Pro-Trump protesters at TCF Center in Detroit. Photo by Ken Coleman | Michigan Advance
While voters rejected Kari Lake and other Republican candidates for statewide office who touted election conspiracy theories, they sent several others to the state Capitol.
Some of those conspiracy-touting state legislators are set to be in major positions of power, including overseeing committees that will soon pass legislation aimed at the election systems they’ve said can’t be trusted.
Election denialism has become a major part of Republican politics, with 60% of Americans having an election denialist on their ballot earlier this month, despite there being no proof of voter fraud. In Arizona, those candidates were loud and prevalent — and some were major players in the national election denialism stage.
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State Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, was easily reelected. She has built a national profile as one of the most prominent voices pushing false claims about the 2020 election, and now the 2022 election.
Newly elected Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, last week appointed Rogers to oversee the Senate Elections Committee, where she will decide which bills are considered.
Rogers, who led tours of the Arizona Senate’s partisan “audit” to a litany of out-of-state lawmakers and other special guests, has spread spurious claims about the election to her thousands of followers, often leading to election officials having to respond in official capacities.
The Flagstaff Republican is also known for her associations with white nationalists, such as Nick Fuentes. The young extremist and his followers were a key part of the Jan. 6 riots and the group has roots in the racist riots of Charlottesville.
But Rogers isn’t the only person with connections to Jan. 6 and with election denialist beliefs that will soon hold a position of power in the Arizona legislature.
The Jan. 6 attendee
Anthony Kern was elected to the Senate and appointed to oversee the Judiciary committee and was present at the events of Jan. 6.
Footage reviewed by the Arizona Mirror showed that Kern, a former member of the Arizona House of Representatives who lost a 2020 reelection bid, entered parts of the Capitol that had been breached by protesters during a time when protesters had already been violently clashing with police.
Kern was a proponent of the “#StopTheSteal” movement after the 2020 election, using the hashtag 17 times on Twitter from Election Day in 2020 through Jan. 6.
“D-Day in DC to support Arizona’s and America’s duly elected President Donald Trump! #StoptheSteal,” Kern tweeted on Jan. 6 around 10 a.m. with a picture of the stage where Trump would soon speak.
He was a major player in the 2020 #StopTheSteal movement locally, giving fiery speeches making claims that there was “outright fraud.” Kern would later go on to be seen as a volunteer at the Senate’s so-called “audit” counting ballots, despite his name appearing on the ballots he was counting.
Kern is also a former police officer who was fired from his job for lying and placed on the “Brady List,” a list of dishonest law enforcement officers that is provided to prosecutors in order to help ensure that they do not sully a case.
Kern would later go on to sponsor legislation that aimed to remove his name from the list.
Others that have been elected had major roles in the partisan election review and helped spread misinformation on a national level.
One of those people is Liz Harris, a Valley realtor whose race for the state House will go to a recount; she and fellow Republican Julie Willoughby are only separated by 270 votes for the second House seat in District 13.
Harris has been a vocal proponent of false election claims and has spread a number of election conspiracy theories, aligning herself with a number of high profile people in the conspiracy theory world. When Ron Watkins, the man many believe to be behind the Q postings decided to run for Congress in Arizona, he initially took up residence at a property belonging to Harris.
Harris lost a bid for the state legislature in 2020 and has since become a leading proponent of false claims. Most infamously, she issued a report full of baseless allegations, including that votes were cast from a vacant lot. The claim was patently false: A large house is clearly visible on the property, and several people were registered to vote there voted in the 2020 election.
The report was part of a months-long “canvassing” effort which was initially supposed to be part of the Senate’s “audit” that was scrapped after the U.S. Department of Justice warned it could violate voter intimidation laws in the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Harris runs a website dubbed “Crime of the Century 2020,” where she has made a litany of baseless allegations about the 2020 election as well as COVID-19. Harris has been a major proponent of a litany of conspiracy theories, even dedicating a section of her website to the so-called “Deep State.”
