Arizona GOP Deflects Blame, Says Antifa Caused Capitol Riot

Republican Congresswoman Debbie Lesko speaks at a November 5 press conference at the Arizona Republican Party headquarters in Phoenix.
Republican Congresswoman Debbie Lesko speaks at a November 5 press conference at the Arizona Republican Party headquarters in Phoenix. Josh Kelety
After the nation and the world expressed shock and horror when an angry mob of supporters of President Donald Trump violently stormed the U.S. Capitol yesterday, some Arizona Republicans are now claiming, with no proof, that leftist agitators caused the mayhem.

There is no significant evidence that anti-fascist activists caused yesterday's attack on the Capitol despite the litany of baseless online rumors and conspiracy theories. But the statements by Arizona Republicans attributing the violence to leftist agitators is part of a broader effort by pro-Trump conservatives nationwide to deflect blame away from the president and his supporters.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors plan to file at least 15 cases against members of the pro-Trump mob and are considering levying sedition charges, according to the Associated Press. Dozens of cases have already been filed in District of Columbia Superior Court.

Yesterday, shortly after the breach occurred, Chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party Kelli Ward didn't condemn the mob's actions, instead accusing Democrats of not properly auditing the election results. Today, in a video posted by the Arizona GOP's official twitter account, Ward blamed leftist agitators and not the attending Trump supporters for the violence.

"Barbarians stormed the gate. And my opinion, I think that some of those were agitators that were brought in, whether they were Antifa or BLM [Black Lives Matter] or just outright anarchists, I don't know," she said. "But unfortunately, there were some foolish Trump supporters and MAGA supporters who followed along like little sheep. The people that perpetrated that violence and broke our laws have got to be prosecuted full to the full extent of the law."

She went on to decry Republicans who blamed Trump for the chaos after he openly condoned his supporters who were storming the U.S. Capitol and helped incite the mob beforehand during a speech.

"Republican officials turning their back on the president, it's very sad," Ward said.

In response to New Times' questions regarding the basis for Ward's assertion that leftist agitators fomented the violence, Zachery Henry, a spokesperson for the Arizona Republican Party, pointed to a suspicious one-source New York Post story based entirely on an anonymous law enforcement source who claimed that two known Antifa agitators were spotted in the crowd, a tweet from conservative social media personality Andy Ngo, footage of members of the crowd outside the Capitol yelling "no Antifa," and a tweet from former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik who claimed, without evidence, that a video clip showed an Antifa agitator banging on a window at the Capitol. Kerik may feel he owes Trump one: After Kerik spent time in prison for tax fraud, Trump pardoned him in February 2020.

Similarly, Wendy Rogers, a pro-Trump Republican who was elected to the Arizona State Senate in the November election, blamed Antifa in a tweet issued today: "I condemn the radical Antifa mobs for attacking the Capitol and I condemn the Democrats for wanting to defund the very police who protected them."

In a previous Tweet, Rogers also blamed Congress for the death of a pro-Trump Air Force veteran who was shot by Capitol Police as the mob stormed the Capitol, stating, "All they had to do was allow for an audit of the machines and votes. This could have been avoided."

Rogers did not respond to New Times' request for comment.

After the Trump mob stormed the Capitol, Republican Congressman Paul Gosar (4th District – Prescott), who helped spearhead an effort in Congress to object to the electoral college votes, appeared to blame the violence on leftists before Congress reconvened. Gosar ultimately voted on Wednesday to overturn Arizona's election results.

"Leftist violence—or any violence—will not deter our mission for truth and transparency," he wrote. "The people need and deserve truth."
A call placed with Congressman Gosar's office in Washington, D.C., was not returned.
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Josh Kelety was a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety