Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem (R) claimed in a newly resurfaced 2017 blog post that the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that year was led not by neo-Nazis and other members of the alt-right, but by “two Democrat mobs fighting for control and narrative foundation.”
The blog post, which was unearthed by The Phoenix New Times last week, is one of many controversial statements by Finchem, a three-term member of the Arizona House who also belongs to the extremist anti-government group Oath Keepers.
But so far, his support for conspiracy theories hasn’t cost him his legislative seat or the backing of national Republicans. The Republican State Leadership Committee, which financially backs GOP candidates in state elections ― including in Arizona ― has been silent on Finchem and other far-right politicians who make similar comments. The organization contributed $25,000 to the Arizona Republican Party between 2014 and 2016. Finchem ran and was first elected in 2014. Neither he nor the committee responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment on Monday.
Finchem wrote that Charlottesville post just three days after the Unite the Right rally, where one woman was killed and several others were injured by swastika-bearing neo-Nazis.
After the rally, he claimed, journalists were “peddling the story that ‘far right’ and the far left are at each others throats, and that they are behind the violence that erupted in Charlottesville.”
“There is one problem with that story,” he continued. “The violence was real, and the acts of those involved deplorable, but there was no ‘far right’ there.”
Finchem also described the hate march as having “Deep State PSYOP written all over it.”
“PSYOP” is a reference to “psychological operations,” and the “deep state” is an umbrella term often used by conspiracy theorists to tar mostly unelected and presumably Democratic government officials with a number of heinous falsehoods. According to members of QAnon, for example, the “deep state” is running a gargantuan pedophile cult that President Donald Trump is actively attempting to reveal and destroy. Trump confidant Roger Stone even accused the “deep state” of attempting to assassinate him by forcing him into a car crash.
The Oath Keepers, the extremist group to which Finchem belongs, was founded in 2009 after the election of President Barack Obama and, according to its website, seeks to defend the Constitution. In practice, it also panders to far-right extremists and conspiracy theorists. The group peddles “a set of baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, called Finchem’s 2017 post “completely outrageous” on Monday. “The things he says about the Democrats are ridiculous,” Beirich told HuffPost.
Members of the Oath Keepers ― whose motto is “Not on our watch!” ― have called for the hanging of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and refer to former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as “Herr Hitlery.” They have also described racial justice groups like Black Lives Matter as “well-funded Marxist and racist agitators.” There are reportedly 30,000 members, most of whom are current or former members of law enforcement and the military. Finchem himself was a public safety officer in Michigan for two decades.
In January, Finchem came under fire after proposing legislation that would ban discussions of politics, religion or racial issues in Arizona classrooms. The language in his bill came directly from the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a conservative, anti-Muslim think tank.
“The Republican Party should denounce his rhetoric,” Beirich said, “as they ― and all parties ― should root out people connected to hate groups like the Horowitz Freedom Center and extremist groups like the Oath Keepers.”