President Donald Trump speaks to his supporters on Jan. 6, 2021. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

At roughly 8:15 a.m. on Jan. 6, 2021, a few hours before President Donald Trump and his allies whipped up thousands of supporters with false claims of election fraud, law enforcement was summoned to the rally grounds to deal with a “possible disorderly.”

The incident threatening to disrupt the event at the Ellipse wasn’t happening in the crowd. It was happening backstage.

A simmering feud between rally organizers, including longtime Trump adviser Katrina Pierson and Republican fundraiser Caroline Wren, over who should speak that day was boiling over, culminating in a call to the U.S. Park Police, according to interviews with people familiar with the incident as well as text messages and police radio recordings reviewed by The Washington Post.

“Hey, can you break one or two bodies free to respond backstage? Possible disorderly,” says an unidentified speaker in a U.S. Park Police radio transmission that morning. The officers in radio communications described a “falling out,” with the person who called the police accusing another rally organizer of “interfering with the entire production.”

The call to police was made by Kylie Jane Kremer, executive director at Women for America First, a pro-Trump group that held the permit for the rally, who was aligned with Pierson in trying to keep some of Wren’s proposed speakers from addressing the crowd. Kremer confirmed in a statement to The Post that she called the Park Police.

Wren, who was listed on the permit for the rally as a “VIP ADVISOR,” had with others organized an initial spreadsheet of potential speakers that included far-right conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones and Ali Alexander, planning documents obtained by The Post show. The final list of Jan. 6 speakers was personally approved by Trump and did not include Jones and Alexander, according to those documents and people involved in the planning, who like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity.

But on the morning of the event, Kremer grew concerned that Wren was rearranging seats and trying to move Jones and Alexander closer to the stage, according to several people involved in the rally. Kremer then called Pierson, who was not yet at the site, and Pierson directed Kremer to call the police, according to people involved with the rally planning. The organizers had also argued over access to VIP credentials.

“Speaking with the complainant. They want her removed from the area, so we’ll be making an attempt to do so,” says a voice on the police recording, which was obtained by The Post from the Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington, which reviewed hours of Park Police radio transmissions from the day of the rally and subsequent attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

What specifically happened when the police arrived remains unclear, but law enforcement described the situation as “resolved” around 8:30 a.m. in their radio communications. A few minutes later, Pierson sent a text to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

“I almost had Caroline Wren escorted off the property,” she wrote in the message reviewed by The Post, later adding, “I was able to keep the crazies off the stage.”

The disagreement over the speaking lineup was reported last year by ProPublica. But the previously unreported Park Police recording and text exchanges reveal more about the tensions and turf battles among Trump supporters jockeying to influence the president as he preached his falsehoods about the election and sought to overturn its results.

The Post’s reporting also shows that the White House was made aware of concerns among Trump allies that some people coming to Washington on Jan. 6 to potentially speak at the rally were too extreme, even for a president who had frequently pushed or crossed the boundaries of traditional political norms. Meadows was repeatedly briefed on the event and even made a request for the programming, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Through a spokesman, Meadows declined to comment. Trump declined to answer questions about his role in the rally. A statement from a spokesman said: “President Trump was asked to speak at the Ellipse rally on January 6 and returned to the White House immediately following his remarks.”

The advance warnings to the White House and the friction between Wren and Pierson and her team have become a focus for the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, as lawmakers try to understand the planning and financing behind the rally, according to multiple people familiar with the panel’s work. Wren worked closely with the biggest publicly known donor to the event, Julie Jenkins Fancelli, who family and friends say was an admirer of Jones.

Wren told organizers ahead of the rally that it was important to feature Alex Jones in order to satisfy Fancelli, according to two people familiar with the conversations. Fancelli had initially planned to attend the rally but ended up not wanting to travel to Washington during the pandemic.

While Pierson privately raised concerns about some of the proposed speakers, she echoed Trump’s false claims of election fraud when she addressed the rally. “You put him right here, in the White House, not once but twice!” she declared, falsely suggesting Trump had won reelection.

Other speakers delivered a similar message, including Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) and members of Trump’s family. Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani called for “trial by combat.” Kremer also spoke briefly, urging the crowd to stand up for Trump.


Trump supporters rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

In a statement about her call to Park Police that morning, Kremer said: “Once we realized that there was a concerted effort to thwart the specific instructions and expectations set by the president himself, I notified the authorities to prevent his event from being overhauled by people who were potentially bad actors. Turns out, some of them were.”

Asked to comment on the events of Jan. 6, Pierson said: “I look forward to the [House Jan. 6 select committee] report along with the exoneration of thousands of law-abiding citizens who participated in a legal, permitted and constitutionally protected rally that had nothing to do with the events that took place at the United States Capitol.”

The Park Police declined to comment.

In a statement early Saturday, Wren did not directly address her actions.

