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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘This is an atrocity.’ Donors give thousands to KC Proud Boys charged in Capitol riot

Supporters of US President Donald Trump clash with the US Capitol police during a riot at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.    (Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
By Judy L. Thomas The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Fundraising campaigns for two Kansas City-area Proud Boys charged with multiple felonies in connection with the Capitol riot have taken in nearly $70,000 from more than 1,100 donors.

Though donations continue to come in, the totals are more than $700,000 short of the goals set by their families.

Family members of William Chrestman and Christopher Kuehne, both of Olathe, said they created the sites to help pay for legal fees and other expenses as the men’s cases wind their way through federal court.

Both fundraisers were set up last year on GiveSendGo, a Christian crowdfunding platform that says its purpose is “to share the Hope of Jesus” and “to stand for freedom.”

Many of the donors see the men — both military veterans — as patriots, freedom fighters and heroes, not criminals. They share Bible verses and words of praise and encouragement along with their contributions.

“Keep strong, this is an atrocity what is happening in this once free country taken over by demons who will stop at nothing to gain and keep their ill-gotten power,” wrote Nancy, who gave $20 to Chrestman. “God be with you and all the other political prisoners being unjustly locked up.”

But federal authorities describe the men as nothing close to patriots, saying they conspired with others from the Kansas City Proud Boys chapter to breach the Capitol on Jan. 6 and disrupt the joint session of Congress as it counted electoral votes to confirm the result of the 2020 presidential election. A federal judge said in a court hearing that “Mr. Chrestman was much more — much, much more — than someone who merely cheered on the violence or who entered the Capitol after others cleared the way.”

Chrestman has been in jail since his arrest Feb. 11, 2021. Dubbed #axehole on Twitter, he was seen on numerous videos of the Capitol riot wielding an ax handle and stirring up the crowd with raucous chants.

His fundraising site, “Help Patriot Father,” was set up by his daughter. More than 680 donors have given a total of $38,530, in amounts ranging from $5 to $1,000.

Kuehne’s site, “Fight for Freedom,” was created by his wife, Annette. It shows that 430 donors have contributed $31,375. The top donation was $1,850, with a dozen contributions of $500.

Chrestman, 48, and Kuehne, 49, were indicted by a federal grand jury last year along with two other Kansas City-area Proud Boys — Louis Colon, of Blue Springs, and Ryan Ashlock, of Gardner — and Arizona siblings Felicia and Cory Konold.

The indictment alleged that they “planned with each other, and with others known and unknown, to forcibly enter the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and to stop, delay, and hinder the Congressional proceeding occurring that day.”

Chrestman also was charged with threatening to assault a federal law enforcement officer. All except Chrestman were released on personal recognizance bonds pending trial. Colon and Ashlock have pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

The far-right Proud Boys are at the forefront of the federal investigation into the attack. Authorities have rounded up dozens from around the country, including several in leadership positions, on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to assaulting a federal officer to sedition.

Chrestman’s fundraising site has a goal of $450,000.

“On February 11th Billy was taken from his house by the FBI following the January 6th rally, and has been held without bail with horrible treatment and in very dangerous conditions,” his daughter said in a note on his site. “He is an Army veteran that served as a combat medic for 4 years and comes from a family of veterans. Billy is the definition of a patriot.”

Since being in jail, she wrote, “he has lost his house, his career, and his family is now separated by 2 states.”

“He is an amazing father and his family misses him so much and needs him home. He literally has nothing left…Your donations would help with legal fees, commissary money, phone card expenses, and help with bills that his family is having a hard time with.”

Many donors expressed deep anger at the government.

“I’m so very sorry your family is suffering because of this feckless illegitimate government,” said a donor named Kim. “I am praying the blood of Jesus over you and your family to give you strength to overcome this ordeal. May God bless you and your family.”

One $100 donor thanked Chrestman for his military service.

“You eat nails and drink bourbon for breakfast,” she said. “You are incredibly strong. Hope you are taking names and keeping records. Sue EVERY guard participating in your suffering when you get out.”

Kuehne’s fundraising site has a goal of $350,000.

“He is facing substantial jail time and is fighting hard to vindicate himself against a government that is deeply politicized against him,” Annette Kuehne wrote on the page. She said her husband “did not hurt anyone and did not come to DC to commit any offenses” but “was intending on protecting Trump supporters with families from potential Antifa attacks.”

“He went inside the Capitol but did not cause any harm or damage…,” she said.

The family has had to hire a second attorney, she said, to represent Kuehne in a civil suit filed against many Proud Boys and Oath Keepers by the D.C. attorney general. The lawsuit accuses them of “conspiring to terrorize the District by planning, promoting, and participating in the violent January 6, 2021, attack on the United States Capitol Building” and seeks to recover the costs of the insurrection.

“This lawsuit is cruel/malicious and is aimed to destroy our family,” Annette Kuehne said.

She described her husband as “a man that deeply loves God, his Country, and his family” and said he was “a decorated combat veteran who has received numerous medals and awards including the Purple Heart, a Navy Commendation Medal with Valor, and a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Valor for actions in combat.

She added that “as a 9-year-old Cub Scout, he was awarded the Boy Scouts of America’s highest honor, the Medal of Merit, for saving his young sister from a burning car.”

One donor said he was a retired police chief with 33½ years of service.

“I have never had a high opinion of the FBI,” he wrote. “This is outrageous! I worked every crime during my career including homicides, rapes, etc. I never treated the worst of the worst like this.”

And a donor using the name “Let’s go Brandon” told Kuehne that “you will go down in history as a hero and a true patriot.”

On Wednesday, Kuehne’s attorney filed a motion in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia requesting a modification to his terms of release, which require him to notify his pretrial supervisor in advance of any travel outside the Kansas/Kansas City district. He asked the court to allow him to travel to and live in Arizona starting in September.

The government responded to his filing on Thursday, saying it had no objection, and U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly approved the request on Friday. Kuehne and Chrestman are scheduled to have a hearing on Tuesday to update the court on their cases, but the government filed a motion last week to continue it to October. Kelly had not yet ruled on that motion Friday.

Kuehne appears to be ready to move. His five-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot house in a southern Olathe subdivision went on the market this month.

The asking price: $644,990.