How Republicans Went From The Tea Party, To ‘Stop The Steal,’ To The Next Big Election Conspiracy

Activist Jenny Beth Martin’s involvement in Speaker Mike Johnson’s ‘non-citizen’ voting push shows how it's rooted in the effort to keep Donald Trump in power.
Jenny Beth Martin speaks to the crowd during the SAVE AMERICA TOUR at The Bowl at Sugar Hill on January 3rd, 2021 in Sugar Hill, Georgia. Martin is the co-founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, a... Jenny Beth Martin speaks to the crowd during the SAVE AMERICA TOUR at The Bowl at Sugar Hill on January 3rd, 2021 in Sugar Hill, Georgia. Martin is the co-founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, and a columnist for the Washington Times. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire) MORE LESS
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The Republicans are getting the “Stop The Steal” band back together ahead of this year’s presidential race. 

On Wednesday, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) unveiled a piece of legislation that would prohibit non-citizens from voting in federal elections. Of course, it is already illegal for people who are not U.S. citizens to cast a ballot in federal races and a pile of studies have shown that violations of these laws have occurred exceedingly rarely. Nevertheless, congressional Republicans and other allies of former President Trump are making a big show of fear mongering about the issue as he pre-emptively indicates his willingness to dispute this year’s election. And this latest effort to cast doubt on voting features many of the same figures who were involved in the similarly debunked effort to challenge Trump’s loss in the 2020 White House race. 

Perhaps no one illustrates this better than Jenny Beth Martin, a Tea Party activist who joined Johnson for the Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday when he railed against what he called “an unprecedented and a clear and present danger to the integrity of our election system.” Martin worked extensively on the legal and political effort to reverse Trump’s defeat. Text messages obtained by TPM — including some which have not previously been reported — show how active Martin was with various elements of the “Stop The Steal” movement. 

“I’m organizing groups, set up a call for 1:30 today, doing another tomorrow,” Martin wrote in a text message to Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, on November 4, 2020, the day after the election. “I’m get the outside groups on the same page and activating them.”

The exchange was among the 2,319 messages Meadows turned over to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, which occurred as Trump supporters broke into the U.S. Capitol during the certification of the 2020 election results, halting the process. The messages show how there was a coordinated push to promote false claims of fraud in the election and to challenge the results in court and on the ground based on those lies. Officials at every level of government including multiple Trump appointees and other Republicans have said there was no major instance of fraud in the 2020 race. 

TPM ran multiple stories based on the Meadows texts in 2022 and you can read more about the story behind these messages and our procedures for publishing them in the introduction to that series. The texts involving Martin that we are reporting here are being presented in their original format including spelling and grammatical errors. TPM was able to connect the phone number used for the messages to Martin through public records databases and campaign finance reports. Martin did not respond to a request for comment. 

At Johnson’s event on Wednesday, Martin suggested the extremely rare phenomenon of non-citizen voting was a regular occurrence. 

“It’s already illegal for non citizens to vote, but just because something is illegal doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen,” Martin said. “We’re trying to get ahead of the curve here.”

Martin was not the only participant in the conspiracy-tinged event this week who was also part of the prior push to help Trump overturn the 2020 race. The group included Johnson and the two lawmakers leading the non-citizen voting legislation, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX). Johnson was one of the 147 members of Congress who voted against certifying the election results. Text messages previously highlighted by TPM and others show that, even though they did not join that group, Lee and Roy were involved in earlier efforts to challenge the results. Johnson’s press conference also included Trump White House adviser and speechwriter Stephen Miller, who reportedly worked on the fiery address Trump delivered to a rally at the  Ellipse on Jan. 6 as some in the crowd marched on the Capitol. Another participant at the event this week was Cleta Mitchell, the conservative attorney who served as a volunteer legal adviser to the Trump campaign in 2020 and worked on a lawsuit in December of that year that attempted to get Georgia to invalidate the election results. Yet even among this group of anti-democratic luminaries, Martin stands out both because her work in the “Stop The Steal” movement helped connect the political, legal, and activist elements of the push to keep Trump in power and because it has received relatively little public scrutiny — until now. 

Along with Amy Kremer, Martin co-founded Tea Party Patriots, which was one of the largest organizations within the Tea Party movement that helped define conservative politics during the last decade and paved the way for Trump. While the pair had a falling out that included litigation, vicious personal attacks, and alleged online sockpuppetry, they both were separately active in the “Stop The Steal” movement with Kremer leading a bus tour that challenged the election results and ultimately helping to host the Ellipse rally.  

From her firebrand Tea Party roots as a thorn in the side of establishment conservatives, Martin eventually became close with leading Republicans over the years as the Tea Party movement became a fixture of the party’s conference on Capitol Hill. Her journey also saw her go from family financial struggles to earning an eye popping $450,000 despite persistent questions about how much donor money some Tea Party groups were actually directing towards political campaigns

While Martin initially endorsed Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the 2016 primary when Trump first ran for president, she ultimately supported Trump. It was a fairly natural switch as Trump’s conspiracy-fueled populism was firmly rooted within the Tea Party movement. Martin’s activism as Trump lost the 2020 race shows just how devoted she became to his cause and how seamlessly some Tea Party leaders embraced Trump’s MAGA brand of right wing politics. 

Martin attended and spoke at “Stop The Steal” events in the leadup to Jan. 6. She was also billed as a speaker for “Stop The Steal” activist Ali Alexander’s “Wild Protest,” which was set to take place at the Capitol on Jan. 6. That event was cut short amid the chaos and Martin was filmed outside the Capitol trying to discourage the crowds she had spent months riling up from climbing on scaffoldings around the building. And Martin’s work to fight Trump’s loss went beyond speeches.

