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The Rich Mothers of the Insurrection

Pro-Trump women’s groups were the Trojan horse of the deadly Capitol riot.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
President Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, greets the crowds shortly before the armed insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol.

One of the scariest female characters in English literature is Madame DeFarge, the wine shop owner whose face is the blank, pitiless gaze of the French Revolution’s Terror in Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. DeFarge sat beside other women, watching the guillotine’s river of blood flow as they worked their knitting needles. In French legend, these women are known as “les tricoteuses”—the knitters—women performing an ultrafeminine domestic chore as a terrifying symbol of implacable fury.

I’ve found myself thinking of Madame DeFarge and les tricoteuses as it’s become clearer that women played an important role in the organization of the January 6 insurrection. Groups like Women for Trump and Women for America First were the advance guard of the Capitol riot: a diversion in lipstick and heels. Using hyperfemininity as a shield, they enabled a fascist rampage right under the nose of the federal authorities. Instead of clacking their knitting needles by the guillotine, they fingered their pearls as the rioters erected a gallows.

Women for Trump and allied rightist women’s organizations were the Trojan horse of the deadly insurrection. Wouldn’t the Park Service have been more wary about granting an Ellipse permit to the Proud Boys or their allies?  Wouldn’t the Capitol and D.C. police have been on high alert if the Oath Keepers instead of the riders on the pink EMPOWER bus had organized the gathering in their name?

I’ve studied the role of women in Trump’s misogynistic enterprise for five years, covering the evolution of conservative women in the years that preceded his rise. America’s most influential far-right women may be hobbled by subservience to the patriarchy, but they know exactly how to work it both to their own advantage and for the benefit of their movement. They use their perceived weakness as a tool to advance their covert ambitions, deploying hyperfemininity and fashion to mitigate the brutality of the cause. They trade the political dignity of all women for individual access to money and power.

While militia irregulars, Proud Boys, and other angry white males were plotting on Parler, obtaining military cosplay, and arming themselves with bats and flagpole battering rams in December and early January, top-level Trumpist women in Washington power suits were arranging park permits and lining up a large stage and three Jumbotrons, all in the name of women.

Women raised the money and signed the documents that enabled the president to broadcast his excitatory speech, sending thousands to violate the Capitol to hunt down his legislative nemeses, with fantasies of executing them on the gallows they had constructed outside.

None of them were going to break a manicured fingernail in the scrum. The rally’s chief donor was Publix grocery store chain heiress Julie Jenkins Fancelli. From her hiding place in Italy or Florida, she put up $300,000 to cover the majority of the $500,000 cost for the insurrection rally. Fancelli’s family is among the richest in Florida and thirty-ninth richest in America, according to Forbes, with a net worth of $8.8 billion. 

The family patriarch, Fancelli’s father, George W. Jenkins, started Publix in the 1930s, and it now has more than 1,200 grocery stores. She is married to an Italian food wholesaler. The family is in lockstep on its politics. Last month, her son Gregory posted a video of himself speeding down an empty interstate“thanks to the fake pandemic and its believers.”

Fancelli funneled her money to the rally through another well-connected Washington insiderCarolyn Wren, a fundraiser for Lindsay Graham and the Trump campaign. Wren is identified as a “VIP Advisor” on the rally permit. She reportedly worked with riot organizer Ali Alexander to coordinate planning and participated in at least one call with leaders of rally groups like Moms for America.

A seasoned Republican rainmaker and canny D.C. insider, Wren made $730,000 from the Trump campaign last year. Her PAC, Security is Strength, spewed nearly $10 million into the effort to defeat Lindsay Graham’s opponent last year. Security is Strength raised and spent a cool $15 million in 2020. The two largest individual donors to the PAC  are a supershadowy Ohio-based dark money outfit, the American Exceptionalism Institute, and the insurance conglomerate Ryan Specialty Group.

