Trump Stumps for Arizona GOP Loyalists, Flanked by Election Result Deniers

Thousands gathered during the Save America rally held by former president Donald Trump in Florence, Arizona in mid-January.
Thousands gathered during the Save America rally held by former president Donald Trump in Florence, Arizona in mid-January. Jacob Tyler Dunn
Voters ousted him from the Oval Office 14 months ago, but Donald Trump’s iron grip on Arizona’s GOP has not loosened, a bustling rally in Florence on Saturday night showed again.

Trump loves Arizona, he reminded supporters again Saturday. And a constellation of conservative politicians and candidates, who continue to reject the certified results of the last election, plus thousands of supporters who believe in their disproven claims, reminded Trump the feelings were reciprocal.

That symbiosis is reshaping Arizona politics.

That’s why he picked the Grand Canyon State for his first rally of the year, bedazzled with a lineup of right-wing Arizona politicians who peddle his misleading rhetoric in the state.

click to enlarge U.S. Representative Paul Gosar - JACOB TYLER DUNN
U.S. Representative Paul Gosar
Jacob Tyler Dunn

“This is where it all began,” as Congressman Paul Gosar told the crowd, referring to Arizona’s sham audit. “It’s absolutely perfect.”

click to enlarge AMERICAN OVERSIGHT
American Oversight
A year ago, Gosar stood on the U.S. House floor repeating his claims that the election results should not be certified for Joe Biden while rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building trying to stop the certification proceedings.

Hundreds of insurrectionists, including several with ties to Arizona, have been arrested and some sentenced to prison. One, who awaits sentencing, attended the rally in Florence.

Wind whipped across the Country Thunder festival grounds Saturday afternoon as a crowd of thousands gathered, wrapped in American flags, pulling their MAGA hats over their eyes to fend off the dust. Cheers of “Let’s Go Brandon” erupted sporadically, referring to the right-wing slang for "F—ck Joe Biden."

“We had a tremendous victory in Arizona that was taken away,” Trump told them when he eventually took the stage, after arriving midway through the event by helicopter.

Biden won by 7 million votes and by 306 to 232 in the Electoral College. Repeatedly, court after court, and recount upon recount, rejected every claim of voter fraud. None, not even the GOP-funded Cyber Ninja's bungling review of Maricopa County ballots, found reason to deny that Biden won in Arizona.

Arizona Republicans even submitted bogus election certification documentation, falsely claiming that Trump won Arizona.

Arizona's GOP Chair Kelli Ward alongside Nancy Cottle, Loraine Pellegrino, Tyler Bowyer, Jake Hoffman, Anthony Kern, James Lamon, Robert Montgomery, Samuel Moorhead, Greg Safsten and Michael Ward together signed papers falsely declaring themselves as Arizona's Electoral College electors for Trump.

By contrast, Governor Doug Ducey later submitted accurate results to the federal government certifying the election for Biden in Arizona. That move put a target on his back and led Trump to fire a fresh round of denunciations toward the outgoing governor on Saturday.

It was a members-only evening for the true believers.

Joining their colleague Gosar, other Trump loyalists in attendance at the rally included U.S. Representatives Andy Biggs and Debbie Lesko. All three Republican lawmakers have pushed the 'Stop the Steal' narrative and voted in Congress to reject Arizona's results. State Representative Mark Finchem and Arizona state senators Kelly Townsend alongside Wendy Rogers joined them Saturday.

click to enlarge U.S. Congressman Andy Biggs - JACOB TYLER DUNN
U.S. Congressman Andy Biggs
Jacob Tyler Dunn

Several days before, the former president gave a rare interview to NPR’s Steve Inskeep. The conversation lasted only a few minutes before Trump cut it short, after being challenged repeatedly on his debunked claims of voter fraud. But before the line dropped, Inskeep asked a critical question — one that got to the heart of Trump’s sway over Arizona politics.

“Are you telling Republicans in 2022 that they must press your case on the past election in order to get your endorsement?” Inskeep asked. “Is that an absolute?”

Trump, at first, vacillated.

“They are going to do whatever they want to do — whatever they have to do they’re going to do.”

Then, he brought up Kari Lake, the former Phoenix news anchor who, with Trump’s stamp of approval, is now running for governor of Arizona.

“She’s very big on this issue. She’s leading by a lot,” Trump said.

click to enlarge Former president Donald Trump invited Arizona gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake on stage during his speech during the Save America rally in Florence, Arizona. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Former president Donald Trump invited Arizona gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake on stage during his speech during the Save America rally in Florence, Arizona.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

The implication was clear — Lake has made “election integrity” front and center in her campaign. As a result, she’s been invited to Mar-A-Lago and secured the former president’s “complete and total” endorsement.

Whether or not Trump outright admits that his endorsement is contingent on candidates pushing the steady drumbeat of a stolen election, the evidence suggests so. While he showers devotees like Lake with political favors, he’s made it clear that those who dare not toe the line face retribution.

Early in the week, Trump released a scathing statement, criticizing U.S. Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota for telling ABC News that the 2020 presidential election “was fair,” and that Republicans “simply did not win.” Rounds was a “RINO,” Trump said; “I hereby firmly pledge that he will never receive my Endorsement again!”

One rally attendee claimed that all Maricopa County Republicans were RINOs, a statement that was met with a chorus of cheers at the rally. RINO is short for "Republican In Name Only" as a slur against those who don't follow the Trump herd.

It was thematic in conversations with other rally attendees and Trump’s own words about “weak Republicans” — party members who deviate from Trumpian rhetoric lose their badge of credibility in the GOP.
click to enlarge Rally attendees donned camouflage gear and patriot hats. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Rally attendees donned camouflage gear and patriot hats.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

“The Republicans in Maricopa County are crooks,” said a Chandler woman who only gave her name as Kathy, for fear of retribution in her professional life. “They’re RINOs.”

Like many others, Kathy has no faith in the string of audits that commonly ruled out election fraud in the presidential election in 2020.

Last year, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the presidential election. All eight lawsuits filed by conservative backers challenging the election integrity failed in court.

Still, she's “100 percent sure” the count in Arizona was dirty. And Maricopa County polls were “irredeemably compromised,” according to state Representative Mark Finchem’s Saturday night remarks.

“They’re not patriots. They don’t love our country,” Kathy said of GOP leadership in Maricopa. “They’re a joke and they don’t care about their people.”

click to enlarge Some crowd members at the Save America rally in Florence, Arizona came in patriotic costumes. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Some crowd members at the Save America rally in Florence, Arizona came in patriotic costumes.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

It’s not Republicans versus Democrats anymore, as former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Rick Grenell said in his speech at Saturday’s rally. It’s an intraparty battle in Washington, D.C., between the Trump faithful and the imposters.

Preceding Trump on Saturday was a lineup of the president’s most devout allies in the state. First on the stage was Arizona GOP chairwoman Ward. Adorned in a bright red pantsuit, she kicked off the event by proclaiming: “Trump won! Trump won!”

Townsend followed by calling for the prosecution of Arizona’s election workers, to enthusiasm: “We want indictments of the election workers, so they don’t continue to do this,” she said.

Alongside Townsend and Ward were state Senator Sonny Borrelli, of District 5, Wendy Rogers, District 6, and Finchem, representing District 11. And, of course, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who says he has spent $25 million on his campaign to spotlight disproven voter fraud allegations.

The star of the opening speakers, though, was clearly Lake. Throughout the rally, campaign videos and photos of her beside Trump flashed to the crowd. As she got on stage, the deafening sound of artificial crowd cheering pulsated through massive speakers.

click to enlarge Kari Lake is running for governor of Arizona - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Kari Lake is running for governor of Arizona
Jacob Tyler Dunn

During her speech, Lake began a chant of “Build that wall!” and vowed that the 2020 election was “rotten to the core.”

During Trump’s address, which was focused on the flaws of the Biden administration and his "stolen" win in Arizona, he ushered Lake up on the stage with him.

“I tell you she is incredible,” he said. “She’s been with us from the beginning on election fraud and everything else.”

If nothing else, the rally made clear that, even as national interest in the ballot audit wanes, Arizona’s GOP will push, relentlessly, to keep Maricopa County as a flashpoint. Nearly every speaker made sure to highlight the “stolen” 2020 election.

An endorsement from the 45th president carries weight, but also clear value.

click to enlarge Some crowd members at the Save America rally in Florence, Arizona wore political T-Shirts. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Some crowd members at the Save America rally in Florence, Arizona wore political T-Shirts.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

Dozens of conservative political action committees with buzzword-laden monikers like "First in Freedom," "Great America," "Victory and Freedom" and "Invest in a Strong & Secure America" have collectively donated more than $1 million to Arizona GOP members who are Trump loyalists, campaign finance records show.

Rogers, who spoke at Saturday's rally, released campaign finance reports this week, showing she pulled in a staggering $2.5 million in individual contributions in 2021.

That's $1 million more than that claimed by Lake, who's yet to release the full finance report, in her campaign for governor.

A closer look at Rogers’ tens of thousands of donations reveals the influence of the election audit — and Trump.

The vast majority — upwards of 80 percent, according to the records — of Rogers’ donors appear to live out of state. That’s a reminder of the national platform that Rogers has built. Her notoriety stems, in large part, from her efforts to push copycat ballot “audits” in other states.

click to enlarge Some crowd members at the Save America rally in Florence, Arizona got really into Trump. This person wore a Donald Trump mask. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Some crowd members at the Save America rally in Florence, Arizona got really into Trump. This person wore a Donald Trump mask.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

And Trump’s endorsement has clearly been critical to Rogers’ success. In the month after the former president’s official endorsement of Rogers, on November 29, the number of donations that she received nearly doubled compared to the month before, jumping from around 7,000 in December from just over 4,000 the month prior.

