Julie Jenkins Fancelli, a Florida-based heiress to the Publix super markets fortune, was little known to the public before she was outed as a major sponsor of the dark money groups organizing the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rallies that culminated in the violent insurrection at the United States Capitol.
Recent reporting by OpenSecrets uncovered that the George Jenkins Foundation, where Fancelli sits as board president and was the sole funder in 2021, gave millions more to groups involved in the January 5 and 6 rallies than previously known, including a staggering $1.375 million to a far right group called Moms for America.
Moms for America has received significantly less media attention than other right-wing “women’s” groups — such as Moms for Liberty, Women for America First, the Independent Women’s Forum/Voice, and Concerned Women for America — that are funded by ultra-wealthy donors whose identities they keep secret from the public. But Moms for America has also been a major player in pushing voter suppression, election denialism, attacks on public schools and COVID-19 misinformation.
Moms for America, which was created in 2005 as “Homemakers for America” and recently designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-government extremist group, deserves greater scrutiny for its role in January 6 and other efforts to undermine democracy. Its funders warrant greater scrutiny too.
Moms for America’s Ties to January 6
Moms for America and its staffers helped organize the January 5 “Stop the Steal” rally the day before the far right attack at the U.S. Capitol. Founder and President Kimberly Fletcher, who spoke at the January 5 rally, was subsequently subpoenaed by the House January 6 committee. During her deposition, Fletcher pled the Fifth Amendment to nearly every question posed to her, but the committee referenced exhibits demonstrating the high level of involvement Moms for America and its representatives played in organizing the event.
These exhibits show that beginning in December 2020, Fletcher was part of a text thread with fellow rally organizers Ali Alexander, Nathan Martin and Ed Martin in which she told them she had secured permits for activities to answer then-President Donald Trump’s call to prevent the election from being certified. They also demonstrate that Moms for America Vice President Debbie Kraulidis helped coordinate accommodations for the January 5 “Stop the Steal” event attendees, and Moms for America provided a VIP list for the January 6 event at the White House Ellipse, where Trump spoke and urged the crowd to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell.”
Cindy Chafian helped organize and spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 5, while her husband Scott Chafian acted as head of security, according to January 6 committee testimony. Moms for America soon thereafter hired Cindy Chafian as its “director of coalitions and engagement.”
In her speech, Chafian addressed her comments directly to Trump: “We heard your call, and we are here for you, Mr. President.” She specifically thanked armed militias — the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, First Amendment Praetorian (which her husband reportedly leads) and the Proud Boys — for “defending” the crowd. She also disputed that the Proud Boys are white supremacists and led a chant in support of Proud Boy founder Enrique Tarrio, who was recently found guilty of seditious conspiracy for plotting to attack the Capitol on January 6.
Video footage allegedly shows her marching up the stairs of the Capitol on January 6 and cheering as rioters assaulted a police officer.
Moms for America board of directors member Charles W. Herbster, a former Trump adviser who has been accused of sexual assault by eight women, posted on Facebook the afternoon before the insurrection that he was “in the private residence of the President at Trump International with the following patriots who are joining me in a battle for justice and truth.”
According to Herbster’s post, those in attendance were Sen. Tommy Tuberville (who denied being there despite photos of him in the hotel lobby that day), former Republican Attorneys General Association Executive Director Adam Piper, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn (who Trump pardoned after he was convicted of a felony for lying to the FBI), Trump adviser Peter Navarro, Trump 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and deputy campaign manager David Bossie, who also led the conservative group Citizens United.
The activities leading up to January 6 were not the only efforts Moms for America made to undermine the public’s faith in the legitimacy of U.S. elections. The group joined up with the “Stop the Steal” coalition to organize and participated in rallies promoting the Big Lie (that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump) and pushing for recounts in all 50 states, according to Moms for America’s 2020 “Year in Review” report.
Mercedes Schlapp, who serves on Moms for America’s board of directors and previously worked for Trump’s 2020 campaign, created a legal fund to cover the defense of numerous individuals subpoenaed by the House January 6 committee. She is married to Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Additionally, Sherronna Bishop, whom Moms for America describes as an “Election Security Specialist,” has proposed getting rid of voting machines, automatic voter registration and most absentee voting. She was deeply involved in a scheme by former Colorado elections clerk Tina Peters to discredit the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state, which resulted in Bishop’s home being searched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Bishop was not charged as part of the investigation.
Bishop also has had a close relationship to MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who produced a documentary about the incident in which Bishop co-starred. Bishop flew on Lindell’s private plane to Lindell’s 2021 Moment of Truth Conference in August 2022, where she went on her own conspiratorial rant about the “2020 fraud election” and other claims that have repeatedly been debunked.
Fancelli’s 2021 contribution to Moms for America amounted to more than a third of the group’s funding that year, but it also received donations from other far right groups tied to January 6 and the Big Lie. In fact, Moms for America saw a massive influx of cash in 2021, taking in $3.1 million in contributions, a dramatic increase from just $408,000 in 2020.
Moms for America’s second-largest known donor in 2021, the Bradley Impact Fund (BIF), a pass-through group that disguises the identities of its donors, contributed $752,500. BIF is legally separate but closely tied to the Bradley Foundation, a massive right-wing foundation that journalist Jane Mayer exposed for its role in pushing the Big Lie. Some of the Bradley foundation’s previously secret funders include Barre Seid, Richard Uihlein and Paul Singer — all recently in the news for their ties to right-wing activist Leonard Leo’s court capture network.
