Notorious MAGA conspiracy theorist Ron Watkins hopes to move from QAnon to Congress -- and he needs Arizona voters to do so

Five days before Ron Watkins, the notorious MAGA conspiracy theorist who helped spread the violent far-right QAnon conspiracy, posted a video to his Telegram account announcing his candidacy for a rural Arizona congressional district, he registered to vote in Maricopa County.

Watkins, who is widely believed to have been behind QAnon's master account, has been making national headlines for his congressional bid in Arizona where he is attempting to unseat Democratic Congressman Tom O'Halleran in a large rural district that encompasses a large portion of the state.

However, that district won't exist in 2022: All of the state's districts are being redrawn by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, and final decisions won't be made until the end of the year.

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The Arizona Mirror obtained a copy of Watkins' voter registration information through the state's public records law. It shows Watkins registered to vote in Maricopa County on Oct. 9, at a condominium in the Biltmore neighborhood of Phoenix. Property records show that the property is owned by Liz Harris, a Republican who lost a bid for the state legislature in 2020 and has since become a leading proponent of false claims that widespread fraud changed the election's results.

Harris is also the real estate agent for the property, which was listed for sale in August. Online realty websites show the condominium is priced at about $287,000 and that a sale is pending. It's unclear if Watkins is purchasing the property.

Harris has been the driving force behind a group of conservatives who have canvassed Maricopa County and other parts of the state to identify alleged voter fraud. But the report she spearheaded based on that door-to-door scouring was rife with errors, including listing areas that had homes on it as vacant lots and lacking other corroborating information.

But who exactly is Watkins? And how is a man who has spent the past decade living in Japan, China and the Philippines able to run for higher office in Arizona?

Mass shootings and child porn

Before QAnon, many came to associate Watkins with an online image board called 8chan, which was later renamed 8kun. Watkins didn't create the site — its founder was Fredrick Brennan, who would later cut ties with the website — but he became its administrator after his father, Jim Watkins, purchased it.

The site has become a hotbed for hosting extremist and illicit content. It has hosted child porn, and white supremacist mass shooters have used it as a platform to spread their manifestos.

The Christchurch shooter in New Zealand said that he frequented the 4chan and 8chan message boards where far-right and white supremacist rhetoric was prevalent, and directly linked to other real-life hate crimes. The website also promoted antisemitism, at one point creating a cryptocurrency for users to boost their posts with a program they called “King of the Shekel."

However, 8kun's most active board by far is “Q Research." As of Oct. 20, the board had more than 1,300 unique users and over 14 million posts.

In launching his campaign, Watkins has begun to distance himself from QAnon, going so far as to claim he is not associated with the movement; he is headlining a major QAnon convention later this month.

Brennan, the former administrator of 8chan firmly believes that either Ron or Jim Watkins were the ones behind the QAnon posts, though both men have firmly denied being involved with the postings.

From Asia to Arizona

Prior to coming to Arizona, Watkins was living in Japan for about a year. Before that, he had also lived in China and the Philippines, where 8chan and 8kun were based.

And although he's registered to vote in a tiny Maricopa County neighborhood, Watkins is running for a sprawling rural congressional district. The 1st District runs from the Four Corners to Tucson's northern outskirts, taking in parts of Yavapai County along with the entirety of eastern Arizona. At 58,608 square-miles, it is the largest congressional district in the country — and is larger than 25 states.

In his initial campaign filing with the Federal Elections Commission, Watkins lists a P.O. Box at a Sedona mailbox store as his campaign's official address. But in denoting himself as both the official custodian of records and the campaign's treasurer, Watkins used his Phoenix address.

Arizona law only requires that congressional candidates be registered voters, not that they live or are even registered to vote in the congressional district they hope to represent. Since Watkins is running for Congress, he just needs to be a resident of the state.

What does Watkins' candidacy mean?

“In previous decades, we wouldn't have noticed or cared," Joseph Uscinski, a professor at the University of Miami who specializes in conspiracy theories, told the Mirror.

But as QAnon has become more prominent, and mainstreamed within Republican politics, and because of Watkins' status within the QAnon community, his candidacy has created much more attention than it historically would have generated, Uscinski said.

Candidates with conspiratorial beliefs have always existed, like Lyndon LaRouche, who ran in every presidential election from 1976 to 2004 and believed in and spread a large number of conspiracy theories.

“I don't get the impression that Ron Watkins fits into any Republican or Democrat mold. I don't think he cares about tax policy or anything like that," Uscinski said about Watkins and what his candidacy may mean for the political nature of Arizona. “I don't know what is going on inside of these guys's minds."

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Watkins did not respond to a request for comment about his policy goals, his connections to Harris and what is motivating him to run.

Watkins is certainly not the first candidate from the QAnon fever swamps to run for Congress, though he is the most prominent. Last year saw a rise in candidates with QAnon beliefs, many in Arizona, but only two were successful — and only Marjorie Taylor Greene was “committed" to QAnon, Uscinski said.

QAnon has deep roots in Arizona, including among its elected officials. And since the 2020 election, more of the state's politicians and candidates have begun to fully embrace QAnon beliefs: Sen. Wendy Rogers has tweeted “Q drops" and gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake has tweeted the QAnon conspiracy about Jeffrey Epstein allegedly being murdered.

Watkins and the audit

Watkins is also connected to the state Senate's self-styled “audit."

Doug Logan, the CEO of the Florida based firm that was hired to conduct the audit of Maricopa's 2020 election results, asked Watkins to contact him on his now defunct Twitter. It is unclear if the two ever connected.

Watkins is also connected to the audit via Conan Hayes, a former professional surfer who made millions of dollars selling a clothing company who has become a prominent player in the “election fraud" conspiracy world. At MyPillow CEO's “Cyber Symposium" in August, Watkins said he was given voting machine files from Mesa County, Colo., by Hayes.

Hayes boasted on his Twitter account, which has since been deactivated, that he visited Phoenix in late July. ABC15 Reporter Garrett Archer also claimed to have seen Hayes on the “audit" floor.

Cyber Ninjas refused to answer questions from the Mirror about whether Hayes was involved in the “audit," as either a paid contractor or a volunteer.

Watkins, who is running as a Republican, will need to gather petition signatures from GOP voters in the district he hopes to represent in order to qualify for the ballot. How many signatures he'll need to gather won't be known until January, but candidates for the current CD1 needed more than 1,400 for the 2020 election.

“I don't necessarily think that the QAnon supporters are going to line up for him," Uscinski said, noting that the QAnon community has become increasingly polarized and fractured since Trump was defeated and repeated prophecies that he would be reinstated have proved false, adding “it could get him free advertising for his other projects or he could actually want to win."

***CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erroneously said that QAnon has deep roots among “election officials" in Arizona. That passage has been corrected to say “elected officials." Jeffrey Epstein's name was also misspelled.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona 'director' Ken Bennett headlining 'audit' town halls with group that organized 'Justice for J6' rallies

A group that has organized rallies across the country to support “political prisoners" of the January 6 insurrection will be holding a series of town halls across Arizona to discuss the so-called “audit" of the 2020 election, featuring former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the state Senate's liaison for its controversial review of the vote in Maricopa County.
The events, titled “What Happened at the Audit: A Town Hall Series with Ken Bennett," are aimed at “giving the public a chance to directly question one of the central figures in the Arizona Audit," according to a press announcement from the organization.

