In Thursday’s dramatic news of an indictment that accused former White House adviser Steve Bannon, among others, of embezzling more than a million bucks from a crowdfunded pot that was supposed to be set aside for building a wall along the U.S.–Mexico border, you may have noticed a curious number of watercraft involved. Bannon was apparently hiding out on a Chinese “superyacht” when authorities found him—more on that below—and a big chunk of the allegedly stolen money went to payments for a boat. That boat was involved in a Floridian Trump “boat parade,” a trendy waterborne show of #MAGA support the likes of which have traveled up and down American coastlines all summer. The presidents’ sons love them—and they’ve become a minor media sensation in their own right.
Confused? How to explain this sudden confluence of nautical connections in the Trump sphere? Here, an attempt. Anchors aweigh!
First things first: So Bannon and some other guys stole a bunch of money … ?
Allegedly! A GoFundMe page called We Built the Wall launched in December 2018, purportedly dedicated to raising private money to pay for one of Trump’s pet projects, the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. It quickly raised $25 million. Bannon and three other men, Andrew Badolato, Brian Kolfage, and Timothy Shea, some of whom have had previous brushes with the law (and one of whom, Shea, owns a “pro-Trump energy drink company”), are accused of stealing more than $1 million of the haul for their own personal use.
What did they spend the money on?
According to the indictment, Bannon, Badolato, and Shea used it for “travel, hotels, consumer goods and personal credit card debts.” Kolfage allegedly spent his share on home renovations, an SUV, a golf cart (another very Trumpian vehicle), jewelry, cosmetic surgery—and a boat.
A boat! What else do we know about the boat?
The boat, which the indictment described as a “2019 Jupiter Marine,” is named Warfighter. HuffPost found a comparable yacht with a list price of $815,000. HuffPost also noted that pictures of the boat “feature heavily” on Kolfage’s Instagram page. One place the boat shows up is in footage Kolfage posted of a Fourth of July “Trumptilla,” an event Kolfage helped organize. Maybe you could argue that, in spending money on a boat he could cover in Trump paraphernalia and thus use to promote Trump’s reelection, Kolfage was indirectly furthering the cause of the border wall and its eventual completion, but I’m not sure donors to the GoFundMe, one of whom included a 7-year-old boy, would see it that way.
What, pray tell, is a “Trumptilla”?
Glad you asked. It’s another name (a portmanteau of Trump and flotilla) for the pro-Trump boat parades that have taken off lately. They are pretty wild. According to Al Jazeera, the parades sprang from an incident in May in which a Florida man’s gated community banned him from displaying the MAGA flag off his dock. In response, the man decked his boat out with Trump signage. Similar Trumptillas followed across the country. Jet skis, canoes, and kayaks sometimes join in.
Last weekend, one pro-Trump boat parade in Florida attempted to break the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of its kind. (Officials are still conferring on whether the record was broken.)
MAGA boaters, who knew?
Somewhere in the last few months, the long-simmering love affair began between President Donald Trump and the boating community began to heat up. Trump’s sons Eric and Don Jr. have publicly expressed their appreciation of boaters and boat parades, a sentiment echoed by the president himself in May (“Thank you very much to our beautiful ‘boaters.’ I will never let you down!”). The campaign is also selling “Boaters for Trump” hats and blue nautical flags.
June saw particularly notable Trump world–boat world action when Trump posted on Twitter a video about Trumptillas in honor of his birthday. The video ended with a strange callout to what appeared to be a boating-oriented super PAC, Boaters for a Brighter Future. A Daily Beast report found that the PAC didn’t actually exist; its founders had started a website for it but never got around to registering it. One of them also admitted that he didn’t actually own a boat. Still, the rhetoric on the website pits “boat folks” against “woke folks” and casts boat owners as a put-upon class of people who have been unfairly demonized by politicians. The Daily Beast quoted a few choice excerpts:
In an effort to rally boaters in 2020, Boaters for a Brighter Future’s website sketches an apocalyptic world in which recreational boating is outlawed by climate change-crazed Democrats looking to punish boat-owners they see as as [sic] “Fat Cats, Frauds, Freeloaders, Fascists, Freaks.” One page claims that Democrats are out to outlaw the three B’s: “Burgers, Babies or Boats.”
Wait, Democrats want to outlaw babies and burgers?
I haven’t seen this in anyone’s platform, and it didn’t come up at the convention, but Boaters for a Brighter Future’s website explains this pernicious political agenda: Democrats’ “policies to save the planet require the elimination of all fossil fuels and greenhouse emissions in 10 years,” and that means “getting rid of all beef and dairy cattle—all burgers, steaks, ice cream and baby formula—AND all airplanes too.” And if they take away airplanes, it won’t be long before boaters’ pride and joy, their boats, are next.
Is Trump a carpetbagger, or did he already have ties to the boat world?
Already a thing. The president once bought a $100 million yacht from its troubled Saudi owner at a cut rate after it appeared in a James Bond movie and then renamed it the Trump Princess. This led to a boondoggle sequel, the Trump Princess II, and eventually to the president abandoning both yachts. He sold the original expensively renovated vessel for far less than he paid.
Well then! Back to Bannon. What’s there to know about the boat he was on when the feds busted him? It wasn’t the Warfighter, was it?
Nope, it was actually a much, much more expensive yacht off the Connecticut coast, a $28 million vessel called the Lady May and owned by the controversial Chinese billionaire and fugitive Guo Wengui. It was built to house 10 guests and a crew of eight, and it’s said to have won “a succession of superyacht awards” upon its 2015 construction. Locals who spotted the boat in the days before Bannon’s arrest speculated that it had to belong to Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio. Whatever else you can say about Bannon, you can’t deny that he was vacationing in style.