In posts on Facebook, Harris has shared the QAnon slogan, and has also appeared on a number of QAnon shows, often promoting her work in Maricopa County, which was done alongside other well-known election deniers associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Harris now is saying that she will not vote on any bills unless a “revote” of the midterm election takes place.
“I call on all state legislators to join me in demanding a new election,” Harris wrote on her campaign website. “I will now be withholding my vote on any bills in this session without this new election in protest to what is clearly a potential fraudulent election.”
Harris isn’t the only newly elected state legislator with QAnon beliefs.
The QAnon senator
David Farnsworth will be returning to the state Senate — his third stint as a state legislator since the 1990s — after defeating House Speaker Rusty Bowers in the August primary in a heavily Republican district.
Now, Farnsworth will be heading up the Committee on Transportation and Technology.
The Mesa politician is no stranger to QAnon and conspiracy theories. In texts revealed by the Arizona Mirror and a subsequent interview, Farnsworth said he believed that the QAnon movement was made up of “good people who are trying to bring out the truth.”
“My basic impression is that they are a credible group,” Farnsworth previously said. He added that he has never done his own research and has instead relied on the research of other “credible people” he trusts. Farnsworth wouldn’t identify those people.
Farnsworth also denied knowing that QAnon had been deemed a domestic terror threat by the FBI.
“Quite frankly, I don’t have time to look into things like that,” he said.
Farnsworth has courted the political fringe, often playing on conspiracy theories around the Department of Child Safety, making spurious allegations about their numbers that he would later admit he did not fully understand.
The Cyber Ninjas
Former Secretary of State and former spokesperson for the “audit” Ken Bennett won a bid to represent LD1 in the Arizona Senate and will be chairing the Education Committee.
Prior to becoming the face of the “audit,” Bennett was no stranger to controversy, trafficking in the racist “birther” conspiracy theory in 2012 when he was the secretary of state, taking extra steps to verify President Barack Obama’s birth certificate at the “request of constituents.”
Bennett was chosen by Senate Republicans to be their “liaison” between Florida-based contractor Cyber Ninjas and lawmakers; he also acted as the de facto spokesman of the “audit” effort.
Bennett would later go on to temporarily partner with an organization that held rallies across the country to support “political prisoners” of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Bennett and the organization held a series of “town halls” across Arizona to discuss the “audit.” His deputy liaison still works with the organization called Look Ahead America which has also tried to make spurious claims of fraud in the 2020 election.
Former Cyber Ninjas attorney Alexander Kolodin is among the new legislators, representing Scottsdale-based District 3. The attorney has worked for a number of election deniers and Republican elected officials, including on challenges to the election.
Kolodin also was the attorney hired by the Arizona Republican Party in a failed legal challenge to early voting in Arizona that made many claims, including that drop boxes in Arizona were unconstitutional.
Steve Montenegro was elected to the House in District 29. While many may know the lawmaker from the scandal several years ago after reports that he traded sexually explicit texts with a staffer, Montenegro also has been a key player in the election denial world.
Montenegro works for The America Project as its national policy director. The nonprofit group was started by former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne and contributed more than half of the funding for the “audit,” putting in more than $3.2 million. The Flynn brothers are also prominent parts of the 501(c)(4) organization.
Byrne has been a leading voice in 2020 election fraud claims and has railed against the so-called Deep State. Byrne was also an attendee of an hour-long meeting at the White House during the final days of Trump’s presidency in which he, Sidney Powell and Gen. Flynn urged the president to overturn the election.
Montenegro has received $5,300 from Byrne and $1,500 from Joseph Flynn, brother to Michael Flynn and part of the leadership of the organization, according to campaign finance reports.
It was later discovered as well that Montenegro was one of the people who had control over the controversial “Audit War Room” account to give an “in-state perspective” to the tweets. Montenegro has also appeared alongside Bryne, Flynn, Pulitzer and election conspiracy theorists in his capacity as the America Project’s National Policy Director.
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