Wren is allied with Women for America First, another sponsor of the rally. Women for America First—whose treasurer appeared on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast two days before the riot—wrangled an IRS tax-exempt status as a “social welfare organization,” retroactive to February 2019, according to the Associated Press.

Other Trump femmes on the Park Service permits include the niece of former Trump chief of staff (and Consumer Financial Protection Board destroyer) Mick Mulvaney. Maggie Mulvaney, who appears on the Trump campaign payroll and was taking home $5,000 every two weeks during the campaign, is listed on the park permit as the “VIP Lead.” The rally’s “operations manager for logistics and communications,” according to the permits, Hannah Salem, is a Beltway consultant who has worked as White House press aide. According to her firm’s website, “Hannah has over 18 years of experience working for candidates, elected officials and Fortune 500 companies, as well as unique insight and experience working with the U.S. Military.”

Twentysomething NYU grad Megan Powers put her degree to work as one of the earliest Trump campaign staffers in 2015 and was still on the campaign payroll when she signed up to be “operations manager” at the insurrection rally. The Trump administration had rewarded Powers for her early devotion with a big job as NASA press secretary, in early 2018. She lasted there for less than a year before returning to political work for Trump. (American Oversight submitted a Freedom Of Information Act request for her emails, but NASA had deleted all of them.)

Moms for America president Kimberly Fletcher told The Wall Street Journal that although she’d been on planning calls with some of the organizers, including Wren, she was surprised at the lavish outlay on the Ellipse. “When I got there, and I saw the size of the stage and everything, I’m like, ‘Wow, we couldn’t possibly have afforded that,’” she said. “It was a big stage. It was a very professional stage. I don’t know who was in the background or who put it together or anything.”

Conspicuously absent on the park permits and donor lists are the women of the Trump family. Ivanka was videotaped inside the insurrectionist VIP tent with her dad before he spoke. But the titular leader of Women for Trump, Lara Trump, appeared on the rally stage in a pale pink coat, hair and makeup styled in the Barbie Doll Playboy Bunny look that Capo Don prefers on his auxiliary team. Lara led the crowd singing “Happy Birthday” to Eric, just before the insurrection. Then they stood flank to flank and raised their fists to the sky, like White Panthers, and watched the crowd file off to “fight like hell,” as Trump had advised.

Women, of course, did respond to that call to fight. The FBI is still rounding them uplike these two Proud Mamas from Pennsylvania, arrested a few days ago.

“We broke into the Capitol.… We got inside, we did our part,” Capitol insurrectionist Dawn Bancroft trills in a video she sent to her children and reportedly later tried to delete. “We were looking for Nancy to shoot her in the friggin’ brain, but we didn’t find her.” The FBI is now in possession of that recording, as well as other videos and social media posts created by the Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Crossfit gym owner and her sister-in-arms, Diana Santos-Smith.

Then there’s “Bullhorn Lady,” the leading character in Ronan Farrow’s recent dispatch in The New Yorker. Twitter sleuths and the FBI had been hunting for the mystery woman, a brunette in a knitted pink beanie with a fluffy puff on top, who had been caught on video during the attack. After participating in a battering-ram action that broke a window of the U.S. Capitol, she was seen in footage with a bullhorn, which she had poked through the broken window to better offer direction to the rioters: “People should probably coordinate together if we’re going to take this building,” she is heard to say. Her name, it turns out, is Rachel Powell, and she is a 40-year-old Pennsylvania homeschooling, chicken-raising, gardening, mask-defying mother of eight. Not yet arrested, she spoke to Farrow from an undisclosed location.

As the insurrectionists continue to be identified and arrested, the pretty women inside the Trump Trojan horse have gone to ground. They have blocked journalists and locked down their social media accounts. Some have maintained their LinkedIn profiles, though, apparently confident that some respectable political or corporate job awaits them. There, they advertise their strategic communications and logistics skills, so recently at the service of a wannabe dictator’s spectacularly televised failed coup. Look for them soon on LinkedIn Myanmar.