In the months leading up to and after the election, researchers attempting to redirect people who sought out far-right groups away from disinformation found that in Arizonans searched for extremist content and conspiracy theories more than many other states.
In September 2020, tech startup Moonshot CVE partnered with the Anti-Defamation League to begin monitoring extremist rhetoric online and create a campaign that would redirect those who searched for right-wing groups or political violence to resources that would hopefully steer them away from that behavior.
Moonshot looked at all 50 states and every county to compile a report that gives a look at how many Americans reacted to the news about the election, the presidential debates, the election results and the lead up to the violent coup attempt of Jan. 6.
One national trend that Arizona led was an interest in joining armed militia groups. More than 50% of U.S. counties saw an increase in people searching on how to join an armed militia.
In Arizona, the state’s MyMilitia page has grown by 44% between Oct. 15 and Dec. 17, the largest increase of any state. One member of the site last year threatened to blow up an FBI building and cited the anti-Semitic white supremacist book “The Turner Diaries” as inspiration.
Groups like the Proud Boys and the anti-government group the Three Percenters were found to be using MyMilitia for recruiting in Arizona, the report says.
In addition to militia behavior, Arizona was a hotbed of QAnon behavior both online and offline.
The “Az Anons” took to message boards like 8kun to share their support for Arizona’s Jacob Anthony Chansley, also known as the QAnon Shaman or Jake Angeli, with many still seeing him as a true believer and martyr of the cause. Angeli was one of the more prominent and flamboyant figures at the Jan. 6 insurrection, and is now in federal custody awaiting trial.
“Understanding the messianic tendencies of QAnon, it is likely that Angeli’s performance and resulting fame will set a precedent for increased offline action in the future,” the report says. “Some Q supporters have noted that Arizona has ‘the nation’s best gun laws,’ citing them as an advantage in the crusade against the ‘cabal.’”
Arizonans have also helped organize fundraisers for Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood to ensure a forensic audit of ballots in Maricopa County.
Beginning in September, researchers found that searches for armed groups began to rise and Arizona had the fourth-most searches.
Searches saw peaks after the first presidential debate on Sept. 30 when President Donald Trump mentioned the Proud Boys, after Election Day and in the days leading up to the “Million MAGA March” on Nov. 14. “Join three percenters” and “proud boys website” were the top two searches from Arizona residents.
Conspiracy theories saw a larger boost, with 35,000 searches in the same period of time. Arizona was second only to Oregon in the number of searches.
Many of those searches were related to QAnon, a conspiracy theory that has broken into factions since Election Day with adherents who are still loyal to “Q” and those who are disillusioned by prophecies that have not come true, the report says.
In its simplest form, QAnon is a risibly false belief that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles runs a global sex-trafficking ring, controls world governments and sought to bring down President Donald Trump — who is himself single-handedly dismantling the cabal.
However, a new conspiracy is taking hold of Arizonans and the country as COVID-19 has continued to ravage the state and country — one that has been around for a very long time.
Arizona was the top state for people searching for FEMA concentration camps, a false theory that the government will arrest conservative “patriots” and FEMA will require them to surrender their guns as part of maintaining a New World Order.
The conspiracy dates back to 1982 in an anti-Semitic newsletter and has its roots in the militia movement, which reignited the theory again in the 1990s. Some now are saying that COVID-19 is being used as a pretext to setting up the camps. Similar rumors recirculated during the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic, as well. No camps ever existed.
“The FEMA camps conspiracy is a prime example of how amorphous, conspiratorial anti-government sentiment can manifest and sustain itself online,” the report says. “It appears especially palatable to individuals and groups that are hostile to FEMA, other government agencies, or the policies of the Trump administration, but who may not identify with the more extreme anti-government sentiments expressed by the broader patriot movement.”
Arizonans are also preparing for violence.
There were 6,000 searches for targeted violence, and Arizona ranked second on that list. Searches for “how to make a molotov cocktail” increased by over 1,150% in the days before the election.
“Moreover, the ties between online inspiration and offline symbolism can be seen not only through the presence of Molotov cocktails and IEDs, but also through the gallows constructed in the Capitol’s shadow,” the report says.
On the day of the Capitol riots, a guillotine was constructed at the Arizona Capitol and in a letter given to the Arizona Republic, the group that constructed it said it “will rise to the challenge and defend this great nation by all means necessary.”
The report by Moonshot concluded that the online rhetoric can have real world consequences, as demonstrated by the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol, and more steps should be taken to redirect people who are attempting to access extremist content.