That’s how Amy Kremer greeted the thousands of Trump supporters she had helped gather at the Ellipse in Washington, DC, on January 6 to “stop the steal.” Resplendent onstage in a bold leopard-print shawl, with the White House rising up behind her, the former flight attendant had come a long way since she and another Georgia woman, Jenny Beth Martin, became known as the “founding mothers” of the tea party movement back in 2009.
During the heyday of the grassroots conservative movement that had sprung up to oppose President Barack Obama, Kremer had headlined cross-country bus tours stumping for candidates like Christine (“I’m not a witch”) O’Donnell and fighting against the Affordable Care Act. The tea party had helped elect hardcore conservatives who blew up immigration reform and took down former Republican House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for insufficient conservatism.
But six months into the life of the movement, the two women split up, and this was before a bitter legal dispute—over tactics and money and salacious rumors—that lasted for years. As the Republican Party absorbed and institutionalized their movement, Martin successfully embedded in the Washington GOP establishment while Kremer kept trying to recapture the outsider energy of those early glory days.
Her efforts culminated in a 27-city March for Trump bus tour kicked off in late November and backed by thousands of dollars in donations from MAGA diehards like MyPillow founder Mike Lindell and Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist. “We’ve got to take to the streets and demand election integrity,” the tour website exclaimed. “If they can steal this election from President Trump, we’ll never get our freedom back.” Like the pied piper, Kremer schlepped from Florida to California, luring supporters to DC for the Save America rally on the early January day that Congress was set to certify the election. And come they did.
“You know, this president hasn’t asked for much from us,” Kremer told the cheering Trump supporters that day. “He’s asked us for our vote, and he asked us to show up today. And I don’t think he’s gonna be disappointed!” As one of the defeated president’s most loyal cheerleaders, she landed on the same stage as him. (Martin, while present at the rally, was in the audience.) But Kremer’s moment of defiance presaged something more ominous, as thousands of rally attendees, some carrying Confederate flags or dressed in tactical gear, marched to the Capitol and set off a riot that left five people dead and the country reeling.
In the decade since it began, the tea party movement has united several disparate strains of right-wing extremists—Islamophobes, nativists, paramilitaries, Christian and white nationalists—under a single banner. The movement triggered by the election of the first Black president “blew down all the barriers” once separating these groups, says Devin Burghart, the executive director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, who has studied the tea party since its inception. It “created a mass movement for this far-right activity that has been successful at moving ideas about white victimhood and white dispossession into the mainstream of American politics.”
Though they took different paths to January 6, together Kremer and Martin’s story reveals the larger tale of how the tea party surged, faded, and then mutated into a diehard pro-Trump operation instrumental in the radicalization of the Republican Party.
“I come from the tea party movement, and I’m asked all the time: What happened to the tea party?” Kremer told the crowd at the Ellipse. “Well, we’re still here. We just grew and morphed into something bigger and better—the MAGA movement. And I am convinced that were it not for the tea party movement, we would not have the president Donald J. Trump today.”
The seeds of the Capitol insurrection were planted on February 19, 2009, when, less than a month after Obama’s inauguration, Jenny Beth Martin happened to hear CNBC contributor Rick Santelli on her car radio. He was ranting from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange about the administration’s plan to bail out homeowners at risk of foreclosure—or, as he called them, “losers.” “This is America!” he shouted. “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgages [when they have] an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?”
Martin was primed for this message. A graduate of the University of Georgia and the daughter of a Methodist minister, she’d been involved in Republican politics for years, volunteering for Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and later working as a GOP consultant. For about eight years, her husband, Lee, had owned a company that supplied temporary workers to local businesses. The company went belly up in 2007, court records show, and the Martins filed for bankruptcy. In 2009, they were more than $1.4 million in debt. Lee owed the IRS $1 million and more than $172,000 to Georgia’s tax authorities. The Martins eventually lost their home and their twin Lincoln Navigators.
