How Paul Gosar transformed from local dentist to far-right ‘freedom fighter’

The GOP congressman borrows memes from violent fringe groups to promote ‘America First’ agenda, Alex Woodward reports

Wednesday 10 November 2021 14:54
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“Any anime fans out there?”

A congressional Twitter account for US Rep Paul Gosar posted the question alongside a video – now viewed more than 3 million times on Twitter – depicting the far-right congressman as an animated character killing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and swinging two swords at Joe Biden.

Rep. Paul Gosar Posts Homemade ‘Fantasy Video’ of Him Violently Murdering AOC

The video posted on 7 November is only the latest attempt from the Arizona congressman and his team to legitimise rhetoric and ideologies that have brewed among QAnon circles and conspiracy theory-dominated online hubs for years before landing in the halls of Congress.

Mr Gosar continues to borrow from the aesthetic palette of extremist far-right internet message boards, spaces where images lionising the congressman as a kind of meme hero against the so-called “deep state” are surrounded by hate speech, antisemitism and violent imagery.

The congressman – whose own siblings want him out of office – has devoted the last several months to undermining the results of the 2020 presidential election, amplifying a baseless narrative that the election was stolen from Donald Trump and his supporters, and not only downplaying the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January but also celebrating the people who participated in threats against his colleagues and who sought to violently overturn the votes of millions of Americans.

But before he joined Congress in 2011, he was more likely to be recognised as Dr Gosar, the 2001 Arizona Dental Association’s 2001 Dentist of the Year and its one-time president, with a practice in Flagstaff.

His former patients knew him as their mild-mannered Republican doctor, whose evolution from local dentist to extremist hero hasn’t been a surprise to anyone watching the party’s transformation into one that has adopted Mr Trump’s grievances and welcomed the attention from online hives of disinformation and violent nationalism.

“Gosar the dentist had to be the real Paul Gosar,” one former patient told The Washington Post earlier this year. “There’s no way that person was fake. Did he get brainwashed? Did the power get to this head? I honestly don’t know what could have happened.”

Following the Capitol riot, Mr Gosar has been at the centre of the GOP’s far-right embrace, but the six-term congressman has a longer history of ties to conspiracy theories and extremism, from his support for anti-government racist Cliven Bundy in 2014 to suggesting that the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was funded by George Soros. Following that claim, his siblings accused him of sounding an “antisemitic dog whistle”.

Last year, he voted against a resolution to condemn QAnon, after appearing at events tied to the far-reaching conspiratorial movement.

“This dude is just a collection of wet toothpicks anyway,” US Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in response to the anime clip. “White supremacy is for extremely fragile people and sad men like him, whose self-concept relies on the myth that he was born superior because deep down he knows he couldn’t open a pickle jar or read a whole book by himself.”

Last month, Mr Gosar posted a now-deleted video to his congressional Twitter account that depicted him as a nationalist superhero saving a “blackpilled” Wojack meme character, set to a vaporwave-inspired soundtrack and closing with the phrase “GOSAR GRINDSET,” the kind of images that circulate on Telegram or extremist forums.

In August, that account posted a photograph of him with a green arrow running down his body, a reference to a posturing theory among pickup artists, incels and men’s rights activists circulating in fringe online groups.

He also has the attention of conspiracy theorist Ron Watkins, a man suspected of posting as “Q” on the 8chan forums that he administered.

Mr Watkins, who intends to run in the Republican primary for Arizona’s 1st congressional district with the express intent to “fix” the 2020 election results, recently told his followers on Telegram that he “would never run against a freedom fighter like Dr Paul Gosar in the primary” in the event his race is impacted by new electoral maps.

“We need him and people like him in Congress,” Mr Watkins said. “Therefore, when the redistricting map is complete, I will study the final map and make sure that I am not running against Dr Paul Gosar in the primary. I will move districts if necessary to make sure that happens.”

David Brill campaign advert featuring family of rival Paul Gosar

In February, Mr Gosar appeared alongside white nationalist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes at the far-right America First Political Action Committee conference, marking the first appearance of a sitting member of Congress at the event, where Mr Fuentes reportedly told attendees that “white people are done being bullied” and praised the Capitol riot as “awesome”.

Mr Fuentes – a 23-year-old livestreamer and self-described “white majoritarian” who has championed the far-right Christian nationalist “Groyper” movement – later invited him to his “White Boy Summer” tour in July. Mr Fuentes has called Mr Gosar “the best congressman in America”.

A post from Telegram advertising the event claimed it was “paid for by Nicholas Fuentes and authorized by Gosar for Congress Committee.”

Mr Gosar appeared to defend his appearance: “Not sure why anyone is freaking out. I’ll say this: there are millions of Gen Z, Y and X conservatives. They believe in America First. They will not agree 100% on every issue. No group does. We will not let the left dictate our strategy, alliances and efforts. Ignore the left.”

He later told reporters that he had “no idea what’s going on” and that “there’s no fundraiser that I know of.”

Before the riot on 6 January, Mr Gosar attended a December rally in Arizona with election conspiracy theorist Ali Alexander, a prominent figure in the “Stop the Steal” movement. That month, Mr Gosar also wrote a column accusing “the left” of staging a “coup d’etat” and called Joe Biden a “usurper” to the presidency.

“Once we conquer the Hill,” he told the crowd in Arizona, “Donald Trump is returned to being the president.”

On 6 January, he posted a photo to Twitter of a pro-Trump crowd in front of the Washington Monument.

Paul Gosar describes Capitol insurrectionists as ‘peaceful patriots’

“Biden should concede,” he said. “I want his concession on my desk tomorrow morning. Don’t make me come over there.”

He also posted a photo of rioters scaling the walls of the Capitol with the caption “let’s not get carried away here”. He then posted the same image on the right-wing social media network Parler with the caption “Americans are upset”.

In the weeks that followed, Mr Gosar repeatedly downplayed the attack inspired by the election fraud narrative promoted by the former president and his allies. During a congressional hearing to investigate the police response to the riot, Mr Gosar claimed that federal law enforcement arrests and investigations are part of a “national security state” conspiracy to antagonise Republican voters and “peaceful patriots” who stormed the halls of Congress.

Mr Gosar’s campaign also sent out a fundraising email in which he accused the FBI of staging the attack and eulogised Ashli Babbitt, a woman who was shot by an officer as she climbed into the House chamber.

He has also claimed that the US Capitol Police officer who fatally shot her was “lying in wait” to “execute” the Air Force veteran and QAnon proponent who prophesied a “storm” against the so-called “deep state” and who has emerged as a martyr for the far-right. The phrase “Who shot Ashli Babbitt?” has become a meme and rallying cry; Mr Trump has said it on rally stages.

“My brother swore an oath to defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic,” the congressman’s younger brother Tim Gosar told CNN earlier this year. “And he has blatantly broken that oath.”

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