On Thursday, impeachment foes converged on Washington for the first big pro-Trump rally in the city since shortly after Donald Trump was elected president. According to its website, the “March for Trump: Stop Impeachment Now!” event was initiated by people who “want our President to know he is not alone and we stand with him.”
Judging by the crowd size—only a few hundred protesters were there—not all that many people seemed willing to take the day off to stand with Trump against impeachment. But that might have been as much a function of last minute transportation snafus as the country’s support for the president. Nonetheless, the true believers marched down Pennsylvania Avenue for a rally on the Capitol lawn. They had come from as far away as Arkansas, Florida, and Connecticut to participate. Armed with plenty of Trump 2020 banners and “Stop the Coup” signs, they chanted “Drain the swamp!” as they walked.
The marchers finally assembled on the west lawn of the Capitol where they’d been promised speeches from members of Congress. But the lawmakers were slow to materialize, so the audience had to make do with former Navy Seal Jonathan Gilliam, author of the personal safety book Sheep No More and an occasional Fox News guest, and Jack Posobiec, an internet troll and One America News host who helped spread the Pizzagate conspiracy theory.
Posobiec spent some of his allotted time consoling the marchers who may have lost friends because of their Trump support. “I’m sure everyone in this crowd who’s wearing one of these MAGA hats, are wearing a Trump hat, has got someone in their lives, someone in their family, that’s just so nasty to them because of who you support in politics,” he said, lamenting that people just can’t get along the way Roseanne and her liberal sister do on the sitcom.
Eventually, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.), and Rep. Doug Collins (R-Georgia) showed up to rail against their Democratic colleagues investigating Trump and rally the crowd to stand tall with the president. Collins told the crowd that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was trying to “overthrow the votes” of Trump supporters with the impeachment inquiry, while Scalise branded the proceedings a “kangaroo court.”
If the event had the feel of a reconstituted tea party rally, it might be because the march was sponsored by Women for American First, a nonprofit 501(c)4 organization headed up by former tea party activist Amy Kremer. That grassroots conservative movement emerged in 2009 after the election of Barack Obama to oppose his administration and some of its signature policies, such as the Affordable Care Act. The movement helped elect some of the most extreme members of Congress—remember Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.)?—and forced out moderate Republicans including former House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).
A former Delta flight attendant who calls herself one of the “founding mothers” of the tea party movement, Kremer was the longtime chief executive of the Tea Party Express, which organized bus tours across the country and worked on a variety of campaigns in 2010 and 2012 to help Republicans retake Congress. One of the best known tea party groups, the Tea Party Express was also well known for being run by a political action committee that raised tons of money from small donors and spent most of it on the political consultants who started the PAC rather than on candidates.
Kremer was an early Trump supporter during the 2016 presidential campaign when she started a political action committee called TrumPAC to raise money to support his insurgent campaign. The PAC, one of several that sprang up to fundraise off the Trump candidacy, ran afoul of campaign finance rules for using the name of a candidate without permission. It was later rebranded the Great America PAC. She left the Great America PAC after a falling out with its leadership and went on to join with the ex-wife of indicted Trump adviser Roger Stone to launch another pro-Trump super PAC, Women Vote Trump, that pledged to raise $30 million to support Trump’s campaign for president.
As CNN reported, the group came up $29,973,187 short of that goal, went into debt, and got in trouble with the FEC for the unauthorized use of a candidate’s name. The PAC changed the name to Women Vote Smart, but it continued to organize events under the banner of Women for Trump. In October 2018, the 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 the president’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump. Over the summer, Kremer and her daughter Kylie started a new nonprofit, Women for America First, which can raise unlimited money to rally support for the president without disclosing its donors. That’s the organization behind Thursday’s rally. A spokesman for the group did not respond to questions about the its donors or who was paying for anti-impeachment march.
I stopped to talk with two women who explained what brought them to the event, and what they believe Trump has done for women.
As with the old tea party events, the pro-Trump marchers were overwhelmingly white, older and, of course, Republican. Likewise, the event featured a solid contingent of supporters of the late convicted fraudster and cult leader Lyndon Larouche, anti-abortion activists, Second Amendment enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists. I listened to one man try to explain to a heckler that the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry was simply a “smokescreen” designed to cover up their efforts to sabotage Trump’s 2016 presidential election. When the heckler asked the man to detail exactly how that all went down, he mumbled something about Ukraine, “the server,” and Democrats, and then gave up. “Barr knows,” he concluded ominously. He was referring to Trump’s attorney general William Barr, who has been traveling abroad to solicit help from foreign intelligence agencies in a campaign to discredit the investigation into Trump’s involvement with Russia during the 2016 election.
