall effort.

"If you want to stop that, then that’s what this ... movement is about," he said.

Brandon Wendell, 26, a server and designer from Center Line, agreed with pushing for the wall.

"Border security is our No. 1 issue, in my eyes," he said. "It’s something we need to have."

Patricia Farmer, a Trump supporter from Southfield, joined the event Thursday because she was concerned what would happen without greater border security.

"We need a way to stop the drugs," she said. "Everybody’s not bringing in drugs but some people are."

Separated by police, a group of 50 protesters gathered across from Cobo Center Thursday chanting “All the walls have got to go from Palestine to Mexico.”

Meanwhile, separated by police, a group of 50 protesters gathered across from Cobo chanting,  "All the walls have got to go from Palestine to Mexico.”

The demonstrators rejected the town hall's premise.

“The thing that offends me is people coming to Detroit to spread the hate,” said David Sanchez of southwest Detroit. “Coming from an immigrant neighborhood, there’s a big group of people turning their back on what makes this country beautiful in the first place."

Detroiter Meeko Williams grabbed the megaphone and lead the group through chants loud enough to be heard down streets. 

“What they’re doing is reprehensible,” said Williams. “I’m going home and writing a letter to the Detroit Regional Authority condemning them for allowing them to have this event.

“I am appalled that my tax dollars are going to protect racists and fascists inside that building,” said Williams. “We are not building any walls. There will be no base or race that calls for a wall or race that makes it OK to stop water in Detroit.”

The issue also loomed over another meeting Thursday night in Macomb County.

During a Democrat-sponsored community forum in Center Line, the crowd cheered when a congressman announced that, earlier in the day, the Senate had voted 59-41 to block the national emergency.

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin speaks during a community forum held by the Warren Area Democratic Club at the Hometown Heroes Coffee and More restaurant in Center Line, March 14, 2019.

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, told the 50 people at Hometown Heroes Coffee and More that the money for a wall would be better used to improve roads and other infrastructure in the country.

“Trump said he would help the average resident but he has done nothing for infrastructure,” said Levin, who had just returned to Michigan from Washington.

He said the Democrat-controlled House wants to pass a bill to fund substantial improvements in nation's infrastructure by late spring or early summer, and he hoped the Republican-controlled Senate, where many members will be facing re-election, will support it.

Most of the 90-minute forum, which was attended by Democrat office-holders on the federal, state and local level, barely mentioned the proposed wall. The Warren Area Democratic Club, which organized it, wanted the officials to focus on local issues.

Jeremy Fisher, the club president, said voters didn’t want to hear about things that Democrats are against. Instead, residents want to hear what elected officials will do to improve roads and schools, and helping people obtain good jobs with a fair wage.
“Everything else is just noise,” he said.

Last week, facing questions from Democrats for the first time since they took control of the House, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen insisted the crisis at the southern border is not manufactured.

Detroit NewStaff Writer Francis X. Donnelly and the Associated Press contributed to this report.