This story has broken my brain.
Gregg Phillips and Catherine Engelbrecht are best known as the election deniers behind True the Vote, a Texas-based nonprofit responsible for amplifying conspiracies that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
But soon after Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, they shifted some of their focus to the war effort, jumping into the fray with an inspiring idea — to bring a mobile hospital to the region to care for victims of the conflict.
They called it The Freedom Hospital.
Phillips solicited donations on conservative media platforms, linked up with American veterans working in Ukraine and traveled to the region in March to meet with local officials. The Freedom Hospital’s website announced it was halfway to its goal of raising $25 million.
“Our recent project, The Freedom Hospital, in Ukraine helps old folks, women and kids near the fight receive healthcare,” Phillips wrote on the conservative social media site Truth Social on June 5.
But that was one of a series of misrepresentations from Phillips and The Freedom Hospital about the operation’s donations and accomplishments, according to a joint investigation by ProPublica and The Dallas Morning News. The Freedom Hospital never got off the ground, and, through their lawyers, Phillips and Engelbrecht now say they never raised significant amounts of money for the project.
They never brought the mobile hospital to the region.
Both Phillips and Engelbrecht declined to answer questions. According to their lawyers, who spoke to ProPublica and the News, the pair’s Ukraine project was a good-faith effort that was unsuccessful.
They said Phillips realized during his March trip to the region that the mission wasn’t feasible because local officials weren’t interested, because potential donors felt the U.S. government was already funneling enough money into the war effort, and because he was worried about the potential for local corruption.
“They pretty much abandoned it all as of, like, April,” Cameron Powell, a partner at Gregor, Wynne, Arney who’s one of the pair’s attorneys, said during a December interview. “Pretty much during his trip, he was deciding it’s probably not going to be feasible.”
Phillips continued to seek donations for months after that and gave the impression that the project was still in the works. The lawyers now say that is because the pair kept pushing forward “with their due diligence for a while longer” and declined to clarify exactly when the project was abandoned.
Asked about Phillips’ statements that The Freedom Hospital had raised half of its $25 million goal, the lawyers said that amount was an in-kind donation from the mobile hospital manufacturer, not cash. The manufacturer’s CEO disputed that account, saying it never pledged to make such a donation.
I look at it this way: If there were a couple of people who did not have the history of Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips that had allegedly done these things, one might reasonably conclude that they were well-intentioned but in over their heads, and they made things worse in their good-faith-but-doomed efforts to get out of the hole they were in. But because they are Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips and they have a long history of lying and grifting, you can’t believe a word they say and you should not ever give them the benefit of the doubt. The burden of proof is on them. Just add this mess to their karmic tab, which one hopes some day will come due. Now go read the rest of this story and try not to obsess about it too much.