A former rising star in MAGA world recently renounced the orbit of operatives who support President Donald Trump, calling them a "cult" and saying they broke campaign finance laws by requesting and taking her campaign donations.
Now, Rabia Kazan is talking to the FBI.
“I lost everything with these people,” Kazan told BuzzFeed News from the lobby of the Connecticut hotel where she now spends most of her time.
Kazan’s time in the MAGA world saw her make connections with top figures and lesser-known operatives. But she now believes she was "used" for her money — and for her identity as a former Muslim to help smooth over Trump’s incendiary comments about Islam.
Kazan began her career as a journalist in Turkey in the 1990s, finding fame after scoring a jailhouse interview with Mehmet Ali Ağca — the Turkish ultranationalist who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981. She got into the prison by pretending she was engaged to Ağca — sparking rumors she became his fiancé while he was in lockup.
In 2007, she published a book, Angels of Tehran, based on her interviews with more than 200 women about abuses against them under extreme forms of Islam. She moved to the US in 2010 as a student and has been here ever since. She continued speaking publicly about women in the Muslim world, in particular targeting Sharia law and extremist ideology, and converted to Christianity. In 2015, she began supporting Trump because of his condemnation of radical Islam, despite his blatantly racist fearmongering.
"I was extremely worshipping of Trump," Kazan told BuzzFeed News. "I fight for women’s rights in the Middle East and fight against ISIS, and I believed Trump was against radical Islam and tough on ISIS. I was thinking he really wanted to help us in the Middle East."
Kazan had a knack for publicity, and eventually gained the attention of Trump’s election efforts. In April 2016, she joined the board of directors for the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, a group cofounded by several Trump surrogates and Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer who is currently serving out a prison sentence after pleading guilty to federal campaign finance violations.
For nearly four years, Kazan, 43, was a frequent speaker on the MAGA circuit, receiving awards from campaign surrogates and posing for photographs with a who’s who of the president’s inner circle: Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, Michael Flynn, Kellyanne Conway, and more — including Trump himself.
Her social media accounts from 2018 to 2019 were packed with glamorous selfies at various Trump hotels and events, often with many members of MAGA world's second string, such as Trump campaign proxy Martha Boneta, Housing Secretary Ben Carson’s son, and Rudy Giuliani’s 20-year-old personal assistant, Christianné Allen, who once accompanied Kazan on a trip to Beverly Hills.
And she had money. Kazan said she received an inheritance after her mother’s death in 2018. Her sister, Betul, married into one of Turkey’s wealthiest families, which owns the Turkish plastics company, Plastmore.
In early March 2019, Boneta connected Kazan to RNC finance officials so she could purchase a $5,600 VIP ticket for a Trump Victory fundraiser in Mar-a-Lago, featuring the president himself. The ticket, in an email, was described as "VIP reserved section (closest to stage), upgraded hors d’oeuvres, drink service."
Kazan considered Boneta a close friend — the two met in 2017 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC — and said Boneta knew she wasn’t a US citizen.
“I was just the introduction,” said Boneta, a Trump campaign surrogate. “I didn’t have anything to do with that.”
“I know she provided all her documentation at the time; she provided her passport and everything,” said Boneta. “Rabia never misrepresented her status.”
FEC records show that Kazan made a $2,800 to Trump Victory, which was transferred the same day to to Donald Trump for President, Inc. The donation and transfer both list MEWC — the Middle Eastern Women’s Coalition, a pro-Trump group Kazan formed — as her employer. Boneta also donated, and Kazan paid for the suite they shared at the nearby Breakers hotel.
“We only accept donations in accordance with federal election laws,” an RNC official told BuzzFeed News. “If we see evidence that a donation was made by a foreign national, we follow the law’s procedures and return the money.”
The RNC, which jointly runs Trump Victory with the Trump campaign committee, said on Thursday afternoon, after this article was published, that they refunded the donation. The Trump campaign and the White House did not respond to requests for comment.
Kazan met Trump at the event. She told BuzzFeed News she thanked the president for his hard-line stance against Islamic fundamentalism, ISIS, and women’s rights abuses in the Middle East. Trump in return thanked her, she said, and asked where she was from. Kazan replied, “The Middle East and NDC” — Cohen’s group. This pleased him, she said.