Their own economic calamity did not make the Martins more sympathetic to the victims of the Great Recession. “The contrast hit me hard,” Martin wrote in the 2012 book she co-authored with Mark Meckler (now the interim CEO of Parler), Tea Party Patriots: The Second American Revolution. “While my husband and I cleaned our neighbors’ bathrooms to pay our bills, our taxes were being spent by our government to pay for the mortgages of people who could not, or would not, pay their bills.”
So when Santelli announced, “We’re thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July!” Martin decided to join a couple dozen like-minded people on a conference call the next day. A little more than a week later, Martin had organized the first Atlanta tea party, where 500 people showed up to protest in the rain. Across the country, more than three dozen tea party events drew more than 30,000 people.
On that conference call, Martin met Kremer, a suburban Atlanta mom with a “Nobama ’08” magnet on her car. The daughter of a union pipefitter, Kremer had attended Auburn University, got pregnant at 19, and divorced four years later. Before making a career out of the tea party, she worked in real estate and as a Delta flight attendant.
By the time the two women met, Kremer’s daughter, Kylie, had gone off to college, and Kremer “had this empty space in my life,” she later told the Wall Street Journal. A huge Sarah Palin fan, she had started a political blog, Southern Belle Politics, where she wrote extensively about her hatred of Obama and his “big government and socialist programs.” She was an early proponent of the birther conspiracy theory and described the future president as a “master scam artist.”
“I truly do not think Barack Obama is eligible to be President of this great country,” she wrote in an October 2008 post. “If he is eligible and really doesn’t have anything to hide, then why not just produce the vault copy of his birth certificate and put the issue to rest?”
After Obama won, Kremer blogged about her hopes that members of Congress or Vice President Dick Cheney would refuse to certify the Electoral College vote. “Unfortunately,” she wrote, “none of them have any balls!”
The tea party movement focused Kremer’s anger. An early adopter of social media, she recognized the potential of harnessing the hundreds of disparate tea party groups under a single organization, which she dubbed Tea Party Patriots (TPP). She created a website and social network accounts to connect tea partiers across the country. In June 2009, Kremer, Martin, and Meckler officially incorporated Tea Party Patriots as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, a designation that allowed the group to raise and spend money on politics without disclosing its donors. They adopted the slogan “100% Grassroots, 100% of the Time.” Their mission statement: “Fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free market economic policies.”
Tea Party Patriots vaulted Martin and Kremer into the national spotlight. Time named Martin one of its 100 most influential people for turning a fledgling organization into a powerhouse that claimed 15 million members and 1,800 local chapters. “A mother of young twins, she blogs about clipping coupons, her household menu plans and her family’s battle with bankruptcy, which had Martin cleaning houses to make ends meet when the Tea Party began brewing,” the magazine gushed in 2010.
In 2012, Tea Party Patriots, Inc. took in $20 million, and Martin’s salary from the nonprofit had jumped from almost nothing to nearly $300,000. Under her direction, it evolved into an interconnected network of nonprofits including the original 501(c)(4), and the Tea Party Patriots Foundation, a traditional 501(c)(3) charity. Despite early promises never to get involved in elections, in 2012 it also formed a super-PAC, a political action committee allowed to accept unlimited corporate contributions and spend unlimited amounts to influence elections.
Tea Party Patriots intended to use its super-PAC to push the party to the right by challenging establishment Republicans, including Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). After raising $14 million for the 2014 midterm elections, much of it from small donors, it spent all but 10 percent on administration and fundraising. Martin, as the super-PAC’s chair, was paid $15,000 a month for “strategy consulting.” There’s nothing illegal about a super-PAC spending most of its money on nonpolitical expenditures—conservative politics is riddled with such groups. Nonetheless, a lot of tea party activists weren’t happy about Martin’s dive into the Washington swamp.
“She was in debt…and then all of a sudden figured out how to make a big fat salary,” Aaron Park, a GOP consultant and self-described “right-wing wacko,” told me. Park had encountered Martin during the early days of the tea party movement in California and had blogged critically of her use of grassroots donations. “I have to tip my cap to her. She found the right niche at the right place, at the right time, and she was able to do very well for herself.”
