State Sens. Wendy Rogers (left) and Kelly Townsend at a July 2021 Turning Point Action event in Phoenix. Photo via Telegram
A day after the Arizona Senate voted to censure Flagstaff Republican Wendy Rogers for comments she made at a white nationalist conference and a string of inflammatory social media posts, another one of her colleagues challenged her to condemn those she had praised in a fiery speech on the Senate floor.
“I contend that this is unbecoming rhetoric, it is inappropriate rhetoric,” Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Townsend on Wednesday told senators that she wanted Rogers to condemn white nationalist Nick Fuentes, who’s conference, the America First Political Action Conference, Rogers had spoken at the week prior.
Rogers addressed the AFPAC crowd remotely, effusively praising Fuentes, who she said had been “de-platformed everywhere” because he says things that upset “the media and the far left.”
Fuentes, an advocate of turning America into a nation only for white Christians, is one of the leaders of the so-called “groypers” — along with the founder of American Identity Movement, a white nationalist group formerly known as Identity Ervopa — and Rogers is one of its emerging icons. The groyper movement is a collection of white nationalists who seek to normalize racism and make it a part of mainstream conservative political ideology.
He is an open racist, a Holocaust denier and has boasted about being antisemitic.
Townsend was absent for the censure vote on Tuesday because of a medical issue with her daughter. The Apache Junction Republican said that she would have likely voted in favor of the censure — unless Rogers chose to denounce Fuentes. She said she believed that Rogers did not hold the same antisemitic and hateful views but was supporting Fuentes for reasons of “free speech.”
“I’m hoping she doesn’t agree with them,” Townsend said. “Let the record show that, if the senator is willing to apologize for a misunderstanding and denounce this, then my vote would have been red in the name of free speech.”
Rogers did not denounce Fuentes on the floor of the Senate.
“I don’t agree with guilt by association,” Rogers said in response to Townsend’s comments. “I love my fellow man, I love all people from all groups.”
Rogers also claimed that the censure was her words being taken out of context and an issue of free speech.
“I reiterate, this is about free speech. And if one senator can put words in my mouth to cause a censure, then all of us would qualify for a censure at some point in the future,” Rogers said.
The day she appeared at AFPAC, Rogers shared a photoshopped illustration of herself, Fuentes and Gab CEO Andrew Torba behind a dead rhino emblazoned with both the CPAC logo (referring to the Conservative Political Action Conference letters, which AFPAC was created to counter) and a Star of David.
On Friday, prior to her speech at the racist AFPAC event, Arizona lawmaker Wendy Rogers posted this photoshopped image on her Gab and Telegram accounts. She’s pictured in the center. The dead rhino is branded with the letters CPAC, which includes a Jewish Star of David. pic.twitter.com/opVZayv0F2
— Nick Martin (@nickmartin) March 1, 2022
Rogers also posted a number of claims about George Soros and the Rothschilds, including one post claiming that they both control the banks, an antisemitic conspiracy theory which dates back to the mid-19th century. The same conspiracy theory was later amplified by Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, in 1940.
Rogers and Townsend have been close political allies who late last year found themselves drawn into the same legislative district, despite living hundreds of miles apart. Rather than face off in 2022, Townsend opted to declare her candidacy for a southern Arizona congressional district — that she doesn’t live in — and Rogers swiftly endorsed her.
In a text exchange with the Arizona Mirror, Townsend said she would not be reconsidering her campaign plans and intended to continue her run for Congress.
The censure has become a point of pride for Rogers, who shared artwork Wednesday afternoon by a groyper artist depicting Rogers smiling with a medal and the vote for her censure displayed behind her.
Shortly after the discussion on the Senate floor, Rogers sent out a fundraising email about the censure. Titled “We don’t like your mean tweets,” Rogers says in the email that the “uniparty” is attempting to silence her.
“It’s time to say enough is enough,” Townsend said in a separate Senate floor speech about the fundraising email. “I don’t appreciate getting emails in my email box accusing me of things that I am not guilty of so that somebody can fill their coffers and pay their nephew and buy somebody a new car.”
The Arizona Republic reported Wednesday that Senate GOP leaders were mulling stripping Rogers of her committee assignments because of she was attacking her fellow senators to raise campaign money.
Before her floor speech Wednesday, Townsend used social media to denounce Fuentes, and called on Rogers to do the same. But her post elicited criticism from far-right users, who accused her of not supporting freedom of speech by exercising her right to speak out against Fuentes.
“I received ugly blowback from people on my side,” Townsend said. “Like being in a piranha tank — but I’m not afraid of the piranha tank anymore.”
Townsend herself is no stranger to controversy. In 2019, Townsend toured the border with the extremist group AZ Patriots whose leader walked around the Arizona State Capitol with a “kekistan” flag, a white nationalist symbol used to troll liberal events.
And last year, Townsend compared vaccine supporters to Nazis and sharing an image of needles in the shape of a swastika on social media. When the Anti-Defamation League sharply criticized her rhetoric, Townsend rebuked the 108-year-old Jewish organization. “Learn your history,” she retorted.
Jeremy Duda contributed to this report.
***UPDATED: This story has been updated to include additional information about potential further punishment of Rogers.
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