Days later, Kazan held a press conference for MEWC in a conventional Capitol Hill conference room. She was calling for Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim members of Congress, to resign after she criticized Israel and its US support.
Minutes into the event, Kazan found herself chanting at a woman from Code Pink who stood up to protest.
“Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!” Kazan yelled.
“He’s the biggest misogynist pig ever!” the protester yelled back.
Kazan, dressed in a sharp black pantsuit and ruffled white shirt, her black hair in a sleek bob, walked right up to her. “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
“You were born in another country!” the protester yelled back. “Don’t talk to me!”
“Trump! … Trump! … Trump! … Trump!” Kazan was losing her breath, the chants slowing down. “Trump! … Trump! … Trump! … Trump! ... Trump! … Trump!”
She yelled Trump 35 times in 18 seconds. The video went viral. “I was a hero,” she told BuzzFeed News.
Two months later, in May, Kazan received a handwritten form letter and business card, on Republican National Committee letterhead, from chair Ronna Romney McDaniel.
The letter — likely triggered by the recent donation — thanks Kazan for her generosity. “You are the reason our Party maintained the majority in the US Senate and elected more Republicans up and down the ballot on Election Day,” it reads. Kazan received at least one other letter with a nearly identical message from McDaniel in July.
Nearly 11 months later, Kazan was sitting in the boutique hotel lobby in Greenwich, looking like the polar opposite of the woman who had been chanting not long ago. She wore gray sweatpants, a polo shirt, and Ugg boots, her dark hair messy and tangled. A red cotton kabbalah bracelet was threaded around her wrist, a trend she said she copied from Ivanka Trump. She watched the video of her yelling “Trump” on full volume, her head in her hands, in disbelief.
“I’m praising a god,” she said, pointing at herself in the clip. “Look at me! I am not myself.”
“I was definitely brainwashed,” said Kazan. “I don’t want you to think I’m crazy but I definitely was in a place that wasn’t me.”
Kazan also told BuzzFeed News that she didn’t know it was against the law for a foreign national to donate to political campaigns. Technically, Kazan should never have been allowed to make the donation. It is illegal to accept or solicit official campaign donations if available facts might lead a reasonable person to conclude or ask whether the donor is a foreign national.
“This is actually one of the rare areas where election law is quite clear,” said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, professor of election law at Stetson University. “Unless you’ve got a green card, foreign nationals can’t give money to campaigns, and campaigns can’t accept that money.”
But “it’s harder to prove willful intent,” said University of California, Irvine, professor Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert. “Did that person, when they made a donation or accepted a donation, knowingly, willfully violate the law?”
Vishal Iyer, an immigration attorney in Houston, told BuzzFeed that Kazan’s donation “is unlikely to violate the prohibition on false claims to citizenship” and is unlikely to trigger deportation.
Kazan made other contributions to the MAGA cause.
She gifted Boneta a room for three nights at the luxury Ciragan Palace Kempinski hotel in Istanbul in late February 2019. Kazan also connected Boneta to her sister, Betul, who introduced Boneta to Turkish billionaire Rahmi Koç on the trip, a meeting Boneta documented on social media.
Boneta confirmed that Rabia offered to introduce her to some family and friends, and that her connection to Koç came through Kazan and Betul.
“We met with Mr. Koç, who is a billionaire — a Turkish gentleman, wonderful gentleman, great philanthropist — in Istanbul,” said Boneta. “He is a fan of Roger Stone. So I arranged for Roger Stone to talk to Mr. Koç, and that was the extent of my interaction.”
BuzzFeed obtained texts between Stone and Boneta, while Boneta was in Istanbul, setting up a call between Stone and Koç:
“Hi Roger, I’m in Istanbul right now and they love you. Meeting with billionaire Rahmi KOC tomorrow. Are you available to have a brief call at 8 am EST? Much love, Martha Boneta”
“Martha - Great to hear from you. I am available at 8 am EST tomorrow. Thanks R.”
“Dear Roger- Great! It may be between 8-8:30 AM EST. Is that still ok?”
Boneta said Stone and Koç spoke over the phone during the meeting.