The events will take place in Tucson, Scottsdale, Prescott and Lake Havasu City this month and are on a RSVP basis for in-person attendance, although the organizers state there will be a livestream of the events as well.

Look Ahead America is run by Matt Braynard, who briefly worked on the data team for Donald Trump's 2016 campaign . The group has come under scrutiny for organizing the J6 rallies and for claiming donations as tax deductible while losing its tax deductible status.

Arizona's rally last month was one of several held across the country, and came a week after a rally Braynard planned in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18 largely fizzled.

Bennett is the state chairman for Look Ahead America, while Julie Fisher, his deputy liaison, is the group's state operations coordinator. Fisher also worked for the Trump campaign in Arizona in 2020.

Bennett previously told the Arizona Mirror that he is on a “leave of absence" from the organization to focus on the election review when asked if he was involved with planning or organizing the January 6 “political prisoners" events.

The former secretary of state and ex-Arizona Senate president did not respond to a request for comment asking for clarification on what exactly the town halls would focus on or if he was still on a “leave of absence" from the organization.

At least one of the town halls will take place at the location of a known purveyor of election misinformation. On Oct. 21, the town hall will take place at Scottsdale Studios, a frequent promoter of election fraud conspiracy theories that was also given access to the audit.

Susan Wood, the woman behind Scottsdale Studios, was connected to “audit" spokesman Randy Pullen through Fisher, who also now works for Look Ahead America, according to previously released documents.

The video-based platform has twice been kicked off of YouTube — once as Scottsdale Studios and again when it rebranded as Arizona Conservative News — for violating the terms of services. It has since moved to Rumble, a popular video platform for right-wing outlets and personalities, which often rebroadcasts clips from other shows.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona's Paul Gosar shares -- then deletes -- meme used by neo-Nazis and white nationalists

This story contains descriptions of videos and images of a racially charged nature, as do some of the links.
Republican Congressman Paul Gosar tweeted out a video meme last week, which he later deleted, that has roots in neo-Nazi and white nationalist culture.

The since-deleted tweet, which was saved by the internet archive, begins with a cartoon image of a man looking dismayed as a number of headlines are displayed while the song “Little Dark Age" by MGMT plays.

Before the song crescendos, a buff cartoon with Gosar's head superimposed on it appears in a doorway before the cartoon character, and a montage of Gosar is played before another photoshopped image of the congressman's head on a muscular man is shown while a spinning “America First" logo is shown around his head.

The meme follows a format that is popular among online neo-Nazis and white nationalists who take the same song and superimpose it with images from Nazi Germany, as well as other imagery, the Arizona Mirror found.

A search for “Little Dark Age" on the popular video sharing site BitChute found a number of similar videos that were posted well before the Gosar video that all follow the same theme.

One video depicts the same images of the same cartoon man, also known as Doomer guy, looking at headlines about migration, including language that evokes the conspiracy theory of the “Great Replacement."

That idea, popular among white supremacists, holds that white Americans are being replaced by immigrants, usually as part of an intentional plot. It has been seized upon by extremist groups such as the American Identity Movement and Generation Identity.

It has also inspired violence. Fears of immigrants undermining his vision of a white, Christian Europe motivated Anders Behring Breivik's murderous rampage in 2011 at a Norwegian youth summer camp.

In the U.S., the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018 was the deadliest attack against the Jewish community in United States history. Just before it took place, the killer took to right-wing social media site Gab to say he believed that immigrants were being brought in to replace and “kill our people."

The next year in New Zealand, a shooter killed 51 people and injured 40 after posting a 74-page manifesto titled “The Great Replacement."

Again in 2019, in El Paso, Texas, a shooter who went on to kill 23 in a Walmart would cite the manifesto in one of his own, saying it was a response to the “hispanic invasion of Texas."

The “Doomer guy" video goes on to show images of Germany during WWII and films depicting the ancient Romans, who have often been a target for Nazis of the past and Neo-Nazis for appropriation.

But this video is not the only example of the meme format in use.

Another similar video used the same song and compiled footage of Nazi Germany, and the user who posted it on BitChute uses “1488" in their username. The number is a combination of two different popular white supremacist numeric symbols. The 14 standing for the 14 words symbol and the 88 standing for “Heil Hitler."

Other versions of the meme are less historical compilation and a compilation of trolls.

For example, another video discovered by the Mirror, which uses the same song and similar format, mocks Black people, shows its creator in a full Nazi uniform and shows multiple people doing Nazi salutes.

Before Gosar deleted the tweet, some white nationalists and white supremacists on Twitter discussed its similarity to popular alt-right memes. One, for example, said the only difference between Gosar's tweet and “w**nat" content was the lack of an image called a “spinsun."

The term “w**nats" is used by the alt-right to describe people within the white nationalist movement that generally advocate for violence, antisemitism and accelerationism.

The “spinsuns" and “spinny wheel" that other Twitter users complained about referred to an image known as a sonnenrad, also known as the sunwheel or Black Sun. The Nazi party adopted the sonnenrad and it has become used by a number of modern Neo-Nazi groups as well as in violent attacks. The man who killed 51 and injured 40 more in New Zealand had a sonnenrad on his manifesto.

The most popular version of the sonnenrad used by white nationalists and white supremacists is two concentric circles with crooked rays that come out from the center circle and to the outer circle. Some sonnenrads have a swastika in the center or another norse rune.

The meme that Gosar tweeted did have a spinning “America First" logo around the congressman's head.

Gosar's office did not respond to a request for comment asking why he deleted the meme, where it came from, if it was created internally or if they knew about its origins within far-right subcultures.

The congressman has been an ally of white nationalist Nicholas Fuentes, whose followers are known for their extremist views.

Groypers are white nationalists and far-right activists who often troll conservatives who they feel are not extreme enough. Though loosely organized and members of many different groups, groypers are almost all followers of Fuentes.

One of the main goals of groypers is to push conservatives in a white nationalist direction, and one way they attempt to do this is to present their views in a mainstream appearance or within mainstream organizations.

Gosar spoke at an event held by Fuentes but later attempted to distance himself by saying he denounced “white racism" and said he attended the event to reach a younger voting base, according to the Washington Post.

In 2019, his office said he unwittingly retweeted content related to the QAnon movement.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Cyber Ninjas CEO went on a right-wing podcast instead of testifying before Congress

Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan refused to testify before the U.S. House Oversight Committee Thursday morning about the self-styled “audit" he led for the Arizona Senate, choosing instead to spend two hours as a guest on a right-wing podcast hosted by a fellow election conspiracy theorist who is being sued for defamation.

“I mean, the current question is how many times was I thrown under the bus?" Logan joked about the congressional hearing he skipped to the hosts of Conservative Daily.

As Logan spoke to podcast hosts Joe Oltmann and Max McGuire, Senate “audit" liaison and former Secretary of State Ken Bennett was testifying to the congressional committee to defend the controversial election review. The committee also heard from Maricopa County supervisors and election experts.

Oltmann gained notoriety for a baseless allegation he previously made against a Dominion Voting Systems executive that the company's ballot-counting machines were rigged to ensure Trump lost the election. That executive, Eric Coomer, has filed several defamation lawsuits over Oltmann's unfounded claims that he was a member of “antifa" and conspired to change election results.

