Legal Liability Looms For Orgs Behind Rally That Incited Insurrection
Last week, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), ranking member and soon-to-be chair of the Senate Finance Committee, called on IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig to investigate tax-exempt groups that helped organize a January 6th rally that led to the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Sen. Wyden told Rantt Media on Tuesday he has yet to hear back from Rettig or anyone at the IRS. Sen. Wyden said in an email:
“In keeping with the Trump administration’s four-year track record of unresponsiveness and incompetence, the IRS has yet to answer this urgent question of whether it will investigate if tax-exempt organizations betrayed their tax status to plan or incite the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. I will keep pressing the IRS to investigate any tax-exempt organization that may have abused its tax status to help this attack on American democracy.”
Sen. Wyden’s office said it will update Rantt Media if or when the Senator receives a reply to his letter from IRS Commissioner Rettig. The IRS responded to Rantt Media’s inquiry, saying “The IRS will review the letter.” A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of the Treasury told Rantt Media the Department wouldn’t add to the IRS’s comment.
In a letter to Rettig, Wyden wrote on Friday:
“Not only are acts of terrorism or violence committed by an organization grounds for revocation of exempt status, but any 501(c)(3) [or] 501(c)(4) organization that encourages, plans, or supports an illegal act may be subject to revocation.”
Women for America First, classified by the IRS as a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, was the permit holder for a “First Amendment Rally” on January 6th at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., anticipating 30,000 participants in a “March for Trump.”
Women for America First has denied any involvement with the violent insurrection at the Capitol, tweeting: “We are not involved in the storming of the Capitol and do not condone any type of violence.”
Last year, I wrote an exposé for Rantt Media about Women for America First founder and chair Amy Kremer, her Tea Party history, and her Women Vote Smart PAC. At that time, an attorney told me about her nonprofit, “The [website] content raises serious questions about what this organization is doing,” adding, “The IRS could look at this and decide to audit.” And the Federal Election Commission (FEC) had issued a warning letter to Kremer, as treasurer of the PAC, with “Notice of Failure to File.”
Now, with Sen. Wyden calling on the IRS to investigate tax-exempt organizations like Women for America First and Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA, the screws are tightening. As Kaitlan Collins reported for CNN: “Top figures associated with the groups that helped organize [the rally] — including Women for America First and Turning Point Action, the political action committee arm of Turning Point USA — have also voiced private concern about legal repercussions, a person familiar tells CNN.”
Donald Trump spoke at the January 6th rally, whipping supporters into a raging froth with lies about voter fraud and a stolen election. Then, he compelled the mob: “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol,” and “you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”
Women for America First stated in its rally permit: “Some participants may leave to attend rallies at the United States Capitol to hear the results of Congressional certification of the Electoral College Count.” How the group anticipated in advance that participants would be leaving for the Capitol, as Trump urged them to, is unknown.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, was named in the permit as a speaker. In his speech at the rally, Giuliani called for “trial by combat.” He later backpedaled, saying he was just making a reference to a “very famous documentary” called “Game of Thrones.”
Also named in Women for America First January 6th rally permit was Roger Stone. At a rally in D.C. on the night of January 5th, Stone told a crowd: “This is nothing less than an epic struggle for the future of this country between dark and light, between the godly and the godless, between good and evil,” he said. “And we will win this fight or America will step off into a thousand years of darkness. We dare not fail. I will be with you tomorrow shoulder to shoulder.” In December, Trump pardoned Roger Stone.
Women for America First also played a central role in the lead-up to the attack on the Capitol. The New York Times reported:
“A chief sponsor of many rallies leading up to the riot, including the one featuring the president on Jan. 6, was Women for America First, a conservative nonprofit. Its leaders include Amy Kremer, who rose to prominence in the Tea Party movement, and her daughter, Kylie Jane Kremer, 30. She started a “Stop the Steal” Facebook page on Nov. 4. More than 320,000 people signed up in less than a day, but the platform promptly shut it down for fears of inciting violence.”
The spotlight on Women For America First became glaring this week after AP reported that several staffers from the failed Trump presidential campaign were listed on an attachment to the permit, granted by the Trump administration’s Interior Department and National Park Service. (In 2017, I wrote about the Trump administration facilitating a permit for a far-right “free speech rally” on federal land in San Francisco).