Kremer, meanwhile, had long since broken with Martin. Just months after Tea Party Patriots incorporated in 2009, she participated in a bus tour organized by Tea Party Express (TPE), a rival group run by California political consultant Sal Russo. It was funded through a PAC that spent most of its donations on Russo’s consulting firm. Its chair, talk radio host Mark Williams, had been an outspoken Obama critic, calling the country’s first Black president a Nazi, a half-white racist, and an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare fraud. He once referred to President Jimmy Carter as a “creepy little faggot.”
Martin viewed Tea Party Express with disdain, deriding it as “five people on a bus.” Yet Kremer boarded it and came back “a changed person,” as she told the Wall Street Journal. She found that she loved public speaking. “I didn’t need to stand in the shadows of Jenny Beth Martin,” she said. “I felt good about myself.”
Tea Party Patriots ousted her in September 2009 for what its leadership considered to be her betrayal, but she didn’t go quietly. Kremer claimed ownership of the group’s intellectual property: its name, website, and lucrative email lists. Martin and the rest of the board sued her, eventually winning an injunction barring her from using the Tea Party Patriots accounts or trademark.
The animosity—and the litigation—between the two women ballooned when Kremer officially joined Tea Party Express as director of grassroots and coalitions. At her urging, TPE backed Republican congressional challengers like O’Donnell in Delaware, Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and Sharron Angle in Nevada. In 2010, Williams resigned under pressure for writing a racist blog post, which fueled criticism that the tea party movement was really a racially motivated response to the country’s first Black president rather than a genuine call for fiscal responsibility. Kremer took over. Like Martin’s group, TPE cashed in on its supporters’ enthusiasm, raising $10 million in the 2012 election cycle but spending only $681,000 on political campaigns, including more than $150,000 on the very non–tea party candidate Mitt Romney.
TPE raised $12 million in 2014, the year Kremer left to work on the ill-fated Kentucky Senate campaign of Matt Bevin, who ran an unsuccessful primary challenge against McConnell. Three years later, she jumped into the Georgia Republican primary to fill the congressional seat vacated by Rep. Tom Price, who had left to become Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services. Two months before the special election, Kremer’s staff quit en masse, claiming that she couldn’t pay them. Even with an endorsement from Fox News host Sean Hannity, Kremer raised only $19,852 for the race—$15,000 of which was her own money. She won 351 votes, or 0.18 percent of the total.
Through it all, the battle between Kremer and Tea Party Patriots continued, but with some unusual plot twists.
Let’s back up to October 2010, when someone named “Dale Butterworth” posted shocking statements about Kremer on the Tea Party Patriots’ Facebook page. Butterworth claimed falsely that Kremer’s live-in boyfriend (now husband), James Lyle, had raped Kremer’s daughter when she was a minor, and that Kremer kicked her daughter out of the house when she reported the assault to the police. “Would you side with a child molester over your own daughter to keep a roof over your head?” he wrote.
It was pretty well known in tea party circles that Lee Martin used the name Dale Butterworth to post comments, including at MotherJones.com, sometimes falsely accusing activists who’d been critical of the Tea Party Patriots of having extramarital affairs. Lawyers for Kremer got Facebook to confirm his use of this name, and in 2011, Kremer, her daughter, and Lyle filed libel lawsuits against the Martins and Tea Party Patriots.
TPP eventually settled with Kylie Kremer in 2013. But Amy Kremer and the Martins seemed ready to litigate to the death. In his deposition, Lee Martin said he’d called Kremer a “bitch” and that he and Jenny Beth referred to her as a “fail whale.” He also admitted making the false Facebook posting to discredit Kremer and Tea Party Express, which he and the TPP board considered competitors for the same pool of donor money. (The litigation also dragged in several political reporters, including me, when Martin’s lawyer asked Kremer to turn over emails and other communications with us.)
In 2017, a jury in Georgia awarded Lyle $833,000 in damages from Lee Martin and TPP. The final judgment also required the “stubbornly litigious” TPP to pay Lyle an additional $200,000 for his legal fees.