Both Oltmann and Logan also appeared in the conspiracy theory film “The Deep Rig" which was riddled with falsehoods about the 2020 election and was directed by a man whose previous work claimed aliens were behind 9/11.

Logan was heavily involved in efforts to overturn election results in Michigan and he provided information to U.S. senators that they could ostensibly use to reject presidential electors from battleground states that Biden won. And he spread election disinformation on social media in the weeks after the election. In that conspiracy theory film, which was produced by the primary funder of the “audit," Logan declared that the Central Intelligence Agency was behind claims that the 2020 election was fair.

'I can't tell you if this is fraud'

The two-hour discussion, titled “Cyberninja's (sic) CEO Tells Congress to Fork Off and Joins US Instead," focused on a range of topics, including Logan's faith, the audit, a fake version of the audit report and calls from right-wing extremists to decertify the election because of what the “audit" concluded.

Logan spoke openly about witnessing what he called “anomalies" after the 2020 election that he claimed the “mainstream media" was not covering, saying that this is what got him into “election integrity work."

“It didn't make logical sense," Logan said of the “anomalies" of the 2020 election.

Prior to being hired by the Arizona Senate to conduct the ballot review of the Maricopa County election, Arizona Mirror discovered Logan had been an advocate for “Stop the Steal" content on his now defunct Twitter account, retweeting known misinformation peddlers such as Ron Watkins and Bobby Piton.

Logan has repeatedly refused to answer questions from the Mirror and other journalists about his Twitter account or his advocacy of lies about the election.

But he told the podcast that, by Nov. 14, 2020, he was meeting with a group of people to work on “election anomalies" in South Carolina. This confirms earlier reporting by Talking Points Memo in which conspiracy theorist Lin Wood said Logan was at his property in South Carolina to discuss election fraud investigations. Wood's organization, Fight Back, donated $50,000 to the Arizona “audit" efforts.


After that, Logan said he didn't come home until Christmas Eve and worked on election fraud investigations in Georgia. Logan was also involved in the failed attempt to prove election fraud in Antrim County, Mich., where he was listed as an expert witness.

Maricopa County 'audit' response slams claims as false and misleading

When the conversation turned to the findings that the “audit" made about the Maricopa County election, Logan claimed that there were over 23,000 “suspicious ballots," but demurred on the question of whether there was any fraud.

“I can't tell you if this is fraud or if it is not fraud. What I can tell you is that it is highly suspicious," Logan said of the audit report's assessment of mail in ballots.

Maricopa County in its response said they have been unable to substantiate any of the claims on the 23,000 mail in ballots Logan deems “suspicious," adding that Cyber Ninjas used a commercial database instead of the United States Postal Service or National Change of Address report to confirm a person's address, making Logan's analysis unreliable.

A large portion of the discussion centered on the concept of decertifying the 2020 election, something Logan was not keen on.

“Suggesting we should decertify is like launching a nuke," Logan said, drawing criticism from the hosts.

Logan: Cyber Ninjas team member wrote fake draft report

The “audit" report explicitly did not conclude there was election fraud, and did little more than suggest possible changes to state laws governing how elections are conducted. But a fraudulent draft version of the report was published by Gateway Pundit, a right-wing clearinghouse of conspiracy theories and fabricated stories, that alleged Logan and the other auditors found fraud and called for the election to be decertified.

Logan said that someone on his “audit" team wrote the counterfeit draft report, but did not say who it was. Oltmann, the show's host, admitted that he released that version of the report online.

“Are you ready for the left or other people to use the same burden of proof to use it against you?" Logan said to Oltmann, adding that they must have “absolute proof" and that they are not there yet for decertification, something legislative attorneys have said is not possible.

Logan pushed for Oltmann and his viewers to wait for Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate, and said that the Arizona Senate is in the process of sending more information to the AG.

“Let's pray for the AG, let's pray that he does what is right," Logan said. “Send him letters, send him emails, encourage him to do what is right."

Oltmann, who has a history of using violent rhetoric, had some different thoughts on the matter.

“The backlash from the American people if (Brnovich) doesn't do the right thing is going to be a snowball, that I'm not sure rolling down that mountain will not turn into something that none of us want, and that is some sort of kinetic behavior by Americans saying enough is enough," Oltmann said, adding that it may result in “tar and feathering."

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona 'Justice for J6' rally draws small crowd of extremists -- and GOP officials

Only a few dozen people, many of them members of a violent extremist organization, showed up at the Arizona Capitol on Saturday for a rally claiming that Donald Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 did nothing wrong and were being held as “political prisoners."

“It was an awesome, awesome day," former state Republican legislator Anthony Kern told attendees about being at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Kern, who lost in 2020 but is again running for the legislature, has said he never breached the Capitol. However, footage reviewed by the Arizona Mirror shows that Kern was present at other parts of the Capitol breached by protesters. During his speech before the crowd, Kern said he arrived two hours after everything “serious" happened.

The Mirror's analysis determined that Kern arrived shortly after 3 p.m. By that time, the protest had been violent for some time and Trump supporters had already broken into the Capitol in some places, while others were in the process of breaking into the Capitol.

Saturday's rally was one of many across the country organized by Look Ahead America, which is run by former Trump campaign aide Matt Braynard. Arizona's rally came a week after a rally Braynard planned in Washington, D.C., largely fizzled.

Approximately half of the audience in attendance at the Arizona rally were members of the Proud Boys, which the SPLC designates as a hate group. So far, 19 members of the Proud Boys have been indicted in relation to the events of Jan. 6, with one indictment suggesting that there may have been coordination between many of the groups.

Their presence was a boon for GOP Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake.

“The Proud Boys came to one of my events and that was one of the proudest moments of my life," Blackman said to the crowd. Blackman is running for Congress in the 1st District.

One of the speakers, Micajah Jackson, is facing federal charges for storming the Capitol on Jan. 6. The FBI alleges that Jackson participated in a march alongside members of the Proud Boys chapter from Arizona and that he knowingly entered the Capitol without permission.

Jackson claimed on Saturday that the Jan. 6 riot was a setup “coup" by the FBI, the Capitol Police, D.C. Police, Black Lives Matter, antifa, Democratic activists and the “radical U.S. government."

“That's disgusting, that is KGB stuff right there going on," Jackson said. A woman in the crowd shouted back, “It's demonic!"

FBI Director Christopher Wray has said that there is no evidence that far left groups participated in the violent events of Jan. 6.

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Blackman was the only elected official who spoke, a last-minute change from how the event was promoted. It originally billed GOP legislators Rep. Mark Finchem and Sen. Wendy Rogers as speakers, as well as a controversial figure named “American Greyson" Arnold.

Arnold has used his social media pages to post memes lauding Nazis as the “pure race" and lament the American victory in World War II. He also called Adolf Hitler a “complicated historical figure." Another time, he posted the logo of Stormfront, the first major hate site on the internet that was founded by Don Black, the former leader of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. The logo is the Celtic Cross, a common white supremacist symbol, emblazoned with the words “White Pride World Wide." “God is on our side because our fight is righteous," he declared.