Amy Kremer is the founder and chair of Women for America First. She and her nonprofit have come under fire since the attack on the U.S. Capitol. On January 5th, Kremer tweeted that Trump would be joining her group at the rally to “Save America” the following day.
It’s not too late…
— Amy Kremer (@AmyKremer) January 5, 2021
The Trump-Women for America First echo loop was evident in this exchange: Kylie Jane Kremer is Amy Kremer’s daughter, executive director of Women for America First, and was identified as “person in charge” on the permit for the January 6th rally.
She tweeted on December 19th: “The calvary [sic] is coming, Mr. President!” An attachment promoting the “March for Trump” and website TrumpMarch.com said: “The President is calling on us to come back to Washington on January 6th for a big protest — ‘be there, will be wild,’” parroting Trump’s own fateful words.
As The New York Times reported: “‘Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,’ Mr. Trump tweeted on Dec. 19, just one of several of his tweets promoting the day. ‘Be there, will be wild!’”
On January 1st, Trump retweeted Kylie Jane’s “Be there, will be wild,” amplifying with: “A great honor!” On January 8th, Twitter announced the permanent suspension of Trump’s account from its service, “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
The website for TrumpMarch.com now directs to the Women for America First home page.
Another of Kremer’s websites, WomenForTrump.com, is now password protected. After the January 6th events, Rantt Media discovered that a page title on the site, picturing the Kremers with Ivanka Trump in the White House in 2018, was labeled “FBI.” A spokesperson for the FBI responded to Rantt Media’s inquiry, saying the Bureau has no comment.
Ivanka Trump had invited the Kremers to the White House in 2018 after Amy Kremer appeared on Fox & Friends, according to the web page. Trump had tweeted: “Amy Kremer, Women for Trump, was so great on @foxandfriends. Brave and very smart, thank you Amy! @AmyKremer”
Now that he’s not protected by the office of the presidency, it remains a looming question whether Donald Trump will face any legal consequences stemming from the January 6th rally. Kaitlan Collins of CNN reported on-air Tuesday:
“Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle both spoke at that rally and were involved in it. But also the people who organized it who fundraised for it, Women for America First is one of the groups, Turning Point USA is another one. There is a serious concern among the president’s inner circle that there could be real legal exposure from that January 6th rally.”
But groups like Women for America First and Turning Point Action are tax-exempt 501(c)(4) “dark money” groups. They are allowed to participate in political activity and are not required to report donors.
Funding for Women for America First’s bus tour and rally remains enshrouded. But Reuters reported that MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a Trump zealot, had funded the Women for America First bus tour. Lindell “helped sponsor a two-week March for Trump bus tour that ended in Washington on Dec. 14 and spoke at five stops. Lindell said his financial backing of the bus tour ended in mid-December. He emphasized to Reuters that he did not help finance subsequent trips to promote the Jan. 6 rally that would devolve into riots.”
While the IRS grants a wide berth to 501(c)(4)s like Women for America First and Turning Point Action to engage in political activity, IRS code says such social welfare organizations “must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare.” As Wyden’s letter to Rettig underscores, no tax-exempt organization is allowed to play a role in organizing an insurrection.
Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3), so by IRS rules, restricted from participating in political activity. TPUSA told the IRS its mission is “non-partisan debate, dialogue, and discussion,” according to its most recently available IRS filing.
ProPublica reported last year that Kirk’s pay is $300,000 a year, and that “Turning Point USA has entered into questionable financial arrangements.” Nonprofit TPUSA paid no federal income tax on gross proceeds of more than $30 million a year, according to its IRS filing. Turning Point Action, the nonprofit’s PAC arm, spent a little more than $1.5 million supporting candidates Trump, Kelly Loeffler, and David Perdue, in their 2020 losing campaigns for president and senators from Georgia, respectively.
The IRS granted tax-exempt status to Women for America First in February 2020, retroactive to February 2019. America First Policies, another 501(c)(4), chaired by Linda McMahon, a longtime Trump ally and former head of the Small Business Administration, disclosed in 2019 that it contributed to Women for America First. An IRS filing from that year shows McMahon’s group contributed $25,000 to Women for America First, as reported by CNBC.
San Francisco-based attorney Eric Gorovitz told Rantt Media last year that the IRS grants broad leeway to 501(c)(4) organizations like Women for America First to engage in political activities. However, Gorovitz said, “The material suggests there’s good reason to question whether it should qualify for exemption,” concluding, “someone ought to look into this.”
