Planned as a rally “against the medical tyranny taking place,” in the words of its organizers (the Arizona Coalition for Medical Freedom, an anti-vaccine group that predates the pandemic), it was also expected to be a celebration of some kind, given the release of the audit results.
The rally quickly devolved, though, into a shouting match between a fractured crowd. Speakers clashed and grew divided over whether the results of that months-long, theatrical ballot review (which, despite its extremely questionable methodology, confirmed that Biden won) was indeed a victory for the far-right.
Friday’s speakers included: Arizona Sen. Kelly Townsend; former U.S. representative and current candidate for governor Matt Salmon; and Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, among others. They took the stage in turn, addressing a crowd of over a hundred who had gathered, waving American flags and signs that railed against both “forced injections" and electoral fraud. An armed militia, which calls itself the "Good Citizens," patrolled the crowd. (The secretive group has begun appearing at protests this summer, though its origins are unclear; one of the armed men told Phoenix New Times that the event organizers had “asked us to be here,” as security, though would not elaborate.)
But it wasn't until former Fox news anchor Kari Lake took the podium that things really began to unravel.
As Lake attempted to speak, she was confronted by an angry Steve Daniels, chair of Arizona’s “Patriot Party." Daniels was apparently offended that Lake — who's currently viewed by many as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for governor — had not signed a lengthy anti-vaccine pledge he had offered her, and insisted to the crowd that Lake was not "for the people." His supporters shouted her down, even as Lake insisted that Daniels was an “idiot,” until the event’s organizers swarmed in to force Daniels away.
Lake eventually was permitted to speak, to general enthusiasm: “The election and our medical freedom go hand in hand,” she said, adding that the audit presentation would, for Arizona's right, "be our Lexington-Concord moment."
But that belief was not shared by all. A faction of Arizona’s most ardent believers in voter fraud has turned against the Cyber Ninjas’ effort, now that it's complete — because they would like to see it uncover more voter fraud, apparently. When Daniels took the stage, he railed against the audit, calling it the “biggest grift I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Some attendees that spoke with Phoenix New Times said they felt the same: “Right now I’m not trusting too many people,” said one woman, who said her name was Cathy, even though she said she was adamant in her belief of election fraud — there was "so much" evidence, she said.
Others said they had little interest in the audit results: “I’m just here to stand up for our own freedoms and our rights,” said one woman, who identified herself as Joyce, declaring that she and the man she was standing with were “not getting the jab.”
And indeed, some speakers spent little time addressing 2020 election: Townsend's speech, for instance, mostly descended into anti-vaccine nonsense (claims that she has been making for years). “China has done this to all of our countrymen,” she told the crowd, calling her own children “vaccine-injured” and vowing to protect her daughter, who was standing beside her, from the Covid jab. Most of the crowd applauded.
As the rally concluded, some in the crowd made their way to the Senate building, where, even more than two hours before the audit hearing was set to start, dozens had lined up at the doors to enter. Whatever the results of the audit might be, they seemed unlikely to be shaken out of their belief that the election was somehow stolen.
"We were lied to on November 3," Lake insisted during her remarks. "But of course, we already know that."