On January 6, 2021, a mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump attacked the United States Capitol, disrupting a joint Congressional session called to count the electoral votes that would formalize Trump’s defeat.
“This is because of you!” barked Congressman Dean Phillips, a Minnesota Democrat, at his Arizona Republican colleague Paul Gosar as Capitol Police evacuated the chamber that day.
It was meant as an insult, Phillips would say. But Gosar seems proud to take credit for inciting the insurrection.
In a video leaked by the Arizona Republic last week, the six-term lawmaker from Prescott proclaims, “I was the one who started the revolution.”
His remark, at an event sponsored by a Republican club in Bullhead City earlier this month, was welcomed with applause. Maybe because three-quarters of Republicans sympathize with January 6 rioters, a recent poll from Boston’s Suffolk University found.
Betty McRae, an 83-year-old straight-ticket Republican voter who lives in Paradise Valley, is in the minority. Yet her support of Gosar, both monetary and as a voter, is unwavering.
“It did not change my mind one bit,” McRae said of the video in a Thursday interview with Phoenix New Times. “I am a strong supporter of Paul Gosar. He’s an ethical man.”
Gosar, tagged by the American Conservative Union Foundation as “the most conservative member of Congress,” has raised just over $280,000 this election cycle — a quarter of his $1 million travel budget spent since 2016. He spends more taxpayer dollars on travel than any other House rep.
McRae is among Gosar’s most generous donors, pledging more than $3,000 to the far-right incumbent in March, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Gosar’s biggest donors are two Washington, D.C.-based PACs, WinRed and House Freedom Fund, totaling more than $200,000 in receipts. His fourth-biggest backer is Bill Luke Auto Group in Phoenix, which doled out about $6,000 to the campaign.
“We have no comment,” Shawn Bean, a spokesperson for the auto dealer, said on Tuesday.
WinRed and House Freedom Fund declined interviews with New Times, as did Gosar.
“It was a terrible mistake on January 6,” McRae said. “That was not a positive action at all.”
But the Texas native is sympathetic to Gosar, even after she turned her back on Trump.
In February 2020, McRae spent more than $35,000 to attend a Trump rally in Phoenix. The events in Washington 11 months later soured her opinion of the lame duck.
“I was a big Trump supporter, but he shot himself in the foot,” she said. “He can't keep from calling people names. Once he became president, he needed to act presidential, and he didn’t.”
But McRae was not so quick to turn her back on Gosar, who’s recommitting to describing (falsely) the January 6 attack as a peaceful protest.
“I’m disappointed, but I still think he loves Arizona deeply and he loves America,” she said. “I’ve made a few bad decisions in my life, so I'm going to forgive him.”
Tearing at the fabric of democracy isn't exactly like getting caught with your hands in the cookie jar, though. But in McRae's mind, what Gosar did was better than failing to condemn protests and looting after the 2020 police killing of George Floyd, she said.
Gosar is in a crowded field of political newcomers ahead of Arizona’s August 2 Republican primary: Adam Morgan, Randy Kutz, and Sandra Dowling, all military veterans.
They’re duking it out in Arizona’s newly drawn 9th Congressional District, which stretches from Yuma north along the Colorado River and also covers Surprise, El Mirage, and other West Valley cities.
There’s no polling data available yet in District 9, but leading pollsters predict whoever wins the primary is a shoo-in for the House seat. And Gosar is seeking his seventh term in a state where, in 2020, 90 percent of Congressional incumbents were re-elected.
Morgan was another keynote speaker at the event in Bullhead City on June 1.
Dowling is one of the brave Republicans who’s outspoken in her belief that participating in the January 6 unrest was wrong. And she's taking Gosar to task over it.
“I am appalled that a congressman would claim credit for an insurrection that happened at the United States Capitol that day,” Dowling said in a June 17 email to New Times. “Representative Gosar isn’t fit to hold office and he should resign immediately.”
Gosar has long tied himself to the January 6 events. But this is the first admission that he “started the revolution.”
In November, the House of Representatives censured Gosar over an anime video depicting him killing New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden.
“Representative Gosar is an embarrassment to Arizona and the people of Congressional District 9,” said Barrett Marson, a Republican political analyst based in Phoenix, in a Tuesday email to New Times. “He does not represent the hard-working people of western Arizona and if he won’t resign then voters need to take action on Election Day.”
Marson called the recent video “disturbing.”
Gosar, a dentist-turned-election conspiracist, has been among the strongest local promoters of the baseless conspiracy theory that the last presidential election was stolen from Trump. He was one of the first elected officials to attend armed protests alongside far-right activists and militia members outside the Maricopa County Elections Department office following the 2020 election.
Gosar joined his fellow Congressman Andy Biggs, a Republican from Gilbert, in the push to set aside electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania when the mob of Trump loyalists breached the Capitol last year.
In spite of the video leaked last week, both have publicly denied any role in organizing or promoting the incursion.
“Know this: I have never instigated violence," Gosar wrote in a letter responding to allegations against him by another member of Congress in October. "I have no criminal record of any type. I have never aided or abetted violence. I have not urged or supported violence.”
Still, Ali Alexander, an alt-right activist and “Stop the Steal” organizer, dubbed Gosar his “spirit animal” in a YouTube video posted in the wake of the attack.
Alexander went on to testify in federal court that he and Gosar had "a few phone conversations” ahead of the onslaught.
“I was the person that came up with the January 6 idea with Congressman Gosar,” Alexander says in the video. “[We] schemed up putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting.”
And there's more linking the insurrection to Arizona, 2,300 miles away. On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice subpoenaed a Trump campaign official who attended a meeting where 11 Arizona Republicans falsely declared themselves the state’s presidential electors.
Gosar seemed to corroborate Alexander’s account in his June 1 speech in Bullhead City, but officially, he’s mum on any involvement. As the January 6 House Committee continues to deliver its findings of what happened that fateful day, time will tell if Gosar faces consequences in Washington.
If his critics have their way, he’ll resign before that day comes.