The riot at the Capitol on January 6 that left five people dead did not materialize out of thin air. Rather, Trump supporters were instructed to come to Washington DC that day to attend a rally at the Ellipse, near the White House. At the rally, the assembly was incited by Republican officials and Trump family members who told them that Trump won the election in a landslide, and this was their last chance to stop Democrats from stealing the election with fraudulent votes. After the crowd was already worked into a lather, Trump took the stage and told people they must "fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore." Trump ended his speech by instructing the crowd to "walk down Pennsylvania Avenue" and demonstrate the "boldness" needed to "take back our country."
But the event on the Ellipse was slick and professionally produced. And events like that don't come cheap. So who paid for it?
That mystery was revealed in a Saturday report in the Wall Street Journal. The bulk of the money came from Julie Jenkins Fancelli, "a prominent donor to the Trump campaign and heiress to the Publix Super Markets Inc. chain." Fancelli donated $300,000 to fund the event, covering most of the $500,000 total cost. She was recruited to the effort by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who kicked in $50,000.
Fancelli then enlisted Caroline Wren, "a fundraising official who was paid by the Trump campaign for much of 2020," to organize the event on her behalf. Wren reportedly coordinated her planning with Jones and Ali Alexander, another far-right activist. Alexander created a website called wildprotest.com to promote the day's activities and "repeatedly raised the prospect of using violence in the weeks ahead of [January] 6."
Publix released a statement on Saturday distancing itself from Fancelli, who is the daughter of Publix's founder and a major stockholder.
The violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was a national tragedy. The deplorable actions that occurred that day do not represent the values, work or opinions of Publix Super Markets.
Mrs. Fancelli is not an employee of Publix Super Markets, and is neither involved in our business operations, nor does she represent the company in any way. We cannot comment on Mrs. Fancelli’s actions.
Publix's statement, while technically accurate, obscures the larger issue. Publix has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial support to state and federal officials who set the stage for the January 6 riots by attempting to overturn the results of the presidential election — or encouraging others to do so.
Dozens of companies have suspended political contributions to politicians who tried to overturn the Electoral College results. An even larger number of companies have suspended all political giving. Publix is one of a small group of companies that have said nothing about their future political giving.
Popular Information first contacted Publix about its political giving three weeks ago, on January 8, and received no response. We contacted Publix again on Saturday, in light of its new statement condemning the January 6 riot, and again received no response.
DeSantis calls for throwing out millions of votes, Publix sends cash
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) aggressively pushed the lie that the presidential election was stolen from Trump. DeSantis appeared on Fox News on November 5 and suggested that people who live in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan contact their legislators and urge them to throw out the results of the election and declare Trump the winner.
"[I]f you are in those states that have Republican legislatures — like Pennsylvania and Michigan and all these places — call your state representatives and your state senators. Under Article II of the Constitution, presidential electors are done by the legislatures and the schemes they create and the framework," DeSantis said.
Donald Trump Jr. singled out DeSantis as one of the few leading Republican politicians willing to parrot his father's lies about election fraud.
Even after the Electoral College met in December, DeSantis refused to acknowledge that Biden was the winner of the election.
Publix responded to DeSantis' comment by donating $50,000 to DeSantis on December 7 and another $50,000 to DeSantis on December 31. (Direct corporate donations are permissible in Florida.) While Publix says the events that occurred on January 6 "do not represent the values, work or opinions of Publix Super Markets," it had no problem showering the elected officials who laid the foundation for that day with cash. Nor will Publix say if it will continue donating to such politicians in the future.
Publix's large donation to DeSantis also has raised eyebrows because, in January, DeSantis made Publix the sole distributor of COVID-19 vaccines in Palm Beach County. "I’m absolutely, absolutely disgusted that the governor of this state has 100% taken the authority to administer the vaccination program out of the hands of the public health department and given that authority to a corporate entity,” Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said.
While Publix is "ubiquitous in many areas, it is sparse in rural and Black communities." Walgreens and CVS both have "more stores in Florida than Publix" and are "easier for poorer people to reach." But Walgreens donated just $25,000 to DeSantis last year, and CVS did not contribute at all.
Publix silent on future giving to the 147 Republicans that tried to overturn the election
In response to the January 6 riot, dozens of major corporations — including Amazon, Walmart, and Kraft Heinz — have suspended political donations to the 147 Republicans who tried to subvert the election. Publix is one of a small group of companies that have said nothing at all.
A Popular Information analysis reveals that, in the 2020 cycle alone, Publix donated $127,000 to 43 members of Congress who objected to the Electoral College vote. Publix also donated $10,000 to former Senator David Perdue (R-GA) who said he would vote to object to the Electoral College but was not a member of the Senate on January 6.
Publix's donations include support for some of the most extreme members of Congress. The company, for example, donated $3,000 in the 2020 cycle to Congressman Mo Brooks (R-AL). Brooks has enthusiastically embraced Trump's lies about voter fraud, and spoke at the January 6 rally.
“Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” Brooks said. "Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America? Louder! Will you fight for America?"
Even after the riot left five people dead, Brooks says he has no regrets. “I make no apology for doing my absolute best to inspire patriotic Americans to not give up on our country and to fight back against anti-Christian socialists in the 2022 and 2024 elections,” Brooks told AL.com. "I call again for kicking that ‘ass’ all the way back to the communist dictatorships that ‘ass’ now worships."
Publix will not say whether it will donate in the future to Brooks or any of the other Republicans who tried to undermine the democratic process.
Publix supports state politicians who attacked democracy
Publix has supported state legislators who urged millions of votes to be discarded so that Trump could be installed for a second term.
Several members of the Georgia legislature filed an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court supporting a lawsuit filed by the State of Texas that sought to invalidate millions of votes by Georgia voters. Relying on discredited information from Trump campaign lawsuits that were thrown out of court, the legislators claimed that there were at least 133,276 "illegal ballots" cast in Georgia. The brief requested the Supreme Court "grant the remedies requested by the State of Texas in its Bill of Complaint." That would have meant that millions of votes by Georgia voters were discarded and Trump declared the winner.
A Popular Information analysis found that, in the last two years, Publix donated at least $10,500 to ten members of the Georgia legislature that signed the amicus brief.
Among that group was Georgia State Senator Jeff Mullis (R), who received $2,000 from Publix in 2020. In a statement released shortly after the November election, Mullis said that "the actions to undermine and steal this election by Democrat operatives is appalling."
On December 30, several members of the Tennessee legislature wrote a letter to the state's Congressional delegation. The letter alleged that "election fraud is widespread and the types of fraud and irregularities are numerous." It called on Tennessee's representatives in Congress to object "to the contested electors from those states where Republicans offered alternative slates of electors." They argued that objecting to the Electoral College was "critical to America's existence as a republic."
A Popular Information analysis found that, in the last two years, Publix donated at least $7,000 to eight members of the Tennessee legislature who signed the letter.
Among that group was Tennessee State Senator Mark Pody, who received $1,000 from Publix this year. At a January 6 event at the Tennessee statehouse, Pody insisted that Trump was the real winner of the election. "We need to be praying for the truth to be revealed," Pody said.
Publix will not say if it will continue to support Mullis, Pody or the many other state-level lawmakers that have expressed similar views.