A web of pro-Trump dark money groups helped organize the rally that led to a deadly riot on Capitol Hill.
During the rally on Wednesday, President Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to march to the steps of Congress to protest the results of the Electoral College vote that certified Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election.
“We’re going to walk down to the Capitol and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them,” Trump said at the rally just in front of the White House before the riot started. After the rally, Trump supporters marched to the steps of Congress and broke into the U.S. Capitol building.
At least five people have been pronounced dead, including a police officer. Though the Justice Department has said Trump himself is not expected to be charged, acting D.C. U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin had previously acknowledged he’s “looking at all actors” that had a role in Wednesday’s attack.
Trump is currently embroiled in yet another potential impeachment inquiry following the riot. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that unless the president resigns, the House will move ahead with a motion for impeachment.
The rally, officially known as the “March to Save America,” was largely organized by a 501(c)(4) group known as Women for America First. The organization was certified by the Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit that can engage in limited political activities. These groups are known as dark money organizations as they do not publicly disclose their donors.
However, America First Polices, a pro-Trump policy advocacy dark money group, did disclose in 2019 that they contributed to Women for America First. America First’s 990 disclosure form from that year shows they contributed $25,000 to Women for America First.
America First Policies, which is also a 501(c)(4) that does not disclose its donors, is chaired by Linda McMahon, a longtime Trump ally and former head of the Small Business Administration. The 2019 filing shows America First Policies ended up raising over $30 million. They were not involved with the planning of the rally itself.
Women for America First is chaired by Amy Kremer, a longtime political operative that was once the head of the Tea Party Express, an organization that was created to support the conservative Tea Party movement. Kylie Jane Kremer, the executive director of Women for Trump, is named on the rally’s permit as the person in charge. The permit was first obtained by The Washingtonian.
The permit for the event says that the anticipated number of attendees was 5,000 people. Yet, in Women for Trump’s denunciation of the violence that took place on Capitol Hill, they say that “hundreds of thousands of Americans” came to Washington to attend their rally.
Women for America First’s Facebook pages show they were calling on supporters to be part of what they described as a “caravan” to Washington for the event. A recent post says to meet at an address in Virginia on Jan. 5, the day before the now infamous rally, to “join the caravan to D.C.” There’s a picture of a bus with their logo on it and, though it notes they are not providing transportation, they encourage people to follow the bus.
A post on Jan. 5 shows a video of what appears to be from within a bus part of the “caravan.” In the post, a woman says they had an escort going into Washington D.C. and called on people to attend the upcoming rally.
“Send the word. We’re rallying tomorrow. It’s in front of the White House… that way they don’t have to go far to see us, ” the woman holding the camera says. “It’s going to be epic,” she adds.
Women for America First’s executive director promoted the rally through a Twitter post that has been retweeted over 16,000 times and, she notes that it was shared by the president himself. Trump had over 80 million followers before he was permanently banned from Twitter on Friday.
Both leaders and a spokesman for the group did not return requests for comment.
The permits also give a glimpse into the expense of the event.
From Jan. 2 through Jan. 5, organizers were involved with setting up lighting, tents, flooring, bike racks, chairs and decor, all for Trump’s speech on Jan. 6. The listed production vendor was Event Strategies, a company that was founded by Tim Unes. On the company website, Unes is credited with producing Trump’s 2015 “campaign announcement tour” and later joined the campaign as a deputy director of advance.
On their list of clients is the Trump campaign, the executive office of the White House and other presidential campaigns, including Sen. Mitt Romney’s, R-Utah.
Data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics shows that Trump’s reelection campaign paid Event Strategies over $1 million throughout the 2020 election cycle. Other pro-Trump groups also paid for the vendors production services.
Women for Trump were involved with setting up a backstage area, the permit says. According to video obtained by CNBC, those backstage included the president, Donald Trump Jr., his girlfriend and Trump campaign advisor Kimberly Guilfoyle, his brother Eric Trump and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Many behind the scenes were laughing and dancing before the festivities ensued.
Beyond Women for America First, there were other outside groups involved in encouraging people to go to the rally.
NBC News reported that the policy arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, sent out robocalls encouraging people to march on the U.S. Capitol.
“At 1 p.m., we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,” said the voice on the recording, according to NBC. The calls did not call for violence.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who leads the policy arm, has said the calls were made without his go-ahead and that he’s initiated an internal review.
The Republican Attorneys General Association raised over $18 million in 2020.