The storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 has brought to the fore a host of activists on the extreme right whose violent rhetoric helped to create the conditions for an assault that left five dead. One of the most prominent of those activists is Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward.
On December 19, Ward fired off a tweet urging President Donald Trump to “cross the Rubicon,” referring to the historical event that led to Julius Caesar declaring a dictatorship in ancient Rome. The tweet was shared by former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. On January 4, Ward’s Arizona Republican Party retweeted Ali Alexander, one of the organizers of the event that culminated in the Capitol siege, who said that he was “willing to give my life for this fight”; the Arizona GOP said, “He is. Are you?” Later that day, the Arizona GOP tweeted, “This is what we do, who we are. Live for nothing, or die for something.”
At a rally that also occurred on December 19, Alexander praised Ward, saying “I want to thank Chairwoman Kelli Ward and the Arizona Republican Party. I work in seven states, and there is no party like the Arizona GOP Party, so let’s thank Kelli Ward.” Alexander added that Ward’s Arizona GOP was “like no other.” Ward spoke at the rally.
Ward’s role could bring attention to her biggest financiers in politics: hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah Mercer. The Mercers were the largest donors to Ward’s super PAC in both the 2016 and 2018 election cycles, giving $1.5 million in total as well as over $33,000 in direct contributions to her campaigns.
The Mercers have funded numerous other organizations now peddling baseless claims about the election.
Rebekah Mercer is a principal investor in the Parler social media network and has an equity stake in Breitbart News, which has propagated false information about the election being stolen, and she is a close associate of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and current Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway as well as Flynn. Robert Mercer was a major investor in Cambridge Analytica, which mined data on behalf of the Trump campaign and shared office space with Mercer-funded conservative advocacy group Reclaim New York.
On Monday, CNBC reported that the Black Conservatives Fund, a super PAC that Robert Mercer gave $150,000 to in 2014, promoted the march on Capitol Hill. Alexander, one of the siege organizers, was a former “senior adviser” to the Black Conservatives Fund.
In 2017, the Mercers gave $200,000 to the Gatestone Institute, which has advanced theories about a stolen election. The following year, they gave $8.1 million to DonorsTrust, which recently donated $1.5 million to white nationalist hate group VDARE, which has also advanced evidence-free theories surrounding the 2020 election results. In 2017, the Mercer Family Foundation donated $1.725 million to the Government Accountability Institute, whose research director, Eric Eggers, appeared on Sean Hannity’s radio show at the end of November, suggesting that fraudulent activity had tilted the election to Joe Biden. In 2018, they followed up with an additional $500,000. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., who has also used violent rhetoric around the election, has received $21,600 in campaign contributions from the Mercer family.
In 2016, the Mercers spent over $22 million on efforts to support Trump and other Republicans like Ted Cruz, who helped lead a dozen senators to baselessly challenge the election results. While they spent much less publicly this election cycle, they still pumped over $1.8 million into efforts to elect Republicans. Robert Mercer donated over $300,000 to the Republican National Committee and an additional $1.5 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s super PAC. McCarthy, R-Calif., was the highest-ranking member of Congress who sought to challenge the election results on January 6.
Given the delay of nonprofits in releasing tax statements and the ease of hiding dark-money donations, it will be several years before the public will have a complete sense of how much the Mercers spent to influence the election.
For example, the Mercers have a close relationship with right-wing Catholic activist Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society. Leo, the society’s top lobbyist and co-chair, in turn is closely associated with dark-money group the Judicial Crisis Network and its affiliate the Concord Fund, which pumped $3.7 million into the Republican Attorneys General Association in 2020. Neither group discloses its donors.
NBC recently revealed that the Rule of Law Defense Fund, an arm of the RAGA, had sent out robocalls announcing that “at 1 p.m., we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal.”
The elected leadership of the RAGA has denied culpability for the robocalls. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who heads the RLDF, said in a statement this week that he was “unaware of unauthorized decisions made by RLDF staff with regard to this week’s rally. Despite currently transitioning into my role as the newly elected chair of RLDF, it is unacceptable that I was neither consulted about nor informed of those decisions.”
While the RLDF sought to blame it on employees, the group’s dissemination of information about the rally points to tacit support from high-profile conservatives and donors.
“You can’t have the mass radicalization that we’ve seen without extraordinarily wealthy people funneling money in.”
The RLDF’s executive director, Peter Bisbee, was a longtime official of the Federalist Society, which has received over $6.5 million since 2013 from the Mercer Family Foundation — roughly a quarter of its annual budget. Marshall and Leo were listed as “leaders” in the Lawyers for Trump group when it was launched in July, along with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who have both peddled baseless claims about the 2020 election.
The Judicial Crisis Network is the largest donor to the RAGA, giving over $11 million in the last two cycles. The RLDF has received significant support from the Judicial Crisis Network as well.
“You can’t have the mass radicalization that we’ve seen without extraordinarily wealthy people funneling money in,” said Michael Edison Hayden, a spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Finally, the Mercers have donated $3.8 million to Citizens United, which is headed by David Bossie, Trump’s 2016 deputy campaign manager, who Trump tapped on November 6 to lead his efforts to challenge the election results in the states.
Leo, Rebekah Mercer, Ward, and the Arizona Republican Party did not respond to requests for comment.
“The Mercers have been more than willing to finance efforts to blow up the political system altogether. That seems to be part of what they’ve done,” said Brendan Fischer, the director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center.