Protesters shared Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers’ home address on social media. They started a hashtag calling him a traitor. They traveled to his house, honking and shouting until the police came.
And these were members of his own party.
When Arizona, a longtime Republican stronghold, voted for President-elect Joe Biden in November, President Donald Trump’s most stalwart supporters cried foul. After the state’s Republican-led government certified Biden’s win, the Arizona Republican Party split along Trumpist lines, with Bowers and the state’s governor calling for sanity, and further-right members calling for war—often against their party comrades.
After days of back and forth that have seen the party’s official Twitter account suggest human sacrifice on behalf of the doomed election effort, and a prominent elected official at least briefly appear to wish death on the governor, there’s no end in sight. And the old guard are increasingly running scared.
“It’s my view that any rhetoric that invites violence under the guise of patriotism is going to find this generation’s Timothy McVeigh,” Paul Charlton, a Republican and former U.S. Attorney for Arizona, told The Daily Beast.
The evolving fracas is not exactly a traditional ideological one. Bowers, for one, is no Biden fan.
“As a conservative Republican, I don’t like the results of the presidential election,” he wrote in a statement last week. “I voted for President Trump and worked hard to re-elect him. But I cannot and will not entertain a suggestion that we violate current law to change the outcome of a certified election.”
The statement came as dozens of Republican officials in the state signed a letter urging Arizona to de-certify Biden’s election victory.
Even with its endorsement of Trump, Bowers’ statement was tantamount to treason among the president’s most diehard supporters. On Parler, a social media platform popular on the political right, other Trump supporters started a hashtag calling the conservative politician a “traitor,” with one person photoshopping him into a collage that likened him to Japanese Bombers at Pearl Harbor in World War II.
All political parties have their fringes. But the attacks on Arizona Republicans are coming from inside the house—and the rhetoric keeps getting wilder.
“DO NOT CERTIFY A FALSE ELECTION!” the party’s current pinned tweet, from late November reads, falsely alleging a voter fraud conspiracy.
Earlier this week, the AZ GOP’s official Twitter account quote-tweeted one of the most prominent peddlers of the election fraud conspiracy theory, who said he was “willing to give my life for this fight.”
“He is,” the AZ GOP wrote in its quote tweet. “Are you?” It later tweeted and deleted a clip from the movie Rambo with a caption about dying for the cause.
The party, whose spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, previously told The Daily Beast it does not endorse violence. But anxiety about what seems like a never-ending cycle of extremist rhetoric keeps mounting.
“That individual is going to see that language as an invitation to harm someone,” Charlton, the former U.S. attorney, said. “I don’t think you have to look very far to see some pretty clear examples. One example is one of President Donald Trump’s lawyers who indicated that a public servant should be taken out at dawn and shot. The Arizona Republican Party’s tweets condoning somebody’s desire to die over issues relating to the votes. Using violent images from movies. All those words, all those images will appeal to a certain sector of our population.”
He noted recent examples of alleged plots to political violence, like a scheme by militia groups who are accused of planning to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor.
Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, has become a favorite target of his own party after the state certified its election results.
Following the AZ GOP’s weird pledge to die for Trump, Ducey appeared to try to wrest back some sanity. “The Republican Party is the party of the Constitution and the rule of law,” he tweeted Tuesday. “We prioritize public safety, law & order, and we respect the law enforcement officers who keep us safe. We don’t burn stuff down. We build things up.”
Kelly Townsend, a Republican state representative who was just elected to the State Senate, quote-tweeted him with a picture of the words “mene mene tekel upharsin” written on a wall. The words were a reference to a biblical story in which the words appear on a wall before a Babylonian king, who is told they mean that God has found him lacking, and that his days are numbered. The king was killed later that evening. Townsend later tweeted that her tweet was intended to express disappointment with Ducey, not to threaten him.
Repeatedly this week, the official AZ GOP Twitter account has branded Ducey a turncoat. Sometimes those attacks went personal, as the AZ GOP Twitter account accused Ducey of working to unseat the party’s chairwoman, Kelli Ward.
“How is it that the governor of Arizona (@dougducey) could surrender to the mob and abandon our great President, all while working behind the scenes to undermine and get rid of our brave and beloved chairwoman @kelliwardaz? No loyalty!” the account tweeted on Wednesday night, followed by a picture of Ducey with the caption “Betrayed!”
Ward’s own ties with “Stop The Steal” conspiracy theorists are intricate. In addition to personally claiming that Trump was the election’s rightful winner (he isn’t), Ward is also the former employer of two administrators of a massive, now-deleted “Stop The Steal” Facebook group that emerged shortly after Trump’s loss became apparent. Ward did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some state Republicans’ complaints about their peers led to one of those colleagues getting doxxed. After Townsend complained that Bowers would not hold a special session about overturning the election results (in fact, he’d canceled in-person sessions due to COVID-19), someone replied to her tweet with Bowers’ home address and asked Arizonans to “show up” there for a protest. Other Trump supporters shared Bowers’ home address in channels popular with the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory.
Townsend tweeted that she did not condone that person’s actions. Protesters showed up anyway, according to AZ Family. The outlet reported that people honked their car horns and shouted at Bowers’ home until police arrived. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to The Daily Beast that they had received a call for a suspicious person or vehicle, but that there was no evidence of a crime.
Charlton, the state’s former U.S. attorney raised alarm that organized militia groups and lone-wolf violent actors appear to be on the rise, and primed for public officials’ calls to violence.
“We’ve now seen a tremendous increase in those groups and individuals,” he said. “I am concerned that individuals who would use language that is violent in nature are—I think to put it politely, naive—if they think they aren’t going to incite that kind of violence again in the future.”