On a Thursday night in Mesa, Republican Sen. David Farnsworth takes off his suit coat and pulls out a stack of Little Caesars’ pizzas from his car, which he’ll later hand out with a big smile to the crowd that’s come to see him.
It’s the weekly meeting of the Arizona Constitutionalists, a group created by Farnsworth that aims to “educate and encourage individuals to participate in the legislative process.”
As I walk into the meeting, which is being held at a 55 and up community, the first thing I notice is the woman conducting check-ins has an InfoWars bumper sticker on her laptop.
Farnsworth has recently become a champion for people in a certain sector of the political fringe.
Over the past month, Farnsworth has stated his belief that the Department of Child Safety is engaged in either covering up or being complicit in child sex trafficking.
During the meeting he and members of the audience couldn’t agree on whether the agency was called the Department of Child Safety or the Department of Child Services. They ended up calling it the latter.
His theory is based in part on numbers that, admittedly, he doesn’t understand.
One of the figures Farnsworth and his supporters are concerned with is a category of children in DCS statistics called “No ID placement.”
While discussing it with the audience Thursday night, Farnsworth said he has been unable to get an exact definition of what it meant other than that “they are lost in the computer system.”
Farnsworth has said that the 206 children with “No ID placement” are “lost” by DCS. But an agency spokeswoman told the Arizona Mirror that the identification relates to foster care situations where paperwork hasn’t yet been completed. The agency also knows exactly where each of those children are.
“Those are the kids that they sold into slavery!” one woman shouted during the discussion about “No ID placement” children.
“I knew it was something to do with record keeping,” Farnsworth said to the Arizona Mirror when told what the definition actually means, adding that he is “not impressed with how government works” and that he hopes that the definition is “true.”
Farnsworth also added that the agency may have told him that definition, “some months ago.”
As I take a seat at one of the round tables and wait for the event to start, one of the regulars comes and sits next to me.
Ralph is an elderly man who explains that his political party is “constitutionalist” to a woman who asks him to sign petitions to get Republican candidates like Congressman Andy Biggs on the ballot. Since he’s a constitutionalist, not a Republican, he can’t legally sign the petition.
We have a hearty discussion about third parties and trains.
As we sit and watch people queue up, Ralph expresses his amazement about the number of people attending the event. Usually only about 20 people attend the meetings at the activity center.
Tonight’s event is a packed house. Approximately 80 people are in attendance, mostly over the age of 50.
A few younger people are in attendance, recognizable to me as people who are known regulars in the anti-DCS world. It appears that Farnsworth’s rhetoric has drawn a crowd to his usually small and quiet meetings.
Each of the round tables in the room has a patriotic centerpiece, with a quote and red, white and blue frills.
“To oppose corruption in government is the highest obligation of patriotism,” says a quote by G. Edward Griffin at the table I’m sitting at. A noble sounding quote indeed.
I pull up my phone to Google the man behind the quote. Is he a philosopher? A politician?
Griffin is probably best known for his book The Creature from Jekyll Island, Ralph tells me. It’s a book that claims that the Federal Reserve is responsible for all sorts of ills. Additionally, Griffin also believes you can cure cancer by eating apricot seeds and believes he has found Noah’s ark.
The quote’s noble intentions and the author’s background represent the disconnect that was present throughout Farnsworth’s event.
DCS’s most recent monthly operational and outcome report sets the number of children who are missing from state care at 43. If runaways are included, that number rises to 232 – less than half of what Farnsworth has previously claimed.
And according to the non-profit Polaris Project, 1 out of 7 runaway children in 2017 were likely vicitms of sex trafficking.
However, attendees and many of the conversations online around Farnsworth’s claims have been centered on the belief that DCS itself is involved in the trafficking of children and are somehow responsible for it.
That’s a claim that Farnsworth somewhat walked back Thursday night.
“I am confident that some children that DCS are losing are ending up in sex trafficking,” Farnsworth told the Mirror. “How they are getting there I don’t know. I don’t want to think that someone might be complicit. … Do I deny that that might be a possibility? No. Do I hope that is not true? Yes. Do I know whether its not true or not? No, I do not. I have no evidence one way or the other.”
According to statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, in 2018 there were 231 cases of human trafficking reported in Arizona. It is unclear how many of those involved children.
There is no official estimate of sex trafficking victims in the United States, but the U.S. Department of Justice reports that most victims come from the U.S., Mexico and the Philippines.
Girls in foster care are more susceptible to becoming victims of sex trafficking, a report from the Human Rights Project for Girls, Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inquality and Ms. Foundation for Women found.
The report, titled “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline,” found that girls who move from group home to group home end up being more vulnerable to traffickers who promise to take care of them. They also found that traffickers “troll for youth in certain group homes because they are aware of this vulnerability.”
However, this is still far from the unfounded claim that DCS is culpable in sex trafficking. None of the other statistics came up at Thursday’s meeting.
Farnsworth has admitted that he is no fan of big government.
However, he is an employee of said government and plans to use his status as a legislator to enact changes. Even one missing kid is a problem and he wants better transparency from DCS on that.
On Nov. 15 he intends to propose legislation to tackle the issue of kids that have gone missing from DCS custody. What that legislation may look like, even Farnsworth is not entirely sure.
“I don’t know,” Farnsworth said, when asked what exactly the legislative fixes might be. He did say he’d like to focus on just the missing kids in the statistics and “set aside” the “No ID placement” and runaway numbers.
“I’m hoping someone will step forward with a solution,” Farnsworth said. “I really haven’t settled on anything yet.”
Farnsworth said reducing the number of children being removed from homes, increasing the number of children going back to the homes of their birth parents and decreasing the number of missing children should be priorities of his future legislation.
“How do we do that? I don’t know. But I intend to introduce legislation on the fifteenth of November,” Farnsworth said, adding that he hopes that someone “out there” reading this article might have the answer he needs to understand how to fix the problem of sex and human trafficking, whether it’s happening in DCS or not.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is confidential, toll-free and available 24/7 in more than 200 languages.
Text: “BeFree” (233733)