Shortly after the Mirror inquired about these posts, an event spokeswoman said Arnold was no longer a speaker at the event. However, he still attended the event and was seen with local anti-mask agitator Ethan Schmidt.

Jackson wasn't the only speaker who was arrested by the FBI for their involvement in the events of Jan. 6.

Couy Griffin of Cowboys for Trump was arrested for one count of knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful entry. Griffin claims he didn't know the area was off-limits and has said he wasn't there to disrupt anything.

Another speaker also had connections to the insurrection. Jeff Zink, who is running for Congress against Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, has a son who was arrested for trespassing, assault and damaging property. Zink has said that his son is falsely accused, but the FBI contends that photos from his son's own Facebook page and security camera footage put his son at the scene and show him damaging property.

Zink condemned the destruction and said anyone who did that rightfully deserves to be in prison — but his son does not.

“Somebody else came in and stole what was supposed to be a peaceful protest," Zink said, adding that the Jan. 6 protest that preceded the violent insurrection was not about “Trump or Biden." In fact, it was organized by Trump's allies and was solely focused on disputing and overturning the 2020 election, which Trump lost to Joe Biden.

“You're guilty until proven Democrat," Zink said to cheers from the crowd.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

The ‘audit’ found no evidence of fraud -- but Republicans say it’s the smoking gun they wanted

The long-awaited results of the Arizona Senate's “audit" of the 2020 election in Maricopa County unequivocally concluded there was no evidence of fraud, but that didn't stop leading Arizona Republicans from claiming that the election review was the smoking gun needed to prove the claims they've been repeating since last November.
“Today is vindication day," Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, told a crowd of about 80 people who gathered on the Capitol lawn immediately after the “audit" was presented to the Senate Friday afternoon.

Finchem, who has been at the forefront of efforts to undermine the results of the election, said that the hearing “vindicated" him for a trip he made to Washington D.C. on Jan. 5 to deliver an “evidence book" to Arizona GOP Congressmen Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs.

Finchem would later be seen outside the Capitol building on Jan. 6 as rioters breached the Capitol building, attempting to interrupt the certification of the election results.

When you see (the news), just turn off the TV.

– Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City

In reality, the “audit" found no evidence of the massive fraud that Finchem and many other Republicans, led by twice-impeached former President Donald Trump, have said changed the outcome of the election. The auditors made numerous claims of impropriety, but provided no proof that any laws were broken and did minimal investigation of the alleged anomalies.

The election review also concluded that Trump lost to Biden. (The “audit" concluded that Biden actually won by about 260 more votes than the official election results.)

Seizing on unsubstantiated claims

The Arizona Republican Party billed the rally after the hearing as a “debrief," but many politicians — most running for re-election or a higher office — gave stump speeches or repeated unsubstantiated claims about the results of the “audit," particularly allegations that there were cybersecurity lapses and the election was thus not secure.

In his presentation to the Senate, CyFIR CEO Ben Cotton claimed election files had been deleted. Maricopa County officials said nothing was deleted, but the files were instead archived for preservation and to free up space on the election machines.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, a Lake Havasu Republican and vocal proponent of false claims that the 2020 election was rigged against Trump, seized on Cotton's claim.

“By deleting files, plain and simple you nullified an election," he said as the crowd erupted in cheers and applause.

A fired up Borrelli made a number of claims to the audience, saying that the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors violated federal law and that they will be “held accountable."

“Do we think that this was a free and fair election?" Borrelli asked the crowd, which enthusiastically shouted back, “No!"

Borrelli has been a major supporter of the “audit" efforts, appearing on right-wing media channels drumming up support for the Senate's efforts. He said media outlets that reported critically on the “audit" did so unfairly, and falsely claimed that they “worked with" the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which refused to cooperate with the Senate's review.

“When you see (the news), just turn off the TV," Borrelli said. “Just don't listen to certain radio stations anymore."


Other elected officials pushed supporters to ignore any claims that the “audit" didn't prove fraud.

“No matter what the left says, we will keep this in the narrative," Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, said, adding that they will hold whoever is responsible for the invented election fraud “criminally liable."

Supporters on Rogers's Gab account during the audit hearing Friday posted messages about killing members of the Maricopa Board of Supervisors because of the audit.

Rogers, calling the 2020 election “corrupted," announced that she and a coalition of Republican lawmakers in other states who similarly believe baseless claims are calling for forensic audits in all 50 states due to the results of Arizona's “audit." When she said she will continue to push for Arizona to decertify the results of the 2020 election — something legislative attorneys say is not possible — the crowd began chanting “USA."

“If we don't have accurate and fair elections, we don't have a country," Rogers said.

The 2020 election has been deemed by election experts and cybersecurity officials to be the most secure election in United States history.

'Audit' will prompt push for new, restrictive laws

The only speaker at the AZGOP event who did not outright say they believed there was fraud, call for the decertification of the election or say the “audit" vindicated Trump supporters was Senate President Karen Fann.

“You guys are the true heroes," Fann said to the crowd, which also included some volunteers who worked on the “audit" itself.

“It's been rough, it's been real tough," Fann said, remarking that she has received threats related to the audit, though she noted the support she has received has been far greater.

Fann reiterated that the Senate will be handing over the information it collected to Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

Other lawmakers, such as Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, said that the audit is a signal for future legislation.

“Now we're going to find out who has backbone and who doesn't," Blackman said. “This is when the work starts, America."

Blackman, like several other speakers, called for arresting county leaders and election officials.

“If you tamper in an Arizona election, you should stand behind bars," Blackman said.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

GOP officials will share the stage with avowed white nationalists at Arizona rally to support insurrectionists

A rally planned for Saturday at the Arizona Capitol that aims to support “political prisoners" of the January 6 insurrection will feature speakers who are white nationalists, have endorsed Nazi ideology and are facing charges for storming the U.S. Capitol alongside GOP legislators.

The event is organized by a group that boasts two officials from the Arizona Senate's election “audit" on its leadership team.

One of the speakers, “American Greyson" Arnold, has used his social media pages to post memes lauding Nazis as the “pure race" and lament the American victory in World War II. He also called Adolf Hitler a “complicated historical figure."

Arnold is one of several announced speakers at a rally organized by a group called Look Ahead America, which is run by Matt Braynard, the former director of data and strategy for Donald Trump's 2020 campaign. Arizona's rally is one of several being held across the country, and comes a week after a rally Braynard planned in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18 largely fizzled.

The most recent slate of speakers also includes Republican state legislators Mark Finchem and Wendy Rogers — the former was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and the latter cheered on the violent failed coup on social media — U.S. Senate candidate Jim Lamon, and congressional candidates Jeff Zink and Eli Crane.

The lineup also includes Micajah Jackson, who is facing federal charges for storming the Capitol on Jan. 6. The FBI alleges that Jackson participated in a march alongside members of the Proud Boys chapter from Arizona and that he entered knowingly without permission.

GOP officials will share the stage with avowed white nationalists

Jackson's online persona regularly shares conspiracy theories, and both he and Arnold are considered “Groypers," a subset of the white nationalist community who often troll conservatives who they feel are not extreme enough. Though loosely organized and members of many different groups, groypers are almost all followers of white nationalist Nick Fuentes.