That day, Stone Instagrammed — and later deleted — a photo of himself smiling with Kazan and her sister, taken weeks earlier. “Proud to be with my friends the Kazan Family in Washington, DC recently. Great people ! True friends ! #maga,” he wrote.
Stone had been a guest of honor at a February 2019 Virginia Women for Trump event that billed Kazan as a “platinum sponsor.” Kazan got top billing and a speaking slot.
The next month, a week before a judge set Stone’s trial date, he contacted Kazan via text message in an effort to tap her family connection to Koç.
“I am checking back to see whether you or Mr. Koc are going to help my Legal Defense Fund,” Stone wrote to Kazan. “I am fighting for my life…. I need to hire two more lawyers just to get through the blizzard of paper dumped on me by Robert Mueller.”
In April, Stone tried Kazan again. “I urgently need to hire two more lawyers for my case,” he wrote in an April 23 text, obtained by BuzzFeed News. “We could do a cool press event in DC in you present me a check which would get an enormous amount of Publicity.”
Kazan ignored his request.
When asked about speaking with Koç, Stone told BuzzFeed News, "as I recall nothing whatsoever came of it."
"Beyond that," he added, "I cannot comment because as you know I am under a gag order." A judge placed him under a gag order and social media ban relating to charges of lying to Congress.
A spokesperson for Koç confirmed they spoke. “Mrs. Boneta called Mr. Roger Stone while they were in Mr. Koç’s office,” the spokesperson said in an email. “However, this was only a polite, introductory conversation. There was neither a discussion about funds asked for nor did Mr. Koç contributed any kind of support to anyone. Mr. Koç did not have any contact with them after that meeting.”
Kazan also became a fixture at Trump International Hotel in DC, staying there at least 13 times, totaling 25 nights, between 2018 and 2019, as well as sponsoring MAGA events there. “Trump hotel was my second home,” she said.
In September 2018, Kazan was solicited for a donation from Kylie Kremer, executive director of Women for Trump — a subgroup of the Women Vote Smart super PAC — who asked Kazan via email, obtained by BuzzFeed News, to make a donation for a Women for Trump gala at the Trump International Hotel. Kazan declined. Women Vote Smart is legally barred from accepting or soliciting donations from foreign nationals.
Kremer told BuzzFeed News that Kazan told her she was a US citizen, a claim Kazan denies.
And in June 2019, Ximena Barreto, a former campaign and administration official who resigned from the Department of HHS in 2018 following reports that she had made anti-Muslim remarks and peddled Pizzagate theories, sent Kazan a text message and PDF on June 18, 2019, asking Kazan and sister Betul — who lives in Turkey — to donate to the 2020 Trump campaign. Kazan declined.
Barreto declined to comment.
Kazan didn’t appear to fully understand the distinctions between donating to a nonprofit or to a political campaign or party. She called the MAGA world her “family” and said she financially supported it because she was under the impression they represented the president and his campaign.
This confusion is not unheard of. Attorneys for the Trump campaign itself in a cease-and-desist letter to Kazan’s friend, Alice Butler-Short, president of Virginia Women for Trump. That letter, sent Dec. 9, 2019, says, “While we appreciate your support of the President … The Campaign cannot allow its supporters to be misled to believe they are directly supporting Donald J. Trump for President when in fact they are supporting unsanctioned, rogue efforts.”
One gift was outright bizarre.
Kazan told BuzzFeed News that while she was in Florida for the campaign event last March, Martha Boneta encouraged her to give a necklace to the girlfriend of Michael J. Lindell, the multimillionaire founder of the My Pillow company. Boneta denied this. Kazan said the necklace was part of a $10,000 diamond necklace and earrings set from Turkish jeweler Gilan that her sister gifted her for her birthday, which her sister confirmed.
At the time, Lindell, a born-again Christian, was entertaining a run for the congressional seat held by Rep. Ilhan Omar. Boneta, according to Kazan, said they needed to impress Lindell’s girlfriend enough to persuade him to hold an anti-Omar rally, where Kazan might speak, a claim Boneta denied.
Kazan put her necklace in a gift box, and gave it to Lindell’s girlfriend over breakfast at Breakers on March 11. “Like a movie,” she said. Kazan said she didn’t say what it was for.