The verdict was a huge victory for Kremer, but it was short-lived. By now, the Martins had divorced, and Jenny Beth had been dropped as a defendant. Nevertheless, the judgment created an expensive problem for TPP. At the request of Lyle’s lawyers, the judge required the group to post a $1 million bond if it wanted to appeal the verdict. So instead of just paying up, appealing, or even filing bankruptcy to avoid paying the court judgment, TPP started diverting donations to another organization controlled by Martin.
Not long after the verdict, anyone hitting the “donate” button at TeaPartyPatriots.org was instead sending money to the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, the super-PAC that was not a party to the lawsuit. When Lyle’s lawyers discovered the diversion, they protested in a court filing that “Tea Party Patriots Inc. is ensuring that there will be no money left to satisfy Lyle’s judgment.”
And that’s exactly what happened. According to IRS filings, contributions to Tea Party Patriots dropped from more than $9 million in 2016 to little more than $200,000 in 2018. The original nonprofit was essentially a corporate shell with a $1 million liability on the books. But that was far from the end of Tea Party Patriots.
Martin had diversified her portfolio, courting what the Christian Coalition founder Ralph Reed dubbed “teavangelicals.” Martin steered her group into coalitions with evangelical groups like Concerned Women for America and Heritage Action—the advocacy arm of the right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation. She also joined the Council for National Policy, a secretive network of powerful religious conservatives instrumental in staffing the Trump administration and stacking the federal judiciary with conservative anti-abortion judges.
Thanks to these ties, when Tea Party Patriots was hit with the $1 million libel judgment, Martin had experienced political operatives ready to help. One was former NRA board member and lawyer Cleta Mitchell, who would later be on the line when Trump called Georgia’s Secretary of State in January 2021 to pressure him to “find” the votes to flip the election.
Mitchell filed an application for tax-exempt status for a new group, Tea Party Patriots Action, in 2017. Its chief financial officer is Neil Corkery, a familiar name in the world of DC dark money—political spending whose funders are hidden from disclosure. Corkery and his wife, both conservative Catholics, have long been involved in the anti-abortion movement, as well as in funding judicial nomination fights through secretive nonprofits like the Judicial Crisis Network, which spent nearly $10 million promoting the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Soon after Mitchell filed the new nonprofit application, donations made at TeaPartyPatriots.org were directed to the new entity, which raised $2 million in its first year, according to tax filings. None of it went to pay Lyle.
It’s illegal to divert assets to avoid paying a court judgment. But in a civil case, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove any illegal scheme and enforce the judgment. After six expensive years litigating the case, Lyle’s lawyers threw in the towel. “They seem to have gamed the system,” Lyle told me last summer. “When someone says that you are a rapist and doesn’t apologize, there’s a lot of bad blood there.”
A spokesperson for Martin refused to answer any questions about the libel judgment. “Each of your questions is built on deeply flawed premises,” he wrote in an email. “We have policy and political differences with Mother Jones, but we should all agree that good journalism is based on facts, which this clearly isn’t. Accordingly, we will not be responding further to your inquiries.”
The ascendance of Donald Trump opened up new opportunities for both Martin and Kremer. “I think Trump has always understood that the tea party was a feeder into what they did,” says Harvard political scientist Theda Skocpol, co-author of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. She says grassroots activists were ready to vote for Trump as far back as 2011, when he was making headlines for questioning the legitimacy of Obama’s birth certificate. In January 2015, Trump may have appeared to be unelectable to mainstream observers, but when he flew his private jet to a Tea Party Patriots–sponsored convention in South Carolina, he received a standing ovation.
While grassroots tea party activists were early and enthusiastic Trump supporters, Martin herself was not. She supported Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). At the Conservative Political Action Conference in March 2016, she warned tea party activists not to fall for Trump’s “seductive pitch.” “Donald Trump loves himself first, last, and everywhere in between. He loves himself more than our country,” she told them. “Donald Trump has no business thinking he’s tea party, and every tea party person who truly loves the Constitution should take that into account when casting their vote.”