In a previously reported text to Meadows that was sent on Nov. 7, 2020, the day media outlets projected President Joe Biden had won the election, Lee, gave the White House chief of staff a letter to Trump offering “our unequivocal support for you to exhaust every legal and constitutional remedy at your disposal to restore Americans’ faith in our elections.” The letter, which Lee indicated was signed by a group of lawmakers and activists, urged the former president to “stay strong and keep fighting.” Martin was one of the signatories, which indicated that she was involved in the efforts from Lee and other lawmakers. 

Based on the text messages Meadows provided to investigators, Martin also seems to have been working with Mitchell. On Dec. 1, she wrote to Meadows to ask a favor for “Cleta.” 

“Cleta had to have an eye procedure done today. She has had some issues recently that required urgent or time sensitive attention. As such, she missed the White House reception. Yesterday, she told me she has never been to the [white] house over Christmas before,” Martin wrote, adding, “She has spent 70+ hours in the last week on this case in Georgia plus the entire week right after the election and each week since them. She has no idea I’m making this request. She and I are spending countless hours trying to make a difference for the president and the country. Neither of us are seeking much for it except for what is right and to try to stop the fraudulent election results. I am sure being able to visit and see the decorations would be something that would mean a lot to her.”

The messages Meadows turned over to the select committee do not include a response to Martin’s request. 

A week later, on Dec. 8, 2020, Martin offered Meadows an unsolicited mix of strategic advice and help indicating her willingness to get involved with the election challenge in her home of Georgia and other key swing states:

“Mark, Thank you for all you are doing. No doubt you are exhausted. Do you have anyone working to tie together all the efforts of the various state legislators challenging the elections? I’m very concerned that there is no coordinated effort among all of them. Yesterday, there was a press conference in Georgia by one state rep and another group was going a petition for a simple majority to call the legislature back in session. In AZ, there was a also press conference yesterday. Last night Texas filed suit. The PA legislature case is supposedly before SCOTUS. I think we desperately need someone who can talk to key state and local elected officials in each state, determine what they are doing and the work to help brief the other legislators around the county (and maybe even within each state) to ensure we have as much coherent messaging as possible between now and Dec 14. We need to let our allies know what is happening so they can tweet, email etc. Is anyone already doing this? Is it something you have a person who could do for the next week? The state legislator in Georgia was was working on the simple majority did not make it clear they only needed a simple majority. I saw his petition on Sunday and thought it was a messaging tool more than anything else. I thought it was still going to need a super majority. I only learned it was a more serious effort at 2:20 yesterday. (You could blame me for not doing the math to realize it was a simple majority rather than super majority. I did not. No one highlighted the importance of it.) We lost so much time we could have used to build support here in Georgia. I’m worried that something like that may happen again here or in other states. I don’t know legislators in all these states so I could use another point person to help with coordinating them Please let me know who that might be and how I can help. Thank again for all you are doing.”

Meadows replied, “Yes. Have a team on it.” Martin asked to be “looped in” with that team “to help line up grassroots support.” The messages Meadows handed over to the select committee do not include a response. 

While these one-sided communications leave it unclear how much the Trump White House worked directly with Martin, they show she was plugging herself in with the lawyers and legislators who were fighting to keep Trump in power. She also apparently engaged grassroots activists on the ground. 

Meadows’ text log includes a message from Martin on December 30 where she indicated that her group was bombarding a Georgia courthouse that was the setting for Mitchell’s suit that sought to invalidate the election results and other legal challenges to the certification. 

“TPP Action melted the phone lines in Fulton county superior court and now the case has been assigned to the 7th judicial district in Georgia (nw Georgia),” Martin wrote to Meadows. “I’m sure cleta will update you. Thought you would like to know we made them feel the heat.”

While no major reported issues came from Martin’s action, Trump supporters have indeed made officials feel the heat for resisting his efforts to challenge his loss and the various criminal cases against him. Election workers, judges, and prosecutors have all reported unprecedented threats from members of the public who have been radicalized and angered by the false claims of fraud and Trump’’s insistence the prosecutions stemming from his effort to fight his loss amount to political persecution. 

Despite the tensions, threats, and violence that accompanied the false effort to challenge the last election, some of the same Republicans who backed that effort are already going down the same road ahead of the next one. The concerns about non-citizen voting that were raised by Martin and Johnson on Wednesday are being grossly exaggerated, but that’s the point. In his remarks at the press conference, Johnson made clear that his new initiative is an effort to cast doubt on elections for anyone who didn’t buy the last round of debunked conspiracy theories. 

“Even if you weren’t concerned about the drop boxes and the ballot harvesting and the mail in ballots and 2020, you definitely should be concerned that illegal aliens might be voting in 2024,” Johnson said. 

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Notable Replies

  1. Republicans/conservatives only ever accepted majority rule democracy when it allowed them to dominate. Now that conservatives realize they are outnumbered demographically and ideologically they understand their only vehicle to stay in control of the levers of wealth and power is to abandon their efforts at popularity and go all in on minority rule by any means necessary. Cheating, deception and skullduggery are all they have left.

  2. “an unprecedented and a clear and present danger to the integrity of our election system.”

    Clear? Huh?

  3. What the whole GOP show “is rooted in” to include the antics of Holy Mike is bullshit. It’s all bullshit. A crude word for “bearing false witness” which Mike has been Commanded not to do. But if Mike’s all bullshit ( like I’m sure he is ) that Command don’t mean squat to him.

  4. All I see is an endless supply of money from a few evangelical billionaires, a whole class of people bent on bringing America to Jesus, and another group of people who could give a fig as long as they don’t pay the taxes they are already mostly dodging.

  5. I really think someone needs to tell Donnie about how much money this Jenny Beth Martin made off of his Stop the Steal campaign. He should check the records that she is still tithing to him and his fight.

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