The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rallies ahead of Capitol riot were planned by established Washington insiders

Supporters of President Trump gather at D.C.’s Freedom Plaza on Jan. 5. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

The fiery rallies that preceded the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were organized and promoted by an array of established conservative insiders and activists, documents and videos show.

The Republican Attorneys General Association was involved, as were the activist groups Turning Point Action and Tea Party Patriots. At least six current or former members of the Council for National Policy (CNP), an influential group that for decades has served as a hub for conservative and Christian activists, also played roles in promoting the rallies.

The two days of rallies were staged not by white nationalists and other extremists, but by well-funded nonprofit groups and individuals that figure prominently in the machinery of conservative activism in Washington.

The Post obtained hours of video footage, some exclusively, and placed it within a digital 3-D model of the building. (Video: The Washington Post)

In recent days, as federal authorities rounded up those involved in the Capitol riot, promoters and participants of the rallies have denounced the violence and sought to distance their events from the events that followed.

“I support the right of Americans to peacefully protest,” wrote Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), “but the violence and destruction we are seeing at the U.S. Capitol is unacceptable and un-American.”

Organizing warm-up events is not the same thing as plotting to invade the Capitol. But before the rallies, some used extreme rhetoric, including references to the American Revolution, and made false claims about the election to rouse supporters to challenge President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

Unless Congress responds to the protests, “everyone can guess what me and 500,000 others will do to that building,” tweeted Ali Alexander, a former CNP fellow who organized the “Stop the Steal” movement. “1776 is *always* an option.”

On Jan. 5, at Freedom Plaza in D.C., Alexander led protesters in a chant of “Victory or death.”

Alexander did not respond to a request for comment for this story. He previously told The Washington Post that he had “remained peaceful” during the riot and said his earlier speeches “mentioned peace” and were being misrepresented.

“Conflating our legally, peaceful permitted events with the breach of the US Capitol building is defamatory and false,” he said in an email to The Post. “People are being misled and then those same people are fomenting violence against me and my team.”

In the days and hours before the riots, Alexander and his allies attracted tens of thousands of protesters from around the country — a crowd that included white supremacists, Christian activists and even local police officers.

Events included a “Patriot Caravan” of buses to Washington, a “Save the Republic” rally on Jan. 5 and a “Freedom Rally” on the morning of Jan. 6. A little-known nonprofit called Women for America First, a group run by Trump supporters and former tea party activists, got approval to use space on the Ellipse for what they called a “March for Trump,” according to the “public gathering permit” issued on Jan. 5.

Nearly a dozen political activists — including former White House, congressional and Trump campaign staffers — served as on-site rally coordinators and stage managers, the permit said. A spokesperson for Women for America First did not respond to requests for comment.

The Post’s Devlin Barrett outlines the potential charges President Trump and his legal team may face for inciting a mob to breach the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (Video: The Washington Post)

Scheduled speakers included Roger Stone, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Simone Gold, founder of America’s Frontline Doctors, a start-up group that condemned government shutdowns to contain the coronavirus. Gold was among the protesters who entered the Capitol, according to an FBI flier with her photo.

Gold told The Post she went into the Capitol but thought it was legal to do so.

“I do regret being there,” she said.

On Jan. 5, the attorneys general group, which is based in Washington, used an affiliated nonprofit called the Rule of Law Defense Fund to pay for a robocall that urged supporters to march on the Capitol at 1 p.m. on Jan. 6 to “call on Congress to stop the steal.” A recording of the robocall was first obtained by Documented, a left-leaning watchdog group.

“We are hoping patriots like you will join us to continue the fight,” a recording of the call says.

On Monday, as criticism of the robocall mounted, RAGA Executive Director Adam Piper resigned. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Tea Party Patriots leader Jenny Beth Martin also condemned the violence and said in a statement to The Post that her group provided no financial support for the rally. “We are shocked, outraged, and saddened at the turn of events Wednesday afternoon,” Martin’s statement said. “We are heartbroken.”

Martin, also an executive committee member at CNP, was listed in promotional material as a rally speaker, though she did not ultimately speak. The Tea Party Patriots were listed as a “coalition partner” with Alexander’s Stop the Steal, RAGA and other groups.

“The rally was peaceful. You cannot blame what happened inside the Capitol on the promotion,” said Jason Jones, a CNP member and rally participant, who said he was there to speak about oppressed people around the world. He called the violence “sorrowful and tragic” but said it represented “a failure of policing and preparation.”

CNP Executive Director Bob McEwen said his group, a registered charity, does not get involved in political activity and had no role in the Jan. 6 events. He said CNP members and associates act independently. “What they do on their own time — I won’t say I don’t care — we have no interest or capacity to monitor,” McEwen said.

Charlie Kirk, the leader of Turning Point USA, an organizer of conservative students, and Turning Point Action, its activist arm, also condemned the violence and called Jan. 6 “a really sad day for America,” according to a spokesman.

