A member of the Yavapai County chapter of the Oath Keepers, an extremist right-wing militia group that was involved in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, claimed in a recent YouTube video that Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar met with them and said that the U.S. is in a civil war.
"We did a meeting a couple of years ago where our elected representative from Washington Paul Gosar came out and we asked him flat out at that time, 'Do you think we’re heading into a civil war?'" Arroyo said in the video, which is titled "The Coming Civil War? Part 1" and was posted on November 22, 2020. "And his response to the group was just flat out, 'We’re in it. We just haven’t started shooting at each other yet'."
Phoenix New Times was unable to reach Arroyo for comment. Gosar, a Republican and diehard supporter of former President Donald Trump, who represents Arizona's 4th Congressional District, did not return New Times' multiple requests for comment. But other clues of a relationship with the group have surfaced. An image of Gosar standing near a person wearing Oath Keepers clothing emerged last summer. Also, one of Gosar's brothers, Dave Gosar, recently told the New York Times , (which first reported on Arroyo's video), that the congressman is closely affiliated with the Oath Keepers.
“He’s been involved with anti-Muslim groups and hate groups,” Dave reportedly said. “He’s made anti-Semitic diatribes. He’s twisted up so tight with the Oath Keepers it’s not even funny.”
Dave Gosar, a Wyoming attorney, did not respond to New Times' request for comment.
The Oath Keepers are a conspiratorial right-wing paramilitary group whose members believe that the federal government is tyrannical and conspiring trying to strip people of their constitutional rights. They encourage their followers to stockpile guns and ammunition and to organize local militias to prepare for an eventual civil war. The group was involved in past armed standoffs between ranchers and federal agencies, and Oath Keeper members have shown up with guns at Black Lives Matter protests in various cities.
Arroyo articulated this worldview explicitly in the November 20 video, stating that a "communist takeover" of the United States is occurring and that his group believes "whole-heartedly that we are already underway with a civil war in this country."
"It’s a deeply conspiratorial worldview. They believe the government is evil and if given the opportunity would immediately enslave the American people and take away their rights," said Alex Friedfeld, an investigative researcher with the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism. "When you have that maximalist framing it starts to justify more extreme measures."
In a later video posted on December 30 2020, Arroyo describes the Yavapai County Oath Keepers as the "largest active group in the Western United States." Arroyo is involved in the "biggest chapter" of Oath Keepers in Arizona, accord to Friedfeld.
The involvement of the Oath Keepers in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has been well-documented. Some estimate that at least 10 Oath Keepers members were part of the pro-Donald Trump mob that infamously breached the Capitol. And Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers, was spotted at the Capitol.
So far, three people associated with the group have been charged in federal court with conspiracy and destruction of government property for their involvement in the attack on the Capitol. Federal prosecutors allege that the defendants communicated logistics for the attack prior to January 6 and discussed "joining forces with other Oath Keeper chapters." Two of the defendants also said in media interviews after the raid that they are members of the Oath Keepers.
"People look to politicians to be trusted figures within the community," Friedfeld said. "If it turns out that those comments are true, it would be deeply concerning because he’s essentially saying that politics are over, it’s civil war."
"When politicians do that they give conspiratorial ideas and dangerous ideas a sheer of legitimacy, they make them look not extreme," Friedfeld added. "By interacting with the Oath Keepers and by giving them legitimacy and validating their beliefs, Gosar, if this is true, is further normalizing extremist rhetoric and behavior, bringing it into the mainstream so that other people can be exposed to it with potentially dangerous results."
Other Republican elected officials in Arizona have ties to the Oath Keepers. One is State Representative Mark Finchem, who represents Arizona's 11th Legislative District and has described himself as a member in the past. He once served as the Arizona Coordinator for the Coalition of Western States, a group that backed the infamous armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016.