One of the main goals of groypers is to push conservatives in a white nationalist direction and one of their strategies is by presenting their views in a mainstream appearance or within mainstream organizations.

Arnold hosted an event at Lake Havasu earlier this year inspired by Fuentes dubbed “White Boy Summer." The idea was co-opted from Chet Hanks, son of actor Tom Hanks, who had published a series of social media posts critiquing white men's attire and behavior and later dubbed the summer of 2021 “White Boy Summer."

White nationalist and white supremacist groups co-opted the slogan as a call for action. Arnold's “White Boy Summer" event in Havasu featured Jackson as a speaker.

And two officials from the Arizona Senate's self-styled “audit" of the 2020 election in Maricopa County hold leadership posts in Look Ahead America, the group organizing Saturday's rally.

Senate “audit" liaison and former Secretary of State Ken Bennett is the “state chairman" for Look Ahead America, while Julie Fisher, his deputy liaison, is the group's “state operations coordinator." Fisher also worked for the Trump campaign in Arizona in 2020.

Bennett told the Arizona Mirror that he is on a “leave of absence" from the organization to focus on the election review, and was not involved in planning the event or choosing the speakers. He did not respond to additional questions about the speakers or their support of extremist and racist ideology.

Rogers, Finchem and Lamon did not respond to a request for comment about Arnold's past comments.

Direct ties to the failed coup

Jackson isn't the only speaker tied to the violent insurrection that aimed to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden's election victory.

Finchem attended Donald Trump's rally earlier that day and marched to the Capitol. Although he insisted that he never got within 500 yards of the Capitol building, footage emerged months later showing he was directly in front of the east steps at the Capitol after pro-Trump rioters had already broken through a series of barricades and police lines, and then smashed their way into the Capitol building.

And Zink, who is running for Congress against Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, has connections to the events: His son was arrested for trespassing, assault and damaging property. Zink has said that his son is falsely accused, but the FBI contends that photos from his son's own Facebook page and security camera footage put his son at the scene and show him damaging property.

Lamon, who is vying for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, has given millions of dollars to Looking Ahead America, according to reports by independent journalist Hunter Walker and Axios.

Concerns over security at the Sept. 18 event in D.C. prompted a large police presence, although only a small number of people eventually showed up. The permit for Saturday's event at the Arizona Capitol said the group expects only 50 people to show up.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Cyber Ninjas' CEO masterminded banning media coverage of Arizona 'audit'


The plan to bar journalists from covering the Senate's self-styled “audit" of the 2020 election in Maricopa County and only let them into Veterans Memorial Coliseum if they agreed to work 30 hours as volunteer observers was hatched and implemented by Doug Logan, the man hired to lead the election review.

Logan pushed ahead with the plan, despite criticism of the idea from the public relations consultant he hired to represent his company, Cyber Ninjas. That consultant, Rod Thomson, was made aware of the plan two days before the “audit" began, according to emails released under Arizona's public records law.

“That is a giant time commitment for media that is generally stretched pretty thin nowadays," Rod Thomson said. “I also think it will be spun against us as setting up unreasonable barriers to media being observers."

He cautioned that journalists would frame the issue as “audit" leaders being disingenuous about wanting the public to know what was happening.

In the days before the “audit," the Senate announced that the media would not be able to attend the election review, which was taking place in a decades-old basketball arena, to document and report on the proceedings. Journalists would only be allowed to enter the building if they agreed to work 30 hours as volunteer observers — and they couldn't bring notepads, take photos, record or do any of the duties that would qualify as reporting.

In an email exchange on April 22, Logan — a Trump supporter who spread baseless election fraud conspiracies, was a key player in the early efforts to overturn election results and tried to get the U.S. Senate to reject Joe Biden's win — presented his “media response plan" to Senate liaison Ken Bennett, “audit" spokesman Randy Pullen, Cyber Ninjas attorney Alexander Kolodin and Thomson.

The exact details of the plan are unclear, because the Senate did not release the PDF file that Logan shared as part of Ken Bennett's public record emails. However, Logan said he had made changes to a previous draft “to be clear that the rules are the same for all observers, verses (sic) something special for media." The general rules for observers barred cell phones, cameras, writing implements and asking questions of “audit" officials.

Kolodin gave the plan his thumbs up and brushed aside concerns that media organizations would be unhappy.

“I'm fine with the changes you made. Media may do a critical write-up on it but whatever," the attorney said.

But denying the media access to the “audit" resulted in more than just critical news coverage: The Arizona Mirror, Arizona Republic and the Arizona Broadcasters Association partnered to hire an attorney and threatened to sue the Arizona Senate for access to the ballot review on the grounds that barring the press was a constitutional violation. The Senate and the media groups reached an agreement that instead allowed a limited number of journalists to attend each day to observe from a press area up in the arena's stands.

But that was only the plan for most of the media. Two days earlier, on April 20, Logan and Thomson discussed technical problems sharing a set of text messages from a conservative journalist named “Alex." The last name or outlet for Alex are unknown.

“I'd love friendly press observers," Logan said. The content of the text messages were not made available as part of the records release. Logan would further go on to ask Thomson to “send their names" to Bennett and copy him on future correspondence about making sure they could be observers.

“Please copy me on these, as I want to make sure they get through," Logan said.

View note

Julie Fisher, the deputy liaison and a former Trump campaign staffer in Arizona, responded to Logan and Thomson that she would allow the “friendly" journalist to skip the voter registration verification that all other observers were subject to. All observers were required to be registered voters in Maricopa County.

The media policy that Logan crafted was finalized a day before a heated press conference that still stands as the only time Logan has spoken with reporters.

That evening, Senate President Karen Fann told reporters that the “audit" team was revising its media policy, but wouldn't commit to saying if the policy would be rescinded.

At the press conference the following day, after auditors attempted to bar a group of reporters from attending, Logan and Bennett said the observer requirement had been reduced from 30 hours to a single six-hour shift. However, journalists could still not bring notepads, take photos, record or do any of the duties that would qualify as reporting while observing.

Bennett also pledged to have daily press briefings, though there was never a single one.

The requirement to make reporters observers would have effectively meant that journalists could only report on the audit if they agreed to participate in it, a conflict with the ethics policies of many journalistic organizations, including the Arizona Mirror. And their ability to actually report on the events would be severely limited.

Audit team leader Logan will present his long-delayed report from his election review to the Senate on Sept. 24.

***UPDATED: This story has been updated to include additional emails from April 20, 2021.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

'Shameful' Republican compares COVID vaccines to the Holocaust -- then tells Jews to 'learn your history'

After comparing vaccine supporters to Nazis and sharing an image of needles in the shape of a swastika on social media, Republican state Sen. Kelly Townsend dismissed a Jewish organization who admonished her to “learn your history."

On Sunday, Townsend tweeted an image a Nazi flag made up of needles with a caption that anyone who is vaccinated and “complaining" about the unvaccinated are saying the vaccine doesn't work.

The Anti-Defamation League, an international Jewish organization that focuses on fighting back against antisemitism and hate, sharply criticized Townsend on the social media network.

“(Townsend) should delete this outrageous and offensive tweet," the Arizona chapter of the Anti-Defamation League wrote on Twitter. “There is never a valid time to share this flag which represents oppression and genocide for so many. Comparing health mandates to Nazism is highly insensitive and escalates tensions around efforts to fight #COVID19."

