WASHINGTON — Rep. Paul Gosar isn’t apologizing for advancing conspiracy theories to attract attention.
The Prescott Republican made national headlines last week when he tweeted out an elaborate string of messages containing a conspiracy theory about Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier and convicted sex offender. The first letters of his 23 tweets about U.S. House impeachment proceedings contained a coded message: “Epstein didn’t kill himself.”
Gosar’s embrace of the conspiracy theory, which challenges officials’ determination that Epstein committed suicide in prison, drew criticism from some of his Democratic colleagues.
“I think for most Arizonans, obviously they probably will think it’s inappropriate, said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix. “I certainly would not do that.”
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Tucson, agreed.
“No, of course not,” he said, when asked whether the tweets were appropriate.
But Gosar spokesman Ben Goldey shrugged off the criticisms.
“If more people in Congress had a sense of humor, it wouldn’t be such a stale place,” he said.
Using the Epstein meme “was merely the means to push our impeachment messaging to an entirely new audience,” Goldey said.
“In the 24 hours after it was posted, our tweets had nearly 30 million impressions,” he added. By contrast, the two times that President Donald Trump retweeted the Arizona congressman, the tweets got about 3.5 million impressions.
As for whether Gosar believes that Epstein didn’t commit suicide, Goldey said, “He believes when high profile people, particularly high profile pedophiles, are not held accountable, the American people have a right to ask questions. That being said, he wants to see the full investigation completed prior to drawing conclusions.”
Gosar’s colleagues on both sides of the aisle weren’t surprised by the tweets.
“It’s Gosar,” said Grijalva, who referred to the Arizona Republican his political “nemesis.”
“There’s people that are pretty direct and speak what’s on their mind, politically speaking, and I’ve been guilty of that before, but the fact remains it’s always been about a policy or an issue,” Grijalva told Arizona Mirror in an interview. “He can say what he wants, I’m not going to deny him that, but I don’t think it adds anything to the debate.”
Gallego said it’s “absolutely not out of character. He’s issued many conspiracy theories before this.”
Indeed, Gosar in August retweeted a “clue” from the QAnon conspiracy theory (he later said he didn’t intend to retweet QAnon). He is also backing the congressional campaign of Laura Loomer, conspiracy theorist running as a Republican for a Florida U.S. House seat.
In response to the attention generated by Gosar’s Epstein tweet, he put out another message spelling out “Area 51,” a likely reference to the conspiracy theory that the U.S. government is hiding evidence of aliens at a Nevada U.S. Air Force facility.
He’s also used Twitter to attack his critics. In April, he called a Democratic activist a “little bitch” and a “porn loving whiny bitch.”
Gosar has also courted controversy when he traveled to London to speak in favor of anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson, who had been jailed Robinson for illegally broadcasting a trial.
And in a 2017 interview with HBO, he spread a baseless fringe conspiracy theory that a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., which left one person dead, was actually planned by a supporter of former President Barack Obama, and another debunked conspiracy that liberal financier George Soros sold out his fellow Jews to the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Grijalva and Gallego said they don’t expect it to hinder the Arizona Republican politically.
“His constituents consistently vote him back,” Gallego said.
“I don’t know if his base all believes this stuff,” Grijalva said. But “he’s got a district that’s pretty conservative, went big for Trump — one of two in Arizona — and I think he feels secure.”
Gosar won his western Arizona district with 68.2% of the vote in 2018.
Arizona Rep. David Schweikert, R-Fountain Hills, said that some members of Congress — particularly when they’re in the minority party — get creative in order to drum up attention.
“In a weird way, you’ve got to give him credit,” he said.
Asked whether it’s appropriate for members of Congress to tweet conspiracy theories, Schweikert said, “If it’s what got folks to actually pay attention, was it about the conspiracy theories or was it just a method to actually get attention?”
“I see Paul sometimes after he’s done something like that and he has a grin on his face,” he added. “He knows he’s screwing with everyone.”