In a time-honored Arizona tradition, Congressman Paul Gosar, a Republican from Prescott, is making national headlines for peddling right-wing conspiracy theories.
In an interview with Vice News last Thursday, Gosar suggested that the white supremacist rally that took place in Charlottesville this summer had been orchestrated by "the left," specifically George Soros, who he claimed had "turned in his own people to the Nazis."
His bizarre comments ended up getting more attention than the main focus of the Vice News segment: Gosar's fondness for blocking people on Facebook.
As Phoenix New Times reported in June, Gosar has a potentially unconstitutional policy of blocking critics from his Facebook page if they use profanity or "express rage or anger."
That's inspired J'aime Morgaine to take action.
The liberal activist, who's also an army veteran and one of Gosar's constituents in Kingman, launched a protest, showing up at his Prescott office with literal blocks.
Since our article came out, Gosar has continued to double down on this policy. In early July, he published a Facebook post titled, "So you’re upset I blocked you on Facebook. Here’s why I don’t care, a three-part series." (Ironically, the post wouldn't have been visible to anyone who he'd blocked.)
"Commenting on my Facebook is a privilege, not a right," he wrote, referencing the shooting of Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise. "If you genuinely think that Members of Congress should not take your hostile, crass and inappropriate rhetoric as a threat, I challenge you, ask Mr. Scalise for his thoughts. Ask his wife. Ask his children."
Legally speaking, however, Gosar's argument may not hold up. A few weeks after his Facebook rant, a federal judge in Virginia ruled that public officials can't block people who criticize them on social media.
However, Morgaine is still blocked from viewing Gosar's Facebook page. In September, she filed a lawsuit, arguing that Gosar had violated her First Amendment rights. Meanwhile, Gosar's staff has been busy creating videos where they stage dramatic readings of his Twitter mentions, which seems like maybe not the best use of taxpayer dollars.
Vice News highlighted Morgaine's ongoing protest and legal battle in last week's episode, and asked Gosar point-blank why he'd blocked her.
"We want to make sure that you're not intimidating people, that you're not using foul language, and that you're not threatening people," he answered.
Morgaine has acknowledged that she used the word "fuckwaddery" when commenting on one of Gosar's Facebook posts. But she takes offense at his response.
"His reply implied that I had been posting comments that were intimidating and threatening people," she told New Times.
"It's a blatant lie, and slanderous for him to make these unsubstantiated public accusations. I received one hate-filled message from someone from Illinois who believed what Rep. Gosar said about me. It's just a complete abuse of his power."
During the interview, Vice News reporter Elspeth Reeve pointed out that Gosar seems to be "blurring the lines between real threats and being rude, using vulgarity — things I wouldn't want my mom to hear."
In response, Gosar once again referenced the shooting of Steve Scalise.
"We saw a gentleman going so far with not allowing compatibility or even acknowledging someone else's thought process and ideas, and then taking charge in a very counterproductive way, with violence," he replied. "We see it the same way with antifa."
Things went downhill from there:
VICE News: In fairness, antifa is in the news because of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
GOSAR: Well, isn’t that interesting. Maybe that was created by the Left.
VICE News: Why do you say that?
GOSAR: Because let’s look at the person that actually started the rally. It’s come to our attention that this is a person from Occupy Wall Street that was an Obama sympathizer. So, wait a minute, be careful where you start taking these people to.
And look at the background. You know, you know George Soros is one of those people that actually helps back these individuals. Who is he? I think he’s from Hungary. I think he was Jewish. And I think he turned in his own people to the Nazis. Better be careful where we go with those.
VICE News: Do you think George Soros funded the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville?
GOSAR: Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out?
As Vice points out, there is absolutely no evidence that supports any of these theories. After the interview, George Soros' Open Society Foundation promptly issued a statement noting that Soros had been 14 years old when World War II ended, and had definitely not been collaborating with any Nazis.
"Such baseless allegations are insulting to the victims of the Holocaust, to all Jewish people, and to anyone who honors the truth," they wrote.
Critics were quick to point out that the conspiracy theories that Gosar was referencing — which have been promoted by the likes of Alex Jones — are deeply anti-Semitic in nature. On Monday morning, someone edited Gosar's Wikipedia page to describe him as a "giant steaming turd." (It was quickly fixed.)
New Times has reached out Gosar's office to see if he wants to clarify his remarks or address the controversy, and we'll update this post if we get a response.
Meanwhile, J'aime Morgaine, who's received hate mail since appearing in the episode, says that she finds Gosar's comments about Charlottesville "deeply disturbing."
"That a U.S. Congressman can perpetuate patently false conspiracy theories by Alex Jones is bizarre," she wrote in a text message. "And, as if that wasn't unsettling enough, he then justifies his unconstitutional blocking of constituents on official social media because we might turn into deranged, murderous shooters?"
She adds, "Honestly it's just another reason why I'm glad this lawsuit that I've filed will hold him accountable to his oath of office."
You can watch the full Vice News segment featuring Gosar here.
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