ron watkins (l) blake masters (c) kari lake (r)

Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

Shooting Democrats, Nazi endorsements, and QAnon himself: Why Arizona is America’s most far-right primary

The Arizona midterm primary is as right-wing as they come.


Jacob Seitz


Posted on Aug 2, 2022   Updated on Aug 3, 2022, 7:22 am CDT

Less than a week before the Arizona primary, Republican gubernatorial frontrunner Kari Lake stood in front of a crowd at a campaign stop. Lake gave her usual campaign speech, opposing immigrants and COVID-19 vaccine mandates, before addressing the coming primary.

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“I’m telling you right now, anybody trying to steal this, first of all, we’re already detecting some stealing going on, but you guys know I’m a fighter right?” Lake said, according to the Arizona Republic. “You haven’t seen me when they try to steal something. I’m gonna go supernova radioactive. We’re not gonna let them steal an election.”

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Lake is just one of many in the Copper State who spout conspiracies and stand to be elevated to the general in November.

In 2020, Arizona broke for President Joe Biden, the first time the state selected a Democrat for president in two decades. The fringe far-right responded by trying to prevent Biden from ever taking office. That effort failed, but now they are running a massive slate of candidates that wants to make sure it won’t happen again. 

In a blog post for the London School of Economics, scholar Eldrid Herrington said the shift in Arizona is a peculiar one.

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“While Arizona Republicans move rightward in discrete districts, the state as a whole has moved leftward,” she said. That means that this massive push could lead to a number of high-profile losses.

But if a number of these far-right candidates suffer defeat, Arizona might forever become the hotbed of stolen elections and voter fraud campaigns, just like the one that consumed the state in the wake of the 2020 elections.  

Arizona could be the future of the GOP, where no loss is actually real, and no Democratic victory ever legitimate.  

After the 2020 election, Arizona was met by a slew of lawsuits and objections to the presidential vote. Former President Donald Trump, the Arizona Republican Party, and the Republican National Committee all sued the state in an attempt to overturn the election results to no avail. 

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In 2021, a taxpayer-funded audit of ballots in Maricopa County was held over concerns from the Trump campaign about voter fraud and irregularities in ballots. While the audit garnered support among Arizona state Republicans, it was unsuccessful, save for fawning the flames of the new far-right theory that no Democrat should ever be allowed to win office. 

A poll of Arizona voters found that people distrusted the audit the more they learned about it, but 31% of voters still said they would vote for a state senator who supported it. And what originally could have been a setback for Republicans in the state, has instead, in the distance removed from the embarrassing nature of the Cyber Ninjas, become a clarion call. 

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According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), there are at least six candidates on the ballot with extremist ties in Arizona. Notably not included in that data are those who have dominated the headlines with their extremist rhetoric like Lake, Rep. Andy Biggs (R), and Blake Masters, who are all running the same Trump-avowing, election-denying, conspiracy-laden campaigns.

While Lake, Biggs, and Masters may not be tied directly to extremist groups, others clearly are.

Ron Watkins, running for Arizona’s Second District, is widely believed to be the person behind QAnon, the theory that claimed Democrats are a cabal of power-hungry baby eaters, and which helped inspire a sect of Trump voters into believing any nonsensical accusation spouted on the internet.

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Watkins moved to the state in 2021 to help contest the results of the 2020 election, an unsuccessful bid that nonetheless raised his profile enough to get on the ballot. While he trails significantly in the polls, Watkins’ success at even mounting a semi-serious campaign—after helping fan the flames of the Capitol riot—illustrates where the state’s Republican party is right now. 

Other Arizonans who also supported the Jan. 6 riot are now, instead of being chastened, emboldened. 

Rep. Paul Gosar (R), led the charge on Jan. 6 to “Stop the Steal” of the 2020 election, and has been accused of working with people who fomented the riot. He’s spoken at conferences with avowed white nationalists and once shared a video of him executing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Gosar has ties to the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and Holocaust deniers, and allegedly attended a Oath Keepers meeting in 2020 where he said the U.S. is “​​in a Civil War, we just haven’t started shooting yet.” In 2021, Gosar held a fundraising event with noted white supremacist Nick Fuentes, who started the far-right Groyper movement.

