How a man with a meme account raised over $5 million to fund rescue missions in Afghanistan

A meme artist whose meme account goes by the name @quentin.quarantino raised over $5 million to help people in Afghanistan. (GoFundMe)
A meme artist whose meme account goes by the name @quentin.quarantino raised over $5 million to help people in Afghanistan. (GoFundMe)

Tommy Marcus started the meme account @quentin.quarantino on the first day of New York City's coronavirus lockdown on March 13, 2020, as a way to cope with the "absurdity" of the pandemic, the quarantine to come and the mixed feelings of people across the globe. Little did the 25-year-old living in New York City know that just over a year later the Instagram account would be used for the greater good by raising millions of dollars to save lives in Afghanistan.

"I have built a really emotional bond with my audience over the past year and a half, and it was only natural to step in and help," Marcus tells Yahoo Life of his latest fundraising efforts, which aim to fund emergency flight rescues for Afghans at risk. "I decided I would do something to help Afghanistan last week, but it took a lot of research, vetting, phone calls, Zooms, to figure out the right effort with the most just cause."

It was on Tuesday that people across the world gained insight into the conflict in Afghanistan, as the Taliban seized power in the country just two weeks after the United States withdrew troops after a two-decade war. Days prior, however, Marcus was already using his Instagram platform to speak out about the imminent risk to Afghan citizens and even shared his thoughts in a post "liked" by over 55,000 people.

"We should all be mourning for the Afghani citizens, specifically young women and former military aides to the US, whose futures are completely shattered and lives are in immediate danger," he wrote.

Related video: U.S. soldiers advocate rescuing Afghan police ally

Instead of just speaking out about the conflict, however, Marcus was putting an action plan into place that he would introduce to his following just two days later in the form of a GoFundMe link. "Almost to the point of launching the fundraiser," he wrote in another Instagram post while asking that people turn their post notifications on. "This is a direct rescue effort that I am personally involved in the coordination of, and there have been a lot of hurdles that we are now passed [sic]. Thank you all for your patience and willingness."

Moments later, he posted a screenshot of the fundraising campaign urging followers to "donate and share" along with a link in the account's bio.

Overnight, his cause had already raised more than $2 million. As of Wednesday afternoon, donations are above $5.1 million, which will allow for over 3,300 Afghans to be safely rescued from Kabul via plane.

"The money is going to saving Afghans who are at high-risk of being executed by the Taliban and to set them up with new lives," Marcus explains. "We have over 100 military veterans, in addition to humanitarian aid groups and nonprofits working with us to ensure this happens."

The mission is a big one for a 25-year-old to undertake — the GoFundMe details all the specifics that Marcus has worked countless hours to coordinate — but it isn't his first time taking on a national or international cause and raising substantial money.

"My first fundraiser was a three-day fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, which raised $1.2 million. All of my fundraisers have raised at least six figures," he says. "As of writing this, I have raised close to $7 million in 2021."

And while quentin.quarantino is still a relatively new platform, Marcus had previously grown a following on another meme account @unhinged, where he was able to gain an understanding of the power that can be leveraged on social media.

"I’ve been making memes for four years, and as a very politically oriented person and an advocate for many social justice causes, [creating this new account] was a natural fit," he says. "Once the virus became political, I felt a need to use my platform to speak out for causes I believed in for the good of our country and the world."

As for what he'll use the quentin.quarantino account for in the future, Marcus doesn't have any set plans.

"I just want to continue making a positive impact on the world," he says. "This Afghanistan effort is not going to be over for a while — we are aiming to save everyone we possibly can."