Widespread condemnation of Kremer and her nonprofit Women for America First has intensified after the January 6th insurrection.
The Lincoln Project, a high-profile coalition of Republicans that led a vast swath of conservative voters, helping to usher Joe Biden to victory, has taken aim at Amy Kremer. The group tweeted:
She hasn’t said sorry, in fact she blamed the riots on the media and democrats.
Let’s make sure everyone knows there’s blood on her hands. pic.twitter.com/YitHQFBnHz
— The Lincoln Project (@ProjectLincoln) January 17, 2021
Reed Galen, a co-founder of the Lincoln Project tweeted, calling the Women for America First fundraising site, “Sedition, out loud.”
Fred Wellman, Senior Advisor for Veterans Affairs for the Lincoln Project tweeted: “Is @AmyKremer still fomenting insurrection? Where is the money going? What is their social mission that grants them nonprofit status?”
“Women for Trump,” the group tagged in the tweet by the Lincoln Project, and whose website features the photo of the Kremers with Ivanka Trump in the White House, is a project of Kremer’s Women Vote Smart PAC (formerly called Women Vote Trump). Kremer is co-founder and treasurer of the Women Vote Smart PAC. Kremer’s Women for Trump project is separate from the Trump campaign’s Women for Trump coalition, of which Kremer was not a listed member.
Kremer’s Women Vote Smart PAC is required to file reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The FEC issued a letter to Kremer and her Women Vote Smart PAC last May, warning of “Notice of Failure to File,” as Rantt Media reported at the time.
The FEC has since issued three additional warning letters to Kremer’s PAC, also notices of failure to file. A spokesperson for the FEC emailed Rantt Media earlier this month with an update:
“If the Commission finds reason to believe that a committee has failed to file required reports timely, it may assess civil penalties, which are determined by a pre-existing formula,” adding that “a vote of at least four Commissioners is required to make a final determination to assess administrative fines. After several months of lacking at least four sitting Commissioners, the Commission’s full quorum was restored two weeks ago with the seating of three new Commissioners.”
In 2016, Amy Kremer partnered with Ann Stone, an ex-wife of Roger Stone, to co-found the Women Vote Trump PAC (later renamed Women Vote Smart PAC), with a goal of raising $30 million. In 2017, the Women Vote Trump PAC was nearly $20,000 in debt and had only raised $26,813, according to a CNN KFile report.
Donors to both Kremer’s nonprofit Women for American First and her Women Vote Smart PAC were directed on the groups’ websites to mail their donations to the same Georgia P.O. box, as Rantt Media reported last year. Women for America First is registered with the IRS at a Virginia address. Where donors’ checks go after they arrive in the Georgia P.O. box is unknown.
Heightened scrutiny since the January 6th attack on the Capitol didn’t deter Women for America First from continuing its fundraising efforts, pouring gasoline on the fire with lies about the election. The website “stolenelection.us” was launched on November 4th and featured the hashtag #StopTheSteal. It said: “Along with President Trump, we will do whatever it takes to ensure the integrity of this election for the good of the nation. This is a coalition/team effort. We need boots on the ground to protect the integrity of the vote.”
A link on the site said: “Click here to donate what you can.” The link directed to a fundraising site for Women for America First, also branded with hashtag #StopTheSteal. (Separate from Kremer’s group, Ali Alexander was “architect of the 2020 Stop the Steal movement,” Salon reported.)
The stolenelection.us website was apparently taken down on Wednesday after Rantt Media inquired with the site’s tech contact. Also on Wednesday, after President Biden was inaugurated, Kremer tweeted, clinging to a delusional fever dream: “Trump WON.”
Whether the dawning of the Biden administration will prompt a change of leadership at the IRS is an open question. Ellen P. Aprill, Professor in Tax Law at Loyola Law School at Loyola Marymount University, told Rantt Media: “We tax folk are all waiting with bated breath to see who becomes Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy in the Treasury Department, who will become IRS Chief Counsel, and whether President Biden will decide to replace the Commissioner of Internal Revenue.”
As soon-to-be chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Wyden is likely to continue to pursue this line of investigation. In his letter to Commissioner Rettig, Wyden urged the “IRS, in coordination with other law enforcement agencies to investigate the extent to which tax-exempt organizations were involved in any part of the Capitol insurrection or actions leading up to that event.”
No one from Women for America First has responded to inquiries.