PHOENIX — Several Arizona Republican officials defended Wednesday’s violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, sought to blame political enemies for the pro-Trump mob’s criminal activity or spread conspiracy theories deflecting responsibility away from the president’s supporters.
Two GOP state legislators were also present in Washington, D.C., and posted messages on social media praising the rioters who were pushing past police barricades, assaulting Capitol police officers and smashing their way into the building as Congress was meeting to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.
Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, accused cable news networks of “spewing lies” about what was going on at the Capitol. A few hours later, he praised the events as a peaceful protest, with “a small few” who took part in the insurrection.
Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, blamed Congress for the horde that stormed into the Capitol because it “refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud” in the election. (There is no evidence of fraud, rampant or otherwise, and lawsuits making those assertions have all been rejected by the courts because that evidence does not exist.).
At a peaceful rally at the Arizona Capitol Wednesday, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb denounced media outlets and Democrats for saying Trump was responsible for instigating the mob. The real causes, he said, were the election, Hillary Clinton, Hunter Biden and a Democratic congressman from California who was targeted years ago by a Chinese spy.
“This is about the fact that our Supreme Court isn’t hearing our voices. This is the fact that our governor and our governments are not hearing our voices,” he said, sympathizing with the rioters. “I don’t know how loud we have to get before they start to listen to us and know that we will no longer tolerate them stripping our freedoms away.”
In another Twitter post, Finchem praised the California woman who was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer as she and others tried to break through a door in the Capitol building, saying that “all she did was protest for redress of fraudulent election activities” and blaming antifa, a loosely organized group of “anti-fascist” protesters, for her death.
Finchem also accused antifa of sparking the violence at the riot, and said a press event he was to speak at was cancelled “because antifa used the moment to do what ANTIFA does.” His fellow Trump ralliers, he said, “fell for the bait” and began rioting.
Other GOP legislators glommed on to the false idea that the violence from the president’s supporters — which was committed immediately after he exhorted them to march to the Capitol and “show strength” and “fight” — wasn’t actually committed by the people who traveled from around the country in the hopes of intimidating Congress into overturning an election.
Sen.-elect Kelly Townsend declared that the rioters learned their behavior from liberals, before positing that liberals were the real culprits.
For Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, and Sen.-elect Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, there was no doubt that the perpetrators weren’t really Trump’s supporters.
Rogers also said Congress was responsible for the rioter who was shot and killed because the legislative body didn’t “allow for an audit of the machines and votes” — a power that Congress doesn’t have, because elections are regulated by each of the 50 states.
Townsend placed the blame for GOP violence at the feet of Gov. Doug Ducey, who she has relentlessly criticized for months over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using the hashtag #FightforTrump, she said Ducey has usurped unconstitutional powers and failed to initiate “a full forensic audit of a contested election.” “(W)hen the people have had enough, you cannot act pious and holier than thou when the people revolt… (D)on’t act like this isn’t in large part, your fault,” she wrote.
In a lengthy thread on Twitter, the Arizona Republican Party denounced the rioters, and said those who “incite violence and sow chaos have no home in the Republican Party,” and those who broke the law should be prosecuted.
Of course, that stands in stark contrast to the party’s rhetoric a month ago, when it asked Republicans if they were willing to die to ensure Biden’s electoral victory was overturned. It also tweeted, and then deleted, a clip with a quote from the Rambo character: “Live for nothing, or die for something.” When a local television journalist pointed out that, in fact, someone did die Wednesday during a criminal effort to seize the Capitol to block Biden’s win, the AZGOP reacted with name-calling.
AZGOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward seized the opportunity to demand that the electoral college votes be sent back to the states because of the chaos wrought by the putsch — where, conceivably, Arizona’s GOP-controlled legislature would ignore the election and award the state’s votes to Trump — only to be profanely rebuffed by Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego.
Ward also blamed antifa for the insurrection and lashed out at people who were aghast at what was happening at the Capitol.
That what-about-ism was shared by Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, who tempered his admonition of the rioters with criticism of Democrats who supported protests seeking police reform and an end to systemic racism.
Jim Small is a reporter for Arizona Mirror.