The rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 want the public’s help to pay their legal defense fees — and they’re getting it.
Among the approximately 800 individuals who have been arrested and charged with participating in the Capitol riot, there are more than 100 crowdfunding campaigns that are soliciting donations for legal bills and other expenses. More than $3.5 million has been raised through the Christian crowdfunding website GiveSendGo, and another $100,000 has been raised through other crowdfunding websites, including Donor Box and Our Freedom Funding, according to an analysis of data from the site that leaked online.
These campaigns have remarkable similarities, and experts who reviewed the campaigns noted the “toxic mixture” of “faith, culture, politics, and conspiracy theories.”
Video, witness testimony, and countless social media posts confirm that Jan. 6 was a violent riot aimed at overturning the certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign victory over Donald Trump. But in their crowdfunding campaigns, the defendants are weaving an alternative reality: They were peaceful protesters and “Christian Patriots” who protested a stolen election and are now being persecuted for their political beliefs.
It’s a narrative undercut by the facts, but that hasn’t stopped it from being an effective fundraising tool.
The vast majority of crowdfunding campaigns supporting defendants are hosted on GiveSendGo, the Christian crowdfunding site which has been plagued by hacks and leaks of personal and financial data. A Rolling Stone examination of the leaked data shows that there have been more than 56,000 donations made to the 100 campaigns supporting the defendants hosted on GiveSendGo. The leaked data has exposed the names, emails, ZIP codes, and other personal information of those who have donated to the campaigns. GiveSendGo did not respond to a request for comment.
The donations to the campaigns supporting the defendants range in amounts from $5 to $15,000, however, the vast majority of these donations were less than $100. Only 302 individual donations were for more than $1,000. There’s no evidence of any prominent wealthy conservative donors bankrolling the legal fees of the defendants through the crowdfunding campaigns, but rather a seemingly widespread belief among rank-and-file of the GOP base that those who participated in the Capitol riot were justified in their actions.
The campaigns’ success in attracting 56,000 separate donations reveals that the wild conspiracy theories surrounding Jan. 6 have permeated much of the Republican base. That aligns with GOP primaries around the country, which have featured candidates continually echoing Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
The leaked data also reveals many far-right messages, including donors’ names such as “WWG1WGA,” a reference to the QAnon slogan of “Where We Go One, We Go All,” or “Trump Won,” a reference to the right-wing conspiracy theory that the election was stolen from Trump.
Kelly and Connie Meggs, a married couple who are members of the right-wing militia Oath Keepers, were arrested and charged with participating in Jan. 6, and have raised more than $152,000 from nearly 3,000 donations through a GiveSendGo campaign, which describes the Meggs as a “good Christian family” who “wanted to support their president, Donald Trump, and did nothing wrong.” Attorneys for the Meggs were unavailable for comment.
Dr. Amy Cooter, a senior lecturer in sociology at Vanderbilt University, says there are remarkable similarities between the fundraising campaigns and how the campaigns appeal to “higher calling” as a justification for their actions during Jan. 6.
“These folks and their supporters are still claiming their actions were those of true patriots concerned about the direction or even the soul of the country, even as some are distancing themselves from the charges they are facing,” Cooter says.
Dr. Philip Gorski, a professor of sociology and religious studies at Yale University, says it is revealing that many of the campaigns directly connect Christianity and the founding, and include appeals that also mention guns and Second Amendment rights.
“I was also intrigued at the protestations of innocence,” Gorski says. “At first glance, this seems normal: people accused of crimes always claim to be innocent, right? But there is something more going on here as well. ‘Good Christian men’ do not destroy property. And if they do use violence, it is only to uphold order, not to overturn it.”