The rally may have invoked some of the tea party’s characters and approaches, but the event often seemed more like a parallel universe. The March for Trump took place while an extraordinary stream of chaotic news from the White House, all mostly bad for the president, unfolded. After the rally, the Trump supporters spent the day visiting members of Congress to oppose impeachment. While they were on the Hill, the president’s chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, held a press conference in which he confirmed that the president had indeed withheld military aid to Ukraine to pressure its president to investigate the son of Trump’s potential 2020 opponent, former vice president Joe Biden. Trump himself has previously admitted that he solicited help from a foreign government for his 2020 reelection campaign. But marchers at the Capitol were having none of that.
Donna Gathright had come with her daughter from Lebanon, Pennsylvania, to support Trump, and she said she refused to believe that he would ask a foreign country to meddle in the election. “That isn’t anything he would do. He loves this country,” she said. When I told her that Trump had admitted on TV that he’d done just that, she responded, “They lied on TV!” She said it was just fake news, just like the coverage of Trump’s comments after the deadly neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville in 2017, when he said the white supremacists included some “very fine people.”
“He didn’t say that in Charlottesville either,” Gathright insisted.
Her sentiments were echoed by Mary Simmons, another marcher from Arkansas who chimed in that Trump’s attacks on the media are one reason that she likes him so much. “He gives us the warnings about fake news,” she explained. “Be aware, keep your eyes open, and you can’t believe everything you see.” Both women seemed to believe that TV video is regularly doctored to make Trump look bad.
Gathright also claimed that it was not Trump but President Barack Obama who had enriched himself from the presidency. Simmons concurred, adding with a whisper that Obama had sent money into secret Swiss bank accounts. They love that Trump refuses to take a government salary as president, a sign of his benevolence stemming from the fact that he had already made his fortune before getting elected. A few hours after they were lauding Trump’s refusal to cash in on the presidency, Mulvaney announced that Trump had decided to host the G-7 gathering of world leaders next year at the resort he owns in Miami, the Trump Doral.
No one referred to the mass of criticism leveled at the administration by both parties for its abandonment of the Kurds in Turkey and Trump’s apparent endorsement of ethnic cleansing in Syria. For those who attended the march, the president was a hero, beloved by all and singlehandedly responsible for a booming economy, energy independence, and building the wall. “If those Democrats get power, look out,” Gathright warned. “They’re evil. Let the guy work. He’s doing great things.”
There were a few problems, however, with the march. As with the old tea party events, organizers had arranged for buses to bring in Trump supporters from around the country. But on Wednesday night, the buses were cancelled and organizers said many potential marchers were stranded in Boston and elsewhere—a possible explanation for the poor turnout. Trump supporters immediately saw a conspiracy at work, a theory promoted by Posobiec, who mentioned the transportation crisis during his speech at the rally. “I hear there was a bus issue today,” Posobiec said. “The company refused to work with folks.” Kremer acknowledged the bus problem and blamed the company in a Facebook post, saying, “We feel this was done intentionally.”
Kremer later released a statement saying, “Last night, less than two hours before our first chartered buses were supposed to leave for DC, we were informed that the bus company was cancelling all of our buses—including ones that were fully paid for. This move left hundreds of grassroots activists stranded and unable to attend the Anti-Impeachment rally today in front of the Capitol. We are incredibly disappointed at US Coachways, their actions prevented hundreds of Americans from exercising their first amendment rights and to have their voices heard.”
But according to Joseph Heap, the CMO of US Coachways, politics had nothing to do with the company’s decision to cancel the busses. He says that the march organizers started working with the Staten Island-based company just 10 days ago, but they refused to pay a deposit for the six buses they were trying to reserve. He said that on Wednesday, at 3 pm, just hours before one of the buses was scheduled to depart for DC, one of the organizers called to finally make a payment. The credit card was declined, he said.
It wouldn’t be the first time that one of Kremer’s political enterprises has run into financial problems. In 2017, she jumped into the Republican primary to fill the congressional seat vacated by Georgia 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.
Heap said the bus company tried to work with pro-Trump organizers and waited while they called the bank, but the credit card payments never went through, so they had to cancel the buses. “We didn’t care that it was a Trump rally at all. We don’t do things that way,” Heap told me. “We want the business. This is exactly what we’re in the business to do. We really did want to make it work for them. We worked with them all the way up to the very end. We really did. ”