BIF also gave more than $7 million that year to Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA, a right-wing group that helped transport Big Lie enthusiasts to the January 6 rallies, and received (together with its action arm) at least $1 million from Fancelli for January 6 organizing and legal efforts.
Moms for America also took in $10,000 from America’s Future Inc., a dark money group chaired by Michael Flynn, who called for Trump to declare “martial law” and stop the certification of the 2020 election. America’s Future gave nearly $1 million to the “Cyber Ninjas” that engaged in the faux and repeatedly discredited Arizona “audit.”
Moms for America Action (MFA Action), the group’s 501(c)(4) arm, launched in 2020, but is now “pending inactive” in Virginia where it is registered on account of a past-due annual report and unpaid fees. MFA Action has so far not responded to efforts by True North Research to obtain its 2021 tax filings.
This lack of transparency by a group actively involved in trying to influence election results is concerning given the significant amount of work the group has done to get out the vote among “conservative women of faith” ahead of the November 2020 election. It has a 15-state plan “to engage and mobilize moms to get out the mom vote” in 2024, as well as in other state and local elections, specifically school board elections, in 2023.
Moms for America’s Attacks on Schools
Moms for America is also one of the dark money groups behind the recent manufactured outrage targeting public schools. The group launched MomForce, an initiative targeting education, in August 2021 and has hosted trainings for right-wing moms on how to disrupt their local school boards and run for office themselves.
In 2022, Moms for America bragged about creating a legal fund designed specifically to “help moms” battle with what it claims are “increasingly radical and overreaching behavior” by schools. The real radical overreach is by groups like Moms for America who attack the honest teaching of history and measures to treat students with respect for who they are.
Attacks on schools are not unrelated to right-wing efforts to influence elections. Some in the media have credited the coordinated assault on Virginia public schools as the key to Glenn Youngkin’s upset victory in the 2020 Virginia gubernatorial election. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has made manufacturing outrage over schools — partnering with dark money agents from Moms for Liberty, the Manhattan Institute and the Leadership Institute — a centerpiece of his bid for the presidency.
In fact, in the lead-up to the Florida election, Fancelli contributed $50,000 to a political action committee run by the anti-government organization Moms for Liberty, which donated to the campaigns of far right school board candidates in Florida, most of whom also received contributions from DeSantis’s PAC.
Although MFA Action’s website does not list any endorsements for school board candidates in the Florida election, Moms for America claims to have had “big win[s]” including 43 school board seats in 13 Florida counties. In general, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit like Moms for America cannot expressly endorse an electoral candidate without risking its tax-exempt status. Moms for America seemingly has a significant presence in the state with local chapters in Polk County, Sarasota County, Palm Beach County and Brevard County, as well as a state liaison.
Moms for America took credit for helping elect Governor Youngkin and taking over school board and city council seats in 17 states in 2021. MFA Action also endorsed candidates in Virginia in the state’s 2022 election. In 2023, it has officially backed dozens of school board and other local candidates’ elections in Virginia, South Carolina, Illinois and Texas.
Moms for America’s staff and leadership also demonstrate the group’s focus on attacking public education. Rebecca Friedrichs, who is on Moms for America’s advisory council, was the lead plaintiff in a 2016 Supreme Court case against a California teachers union brought by a legal group funded by the right-wing Bradley Foundation. She later created a right-wing group dubbed “For Kids and Country,” which promotes a “union exit” for teachers and encourages parents to convince their children’s teachers to leave their unions.
Sam Sorbo — who sits on Moms for America’s board of directors and is married to actor and right-wing provocateur Kevin Sorbo — created and runs an anti-public school group. Sorbo claimed on Newsmax that teachers “want to have sex with your children.” Right-wing public school privatization groups have increasingly relied on outrageous claims like this to ostensibly create public mistrust of school teachers and attack schools that treat LGBTQ+ children and adults with dignity.
Moms for America also pushes extreme nationalism on children, with an entire section of its website dedicated to “restoring patriotism,” which includes jingoistic lesson plans and Zoom sessions pushing far right “values.”
The group has produced “guides” for moms on how to oppose the truthful telling of history in schools and amplify the voices of right-wing parents, while silencing other parents. They also plan to create an anti-trans guide for parents.
Like many anti-public school groups, Moms for America also has ties to right-wing religious fundamentalists. In 2019, the group attended a meeting of the secretive Council for National Policy, a Christian right group that has been described as a “a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country.”
Sam Sorbo has pushed for the teaching of religion in public schools and even claimed, without evidence, that if schools don’t teach the Bible, children will learn to hate it. She also claimed absurdly that it “is the best history book that we have.” Moms for America has also pushed against the separation of church and state in a blog post on supposed myths about the U.S. Constitution.
Moms for America recently announced a partnership with Patriot Academy, a far right education group that claims to have trained more than 500,000 individuals in their religious fundamentalist dogma, for a series of Zoom meetings titled “Biblical Citizenship in Modern America,” a nonsensical title considering U.S. Constitution expressly bars any religious test or oath for holding office and explicitly bars Congress from establishing any religion as the state religion.
Moms for America is a little-known group that is a relatively large cog in a well-resourced far right machine focused on assailing our democracy and core institutions, along with undermining rights most people in the U.S. hold dear. Despite its lack of name recognition nationally, the group has vast sums at its disposal. Moms for America and its donors should not be overlooked as it joins other dark money groups set on dominating local school boards and state elections in 2023 and 2024, as well as the upcoming 2024 presidential race.
Note: True North Research Executive Director Lisa Graves, Research Fellow Caitlin Mahoney and Democracy Researcher Ansev Demirhan contributed to this report.