“I wasn’t a party to it,” said Boneta. “All I know is she gave a nice gift on her own. In terms of decisions she makes with her possessions, that’s up to Rabia.”
Months later, Kazan’s sister began asking where the necklace had gone. In early October, Kazan asked Lindell to return it, telling him in a Facebook message the diamond necklace was a family gift. A week later, Lindell mailed it back — three months after declining to run for Omar’s seat.
When asked if she was aware that Kazan had asked Lindell to return it, Boneta replied, “Wow.”
A spokesperson for Lindell told BuzzFeed, “[Mike] and Kendra did meet a woman at Mar a Lago who Kendra prayed with. The woman gave Kendra a necklace to thank her for praying for her.
“It was given to Kendra at Breakers Hotel in Florida where the woman said she had purchased it in the gift shop,” the spokesperson continued. “A few months later, the woman reached out to Mike and asked for the necklace back so Mike shipped it to her.”
Kazan’s support for MAGA world wavered here and there, especially when she thought people would get upset when she didn’t open up her wallet or when she suspected they were calling her a secret Muslim or Turkish agent behind her back.
The last straw was in June 2019, during a Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, DC, where Vice President Mike Pence spoke. Mark Anthony Gigliotti, a right-wing radio personality who cohosts a show with an NDCTrump executive, got into a confrontation with Kazan at the Trump International hotel.
In sworn court documents, Kazan says that when she asked Gigliotti to pay her back for a flight, he grew aggressive, and said, “I am going to have you deported, you Muslim bitch!” A prolonged legal fight ensued in which Gigliotti filed a restraining order. In court documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News, a Montgomery County judge rescinded the order in October.
Gigliotti did not respond to a request for comment.
After that incident, Kazan’s love for the MAGA world faded. “I completely lost the feeling,” Kazan said.
“Almost five years everywhere I go, I said, ‘President Trump is not racist,’” said Kazan. “I know for one thing, he’s encouraging it. His tone, his behavior, his actions are encouraging racist movement.”
In October, Kazan started writing on social media that her views about the Trump world had changed. “I WILL NOT BE SILENCED!!!!!!!!!!” she posted on Instagram, along with the hashtags #trumpcult #trumpbribery and #corruption.
Intense social media harassment and threats drove her to visit an FBI field office in Connecticut to start talking with authorities about her time as a rising MAGA star. The FBI declined to comment on those conversations.
In recent text messages obtained by BuzzFeed News, Butler-Short, the president of Virginia Women for Trump, sent Kazan a ghostwritten Facebook post in intentionally broken English, in which Kazan would declare her love and loyalty to President Trump and assure followers she was now seeking professional psychiatric help.
In one phone conversation about the posts, reviewed by BuzzFeed News, Butler-Short told Kazan, “Listen to my advice, you go on [Facebook], you put the other picture on and say, ‘I’m very sorry for what I wrote about the president, but not the other people. I am seeing a doctor. It is not- there is no mafia, but there are evil people who did terrible things to try to destroy my life and even have me deported.’”
Butler-Short confirmed in a phone interview with BuzzFeed News that in recent weeks she sent Kazan two posts ghostwritten in Kazan’s voice. She said of her intentions, “I was very, very clear — only if this comes from your heart, not as a cover-up.” Kazan didn’t post Butler-Short’s words.
And in a text conversation, right-wing activist and radio host for America’s Voice News Jane Ruby — a featured speaker at events Kazan was asked to sponsor — dangled an exclusive “bombshell interview” in exchange for publicly retracting her criticism of the president.
Ruby told BuzzFeed News via text, “The accusation that I simply offered her a show in exchange for her retraction is incorrect.” Kazan never posted a retraction. But in a recent Facebook post addressing her former friends, she showed her cards. “I have faced worse than the pathetic, ignorant people who attacked me,” Kazan wrote. “You don’t scare me at all.” ●
Rabia Kazan made a single $2,800 donation to Trump Victory, which was then transferred to Donald Trump for President, Inc. An earlier version of this story said she had made a $2,800 donation to Trump Victory and another $2,800 donation to Donald Trump for President, Inc.