Among Arizona Republicans running for governor, longtime donor-turned candidate Karrin Taylor Robson raised $1.7 million from individual donors, while Matt Salmon raised $1.1 million. Kimberly Yee dropped out of the governor's race and decided to run for re-election as the state treasurer, after a weak effort to raise money.

Back in 2015, Trump made his first campaign appearance in the Valley of the Sun as a long-shot GOP outsider.

"Don't worry, we'll take our country back,” Trump coddled his crowd of about 4,000 that July evening that year.

Saturday’s crowd was more than twice that size.

That’s roughly one attendee for each of Trump’s Arizona donors in the six months following his razor-thin loss to Biden in the state.

Close to 10,000 Arizonans donated nearly $500,000 to the Trump-controlled Save America PAC in those six months, according to the Federal Election Commission’s most recent data.

And an incendiary email from the PAC in the days preceding the Florence rally prodded Trump’s supporters for money and gauged the crowd’s appetite for topics like immigration, COVID-19, and the infamous “stolen election.”
click to enlarge One man wore a hat which read, Jesus is my Savior and Trump is my president. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
One man wore a hat which read, Jesus is my Savior and Trump is my president.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

A rally attendee who claimed to work as a volunteer for Cyber Ninjas told reporters she found 60,000 uncounted votes for Trump before mysterious lawyers swiftly whisked them away, not to be mentioned in the audit report.

She said that, due to a non-disclosure agreement, she couldn’t share her name. Recounting her story garnered applause from the awaiting crowd.

In that crowd was Micajah Jackson. Federal agents arrested the 25-year-old Phoenix resident in mid-May for his role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Jackson pleaded guilty to one of four charges against him in a plea deal. He’s slated to be sentenced for his role in the riot by the end of February and faces a maximum of six months in prison.

In court documents, the FBI identified Jackson as a member of the Arizona Proud Boys, based on brightly-colored insignia he wore while fraternizing with known Proud Boys and activity on his social media accounts.

But Jackson has since denied connection to the neo-fascist, alt-right white supremacist group. On Saturday night, he told Phoenix New Times he was studying to become a professor.

“I’m here for America. I’m here for God,” Jackson said at the rally. Dust swirling through Canyon Moon Ranch that chilly night didn’t stop him from donning a snappy suit and tie.

He’s especially worried about illegal immigration and election integrity. He believes there was meddling in the 2020 election and others before it.

“I want to bring back unity in Arizona,” said Jackson, who was accused of violence in a restricted building and spoke zealously at a Justice for J6 rally in Phoenix in September.

Despite chatter about fringe groups attending the rally, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office treated the rally “like any other big event,” spokesperson Lauren Reimer said. FBI spokesperson Kevin Smith said the bureau was taking an active role in operational security.

But where Trump goes in Arizona, extremists follow.

“I love this state,” Trump told the crowd Saturday.

Michael Protzman, also known as Negative48, arrived 36 hours early to the Florence rally. He’s the leader of a Dallas-based QAnon offshoot sect that’s been called a “death cult.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has named it a conspiracy-based extremist hate group.

click to enlarge Rally attendees waited for hours in the desert for Trump to speak. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Rally attendees waited for hours in the desert for Trump to speak.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

The Phoenix office of the U.S. Secret Service organized a security advance, assigning agents to security projects well before the rally was announced to the public.

And with good reason.

“There have been official threats and we are aware of those,” Special Agent in Charge Frank Boudreaux Jr. told the New Times on Friday.

Responding to those threats took planning and choreography, not bodyguards, Boudreaux said. He’s confident there was no credible threat against the public that wasn’t dealt with prior to the rally.

And by all accounts, the rally went off without a hitch. The massive crowd that saturated much of the music festival venue was rowdy, but non-violent.

Trump jets out to Texas now for his next rally, out in Montgomery County on January 29. But he’s banking that, within the year, he’ll have a hand-picked loyalist in Arizona’s top office.

As he told the crowd Saturday, with Lake standing beside him: “She’s gonna be your next governor.”
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times. Originally from Burlington, Vermont, she now covers issues ranging from policing to far-right politics here in Phoenix. She has worked as a breaking news correspondent in Rabat, Morocco, for Morocco World News, a government technology reporter for Scoop News Group in Washington, D.C., and a local reporter in Vermont for VTDigger. Her freelance work has been published in Business Insider, the Intercept, and the American Prospect, among other places.
Contact: Katya Schwenk
Elias Weiss is a staff writer at the Phoenix New Times. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he reported first for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune in Southern Virginia, where he covered politics and law. In 2020, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Government Writing and Breaking News Writing for non-daily newspapers statewide.
Contact: Elias Weiss