Trump allies helped plan, promote rally that led to Capitol attack
The president urged a sea of supporters to march to the Capitol.
In the days before a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Wednesday, President Donald Trump's political apparatus worked behind the scenes with pro-Trump groups to plan and promote events in Washington, D.C., that ultimately led to Wednesday's attack on Congress.
Speaking at the "March to Save America" rally at the Ellipse in President's Park on Wednesday, President Trump urged a sea of supporters to march to the Capitol in protest of the Electoral College vote count -- telling the crowd he'd join them but ultimately not doing so -- after delivering a speech pushing baseless and unfounded claims that the election was rigged and telling the rowdy crowd that "you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength."
Trump's order sent thousands of his supporters marching to the Capitol, where some would overpower law enforcement, topple barricades and riot inside the halls of Congress in an unprecedented attack that left five people dead.
While the "March to Save America" rally was publicly promoted as being organized by groups not directly tied to the president's team, including "Women for America First" and "Stop the Steal," behind the scenes White House staff and close allies of the president, including former Trump campaign staff, worked with the organizers to plan and promote the events on Wednesday that would ultimately erupt into the deadly storming of the Capitol, sources said.
A permit for the rally submitted by "Women for America First" Executive Director Kylie Jane Kremer -- the daughter of the group's founder, former Tea Party activist Amy Kremer -- was approved on January 4. The permit stated that the event would take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with 30,000 attendees, according to documents obtained by ABC News.
"Women for America First" is a nonprofit 501(c)4 organization that was founded in 2019. Since the November election, the group has taken the lead in organizing events, bus tours, and protests challenging the results of the election, which often feature members of the president's campaign and family.
Sources tell ABC News that many staffers who had worked on the president's 2020 campaign were involved in setting up and taking down the event space, including the stage on the National Mall. The Trump campaign denied that any active members of its team were involved in the planning of the rally, telling ABC News in a statement, "We did not organize, operate or finance this event. No campaign staff was involved in the organization or operation of this event. If any former employees or independent contractors for the campaign worked on this event, they did not do so at the direction of the Trump campaign."
Following the attack on the Capitol, "Women for America First" posted a statement on its website from Kremer denouncing the violence and distancing itself from any responsibility.
"We unequivocally denounce violence of any type and under any circumstances." the statement read. "We are saddened and disappointed at the violence that erupted on Capitol Hill, instigated by a handful of bad actors, that transpired after the rally."
"Unfortunately, for months the left and the mainstream media told the American people that violence was an acceptable political tool. They were wrong. It is not. We stand by and strongly support the men and women of the Capitol Hill police and law enforcement in general and our organization played absolutely no role in the unfortunate events that transpired," Kremer's statement said. "What is truly sad, is that the misdeeds of a handful of people will overshadow the overwhelming success of the peaceful event -- attended by hundreds of thousands of Americans -- that we sponsored today. The movement that was launched by President Donald J. Trump is one that respects the rule of law, supports our law enforcement and believes that violence has no place in politics today."
Kremer and "Women for America First" did not respond to ABC News' request for comment. The group has not disclosed its funding, and unlike other political committees that are required to disclose donors to the Federal Election Commission, its 501(c)4 status means it is not required by law to disclose its donors. A disclosure reviewed by ABC News that was filed to the FEC shows that "Women for America First" donated $19,000 in February 2019 to a super PAC called "Women Vote Smart," which supported Rep. Greg Murphy, R-N.C.
On a private call following the election, the Trump campaign called on outside surrogates and organizers to be ready to put on events and show public support for the president, according to audio obtained by ABC News.
"At a moment's instance, we may need your help at protests in your state to make sure that the president is represented and our side of the argument shows," Trump Campaign Manager Bill Stepien said on the call. "At a moment's notice, we may need your help and support on the ground, you know, waving the flag and yelling the president's name and support."
Trump first promoted the event in mid-December before he was announced as a speaker. His participation wasn't publicly announced until just days before the rally. Beyond the president himself promoting the rally weeks ahead of January 6, his campaign also used its large social media presence to boost the rally to millions of followers on Twitter and Facebook.
On "Good Morning America" Friday, Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine said his office will investigate those who incited Wednesday's violence, including President Trump.
"Clearly, the Capitol was ground central in the mob's behavior. Donald Trump Jr, Rudy Giuliani, even the president were calling on supporters and hate groups to go to the Capitol, and in Rudy's words, 'exercise combat justice,'" said Racine. "We're going to investigate not only the mob, but those who incited the violence."
Since the November election, the president's campaign has significantly trimmed down its staff despite massive fundraising hauls, and has largely leaned on the behind-the-scenes help of outside groups like "Women for America First" and "Stop the Steal," a pro-Trump group contesting the 2020 election results, to conduct events that show support for the president following his loss.
A short time before President Trump spoke at the rally, a video posted on Facebook by Donald Trump Jr. showed the president, surrounded by aides and family members including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and top adviser Dan Scavino, surveying the crowd.
Online, a "March to Save America" event page showed plans for protesters to head to the Capitol following the president's speech.
"Take a stand with President Trump and the #StopTheSteal coalition and be at The Ellipse (President's Park) at 7 am. The fate of our nation depends on it. At 1:00 PM, we will march to the US Capitol building to protest the certification of the Electoral College," the event signup page read.
A flyer was also circulated online by the group "Stop the Steal" showing a planned protest at the Capitol following the president's remarks.
And as the protesters swarmed the Capitol, "Stop the Steal" national organizer Ali Alexander posted a video of himself overlooking a sea descending onto the nation's capital saying, "I don't disavow this. I do not denounce this."