From Charlottesville to Oath Keepers, Rep. Mark Finchem Is a Fringe Lawmaker

State Representative Mark Finchem
State Representative Mark Finchem Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Arizona Representative Mark Finchem called the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville a "Deep State" operation facilitated by the media and Democrats in a 2017 blog post on his campaign website.

And although his article was riddled with misleading and false information, for Finchem, the blog post is not out of character. The Republican legislator frequently traffics in ideas common on the far-right political fringe. He has described himself as a member of the Oath Keepers, an antigovernment militia movement, and sponsored legislation that would allow Arizona to ignore U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

In the August 15, 2017, blog post, Finchem denied that members of the American far-right were behind the violent "Unite the Right" rally, where one person was murdered and dozens injured by a neo-Nazi who rammed his car into a group of counterprotesters.

Days after the rally, Finchem wrote on his campaign website that reporters "are peddling the story that 'far right' and the far left are at each others throats, and that they are behind the violence that erupted in Charlottesville this past weekend."

"There is one problem with that story," Finchem continued, "and if the actors had any knowledge of history they would find the 'fake' in the fake story line. Oh, the violence was real, and the acts of those involved deplorable, but there was no 'far right' there."

Finchem proceeded to describe the Ku Klux Klan, whose members participated in the chaos at Charlottesville, as "an organization that has been with the Democrats since it was formed up during the post-civil war reconstruction period."

"What we are seeing is two Democrat mobs fighting for control and narrative foundation," Finchem wrote, apparently in reference to the white supremacists and anti-racists who clashed in Charlottesville. "Its [sic] hard to build a narrative without a bad guy, without bloodshed and without a victim."

To support his argument, Finchem pointed to a story on a conservative news website, which stated that "Unite the Right" rally organizer Jason Kessler supported Obama and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Finchem's blog post echoes a common conspiracy theory circulated in fringe conservative media outlets after the rally turned deadly, framing Kessler as a government operative or Democratic plant who orchestrated the Charlottesville rally.

Although Kessler voted for Obama in 2008 and attended a 2011 Occupy protest in Charlottesville, his evolving political views on race and "white identity" during Obama's second term brought him into the circle of the alt-right by the time Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, according to the conspiracy-debunking website Snopes.

In his blog post, Finchem twice referred to Charlottesville as a PSYOP, a military term for "psychological operations" commonly used by conspiracy theorists.

"This is clearly a PSYOP to impugn those of us who stand for the rule of law and civil rights," Finchem wrote. "Kessler’s fictitious association is more like a parasite barnacle on the side of a ship, useless and unwanted."

"[This] has Deep State PSYOP written all over it," Finchem wrote in another instance.

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, Finchem wrote, Americans should condemn separatist groups and prosecute those who advocate violence.

"We must learn from history, not try to cover it up or obscure it by revision, or by removing the reminders of our uncivil past. We must be diligent to teach our children about the mistakes, missteps and misuse of government in order to train them in the way they should go in order to create a more perfect union," Finchem wrote.

Finchem is a former police officer and firefighter paramedic from Kalamazoo, Michigan, who now works as a realtor. A conservative Republican from Oro Valley, Finchem was first elected to represent District 11 at the Legislature in 2014.

His 2017 blog post on Charlottesville is not the first time Finchem has waded into feverish theories. Another article on his campaign website describes Obama as "taking every opportunity to install his ideological, totalitarian dictatorship." 

"From the IRS working in concert with HHS, to the EPA, to the NSA, Barak [sic] Obama has loosed the hounds of government hell upon the American people. Arizona legislators have been engaged in pushing back, and the battle will grow even more intense during the next 3 years," Finchem wrote in 2013.

He added that Americans "can expect more from this despotic administration and the complicit, progressive controlled Congress."

During his first campaign for the House of Representatives in 2014, Finchem told a local news outlet in a candidate Q&A that he is "an Oath Keeper committed to the exercise of limited, constitutional governance."

click to enlarge The official Twitter page of the anti-government militia group known as Oath Keepers. - SCREENSHOT/TWITTER
The official Twitter page of the anti-government militia group known as Oath Keepers.
Founded in 2009, the Oath Keepers claim to be a group of retired law enforcement and military personnel who portray their militia-style organization as in defense of the Constitution against threats from the federal government. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Oath Keepers network is similar to other antigovernment militia groups like the Three Percenters.

During the 2014 and 2015 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, heavily armed Oath Keepers mounted rooftops and patrolled the streets, supposedly to guard against looting or arson – an unnerving sight for demonstrators.

Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes, speaking in Tempe in 2015, called John McCain a traitor and said the senator "should be hung by the neck until dead."

On his Facebook page in September 2014, Finchem promoted an upcoming Tucson Oath Keepers event at a restaurant, where attendees would discuss the formation of teams in the Oath Keepers' so-called Community Preparedness or Civilization Preservation Teams (CPT), with the goal of organizing militias for civil defense and survival during a disaster situation.

Finchem wrote, "This meeting will be to discuss how we will implement the CPT program in the Tucson, Green Valley and Nogales area and to find and identify Oath Keepers OR PROSPECTIVE Oath Keepers who have the requisite skills to help people get their communities better prepared for a time of crisis."

These people would have skills useful in a disaster or "grid down scenario," Finchem wrote, including medical personnel, carpenters, and people skilled in communications or search-and-rescue.

Three months later, Finchem published another Facebook post sharing a blog post from the Oath Keepers website, "The Ferguson Conundrum Solved by Community Security."

"Are you active duty or retired military or law-enforcement?" Finchem wrote. "Your community needs you."

The bio of his campaign Twitter account, which has been inactive since 2016, includes the line, "Protect State Sovereignty, Join Oath Keepers!"

Finchem did not answer detailed questions about his 2017 blog post on Charlottesville and his Oath Keeper membership.

In an email to Phoenix New Times, Finchem wrote, "It has been my observation that writers for the New Times write what they please, often divorced from the facts or what a person says ... I've come to expect hit pieces from your organization, I'm sure that whatever you write will not disappoint my expectations. Have a great day."

Finchem's legislative priorities often reflect his views on federal overreach.

In 2016, Finchem sponsored a bill prohibiting Arizona from using state resources to implement executive orders from the president, unless they were approved by Congress, as well as directives of federal agencies and decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. The timing of the bill coincided with a series of executive actions on guns and background checks issued by Obama.

One of the more controversial proposals of the current legislative session was Finchem's HB 2002, which would create a teacher code of ethics prohibiting partisan advocacy in the classroom and barring educators from introducing "any controversial issue" that is not relevant to the class material.

As New Times reported in January, Finchem lifted nearly all of the bill's text from a project meant to fight leftist indoctrination in K-12 schools, sponsored by the far-right, anti-Muslim David Horowitz Freedom Center. The bill never received a vote in committee.

Another bill sponsored by Finchem this session would transfer management of public federal lands to a newly created state agency, the Department of Public Land Management. Opponents say Finchem's bill is a subtle attempt to absorb federal lands under state ownership, which carries risks for wildlife and the enforcement of environmental regulations. 
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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty