On Jan. 6, 2021, just south of the White House, Amy Kremer stood atop the stage where President Donald Trump would soon address his followers. She gazed over what she created — and what a sight it was.
Kremer and her daughter, Kylie Jane Kremer, were about to host the sitting president of the United States as he amassed his faithful in Washington, D.C., in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election’s results. Their organization, Women for America First, was the one and only group that possessed the official permit to stage Trump’s “Save America” rally.
And amid a circus of shadowy militia groups, QAnon disciples and C-list MAGA minions staging raucous, unofficial gatherings on Jan. 5 and 6, Kremer’s “Save America” rally, and its proximity to Trump himself, carried a patina of slightly-less-crazy.
Kremer, after all, cut a decidedly mainstream and public — if ultra-conservative — profile. For years, she regularly appeared on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. She organized for political groups, including the Tea Party Patriots and Tea Party Express of the late 2000s and early 2010s. By 2020, she led a pro-Trump bus tour that helped funnel Trump supporters into Washington, D.C., in service of the cause of denying Democrat Joe Biden the presidency after he won it.
Fomenting violence? That hadn’t been her style. So when people who attended her rally marched down the National Mall and assaulted the U.S. Capitol during what would become one of the darker days in American history, she disowned them.
“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,” Amy Kremer said on Jan. 6, 2021. “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.”
Through a carefully managed media strategy, the Kremers also distanced their organization from the violence and other, more provocative J6ers such as like Ali Alexander and Alex Jones, and by extension, the allied militant groups including the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, whose members would soon face prosecutions for seditious conspiracy and a host of other charges.
Crowds arrive for the "Stop the Steal" rally on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
But an exhaustive review of depositions, interviews, phone texts and court documents by Raw Story reveals that Women for America First, particularly through an organizer named Dustin Stockton, cultivated ties with a Florida-based paramilitary group — Guardians of Freedom — that rode the wave of far-right vigilante reaction that crested in 2020. Guardians of Freedom subscribed to the “three percenter” ideology of armed resistance against U.S. governance it perceives as tyrannical.
Members of Guardians of Freedom were tapped by a proxy for Amy Kremer to serve as volunteer marshals at the rally at the Ellipse, and six Guardians of Freedom members now face federal charges for violent offenses at the Capitol on Jan. 6, including two who are charged with engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon.
The Kremer-Guardians of Freedom connection offers a present-day legal intrigue: An ongoing FBI investigation could potentially ensnare more members of Guardians of Freedom. And Amy Kremer and her lawyer have confirmed that Women for America First was the target of warrants or subpoenas (they didn’t specify which) seeking access to their phones and electronic devices as part of a probe into fake electors, fundraising around election denial claims and the rally on Jan. 6.
Kylie Jane Kremer responded to a Twitter direct message from Raw Story by providing the email for Christopher Barron, Women for America First’s publicist. Barron did not respond to multiple voicemails and emails. Harmeet Dhillon, Women for America First’s lawyer and a recent Republican National Committee chairwoman candidate, also could not be reached for comment.
‘An armed crew'
Stockton, one of the lead organizers of the March for Trump bus tour and the pro-Trump rallies in D.C. leading up to and culminating on Jan. 6, had been working with Amy Kremer since January 2010.
That was when he introduced himself to the Tea Party Express organizer at a press conference in Reno, Nev., announcing a campaign to defeat then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Often wearing a tennis visor and scraggly beard, Stockton did not fit the typical image of a Republican political operative.
Nicknamed “Bossman,” his relaxed body language and Nevada drawl brings to mind the actor Seth Rogen, and he’s been known to pause during interviews with reporters for a bong hit. He possesses a quirky and disarming sense of humor. One of his favorite bits for conservative audiences paranoid about the government seizing their firearms begins: “Well, I personally lost all my guns in a tragic boating accident years ago. But I have a feeling I’m in good company that way.”
During an appearance at the National Press Club in 2010, Stockton recounted the start of his peripatetic career in right-wing politics at the side of Amy Kremer, known among her friends as the “bus queen” for her organizing work with the Tea Party Express organization to harness populist anger and push the Republican Party to the right.
“I left my pregnant wife and two young daughters and criss-crossed this country because I believe so firmly that we need to take our country back and the great danger that we are facing,” he said, pounding the podium for emphasis, “and that we must step up and meet those challenges.”
Dustin Stockton attends a Tea Party Express election night party at the Aria Resort & Casino at CityCenter on November 2, 2010, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Later, Stockton and his fiancée, Jennifer Lawrence — not to be confused with the actor who starred in The Hunger Games — would work for Steve Bannon as reporters at Breitbart News Network.
Bannon, who’d go on to become White House strategist under Trump, himself would cheerlead efforts to overturn the 2020 election, telling associates four days before the election that Trump would “just declare victory.” He predicted on the eve of Jan. 6 that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”
Stockton’s associations with right-wing militias, predating the push to overturn the 2020 election, have received little attention since the Jan. 6 insurrection.
But they’re as notable as they are real: In 2018, Stockton helped Brian Kolfage, a military veteran and triple amputee, start We Build the Wall, a project to raise private funds to complete the border wall Trump promised. Kolfage wound up getting indicted, alongside Bannon and others, for conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Bannon was ultimately pardoned by Trump one day before he left office. Kolfage pleaded guilty last April and awaits sentencing.
During an event near a segment of the wall in New Mexico in May 2019, Stockton participated in an interview with Jim Benvie, the spokesperson for the Guardian Patriots militia. Benvie had previously been active with another militia — the United Constitutional Patriots — whose members reportedly detained more than 300 migrants near the border while carrying firearms and fake badges.
During the interview, streamed by Benvie on Facebook Live in May 2019, Stockton expressed appreciation, saying, “Your videos turned us on to just how serious this crisis is. And when we saw those, the proof is there. We had the absolute proof of what was happening right here. And to be able to shut that off with the people’s money so quickly, it’s moving.”
Benvie was ultimately convicted of impersonating a government employee and sentenced to 21 months of prison time for two incidents in April 2019 near the We Build the Wall site. There, he accosted migrants, while accompanied by United Constitutional Patriot members dressed in camouflage fatigues and carrying firearms, and yelled, “Alto! U.S. Border Patrol.”
Stockton’s association with the militia movement was underscored by a personal stance that lent credence to the idea that private militias could augment law enforcement as a defensive force against perceived adversaries.
In an email uncovered by the January 6th Committee concerning security arrangements for the Nov. 14, 2020, Million MAGA March, Stockton foreshadowed violence.
He told a fellow organizer: “I have an armed crew of 3K guys with 2K AR-15s” and they’d be nearby in Virginia and Pennsylvania “if any things got really sticky.”
During his interview with the January 6th Committee in December 2021, Stockton explained that the email was a reference to Gun Owners of America, an advocacy group for whom he had performed consulting work.
He chalked up his provocative rhetoric as nothing more than “braggadocios fluff” meant to reassure his paranoid fellow organizers.
'Put our best face on this thing'
Notwithstanding Stockton’s comfort with militia groups and Second Amendment militancy, the Nov. 14, 2020, rally marked a fork in the relationship between Women for America First and a more strident pro-Trump coalition led by Republican operative Ali Alexander.
To that point, the two groups had been organizing in tandem: Alexander sent out a tweet on Nov. 4, 2020, calling on Amy Kremer and others to join a national campaign under the hashtag #STOPTHESTEAL. Kylie Jane Kremer started a Facebook group called “Stop the Steal” on the same day that quickly attracted 2.1 million followers, according to Kremer, before it was shut down by Facebook for spreading misinformation.
But on Nov. 19, Women for America First publicly diverged by announcing that it was withdrawing from a rally organized by Alexander in Georgia, explaining that “we are unable to ensure a safe and secure area for our supporters and therefore will not be on the ground in Atlanta.”
A week later, Amy Kremer tweeted that Women for America First was “the ONLY hosting organization for the #MarchForTrump on December 12th,” adding that “if anyone is asking you to RSVP or donate to the cause besides our org, you’re being scammed.”
Looking back on the rift, Kylie Jane Kremer told the January 6th Committee during her interview in January 2022 that Women for America First felt the need “to make a very clear distinction” because, she said, the rhetoric from Alexander’s coalition “was getting a little more aggressive in tone and encouraging things like we had seen with November 20th of, you know, storming inside the Georgia State capital that we really needed to make a distinction between the two groups.”
Stockton also promoted the view that Women for America First was a more responsible alternative to Ali Alexander’s coalition, at least in retrospect.
“So, they started pushing a much more violent rhetoric,” Stockton told the January 6th Committee in December 2021, “while what we were pushing, frankly, was, like, procedural inside the House, to, like, ‘All right, this is our best chance to make our case, like, to the world. Let’s make sure that, like, we put our best face on this thing.’”
Three Percenter ties
As the final report of the January 6th Committee noted, the founder of Guardians of Freedom communicated in advance with the Florida leader of the Oath Keepers about plans for Jan. 6. The materials released by the committee in late December and early January reveal that Women for America First’s ties to the militant groups that stormed the Capitol were far more extensive than previously known.
While the Kremers and Stockton publicly distanced themselves from militant groups such as the Proud Boys that were gravitating to the protests, the organization was at the same time drawing in its own cohort of militants — a group of Three Percenters mainly from Florida calling themselves Guardians of Freedom.
Women for America First’s link to the Three Percenters — an authoritarian movement whose adherents view themselves as a revolutionary vanguard in the mold of the original American patriots, and the U.S. government as the latter-day equivalent of the British crown — was a commercial real estate developer from Florida’s northeast coast named Charles Bowman. Amy Kremer described Bowman as being “like a big brother that’s always — you know, it was like he was always looking out for us and making sure, you know, that we were safe and whatnot.”
Bowman met Stockton at a We Build the Wall event in New Mexico, but he said he initially met Women for America First through their lawyer, Michael Yoder, he told the January 6 committee. Amy Kremer, in turn, said she met Bowman through Stockton.
Bowman attended the rally that kicked off for the first leg of the March for Trump bus tour at the 2A Ranch, a GOP-friendly event space in Ormond Beach, Fla., on Nov. 29, 2020. As Stockton emceed the rally, a video shows Bowman standing near the bus door, while another man stood to the side of the stage wearing a tactical vest with a Three Percenter patch and a balaclava covering his face.
Bowman told the committee that the two met at a Republican dinner in Lake County, where Liggett lives. Liggett, in turn, said he met Bowman at a rally of some sort.
Within three days of the Ormond Beach rally, members of Guardians of Freedom were discussing plans to go to Washington, D.C. to support Trump.
A statement of fact written by Clarke Burns, a special agent assigned to the FBI Washington Field Office Joint Terrorism Task Force, that establishes probable cause for charges against five Guardians of Freedom members captures a social media exchange that alludes to the sensitivity surrounding the word “militia.”
“Now, I think it would be hysterical if you got morale patches that said ‘plan B’ or ‘B Squad’ because I think it’s one of the top 3 funniest things I’ve personally ever heard from politicians as they try to dance around the M word lmao,” said the individual, who is unidentified in the court documents.
A person identified in the statement of facts as “B Leader” responded: “Hahahahaha…. I am going to name DC operation plan B.”
The man that the FBI identifies as “B Leader” is clearly Liggett, based on a reference in the court document to a Facebook video that features Liggett. When Liggett and other Guardians of Freedom members came to D.C. on Jan. 6, they wore patches that said “B Squad.”
“I further believe that when they discuss a plan B/B Squad, they are referring to an alternate plan to be in place if they do not get the desired electoral outcome (i.e. the former president remaining in power),” Burns wrote in the statement of fact.
Bowman recalled during his interview with the January 6th Committee that “Stockton had phoned me and asked — you know, they were short of people, if I could come out and help with the events.”
An imposing presence, Bowman could show flashes of magnanimity: During a rancorous school board meeting riven by conflict over a book-banning proposal in November 2021, a local newspaper in Flagler County reported that Bowman signed up to speak, only to announce that he and his wife had bought burgers for the attendees.
Bowman could not be reached for comment for this story. Liggett, a former law enforcement officer who operates a gun range in Clermont, Fla., declined to comment for this story through his lawyer, Kevin C. Maxwell.
Violent words on the bus
The presence of militants in the Women for America First camp was matched by an escalation of violent rhetoric at the rallies on the bus tour, as reported by BuzzFeed, despite the Kremers’ efforts to set themselves apart from Ali Alexander.
Stockton promoted his personal organizing brand under the moniker “Tyrant’s Curse,” and he recited its formal “message” at multiple tour stops, including Ormond Beach and then in Lansing, Mich., on Dec. 8.
“A well-armed and self-reliant populace, who take personal responsibility and put their faith in God, can never be oppressed and will never be ruled,” he told crowds.
Paired with the rhetoric of other speakers denying the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election, Stockton’s message carried an ominous ring.
“It’s about putting your range time in,” he said. “It’s about learning tactics. It’s about training others.” He added: “The second part: self-reliance, right? Which is we have to be able to take care of our own. And if you’re able to take care of yourself, how many more people in your neighborhood can you take care of, if things really got dark?”
