Tommy Marcus: How an Instagram star helped rescue dozens from Afghanistan

·6-min read
Tommy Marcus
Tommy Marcus

Hundreds of Afghans who were attempting to leave the Taliban before Tuesday’s deadline for the US pullout from Kabul were able to reach safety. Thanks to Instagram star Quentin Quarantino’s support. Tommy Marcus, a 25-year-old New York City resident, is the alter ego of Quarantine. He is famous for his liberal memes and jokes against COVID-19 vaccine opponents. Quarantino and his supporters donated $7 million in a matter of days on GoFundMe to start rescue missions into Afghanistan. It was to evacuate as many people as possible, many of whom claimed the Taliban had endangered them.

On Wednesday, Tommy Marcus’ “Operation Flyaway” expedition assisted in the transport of 51 refugees from Afghanistan to Uganda. It was through a privately chartered jet funded by a GoFundMe campaign.

After Marcus issued an appeal to his 832,000 followers, more than 121,000 people donated to the campaign. Thereby, making it one of the largest humanitarian fundraisers in GoFundMe history.

“It’s beyond humbling that they have that faith in me, that they’re willing to put significant amounts of money into hands that I trust,” Tommy Marcus told The Associated Press.

Tommy Marcus and his Operation Flyaway

The Rockefeller Foundation and Saraya International, both of which provided organizational support for the flight to Uganda, as well as another company involved in the evacuation; confirmed to the Associated Press that the flight was chartered by the emergency collaboration financed through Marcus’ Go FundMe campaign.

“I don’t know what word to use besides miraculous, because it’s restored a faith in humanity,” Tommy Marcus said. “We’ve shed the political divisions in this situation and really come together from all walks of life to rally together and save these people because .. they don’t deserve what their future holds if they stay in Afghanistan right now.”

Women, children, humanitarians, and others “who have been fighting for the greater good in Afghanistan for a long time,” as well as their families, were among those evacuated, according to Tommy Marcus. The organizers had stated that they were hoping to save 300 people.

Experts questioned the capability

Experts questioned whether the team had the capability to carry out such a mission at a time when governments, corporations, and humanitarian organizations were hurrying to evacuate their personnel and staff out of Afghanistan on whatever planes they could.

According to Marcus’ organization, over 350 people were rescued, with nearly 300 leaving Kabul on chartered flights that “Operation Flyaway” reimbursed for providing safe passage out of the country. A spokesperson for the State Department wrote in an emailed statement that the department appreciates “community-led efforts to support the Afghan relocation and resettlement process, which reflects the generosity of the American people and the international community.”

“However, we are unable to verify the authenticity or effectiveness of these efforts,” the statement said.

Officials from numerous humanitarian organizations describe a hectic and dangerous situation at the Kabul airport. They scrambled to fill private chartered flights with people who had the required documents in the limited time they had on the tarmac.

“I’m so proud of our extraordinary team and what we were able to accomplish in such a short time,” said Sayara CEO Scott Shadian. “I just wish we could’ve done more. Simply put, the institutions failed, and it breaks my heart how much more we could have accomplished. We are grateful we got out as many people as we did against the greatest odds we’ve ever faced.”

Uganda will house up to 2000 people

Uganda accepted the evacuees at the request of the US administration. They will stay in hotels outside of Kampala, the country’s capital. Ugandan officials have stated that the country will house up to 2,000 people. They will relocate after a temporary stay in the country.

The chartered airplane took off early Wednesday morning from Kabul. It is one of several private rescue initiatives that various organizations arranged, both independently and in partnership. It is to assist Afghans fleeing the country. Sayara organized the travel from Kabul to Entebbe, Uganda. They also informed a company working with Marcus that it had a jet ready for “Operation Flyaway.”

Representatives from Raven Advisory, a North Carolina-based firm, likewise claimed they were able to fund the mission with funds generated from Marcus’ GoFundMe campaign. According to the company, it claims to undertake subcontract work for the US military. They said, “an all-volunteer team consisting of former Special Forces soldiers and other veterans with expertise in Afghanistan” were working with the military to coordinate their rescue efforts.

The purpose, according to Ford, is to evacuate Afghan citizens that the Taliban targeted.

Sayara’s Shadian claimed he only met members of “Operation Flyaway” on Zoom earlier this week. Also, they were beyond happy when they agreed to pay for the flight amid the chaos of the Kabul evacuations.

Raven Advisory CEO Sheffield Ford reported to the AP that to transport the people into the airport, the U.S. government has to be “comfortable with our organization saying these people are OK, and that they have actually done things to help their country, to help our country.”

Also, the tragic suicide attack at the airport on Thursday delayed their efforts. Then, Ford insists that those they are assisting need passports; a relative with whom they can contact, and someone who can vouch for them and has passed a background check. The purpose, according to Ford, is to evacuate Afghan citizens that the Taliban targeted.

“Our focus was the people who wanted to build their country into something great,” he said. “They thought they were going to stay there, with us backing them, for the long haul. It’s going to be women that work in journalism and teachers. It could be the young people and older people who have been very outspoken against the different atrocities committed by the Taliban in the past.”

“It’s about people coming together to help others”

Crowdfunding has shown to be a useful method for mobilizing donations during times of catastrophe. Patricia McIlreavyis the head of the Washington-based Center for Disaster Philanthropy. She also cautions donors against donating to private endeavors through these platforms.

“There’s not necessarily going to be a public report on where these funds went and how they were used, in the way that a nonprofit — or a 501(c)(3) — is required to by law,” she also said.

The GoFundMe campaign likewise claimed it will contribute any remaining funds to the Washington-based International Women’s Media Foundation; even though rescue flights are currently tapering down due to the looming deadline for the US pullout from Afghanistan. The charity helps female journalists. It will use the funding to form partnerships with capable organizations and experts to assist people after reaching the safe ground.

Ford was also in shock by how rapidly GoFundMe was able to raise millions of dollars for these projects.

“It’s about people coming together to help others,” he said. “And it was awesome to see that happen.”

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