PHOENIX — In the wake of the January 6 Capitol riots, some Arizona politicians are doubling down on their ties to extremist groups.
In doing so, experts worry they are normalizing and mainstreaming dangerous, often racist rhetoric that traditionally was taboo and lived online among the fringe communities.
Arizona congressman Paul Gosar is the most high-profile example in the country right now.
In late February he spoke at the America First Political Action Conference, which was a counter-CPAC event organized by far-right personality and white nationalist, Nick Fuentes.
"I'm a dentist by trade but a patriot by heart," Rep. Gosar, addressing the crowd in a dimly lit hotel ballroom. "A nation without a people is not a nation...We are freedom's last stand in the world and we must preserve the republic."
Fuentes, who is banned from YouTube, has a history of anti-Semitic comments online and called the attack on the Capitol "awesome."
He spoke directly after Gosar and was far more overt in his nationalist, anti-diversity rhetoric.
"If [America] loses its white, demographic core, and if it loses its faith in Jesus Christ, then this is not America anymore," he said.
Experts said Fuentes is adept at concealing his extremism behind more vague, acceptable phrases.
"They couch their views in being traditional and Christian," said Tammy Gillies, a regional director with the ADL, an anti-hate organization. "Really it’s about excluding others from our country."
Fuentes and his legion of supporters, known as Groypers, are now staunch supporters of Rep. Gosar after his speech and adoption of their "America First" rhetoric, especially after the congressman tweeted a bizarre meme. Immediately, it was amplified and praised by anonymous accounts. Fuentes and others then tweeted out fundraising links for Gosar.
"[Gosar] gives them validity, credibility, the publicity. All of the things they’re looking for," said Gillies.
As the Groypers rally around Gosar online, Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers was meeting with the Yavapai County Oath Keepers in person.
The recently-elected senator from northern Arizona twice tweeted about the group. "I love the Oathkeepers," she said in a tweet. "I really like their dedication to our Constitution and to our country. Thank you for having me!"
Multiple Oath Keepers have been arrested in connection to the attack on the Capitol.
The leader of the Yavapai County chapter has many videos on Youtube where he shares increasingly alarmist rhetoric, warning of Civil War, and encouraging followers to stock up on guns.
Gosar also tweeted a photo of him addressing the group in 2018.
In a more recent video from November 2020, Yavapai Oath Keepers leader Jim Arroyo talked about another recent encounter with Rep. Gosar.
"We had Congressman Paul Gosar come to a meeting. He is the elected representative here in Northern Arizona," Arroyo said. "And we asked him, flat out, 'do you think we are headed towards a Civil War?' And he said, 'We are in a Civil War. We just haven’t started shooting yet'... So that is about to change."
Extremists in Arizona have become increasingly emboldened recently. Experts believe that politicians taking their message mainstream gives extremists increasing confidence they can influence policy and emboldens them to move their hate from online chat rooms to the real world.
"This is dangerous to our country, and we need to be watching and speaking out," said Gillies. "After January 6, it’s simply unconscionable."