The “Chistian Patriot Legal Fees” GiveSendGo campaign has received more than $32,000 in donations for Derek Kinnison, who was among four members of the Three Percenters, a right-wing militia, who were indicted and arrested on charges including conspiracy; obstructing an official proceeding; unlawful entry on restricted building or grounds; and tampering with documents or proceedings. Nicolai Cocis, an attorney who often works with the right-wing group Liberty Counsel, is Kinnison’s lawyer. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Kinnison writes that he is a “husband and father of a teenage daughter, I own a small business and work volunteer security for my church, and am training to become a deacon,” and that “some Brothers in Christ and I traveled to DC to answer the Presidential call of support and to keep a watchful eye on families, women, and elderly attendees for fears of them being targeted by groups wishing to do them harm.”
Kinnison, while speaking with right-wing media personality Sebastian Gorka, claimed that the charges against him amount to “thought crimes.”
In preparation for Jan. 6, the group communicated through the “California Patriots-DC Brigade” Telegram channel, where Kinnison shared that he had packed gear that included “medical kits, radios, multiple cans of bear spray, knives, flags, plates, goggles, helmets” and a “bandolier of shotgun ammunition,” according to court documents.
Kinnison’s campaign illustrates a commonality among many of the campaigns: an appeal to family and the implicit claim that the defendant is an upstanding member of the community. Cooter notes that many campaigns emphasize the defendant’s importance to their families — often specifically referencing having young daughters as a method of making connections between male defendants and traditional notions of a protective- and provider-type masculinity.
“This is intended to underscore how other family members are heavily dependent on them and their paychecks, but also more subtly reinforces implications that this must be a good man, a stand-up citizen, and someone who would ‘never be a domestic terrorist,’ as several of the listings insist,” Cooter says.
David Clements, a former New Mexico State University professor who traveled the country promoting false claims of widespread election fraud and advocating for audits of the 2020 election, has donated at least $8,900 to more than a dozen campaigns on GiveSendGo.
Clements, who has more than 135,000 subscribers to his Telegram channel and has posted dozens of videos with hundreds of thousands of views on Rumble, has said that he does not believe that Trump’s speech incited the rioters and that the crowd was infiltrated by groups such as Antifa. Clements did not respond to a request for comment from Rolling Stone.
Jim Hoft, the founder and editor-in-chief of right-wing conspiracy news site Gateway Pundit, has made at least $33,000 in donations to the crowdfunding campaigns of two dozen defendants — more than any other single donor. These donations include $7,000 to a campaign for Jeremy Brown, a member of the Oath Keepers, and $3,000 to the campaign for Felicia Konold, who is affiliated with the Proud Boys.
“His Gateway Pundit articles about fraudulent votes or other problems with the election were a commonly referenced ‘source’ leading into the insurrection that helped to stir up Trump’s base and likely helped make some people feel like some version of corrective action was required,” Cooter says.
Gateway Pundit has continued to publish unfounded conspiracy theories, including the alleged involvement of Antifa and undercover federal agents. Hoft did not respond to a request for comment from Rolling Stone.
American Gulag, a website operated by Hoft that claims to provide “sunshine and publicity to the scores of political prisoners wrongfully imprisoned as a result of the protest on January 6th,” has raised more than $106,000 on GiveSendGo. The campaign page claims that any funding “raised over and above the amount needed for our investigations will be applied to legal fees and other expenses incurred.”
“Regardless of whether Hoft himself genuinely believed the election was ‘stolen,’ he and Trump had a symbiotic relationship. Supporting Trump and efforts to keep him in office was consistent with Hoft’s brand,” Cooter says. “Trump, in turn, reportedly read the Pundit and boosted Hoft’s reputation among his supporters. Trump remaining in office likely would have been beneficial to Hoft’s bottom line and potentially to his ability to remain present on more mainstream platforms like Twitter.”
“I suspect that some of the claims about church membership and activity may be exaggerated,” Gorski says. “One of the key findings of Michelle Boorstein’s meticulous investigation of the religious backgrounds of the known J6 insurrectionists is that very few of them were particularly well-integrated into a religious community. Many were really doing DIY religion, in which faith, culture, politics, and conspiracy theories were jumbled together into a toxic mix.”