“The fact that the Washington Post thinks it’s readers are more concerned about frivolous infighting among event organizers over a year ago than the Russian invasion of Ukraine this week says everything about how out of touch the mainstream media is today.” She was spotted two hours earlier at a gathering of conservative activists in Orlando wearing a cap that says “SUBPOENAED.”

Pierson, a former Trump campaign aide, was initially brought in to assist with the rally by Wren, according to two people involved in the event. Three days before Jan. 6, Pierson raised concerns to Meadows about Wren’s proposed speakers. She wrote in a text to Meadows: “Caroline Wren has decided to move forward with the original psycho list. So, I’m done. I can’t be a part of embarrassing POTUS any further.”

Pierson later texted that Wren’s tone changed after she told her she was contacting the White House about the issue. “So, I’ll continue to build a proper event,” Pierson texted Meadows.

The following day, Pierson visited the White House to directly discuss the rally with Trump, according to people familiar with the visit.

Pierson wasn’t the only person who raised objections to some of the speakers, according to communications obtained by the committee. Current Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich called some of the proposed speakers “destructive to what the president’s trying to achieve,” said two people familiar with the messages in the panel’s possession. Budowich at the time was an adviser to Donald Trump Jr. Budowich and Trump Jr., through a spokesman, declined to comment.

It’s unclear if or how Meadows responded to Pierson’s concerns about Wren, but text messages reviewed by The Post show he was helping to shape the speakers’ lineup.

Before Pierson’s message about nearly kicking Wren out of the rally, Meadows suggested adding to the lineup Vernon Jones, a Democratic state lawmaker from Georgia who had endorsed Trump and his bogus allegations of a rigged election.

“If you see a dead spot. Vern Jones wants to announce he is changing to Republican. If that works for you and schedule. I am fine with it. No pressure from me. Trust your judgement totally,” Meadows texted Pierson. Jones was added to the schedule.

An initial spreadsheet of potential speakers organized by Wren and others included more than 30 people who had promoted baseless claims about the 2020 election, according to a draft reviewed by The Post. The lineup included pillow magnate Mike Lindell, social media stars Diamond and Silk, former White House aide Sebastian Gorka, podcast host Leo Terrell, lawyer Sidney Powell, right-wing influencer Brandon Straka, longtime Trump ally Roger Stone and other figures from the political fringe.

The House select committee has asked some proposed speakers why they did not speak and who benefited financially from the event, according to two people interviewed by the panel. The committee is interested in whether Wren and others personally profited off fundraising for the rally, and to what degree those financial interests influenced the planning of the event, according to those same people.

Alexander has said he came up with the “Stop the Steal” campaign. He declined to answer questions about the rally, directing a Post reporter to Trump’s new social media platform, Truth Social. Alex Jones has disavowed the violence and claimed that he went to the Capitol to engage in a “peaceful, political rally.” Straka, who spoke at a pro-Trump rally in Washington on Jan. 5, was sentenced last month to three years’ probation and a $5,000 fine for misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

Committee members have asked detailed questions about the financing of the rally, and have sought bank records and other documents from some of the people involved, according to witnesses and other people familiar with their work. Subpoenas have been issued to dozens involved with the rally, including Pierson, Wren and Kremer.

Pierson, Wren and Kremer have all been interviewed by the committee, according to people familiar with the matter.

Wren facilitated the wiring of at least $650,000 from Fancelli, an heiress to the Florida-based Publix grocery store chain, to three groups that helped stage and promote the Jan. 6 rally. In the weeks leading up to the event, Fancelli frequently emailed to her relatives and friends links to Jones’s talk show, according to two people with knowledge of the emails.

Fancelli has also appeared before the committee, according to a person familiar with her cooperation. She did not respond to a request for comment.

Alex Jones spoke to the committee one month ago. “They kept asking me, ‘Who was your White House connection?’ ” Jones said on his Jan. 25 show, referring to the committee’s questions during his deposition, where he said he pleaded the Fifth Amendment “almost 100 times.”

“I knew that Caroline Wren was a big fundraiser. Headed up one of Trump’s PACs … So yes, that was my contact for the 5th and the 6th, was Caroline Wren,” Jones added.

Alex Jones, Alexander and other Trump supporters who were cut from the Jan. 6 list of proposed speakers spoke at a rally at Freedom Plaza the day before. “We have only begun to resist the globalists,” Jones told the crowd. “We have only begun our fight against their tyranny. They have tried to steal this election in front of everyone.”

He added: “I don’t know how this is all going to end, but if they want to fight, they better believe they’ve got one.”

Alexander led the crowd in a chant of “victory or death.”


Alex Jones joins Trump supporters in Washington on Dec. 12, 2020. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

In the middle of the afternoon on Jan. 6, Pierson sent another set of texts to Meadows, according to records gathered by the committee.

“Note: I was able to keep the crazies off the stage,” she texted at 2:40 p.m. “Glad it fought it,” she added.

By that time, the mob of Trump supporters had violently descended on the Capitol.