But once Trump became the nominee, Martin went all in. Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, the PAC she chairs, spent nearly $1 million on robocalls, telemarketing, and direct mail supporting Trump in the 2016 election and at least $1.2 million backing him in 2020. When the House launched impeachment proceedings against Trump in 2019, Martin encouraged her members to host “End the Witch Hunt” protests outside local congressional offices. Tea Party Patriots Action spent $100,000 on TV ads attacking Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for his oversight of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Last summer, the Tea Party Patriots Foundation sponsored a summit convened by America’s Frontline Doctors, led by Dr. Simone Gold, an early lockdown opponent. On the steps of the Supreme Court, Martin introduced a dozen or so doctors—including one who famously believes that gynecological problems can be caused by having sex with demons—who livestreamed their support of Trump’s favorite bogus covid cure, hydroxychloroquine. The president and his son Don Jr. tweeted out the video, which got nearly 20 million views before Facebook and Twitter pulled it down for promoting disinformation.
Martin’s support did not go unnoticed. In August, during Trump’s appearance at the Council for National Policy, he gave her a shoutout. When Trump announced Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Martin, sans mask, was in the audience.
Kremer, meanwhile, was on team Trump from the very beginning. In January 2016, she started a political action committee called TrumPAC, which ran afoul of campaign finance rules for using his name without permission. It was later rebranded as the Great America PAC. She left that group after a falling-out with its leadership and joined the ex-wife of indicted Trump adviser Roger Stone to launch the Women Vote Trump Super-PAC, which pledged to raise $30 million to support Trump’s reelection.
The group came up $29,973,187 short of that goal, went into debt, and also got in trouble with the Federal Election Commission for the unauthorized use of a candidate’s name. It then changed its name to Women Vote Smart. Yet Kremer continued to organize events under the banner of Women for Trump even though the Trump campaign had its own group with the same name, its own bus tour, and a 38-member advisory board that did not include Kremer.
Trump didn’t seem to notice Kremer until June 2018, when she went on Fox and Friends to complain about death threats she’d received since debating immigration reform on CNN. He tweeted: “Amy Kremer, Women for Trump, was so great on @foxandfriends. Brave and very smart, thank you Amy! @amykremer.” Ivanka Trump then invited her to the White House.
That October, Kremer’s group hosted a Women for America First Summit (slogan: “Heels On, Gloves Off!”) at the Trump International Hotel in DC, featuring a “deep state cocktail reception” and an appearance from Eric Trump’s wife, Lara. The next year, Kremer and her daughter, Kylie, now 30, started a new 501(c)(4), Women for America First, which sponsored a “Stop Impeachment Now!” march in Washington in October 2019. Speakers at the event included former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka and Jack Posobiec, the online troll and OANN host who helped spread the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, and a few far-right members of Congress, including Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.) and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.).
Speakers at the rally blamed the low turnout on a vast liberal conspiracy that had supposedly prevented chartered buses from ferrying hundreds of Trump supporters to Washington. “We feel this was done intentionally,” Kremer wrote in a Facebook post. In fact, the organizers’ credit card was declined when the bus company tried to bill it. Just over a year later, the same people who couldn’t pay for a trip to DC would organize the rally that culminated in the riot at the Capitol.
When Trump lost the election in November, Kremer and Martin quickly rallied their respective troops to question the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s victory. “I’m not surprised these two ladies are willing to ride this anywhere it will take them,” says Skocpol. “They must have been very upset when Trump lost, because he’s the ticket.”
Kremer’s daughter started a “stop the steal” Facebook group that, with promotion from her mother, accumulated more than 350,000 members in a single day before the site shut it down for its role in spreading disinformation about the election and calls for violence. Martin’s Tea Party Patriots’ website became a clearinghouse for “protect the vote” protests over ballot counting in Arizona, Michigan, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, which the group also promoted on social media.