Townsend rebuked the 108-year-old Jewish organization. “Learn your history," she retorted.

Other local Jewish organizations have chimed in on Townsends' comments as well.

“There is no place for Nazi imagery in regards to vaccination. Period," the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix said on Twitter. “This is shameful, offensive and insensitive. Do better."

Townsend, whose legislative district includes Mesa and Apache Junction, posted subsequent tweets agreeing with other users who compared vaccinations to Nazi Germany. She also liked tweets by other users who had photoshopped Sen. T.J. Shope's face onto Nazi officers asking Polish citizens for their papers.

These officers, known as the Ordnungspolizei, played a key role in the Holocaust. Townsend liked a number of tweets comparing Shope to these officers.

Shope opposed a bill during the 2021 legislative session that would have barred private businesses from refusing service to unvaccinated customers. But Shope, a Coolidge Republican whose family owns a grocery store, said he opposes government-imposed vaccine mandates, tweeting last week, “I join Gov. @dougducey and I'm sure a majority of my colleagues in looking forward to our day in court with @POTUS over this unconstitutional mandate!"

The officers Shope was compared to perpetuated a number of war crimes and were also known as the “Order Police" and were responsible for many of the atrocities in the Warsaw Ghettos. On July 27, 1941, one battalion of the unit was responsible for the massacre of between 2,000 to 3,000 Jews in the recently occupied Bialystok. Hundreds of the victims were burned alive while inside a synagogue.

This isn't the first time Townsend, who opposes vaccine use, has compared vaccination requirements to Nazi Germany or the Holocaust. In 2019, Townsend was denounced for comparing school vaccination requirements to the tattoos that Nazis forced upon Jews in concentration camps during WWII. In a now-deleted Facebook post, Townsend took a poll asking if the government should be able to “forcibly place your id number on your arm," later going on to say in the post that those who had a “visceral reaction" to the poll would “understand" the idea of “forcing you to inject a solution" into your body.

Townsend would later claim in an interview with the Arizona Republic that she was not trying to compare vaccinations to the Holocaust, despite the clear connections to the actions of Nazi Germany.

And she isn't the only Arizona politician to draw comparisons between the Holocaust and Nazi Germany to vaccines and COVID-19 mitigation measures.

Republican Rep. John Fillmore, who represents the same legislative district as Townsend, apologized last year after he linked mask mandates to the Holocaust at a “Freedom Rally." Fillmore compared masks to the tattoos those at concentration camps were forced to get.

Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward also was criticized when she agreed with a tweet that said so-called vaccine passports were akin to the yellow Star of David Jews were forced to wear in order to make them identifiable to Nazis.

Comparing the vaccine and an government attempts to encourage its use to the Holocaust has become a popular analogy, particularly among conservatives in the wake of President Joe Biden's decision to make employers with more than 100 people require the vaccine.

However, that requirement appears to be on firm legal ground, and religious exemptions for vaccines still exist for those who wish to use them. Those who choose not to get vaccinated will have to get tested once a week. Additionally, those medically exempt from immunization can work remotely under the new guidelines.

Roughly 4 million Arizonans have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and about 3.6 million are fully vaccinated — approximately 50% of the state's population.

“We strongly recommend that everyone 12 and older get vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccines are safe, free, widely available and proven to be highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19," Arizona Department of Health spokesman Steve Elliot said when asked about Townsend's comments. “For those who remain hesitant, we suggest talking with your healthcare provider about the benefits of getting vaccinated."

Anyone seeking a vaccination can find vaccine information online for Maricopa County here and statewide here.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Did surfer-turned-conspiracy-superspreader Conan Hayes work at the Arizona 'audit'?

Conan Hayes may not be a household name, but the surf wear clothing brand he started, RVCA, may be recognizable to many.

The former professional surfer made millions from the company before selling it to the larger apparel company Billabong, but lately he has been focused on something entirely different: proving Donald Trump's 2020 election loss was fraudulent.

The author of an anonymous Twitter account that has been called a “superspreader of election disinformation," Hayes is part of a web of people connected to election fraud claims across the country that include Michigan, Colorado and Arizona. The connections he has include a who's who of players in Arizona's self-styled election “audit," including the man leading the effort, Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan.

Who exactly is Hayes and what are his connections to the Arizona election review?

Antrim County, Mich.

Before the Arizona Senate decided to begin its review of ballots, Michigan lawyer Matthew DePerno was working to gather alleged evidence of election fraud in Antrim County, a small county in northwest Michigan that Trump won easily.

Antrim County quickly became a focal point for election fraud claims on election night because of an initial reporting error of unofficial results that was soon corrected. The mistake by an election worker, led to election fraud conspiracy theorists descending upon the state and accusing Dominion Voting Systems, the company that made Antrim's election machines, of switching votes.

Maricopa County, the focus of the Arizona Senate's “audit," also uses Dominion machines.

Arizona Senate hires a 'Stop the Steal' advocate to lead 2020 election audit

DePerno has been a key player in pushing debunked election fraud claims about Antrim and has continued to fight for them in court, despite them being thrown out multiple times. In those court filings, DePerno claimed both Logan and Hayes were “expert witnesses" who could support his fraud claims.

The surfer and former clothing company owner was listed as an expert on “application security, systems, process, generally accepted programming practices, standards of care, as it relates to application development of sensitive systems."

DePerno would later go on to say that Hayes contributed to a flawed and debunked report by the company Allied Security Operations Group alleging fraud in Antrim by gathering “forensic information." The report confused Minnesota precincts with Michigan precincts, among many other errors.

ASOG was almost hired by the Arizona Senate to conduct the “audit." Its principal, Phil Waldron, has continued to spread baseless lies about the election, appearing at a Cyber Symposium last month that promised to provide proof of election fraud, but utterly failed.

Mesa County, Colo.

The Cyber Symposium was the brainchild of MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who guaranteed that it would prove that the presidential election was “hacked" to ensure Trump lost.

During the event, election conspiracy theorist Ron Watkins — who is suspected of being behind the dangerous QAnon movement — discussed files he had obtained from Mesa County, Colo., that Watkins claimed to show evidence of election fraud.

Those documents were given to Watkins by Hayes.


But the files were apparently stolen from the county, possibly with the knowledge of Tina Peters, the elected Republican county recorder who has promoted election fraud theories. Her whereabouts remain to be a mystery; she remains under a criminal federal investigation but she claims to be “working remotely."

Peters allegedly turned off security cameras and allowed a person in to get the data using the name Gerard Wood.

Watkins said during the event he was “unsure" if Hayes had permission to share the files publicly or not. Researchers and experts who looked at the Mesa County files noticed Hayes's initials in the file, indicating that he downloaded the data to his own computer.

The voting machines in Mesa County have been banned from being used because of the data breach, and election and security experts are concerned about Dominion Voting software that was released during the Cyber Symposium, as well.

Arizona

Hayes boasted on his Twitter account, which has since been deactivated, that he visited Phoenix in late July. ABC15 Reporter Garrett Archer also claimed to have seen Hayes on the audit floor.

One of the right-wing organizations that bankrolled DePerno's failed litigation in Michigan, Election Integrity Funds for the American Republic, has paid at least $280,000 to fund the Arizona “audit."

Cyber Ninjas refused to answer questions from the Arizona Mirror about whether Hayes was involved in the “audit," as either a paid contractor or a volunteer.

Hayes's Twitter was full of QAnon posts, as well as posts about alleged election fraud, according to reporting by The Daily Beast. It now appears that the account has been deleted.

It is not entirely clear what Hayes' role is in Arizona's “audit" if any, however, if he has a role it could be similar to what he did when working with ASOG. On his now-defunct Twitter, Hayes shared images of voter rolls from Michigan prior to the release of the ASOG report with his own analysis.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

A GOP lawmaker's nonprofit was billed $400K for 'audit' security

Newly released documents show that the Arizona “audit" has spent more than $400,000 to hire off-duty police officers to provide security for the ballot review that concluded last month at the state fairgrounds.

Not much has been previously known about how much money is flowing in and the agreements between the Senate and Peoria-based Law Enforcement Specialists except that the Senate entered into an agreement with the group on April 26.

The documents show that a nonprofit created by state legislator and election conspiracy peddler Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and the leader of a law enforcement support group called the Arizona Rangers are the customers.

Finchem's Guardian Defense Fund is a 501(c)(4) that he first used to fundraise for his lawsuit against Rep. Charlene Fernandez, a Yuma Democrat who he claims defamed him. Its treasurer is audit spokesman and former Arizona Republican Party chairman Randy Pullen. (Pullen also serves as the treasurer of another one of Finchem's PACs.)

Finchem has been at the forefront of spreading discredited theories about the 2020 election and has made the baseless claims that Donald Trump and other Republicans lost their elections because of fraud the centerpiece of his nascent campaign for secretary of state.

The newly released documents are part of thousands of records released this week in response to a court order after liberal watchdog group American Oversight sued the Senate under the state's public records law. The Senate is still withholding some 3,000 records, as well as documents and communications created by lead vendor Cyber Ninjas and its subcontractors.

Within the documents are invoices from Law Enforcement Specialists detailing the hours and officers who conducted security for the “audit." As of July 8, the Senate owed the company $401,160.45.

Law Enforcement Specialists charged $60 an hour for officers to work 12 hour shifts, though the invoices show that some officers worked up to 14 hours at a time. The average hourly pay for police officers in Arizona is around $21 an hour.

In documents released to American Oversight earlier this year, the Arizona Senate signed a contract with the Arizona Rangers, requiring a $20,000 “contribution".

The Arizona Rangers have been fundraising as well, leader Mike Droll previously told the Arizona Mirror, as many of the Rangers involved are driving from areas far away from the audit. The group has raised more than $180,000 on a GoFundMe page.

Shortly before the election review began, Finchem appeared on former Trump aide Steve Bannon's show from the floor of the “audit" to say that his fund was paying for “additional security".


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona lawmaker asks court to reject 'frivolous' Jan. 6 defamation lawsuit filed by Republicans

Tucson Democratic Rep. Charlene Fernandez is asking a court to dismiss a defamation case brought against her by two Republican state legislators and a GOP congressman because statements Fernandez made to the FBI about the two GOP legislators are privileged.

This article was originally published at Arizona Mirror

The case stems from a letter sent by Fernandez and other Democratic lawmakers asking the FBI to investigate Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley), former state Rep. Anthony Kern (R-Glendale) and GOP Congressman Paul Gosar's connections to the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C.

In February, the trio filed a lawsuit against Fernandez accusing her of defaming them by making disparaging remarks, connecting them to the violence of Jan. 6 and conspiring against them. The trio have not brought a suit against any of the 43 other Democratic legislators who also signed the letter.

The lawsuit was stalled for months because Fernandez was immune from being served while the legislature's annual session was taking place. But when the session ended, Fernandez waived service and both sides agreed to a 60-day response period which started at the end of the session on June 30.

“Contrary to all of the rhetoric… this is not a lawsuit about alleged fraud in the 2020 election, the purported suppression of conservative viewpoints by social media companies or issues of border security," Fernandez's attorney, David Bodney, wrote in the motion to dismiss the lawsuit. “Rather, this lawsuit is about whether state legislators – or, indeed, any Arizonan – may petition federal authorities to investigate potential crimes of the utmost seriousness without being dragged into court to face frivolous and retaliatory defamation litigation."

(Bodney represents the Arizona Mirror on matters relating to public records and other First Amendment issues.)

Bodney argued that the court should grant the motion to dismiss in part because the Democratic lawmakers were communicating with law enforcement entities. Arizona case law states that such communication is privileged and a person cannot be sued for making a report to law enforcement.

“Thus, the relevant question is whether the Criminal Referral constitutes a formal or informal complaint to a prosecutor or law enforcement," Bodney says. “Unquestionably, it is, as its name makes clear."

Bodney also argues that the three GOP officials have failed to show that Fernandez has demonstrated “actual malice" — that she knew or had the “high probability" that she knew the statements she was making were false or defamatory.

In their lawsuit against Fernandez, Finchem, Kern and Gosar pointed to public statements they made denouncing the violence of Jan. 6 as evidence that Fernandez acted with “actual malice."

“The fact that a public official has made self-serving denials of the conduct for which he is being criticized is insufficient to show actual malice as a matter of law," Bodney argued.

Bodney also suggested that the initial lawsuit by Finchem and Kern — Gosar was added as a plaintiff several months later — did little to distance themselves from the violence of Jan. 6 as well.

“It is not reckless disregard for the truth, by any definition, to assert that a man who returned to the scene of an ongoing riot should be investigated for his potential involvement in encouraging and supporting the rioters," Bodney said.

Footage reviewed by the Arizona Mirror has shown that Kern was closer to the Capitol than he said he was, and he was recorded on the Capitol grounds while violent clashes with police were still ongoing.

Finchem, too, has been found to have been closer to the Capitol on that day than he claimed.

Finchem has insisted that he never got within 500 yards of the Capitol building, but Getty footage of the failed attempt to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden's election that was discovered by activists on Twitter shows Finchem walking directly in front of the east steps at the Capitol after pro-Trump rioters had already broken through a series of barricades and police lines, and then smashed their way into the Capitol building.

Fernandez is seeking attorney fees from Finchem, Kern and Gosar.

This isn't the first time Finchem has gone after his political rivals.

Earlier this year Finchem sent a cease and desist letter to the group who was seeking to recall him from office. Finchem said if they did not destroy all their campaign related material, which focused on Finchem's connections to Jan. 6, he would sue them for defamation.

One point of contention for Finchem in the cease and desist letter is his connection to the extremist Oath Keepers organization that the recall organizers pointed out.

Finchem has long been tied to the organization, but in his cease and desist his attorney claimed that the Oath Keepers is a “non-partisan" group and called allegations that it is anti-government to be “spurious claims." The letter also calls the Southern Poverty Law Center's website “hate-filled"

The FBI describes the Oath Keepers as a “loosely organized collection of militia who believe that the federal government have been coopted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights."

Sixteen Oath Keepers have been indicted thus far in a case that claims they coordinated to conspire to breach the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, with prosecutors saying that more could be prosecuted in the future.

Finchem's attorney, Alexander Kolodin, previously represented Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based company conducting the Arizona Senate's “audit."


