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Heiress in spotlight over Jan. 6 funding

Spectators on the National Mall as then-President Trump spoke at a rally on the Ellipse Grounds at the White House in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.Pete Marovich/NYT

Eight days before the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, a little-known Trump donor living thousands of miles away in the Tuscan countryside quietly wired a total of $650,000 to three organizations that helped stage and promote the event.

The lack of fanfare was typical of Julie Fancelli, the 72-year-old daughter of the founder of the Publix grocery store chain. Even as she has given millions to charity through a family foundation, Fancelli has lived a private life, splitting time between her homes in Florida and Italy, and doting on her grandchildren, according to family members and friends.

Now, Fancelli is facing public scrutiny as the House committee investigating the insurrection seeks to expose the financing for the rally that preceded the riot at the US Capitol. Fancelli is the largest publicly known donor to the rally, support that some concerned relatives and others attributed to her enthusiasm for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

The Washington Post previously reported that on Dec. 29, 2020, Fancelli donated $300,000 to Women for America First, a nonprofit group that helped organize the Jan. 6 rally, and $150,000 to the nonprofit arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, which paid for a robocall touting a march to “call on Congress to stop the steal.”

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On the same day, Fancelli gave $200,000 to State Tea Party Express, according to Sal Russo, a top consultant to the conservative group. Russo told the Post last week that he gave the House committee records of Fancelli’s donation, which he said was used for radio ads and social media urging supporters of former president Donald Trump to attend the rally and subsequent march. He condemned the violence at the Capitol.

On Wednesday, Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington posted on its website tax filings from the group that showed the donation. The tea party group also provided the filing to the Post.

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Although much about it remains unknown, the funding of the protests — including travel and hotel expenses for thousands of Trump supporters — has been coming into focus slowly over the past 11 months.

Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the House committee examining the events of Jan. 6, told the Post that he believes Fancelli “played a strong role” in helping to finance the rally. “We’re trying to follow the money,” he said.

Fancelli has not responded to phone calls and emails from the Post since August. She rarely, if ever, speaks to the media about her campaign donations or charity work. She has not commented on her support for the Jan. 6 rally except for a statement 10 months ago, saying, “I am a proud conservative and have real concerns associated with election integrity, yet I would never support any violence, particularly the tragic and horrific events that unfolded on January 6th.”

Her family’s fortune comes from the fast-growing Publix supermarket chain, which has tried to distance itself from Fancelli’s involvement in the rally. Based in her hometown of Lakeland, Fla., Publix touts its reputation for customer service with a decades-old “where shopping is a pleasure” slogan.

After an initial report a few weeks after the rally that Fancelli had donated about $300,000, Publix released a statement saying that she was not involved in the business and that it could not comment on her actions. Last week, after the Post inquired about Fancelli’s contributions totaling $650,000, the company went further, saying it “cannot control the actions of individual stockholders” and issued an unusual rebuke of a member of the founder’s family. Because the company is privately held, Fancelli’s stake — if any — is not a matter of public record.

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“We are deeply troubled by Ms. Fancelli’s involvement in the events that led to the tragic attack on the Capitol on January 6,” Publix said in a statement to the Post.

In the weeks leading up to the rally, Fancelli frequently e-mailed to her relatives and friends links to Jones’s talk show, according to two people with knowledge of the e-mails who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Jones was a leading proponent of false claims that Trump’s reelection had been foiled by election fraud and that Congress could refuse to certify Joe Biden’s victory.

Fancelli’s donations related to the rally were arranged by Republican fund-raiser Caroline Wren, who was listed on the event permit as a ‘’VIP ADVISOR,’’ according to records reviewed by the Post and a Republican with knowledge of the contributions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The House committee has issued a subpoena to Wren seeking records and a deposition.

“The funding behind the First Amendment rally at the White House Ellipse was entirely lawful and consistent with the rights Ms. Fancelli has as an American citizen,” Wren said in a statement to the Post.

Fancelli had planned to attend the rally and had a room reserved at the Willard hotel, but she decided not to go because of concerns about traveling during the pandemic, according to the Republican familiar with her donations.

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