There was a lot of evidence early on that “stop the steal” was not simply a reprise of the 2009 tea party movement. The effort also included people like conspiracy theorists Alex Jones and Ali Alexander, as well as Nick Fuentes, a leader of the Groypers, a group that the Anti-Defamation League describes as white nationalists. National tea party leaders like Martin had long tried to keep extremists at arm’s length, says Burghart of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. But when they joined the “stop the steal” movement, he says, “that distance that they tried to keep from far-right paramilitaries and white nationalists disappeared.”
Alex Newhouse, a researcher at Middlebury College’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, noticed that “protect the vote” rallies that the TPP had promoted attracted armed protesters who menaced ballot-counting venues in the days after the November election. With an “increasingly vehement allegiance to Donald Trump,” Newhouse says, “Tea Party Patriots was primed for participation in the ‘stop the steal’ rallies, even though it traditionally aligns more with the evangelical and mainstream tea party right.”
Each woman went all in on the Big Lie. Martin spoke at a “stop the steal” rally at the Georgia Capitol while the state was recounting ballots. The rally capped off four days of protests led by, among others, Fuentes and Jones, who had been driving around the Capitol in an InfoWars-branded armored vehicle riling up crowds of supporters. (Kremer’s group canceled an Atlanta rally that week, Lyle told me, after learning that Jones and Alexander were planning to be there.)
Martin had urged her members to “melt those phone lines” and call Georgia election officials to question their procedures. On November 17, she had posted a “bombshell” video in which she recorded herself harassing a county election official. It soon had hundreds of thousands of views on Twitter and was picked up by Trump-faithful outlets such as American Family Radio. That performance further elevated her status: In early December, Martin announced she’d joined Trump’s last-ditch “legal team” in Georgia, even though she’s not a lawyer.
Meanwhile, Kremer’s Women for America First was one of the permit-holders for the Million MAGA March, on November 15, that brought hundreds of Trump supporters to DC to protest Biden’s election, including large groups of Proud Boys and other white nationalists. After the rally, police arrested 21 people and seized eight unregistered firearms. One person was stabbed.
Kremer then launched the March for Trump bus tour. She was joined by her husband, James Lyle, and daughter, Kylie, both of whom now work for Women for America First. Also along for the ride were former Tea Party Express activist and former Breitbart News reporter Dustin Stockton, and Stockton’s fiancee and former Breitbart News reporter Jennifer Lawrence.
The tour kicked off in Doral, Florida, near Trump’s golf club, and covered 18 states before culminating in the second Million MAGA March in Washington, DC, on December 12, an event heavily promoted by the Oath Keepers and the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer. Proud Boys, some wearing bulletproof vests, marched through the city, and some participants vandalized two historically Black churches. Four people were stabbed and 33 arrested.
After a holiday break, the tour resumed on December 28, spreading disinformation about the election and casual talk of violence along the way to DC. A North Carolina county commissioner and local tea party organizer said at a rally in Morehead City on December 2, “I jokingly told some folks in the tea party, ‘See, we’d solve every problem in this country if on the Fourth of July every conservative went and shot one liberal.’”
In mid-December, Kremer and her daughter took a break from the bus and went to a shooting center in Nashville for “tactical training.” The center is owned by James Yeager, whose gun license was suspended in 2013 after he posted a video of himself threatening to “start killing people” if Obama signed an assault rifle ban. Kylie Kremer and Jennifer Lawrence also appeared on Yeager’s YouTube show and openly appealed to his tens of thousands of subscribers to “get out into the streets.” Jennifer Lawrence later posted a campy video of Kylie, Stockton, and herself posing with assault weapons as if they were in an action film.
Trump himself reinforced Kremer’s efforts to rally the faithful. Some of his former campaign staffers helped Kremer secure the permit for the January 6 event from the National Park Service. A few days beforehand, Kylie Kremer tweeted a link for the planned rally with the tag “The calvary [sic] is coming, Mr. President!” Trump retweeted it, responding: “A great honor!”