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Republican lawmakers spread long-debunked claims at Mike Lindell's 'cyber symposium'

Three Arizona Republican lawmakers spread spurious allegations and long-debunked claims about the 2020 election on Thursday at a “Cyber Symposium" organized by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.

This article was originally published at Arizona Mirror

“We are here to encourage you, to let you know, that we will get to the truth and that you can do it in your states," Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, told the gathered crowd, which included lawmakers from various other states and prospective candidates about the Arizona Senate's on-going ballot review of Maricopa County's 2020 election results.

Rogers took the stage alongside Sen. Sonny Borrelli and Rep. Mark Finchem at Lindell's much-ballyhooed “Cyber Symposium" event in South Dakota. The event has been billed as a 72-hour live broadcast in which Lindell and his experts would present “proof" in the form of data he had obtained that China had hacked the United State's presidential election in favor of President Joe Biden.

However, one of the cybersecurity experts that Lindell hired told the Washington Times that Lindell failed to provide the data he had long promised to deliver. The expert, Josh Merritt, said the data that Lindell did provide cannot prove China hacked the election.

“We were handed a turd," he said.

At a session Thursday morning, the three Arizona legislators gave the audience advice based on their experiences in Arizona — though much of that advice was centered on claims that have been disproven.

Sharpiegate and other conspiracies come back to life

Finchem, a Republican from Oro Valley, has been one of the major players in the “#StopTheSteal" movement in Arizona and has spread baseless fraud claims since the November election.

In late November, he organized a daylong meeting at a Phoenix hotel so that Rudy Giuliani, Donld Trump's campaign attorney, could hear Trump supporters air supposed evidence of fraud that tipped the election in Joe Biden's favor. There was no credible evidence presented at the meeting, but Finchem said it was instrumental in getting support from other lawmakers for future efforts, like the Senate's self-styled audit.

Finchem also said that the multiple cases that have been thrown out in the courts were never decided on their “merits" and that the courts are not the way to fight, adding that “it's a legislative fight." More than 50 lawsuits seeking to change election outcomes in Trump's favor were filed after the election, some heard by judges Trump appointed. All the cases were thrown out, in many instances because there was no actual evidence of wrongdoing.

Finchem also brought up the “Sharpiegate" conspiracy theory — which was first debunked on Election Day and many times after — and resurrected another false claim that centered around an email. In the Oct. 22 email, Kelly Dixon, the assistant director for the Election Department's recruitment and training division told election “troubleshooters" that she's aware of “issues and concerns" from voters about Sharpies that had been used in early voting centers, and that they should instead hand out ballpoint pens until early voting concluded on Nov. 2.

To Finchem and others, the email is proof that Sharpies were used on Election Day in order to invalidate votes for Trump. The reality is that Sharpies were used at Election Day polling places for the first time ever in 2020 because they performed the best in tests of new ballot-counting machines conducted by Maricopa County and state elections officials. The manufacturer also recommends Sharpies.

The reason is that Sharpie ink dries quickly — a necessity when a voter at a polling place has to walk only a few paces from the voting booth to the ballot-counting machine. But a different process is used at early voting locations, Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa Elections Department, previously told the Arizona Mirror.

“During in-person early voting, voters were given the option to use a ballpoint pen to fill out their ballot because those ballots are placed in a sealed envelope, allowing the ink to dry before its verified, processed and tabulated at the Elections Department," she said.

“Troubleshooters were told that voters may use ball point pens to fill out early ballots. This is consistent with early ballot instructions mailed to voters," Gilbertson added. “But for Election Day, in alignment with Election Department policy, poll workers and troubleshooters were trained and reminded to use Sharpies to ensure the ink dries before it's placed into the tabulation machine."

Finchem said the use of Sharpies resulted in more ballots being sent to adjudication, for the ballot to be duplicated, where “potential fraud" exists. Adjudication is when a tabulator is not able to read a ballot for a number of reasons and is then sent to the adjudication process. In Maricopa County, two people — a Democrat and a Republican — examine the ballot to determine the voter's intent, then duplicate the ballot so the tabulator can read it.

But according to an independent analysis of Maricopa County ballots by Republican election analyst Benny White, there were actually very few ballots that were required to go to adjudication.

Of the 235,392 ballots sent to electronic adjudication, only 11,954 of those needed adjudication in the presidential race — and 7,942 of those were because the voters wrote in their own selection. That left only 4,012 where the presidential choice needed to be discerned, of which 1,516 went to Trump.

Biden won Maricopa County by 10,457 votes.

Claims of the voting dead

Finchem also appeared to allude to another debunked claim around dead people voting in Arizona when the three discussed possible canvassing efforts related to the Arizona “audit." The U.S. Department of Justice has warned the Arizona Senate that the canvassing efforts could result in voter intimidation, and the Senate has called off plans to go door-to-door in search of voters the auditors determined are “problematic."

“How do you intimidate a dead guy?" Finchem said.

The only known instance of a ballot being cast in the name of a dead voter was a Scottsdale Republican woman who voted her dead mother's ballot and is facing criminal charges.

Rogers told the crowd that the “audit" was investigating a QAnon-fueled conspiracy theory that the election outcome was changed because counterfeit ballots were printed in massive numbers and “injected" into the system — so the Senate's election review team checked to see if the ballots were filled out by machines or humans, as well as examining the folds in the ballots.

There has been no evidence of fake ballots and the unproven technology the “audit" used is that of an inventor and treasure hunter who is most well known for one of the “worst inventions of all time."

Rogers also said that “auditors" did background checks and vetted volunteers, but “didn't ask, didn't want to know" about party affiliation, directly contradicting earlier statements by Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan who said his election review team would vet volunteers for bias.

The Mirror previously reported that QAnon promoters and Capitol riot attendees ended up as volunteers, and a group with ties to conspiracy theorists was involved with the background check process.

Midway through the discussion with the three lawmakers, Lindell interrupted to refute an article by the conspiracy theory website Gateway Pundit that was critical of one of Lindell's cybersecurity experts who claimed China hacked the election.

Lindell claimed the Gateway Pundit writer, Larry Johnson, worked for the CIA and that the allegations in the article claiming Lindell's data was inaccurate was false.

Logan, who is leading the Arizona “audit," made similar claims about opponents of election fraud claims in a conspiracy theory film in which he said the CIA was spreading “disinformation" about the election being safe and secure.

Controlling the narrative

Rogers also gave the crowd — and legislators from other states, in particular — advice on how to deal with the media.

“You must command the narrative," she said. “I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard voter suppression or voter intimidation. You rephrase it to 'restoration of voter integrity.'"

Rogers also advised those in attendance to “double down" when attacked.

After the panel was over, Rogers and Finchem joined lawmakers from other states to announce that they'd be forming an “election integrity caucus" to address issues of voter fraud and to pursue election audits.

Other Arizona ties

Other attendees had ties to Arizona politics and to the Senate's “audit."

Gubernatorial candidate and former Fox 10 anchor Kari Lake and U.S. Senate candidate Jim Lamon — Republicans who have said they believe Trump rightfully won the election — were in the audience.

And Allied Security Operations Group leader Phil Waldron, who was almost hired to conduct the Arizona “audit" and is leading Lindell's cybersecurity “red team," was featured on the first day.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

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