Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar remains at the heart of a growing battle within the Arizona Republican Party over allegations of election fraud, election protests and the effort to purge or censure party members who did not support former President Trump’s claims of election fraud.

Gosar received an ovation at the Arizona Republican Party convention last weekend, where he said he did not condone violent protest but also repeated claims of election fraud that have been rejected in nine different court cases.

The party gathering narrowly re-elected Kelli Ward as state party chair. Ward received the fervent endorsement of former President Trump and has for two months claimed the election was “stolen,” despite the certification of the results by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, elections offices in each county and the U.S. Congress.

The state party later censured Republican Gov. Doug Ducey for his restrictions on businesses during the pandemic. The party also censured former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, wife of the late Sen. John McCain, for supporting “globalist” policies and criticisms of fellow Republicans connected to the claims of election fraud and the Capitol riots.

National media accounts also claim that Gosar and Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs both unsuccessfully sought a pre-emptive pardon from Trump during his last days in office. They have both been criticized for repeatedly promoting the Jan. 6 demonstrations that led to the assault on the Capitol building. Five people died in the protests, including one Capitol police officer.

Police have arrested more than 100 people in connection with the riots in the Capitol, including leaders of militia groups and organizers Gosar has repeatedly promoted and linked to on his social media accounts.

Neither congressman has responded to media inquiries about the alleged effort to obtain a pardon, which grew out of source-based reporting from CNN and have been repeated in other online media outlets.

“Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander said in social media postings that he was “willing to give up my life” to overthrow the election results — which the Arizona Republican Party retreated with the question “are you?”

Alexander said he, Biggs, Gosar and Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks “schemed up” the demonstrations. Gosar repeatedly retweeted Alexander’s often inflammatory posts and in his own posts called Alexander a patriot and Biden a “usurper.”

The Republicans barred most media from the weekend party meeting. However, the online conservative publication National File reported that Gosar opened with a letter from Former Maricopa County Supervisor Andy Kunasek calling on him to apologize to the American people and resign” for his acts of “sedition” in his repeated posts and claims of election fraud rejected in nine different legal challenges.

“Let’s get our facts straight,” Gosar said according to the National File account, “sedition is actively advocating for the overthrow of the government by force. I believe you know some of my colleagues and I wanted to make sure we had a fair and clean election. In a divided country, we wanted to lower the temperature instead of raising it. And what a beautiful way that would have been, to have transparency in an election.”

He then went on to raise questions about Dominion Voting Systems that have repeatedly been dismissed by judges and elections officials after performing audits of the votes and hand recounts.

Gosar said, “I spoke at a number of Stop the Steal rallies, I advertised it, but we were all about peaceful exchange: First Amendment to assemble, to petition your government, to give your voice, your religion, whatever you wanted to do. They were nonviolent. We advocated peaceful. We sang hymns. We said prayers. We recited the Constitution. We even sang YMCA,” according to the National File account. “There was nothing about it that was violent. I have, from the very beginning and the very end, not condoned violence.”

He then repeated the claim that 400,000 mail-in ballots “were altered on the first day of counting” and could have been switched from Biden to Trump. The claim has been repeatedly rejected for lack of evidence in court.

“So tell me, what do you find about that speech that is seditious. It doesn’t exist. We are on a precipice that has never been seen before, maybe since the middle 1800s (the Civil War). We’re divided. Surely we’re divided. But that forensic audit would have lowered tensions.”

Gosar’s speech asking for Congress to set aside the election results in Arizona pending a “forensic audit” of the vote was interrupted by the mob that stormed the Capitol building. He tweeted at that time, “OK. I said let’s do an audit. Let’s not get carried away here. I don’t want anyone hurt. We are protesting the violation of our laws. We are builders, not destroyers. BLM burns and loots. We build. If anyone on the ground reads this and is beyond the line, come back.”

A subsequent tweet about the riot said, “this has all the hallmarks of antifa provocation,” although the FBI has said there’s no evidence that leftists infiltrated the pro-Trump crowd. Another tweet effectively blamed the riots on Democrats who would not vote to set aside the election results and order another audit of the vote. “I’m being a broken record, but if the Democrats actually want to uphold the rule of law, they would stop fighting our request for an election audit. People want transparency.”

Gosar went mostly silent on Twitter following the riots. Except for recent posts protesting decisions by Facebook, Twitter and Google to shut down President Trump’s account and bar social media groups like Parler from their sites and servers on the grounds the accounts spread disinformation and incitements to violence.

Arizona established a $530,000 fund before the election to create an election fraud unit, under the control of the attorney general’s office. Attorney General Brnovich said the state randomly audited 2% of the precincts statewide. “And it came back 100% that there wasn’t any statistical anomalies or errors. We are literally talking about less than 200 votes that are in question,” he told The Arizona Republic. “Even if it was possible that those votes flip — those 200 votes — I do not think it will make a difference in Arizona, just because of the numbers.”

He noted that Republicans did better than expected in many races, including retaining control of both houses of the legislature — which argues against any systemic effort to tilt the election.

Gov. Ducey, in certifying the election, said, “We’ve got ID at the polls. We review EVERY signature (every single one) on early ballots — by hand — unlike other states that use computers. Prohibitions on ballot harvesting. Bipartisan poll observers. Clear deadlines, including no ballots allowed after Election Day — the problems that exist in other states don’t apply here.”

The state party censured the governor for imposing emergency rules during the pandemic that “restrict personal liberties and force compliance to unconstitutional edicts.”

Arizona currently has one of the highest infection rates in the country and lifted restrictions on businesses sooner than almost any other state.

The party censured Cindy McCain, who endorsed Biden, for supporting “globalist policies and candidates” and for having “condemned President Trump for his criticism of her husband and erroneously place behaviors over actual presidential results.”

The censure motion said Flake has “condemned the Republican Party, rejected populism, and rejected the interests of the American people over globalist interests.”

McCain, Flake and Ducey all shrugged off the censures in published media accounts.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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