On January 6, Martin’s and Kremer’s separate tracks to this moment finally converged. The bitter rivals were each slated to speak at events planned in DC that day—Martin at the Wild Protest organized by Ali Alexander near the Capitol, and Kremer at her Save America rally at the Ellipse with Trump. Their respective groups were each listed as organizational participants of the March to Save America. Martin tweeted a photo of herself sitting in the audience just a few hours before all hell broke loose, but only Kremer ended up taking the stage that day.
“In my capacity as a member of President Trump’s Georgia legal team, I was invited to and agreed to speak at a rally. I had no role in organizing the rally, or emceeing the rally,” Martin said in a statement to Mother Jones. “When I arrived at the rally on the day of the event, I was told I had been cut from the list of speakers.”
“She probably considers herself lucky that she didn’t end up speaking,” says Skocpol.
Afterward, both women decried what had occurred at the Capitol. “We unequivocally denounce violence of any type and under any circumstances,” Kremer said in a statement that blamed “a handful of bad actors” for the events.
Martin urged her members to stay home following the insurrection. “Calmer heads must prevail,” she wrote, while also blaming outsiders for instigating violence and creating situations that justify government overreach. “Neither you nor I want to or will take their bait.”
Even so, Martin was only a degree of separation from the deadly melee. She had promoted her planned speech in DC in tweets showing her photo alongside hydroxychloroquine-promoting doctor Simone Gold and Brandon Straka, head of the WalkAway Campaign, which encourages Democrats to leave the party. Both Gold and Straka were arrested and indicted on criminal charges for being inside the Capitol.
The taint extended to Martin’s funders. By 2020, most of the Tea Party Patriots’ PAC money had come from a single big donor: Richard Uihlein, the billionaire heir to the Schlitz brewery fortune, who has given nearly $4.3 million to the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund since 2016. Alumni pressured Northwestern University to cancel its contracts with Uihlein’s shipping supply company because of his support for TPP. (The university declined to do so.) The Democratic Attorneys General Association has called on state attorney general candidates to refuse campaign contributions from him.
While Martin laid low following the riot, Kremer took the opposite tack. In a fundraising email, she told supporters she’d offered to testify on Trump’s behalf at his second impeachment trial, where her daughter’s tweet about the cavalry became part of the evidence against him. When Trump retreated to Mar-a-Lago on Inauguration Day, Kremer met him there with a charter bus emblazoned with “Thank you, President Trump! Welcome home!”
Naturally, she’s also used the spotlight for some fundraising. “We did not march and we were not part of the events at the Capitol,” she wrote in a February email to potential donors. “But that doesn’t matter, because the left and the media are coming after us as if we are responsible…The vile hate and death threats have been relentless. It has been so bad that we haven’t been able to go home yet and have needed security 24/7…The left wants to silence us and they want us to go away. But we aren’t going anywhere.”
And both have continued promoting the Big Lie. After nearly a month of radio silence, Martin appeared on a panel about “election integrity” at CPAC, during which she bashed Georgia for rebuffing the Trump legal team’s efforts to prove that Biden had not won the state. “We should have had our evidence heard,” she claimed.
Trump also spoke at CPAC, an event Kremer promoted with great anticipation. “I’m so excited I feel like I did when I was a kid and I couldn’t go to sleep on Christmas Eve because Santa was coming,” Kremer tweeted the night before. “I can’t wait to see and hear President Trump tomorrow.”
She has also found a new political idol: On February 4, Women for America First paid for a truck to drive around DC with a billboard supporting Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia representative who was stripped of her House committee assignments for promoting QAnon and other conspiracy theories and for liking Facebook pages calling for the execution of prominent Democrats. Kremer’s organization, Women for America First, organized a Save America Summit at Trump’s National Doral Miami hotel in April. One of her keynote speakers was Greene.
Yotam Ophir, a professor at the University of Buffalo who studies misinformation, predicts that even after the Capitol violence, what drives the tea party movement is not likely to fade away. The tea party was “here before Trump. It will be here after Trump,” he says. “Where does it end? This is the second Democratic president in a row that’s been delegitimized by the tea party. These people will never accept a Democrat as a president again. They will always come up with something.”