In a Facebook video in the runup to Jan. 6, Stockton told his followers, according to an ABC News report, to “clean your guns and prepare. Things are going to get worse before they get better.”
Stockton, who in an MSNBC interview last year distanced himself from Jan. 6 rally attendees who used "revolutionary and violent" rhetoric, could not be reached for comment for this story.
Cordie Williams, a Marine Corps veteran and chiropractor from California, made a similar call during a March for Trump bus tour stop in Madison, Wis., on Dec. 6.
“We need to know how to fire those handguns, fire those rifles,” he said.
“When they come for my kids with this non-tested COVID vaccine, I’m gonna give them an insurance policy courtesy of a Glock to their forehead,” Williams said during the same tour stop in Madison.
The second statement crossed the line, apparently.
“We’d just had an incident at one of our rallies where a speaker we didn’t really know that well, we give them a chance to get on stage, and he talked about putting a Glock to the forehead of anyone who shows up at his door, like, to vaccinate his kids,” Stockton recalled during his interview with the January 6th Committee. “So, we kicked him off the tour, right? Like, for us, it’s a fine line, but you can’t ramp up the tensions that way.”
Even so, militaristic rhetoric continued to percolate at the March for Trump bus tour stops.
Three days before the Jan. 6 insurrection, Couy Griffin, a county commissioner from New Mexico and founder of Cowboys for Trump, told a crowd in Bowling Green, Ky.: “If we allow this election to be stolen from us, we will become a third world country overnight. The elitist, gross, wicked, vile people that are in place will continue to wage war on America. Because there is a war, mind you, I promise you that.”
Last June, Griffin was found guilty of entering and remaining in a restricted building for his actions at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
The apocalyptic themes of irreparable loss and war invoked by Griffin and Stockton echoed a familiar source: Donald Trump, who after his loss to Joe Biden in November 2020 quickly schemed to overturn the election and retain presidential power.
As the March for Trump bus tour motored across the country, Amy Kremer was planning for the next big rally in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6. And as those plans unfolded, Kremer and her daughter, Kylie Jane, found themselves scrambling to navigate the treacherous internal politics of the MAGA movement to maintain control of their event.
One of the first orders of business was recovering their permit for Jan. 6 from the National Park Service after a rogue volunteer tried to hijack the event.
Then, when Trump tweeted that he would be personally appearing on Jan. 6, they had to move the rally from Freedom Plaza to the Ellipse, near the White House.
President Donald Trump speaks at the "Stop the Steal" Rally on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
When one crisis was resolved, another one seemed to materialize, and the Kremer mother-daughter duo would find themselves fighting to keep rival organizers off the stage at the Ellipse up to the very moment Trump addressed his supporters.
The chaos that erupted after that speech, predictable as it may have been, was not solely galvanized by Amy Kremer.
It emanated from a complicated interplay between the White House and the militants — and she would find herself right in the middle of it.
* * *
Key figures and groups in this series
1st Amendment Praetorian: Volunteer security group associated with retired Lt. General Michael Flynn that provided personal security details for Ali Alexander and other speakers at pro-Trump rallies leading up to Jan. 6, 2021.
Guardians of Freedom: Three Percenter group led by Jeremy Liggett based in Florida whose members joined a mob in the tunnel at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and tried to break through a line of D.C. Metropolitan Police officers.
Oath Keepers: Far-right militia group that targets military veterans and former law enforcement for recruitment; dozens of members equipped with military gear entered the Capitol in a column formation.
Proud Boys: Neo-fascist street fighting group that served as the engine of the insurrection by leading a mob to the Capitol, including one member who broke out a window, leading to the initial breach of the building.
Stop the Steal: Coalition led by Republican operative Ali Alexander that organized protests in battleground states after the Nov. 3, 2020 election, followed by large rallies in Washington, D.C., culminating in Jan. 6.
United Constitutional Patriots: Militia group that allegedly detained more than 300 migrants in New Mexico while carrying firearms and fake badges; their spokesman interviewed Dustin Stockton for a Facebook livestream during an event to promote a privately-funded section of the border wall in 2019.
Women for America First: Nonprofit led by Tea Party organizer Amy Kremer that hosted the Jan. 6 rally featuring Donald Trump, along with the March for Trump bus tour and two large rallies in Washington, D.C. preceding Jan. 6.
This is the first in a three-part Raw Story series about ties between Women for America First, which held the permit for the rally where Donald Trump spoke on Jan. 6, 2021, and the Three Percenter group Guardians of Freedom. Read part two and part three.