Politics

Arizona Lawmaker Mark Finchem Struggles to Keep His Capitol Riot Story Straight

State Representative Mark Finchem.
State Representative Mark Finchem. Gage Skidmore/Flickr
click to enlarge State Representative Mark Finchem. - GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
State Representative Mark Finchem.
Gage Skidmore/Flickr
After a mob violently stormed the U.S. Capitol and disrupted Congress's certification of the 2020 presidential election results last week, Republican state Rep. Mark Finchem defended the mob, repeating debunked conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods about who was to blame for the mayhem.

Several days later, he's still at it. Here's what Finchem, who was recently re-elected to represent the state's 11th Legislative District in the Arizona House of Representatives, wrote in his official newsletter yesterday:

"What about the claims that the crow[d] was a mob? Were they loud? Yes. Were they hostile? No. Did they attack the police? No, in fact I heard many [protesters] say 'thank you,' and 'bless you' as they walked by officers."

In fact, the mob did attack the police. A Capitol Police officer died due to injuries from physically grappling with protesters, a federal homicide investigation into his death will soon be opened, and newly unearthed video footage shows the mob violently beating a police officer.

Finchem may have a personal reason for not condemning the rioters' conduct: He was there. Finchem was in Washington D.C. during the rally and subsequent breach of the Capitol — though he says that while he planned to speak at the rally, he did not end up speaking, nor did he participate in the violence afterward.

"From where I was positioned, I saw a crowd of people standing on the Capitol steps, looking away from the building, out over the plaza. It appeared they were more interested in a photo op than anything else," Finchem wrote in a January 11 statement. "They did not appear hostile, nor did they appear disrespectful, quite the opposite. Police officers were actually directing people past the barricades. The doors of the Capitol that were breached were on the other side of the building."


In response to New Times' requests for comment, Finchem denied that he claimed that the mob didn't attack officers.

"I did not say that there was not violence against police officers, I did not see any, but I did see people following police officers prompting to pass by the barricades," he wrote in an email. "Since I was a significant distance away from the steps I referenced in my statement, I did not have a vantage point to see what you describe. My statement deals with what I saw from where I was at."

Finchem went on to assert in his January 10 newsletter that antifascist activists (also known as Antifa) were responsible for the initial breach of the Capitol and the property damage. He cited a now-debunked conspiracy theory that facial recognition technology identified leftist activists in the crowd.

"It has been reported that a handful of individuals, who have been identified as ANTIFA infiltrators —identified by facial recognition— did in fact breach the entryway of the premises and cause damage," Finchem wrote. "But, there were many in the throng who were trying to stop them shouting, 'that's not who we are.'"

His January 11 statement reiterated the same baseless claims regarding Antifa activists causing the violence.

"I was told that individuals believed to be Antifa had breached an area of the Capitol building that was out of my view, around the corner from where I was located," Finchem wrote. "I have since been told by investigators, that through the use of facial recognition software, the Antifa link was confirmed."

Numerous allies of Trump and his supporters, including some Arizona Republicans, have spread the baseless conspiracy theory that leftist agitators disguised as Trump supporters started the riot. However, no real evidence of this exists and the assistant director at the FBI's Washington field office recently told reporters that there is "no indication" that Antifa activists caused the chaos.

In his emailed statement to New Times, Finchem cited an "FBI source" for his assertion that facial recognition technology identified leftist agitators at the riot. He did not respond to questions about whether he would retract his statements regarding Antifa activists fomenting the riot.

"That information came from an FBI source to me the night of the 6th," he wrote. "If they have changed their story, as sometimes happens with the FBI, I have no control over that."

On social media, Finchem was very open about his presence at the Capitol during the rally and riot. At around 1:15 p.m. on January 6, Finchem tweeted a picture of the crowd of Trump supporters on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, expressing sympathy for them, stating, "What happens when the People feel they have been ignored and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud." (The New York Times first reported that the Capitol had been breached around 2:30 p.m. EST that day.)


Finchem provided more details on why he was in Washington D.C. on January 6 in his statement from today and reiterated falsehoods about Antifa causing the riot. He said that he planned to be in D.C. from January 5 through 8 to deliver an "evidence book and letter" to Vice President Mike Pence regarding baseless allegations of election fraud in Arizona, and was "invited to speak at a permitted event scheduled to be held on the steps of Capitol."

"Arriving at the Capitol grounds at about 1:45 pm EST, I made my way to the speakers’ area at about 1:55 pm EST, went to the speakers’ collection area on the Supreme Court side of the Capitol. On arrival, I was told by the event organizer that the speaking engagement was cancelled. I stayed there for about 20 minutes, took a few photos and left the area," Finchem said. “I did not learn of the Capitol penetration until shortly before 5:00 pm EST when I was about to record a podcast interview."

He was adamant in his statement that he was not involved in directing the crowd or storming the Capitol.

"Media reports that I was ‘leading the march’ or somehow ‘leading an assault on the Capitol’ are wildly fictitious and a slanderous fabrication," Finchem said. "The closest I ever came to the Capitol building was about 500 yards away. The fact that I was late to the venue by over an hour destroys the hyperbolic assertion that I was in any way a leader of the event."

Finchem has a long history of sympathy for and direct involvement with right-wing extremists. He served as the "Arizona Coordinator" for the Coalition of Western States, a group that supported the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon back in 2016. He also called the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia back in 2017 a "Deep State" plot, and has described himself as a member of the Oath Keepers, an anti-government militia group.

In response to the riot at the Capitol, a group of progressive organizations, including Progress Arizona, Planned Parenthood, and Arizona AFL-CIO, a labor union, called for Finchem and several other Republican lawmakers to be expelled by the state legislature. The list of lawmakers includes Representative Kelly Townsend and Wendy Rogers, who was recently elected to the Arizona Senate, both of whom have expressed sympathy for the rioters at the Capitol or spread the false theory that leftist activists committed the violence.

“People who preach and practice sedition, in direct violation of the principles of our democracy, cannot be trusted to faithfully defend the constitution of our state or of the United States, much less the people of Arizona. Their continued presence as members of Arizona’s legislative body is an affront to the democracy they are sworn to uphold," reads the organizations' joint statement, which was issued on January 6. "If the legislature as a whole does not vote to expel those who supported today’s coup attempt, the Senate President and House Speaker should immediately bar them from any leadership role in the state legislature, including committee chairmanships.”

Emily Kirkland, executive director of Progress Arizona, told New Times by phone that the organizations' stance "has not changed."

"The comments from Representative Finchem in his newsletter and his official statement today only make it more clear that he needs to be expelled," she said. "He is doubling down on the lies that incited the riot at the Capitol."
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Josh Kelety is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety