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.
Created by Engelbrecht in 2010, True the Vote vaulted to national prominence after its work was featured in the 2022 Dinesh D’Souza movie “2000 Mules,” a film that included voter fraud claims that have been widely discredited.
The Ukraine venture is the latest in a string of failed initiatives and misleading statements from Engelbrecht and Phillips. Phillips has been a longtime True the Vote board member, and he and Engelbrecht have raised millions on the promise that they would reveal widespread voter fraud. But they have never supplied any evidence the election was stolen, leaving a trail of disappointed donors and frustrated partners, even as the false election-theft narrative has continued to be a potent force in American politics.
An “Awe-Inspiring” Mission
A former health and human services official for the states of Texas and Mississippi, Phillips was eager to use his expertise to aid the people of Ukraine when Russia invaded, his lawyers said.
The Freedom Hospital’s website, which is now defunct, described the project as “awe-inspiring.” A group of Americans had “banded together” to bring to the region “a state-of-the-art mobile emergency hospital system that can skirt battle zones to treat the wounded,” according to the site’s archive. “Every penny of your donation will be used to save lives,” the website stated, with a link to a PayPal donation site.
In March 2022, Phillips traveled to the region and discussed the project with several local governmental and religious officials.
The next month, he explained the ongoing effort to a podcaster. Phillips said his team was “ensuring that we could clear supply paths and ensure that the hospitals could remain sort of fully supplied and fully staffed” and that they had secured a warehouse.
The hospital’s Twitter account described the facility as a 100,000-square-foot warehouse donated by an unnamed family behind “Europe’s biggest transport company.”
The lawyers now say an unnamed citizens’ group offered use of an empty auditorium that was not ultimately needed.