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While he’s facing moderate challengers hoping to highlight his extremism, he seems likely to cruise to reelection. 

Biggs, who represents Arizona’s Fifth Congressional District, is also expected to win his reelection bid. He has a history of cozying up to far-right ideals and agendas. He’s the former chair of the House Freedom Caucus, which included notable pro-Trump GOP members like former chief of staff Mark Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). 

Biggs joined Gosar in contesting the results of the 2020 election, claiming that 10,000 votes in Maricopa County were fraudulent without any evidence. He tried to get Arizona House Speaker Russell Bowers to sign a letter calling for the decertification of Arizona electors, participated in planning meetings with Jan. 6 organizers, and reportedly asked then-President Trump for a pardon for his involvement.

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But Gosar and Bigg’s deep ties to the Capitol riot aren’t out of place in the slate of Arizona candidates supportive of the groups that rallied on Jan. 6. 

Walter Blackman, a frontrunner for the Second District—and an opponent of Watkins—said at a “Justice for J6” rally in September that the Proud Boys had attended an event of his, calling it “one of the proudest moments of my life.”

Jerone Davison has gone a step further, going onto a podcast with Infowars Alex Jones and sharing his endorsement.

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Running in Arizona’s Fourth District, he also filmed an ad where he warded off, with an AR-15, a crowd of Klansmen that had Democratic patches on their chests.

Davison gained mainstream attention for having Austin Steinbart run his campaign. Steinbart is best known as “Baby Q,” an influencer in the conspiratorial space. Steinbart believes his future self is sending messages back in time to him, helping him reveal the truth about the world. 

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In the Senate primary, Trump-backed rising star Blake Masters leads in the polls by double digits. Masters is a venture capitalist who worked for Peter Thiel’s Thiel Foundation, serving as its president. Thiel now backs Masters’ Senate campaign, pouring more than $10 million into his candidacy. Masters has been criticized for blaming Black people for gun violence and received the endorsement of neo-Nazi blogger Andrew Anglin, who once wrote a series of articles advocating for the genocide of Jewish people.

Master’s own writing, back when he was in college, included using a quote from a famous Nazi leader, which Masters called “poignant.”

Childhood support of Nazi ideals is somehow not the most disconcerting thing that’s come out of this Republican primary. Instead, it’s par for the GOP in the state. But the races for the House of Representatives and Senate are just the backdrop to a looming nationwide shift.

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The gubernatorial race might be a bellwether for the nation, a match between Trump-backed Lake and her Mike Pence-backed opponent Karrin Taylor Robson. Lake is seen as the frontrunner for the GOP nominee, but the race has tightened in recent weeks as establishment conservatives have coalesced around Robson. 

A former journalist, Lake has run her campaign in the image of the former president, and has repeatedly declined to accept the results of the 2020 election. Lake is endorsed by the farthest of far-right Arizonians, including Gosar. Lake’s policy proposals have repeatedly been called into question after she’s flipped on many issues, like a recent attack on mail-in voting despite mailing in her own ballot for decades. Lake has given alarming statements regarding the future of elections in Arizona, declaring that she would crack down on any signs of fraud in Arizona elections if elected governor, signaling she would never allow Arizona to pledge its electors to a Democrat. Lake’s hardline stance could shape Arizona elections and representation in Washington for decades.

Which makes Arizona indicative of the GOP’s 2022 movement. In Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, the GOP gubernatorial candidate who is supported by a fervent antisemite, won his primary. Mastriano’s role in fighting Biden’s election in 2020 could prove indicative of what he’d do if he won. If the two win, 31 electoral votes in two swing states may no longer be in possession of voters of those states, but of a party that has all but admitted it won’t respect any election results.

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The rightward march is a trend that everyone can see. Arizona, tonight, might show the nation just how far it can go. 

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*First Published: Aug 2, 2022, 8:19 am CDT