Before the rally, Kirk — a featured speaker at CNP meetings over the past two years and at the Republican National Convention in August — offered to pay for buses and hotel rooms for protesters.

“This historic event will likely be one of the largest and most consequential in American history,” he wrote in a tweet. “The team at @TrumpStudents & Turning Point Action are honored to help make this happen, sending 80+ buses full of patriots to DC to fight for this president.”

That tweet has been deleted. A spokesman said that Kirk eventually sent a half-dozen buses and that the student protesters had nothing to do with the violence.

In a video posted in late December, Alexander claimed he worked with three lawmakers — Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) — on an unspecified plan to disrupt election ratification deliberations at the Capitol.

“We four schemed up of putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting,” Alexander said in a since-deleted video on Periscope highlighted by the Project on Government Oversight, an investigative nonprofit.

In a statement, Biggs denied meeting Alexander. Gosar did not respond to requests for comment from The Post. Brooks’s office said in a statement that he “has no recollection of ever communicating in any way with whoever Ali Alexander is.”

Brooks, first elected to Congress a decade ago, has been among the most vocal of lawmakers in condemning the election. In a podcast interview last month with Sebastian Gorka, a former strategist in the Trump White House, Brooks said he was working to delay certification of the electoral college tally as part of “an organic movement.”

“The question is really simple. Are you as an American citizen going to surrender in the face of unparalleled, massive voter fraud and election theft?” he said. “Or are you going to do what your ancestors did and fight for your country, your republic?”

The election results have been certified in all 50 states, and courts across the nation have rejected challenges brought by the president’s campaign and his allies. Shortly after the vote, a senior cybersecurity official in the Trump administration described it as “the most secure election in American history.”

In a statement Tuesday, Brooks said he is the victim of a “smear campaign.”

He said that a White House official asked him to appear at the Jan. 6 rally. “I was not encouraging anyone to engage in violence,” the statement said.

Other establishment conservatives who condoned the protests include Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and listed last year as a CNP Action board member, who praised rallygoers in tweets.

“LOVE MAGA people!!!!” she tweeted early in the morning on Jan. 6. “GOD BLESS EACH OF YOU STANDING UP or PRAYING.”

Ginni Thomas did not respond to requests for comment.

Since the early 1980s, CNP has served as a bridge between Washington’s establishment conservatives and scores of Christian and right-wing groups across the nation. It convenes closed-door meetings for members and wealthy donors at least twice a year. CNP officials and their allies met weekly with White House officials under President Trump, in part to coordinate public messaging about the administration’s agenda, internal videos show. Trump spoke to the group in August.

Vice President Pence praised the group in a letter obtained by The Post, saying last year that “I just wanted to thank you and the Council for National Policy for your support and for consistently amplifying the agenda of President Trump.”

McEwen told The Post his group serves only as a venue for conservative speakers and does not coordinate the activity of members.

In one meeting last summer, a CNP member warned that a “civil war” would result if Trump lost the election to predicted fraud, according to internal videos obtained by The Post.

In websites promoting the rallies, Alexander’s Stop the Steal coalition urged protesters to “take to” the Capitol steps “to make sure that Congress does not certify the botched Electoral College,” according to webpages that have been removed.

Another coalition webpage featured a 36-page election analysis by Trump adviser Peter Navarro, a speaker at CNP in May 2019. It claimed that Trump’s loss was a statistical impossibility and was due to a “whitewash” by journalists and politicians. Navarro warned about “putting into power an illegitimate and illegal president.”

He did not respond to requests for comment.

One of those behind the rallies was Arina Grossu, an antiabortion activist listed as a contract outreach coordinator for a religious freedom office at the Department of Health and Human Services, according to HHS promotional material and an agency directory.

Grossu was co-founder of Jericho March, one of the coalition partners that organized the Jan. 6 rallies. In December, her group described some protesters against the election as a “prayer army” that would take the case before “the Courts of heaven, the Supreme Court, and the court of public opinion seeking truth and justice in this election.”

“The blatant fraud and corruption in this election is overwhelming and it cries out to God for justice. We the People demand answers and accountability,” she said in a posting online that has since been removed. “We serve a mighty God who can restore truth and justice in our land.”

Grossu did not respond to requests for comment. An HHS spokeswoman declined to provide Grossu’s employment status.

In a statement after the riot, her group said that it “never will condone violence or destruction” and that its mission is “peace and prayer.”

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The Jan. 6 insurrection

The report: The Jan. 6 committee released its final report, marking the culmination of an 18-month investigation into the violent insurrection. Read The Post’s analysis about the committee’s new findings and conclusions.

The final hearing: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held its final public meeting where members referred four criminal charges against former president Donald Trump and others to the Justice Department. Here’s what the criminal referrals mean.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6. Here’s what we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6.