Standing on a stage outside Gilbert’s town hall, conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer invoked the unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota married her brother.
“She’s a terrorist,” Alexandra Foster shouted from the audience of more than 100, whose constituents sat on lawn chairs and held up signs supporting the re-election of President Donald Trump in 2020.
Loomer, a 25-year-old Tucson native, has propelled to far-right stardom for her videos confronting prominent Democrats. She drew some of the biggest cheers during the Tea Party Community’s event for Patriotism Over Socialism, which also featured appearances from Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward and Arizona U.S. Representative Andy Biggs of the east Valley.
Loomer’s speech, focused on touting her popularity and lambasting “fake news,” was sprinkled with references to conspiracy theories that have been pushed by conservative celebrities like Infowars’ Alex Jones to Fox News host Sean Hannity.
She raised the baseless claim that Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich was murdered in a plot orchestrated by Hillary Clinton and her party.
“Are we allowed to speak truth about American Islam here anymore? It doesn’t feel like it anymore,” said Loomer, who has been banned by Uber, Lyft, Twitter, Venmo, GoFundMe, and Paypal for making anti-Muslim statements.
The evening event highlighted a blurring line between Arizona’s establishment right and a paranoid strain of American conservatism steeped in xenophobia.
On the edge of the town hall lawn, the Arizona Republican Party set up a table a few meters away from the anti-immigrant group Patriot Movement AZ and the Arizona State University student club College Republicans United (CRU), whose leaked racist chats recently sparked outrage. Former chairman of the CRU umbrella organization, Republicans United, Kevin Decuyper, recently booted from the club, stood by his own table with a sign for what appears to be a new club called Nationalists United.
According to Merissa Hamilton, a speaker at the event, organizers later took Decuyper’s sign away from him after several people complained about it.
“I told them he needed to be removed,” Hamilton said via Twitter direct message. “He insisted he wasn’t promoting ethno nationalism but instead was promoting Christian purity.”
Ward, the leader of the state GOP, spoke on the same stage as Loomer about an hour and a half before. Her speech did not venture into the fringes covered by Loomer, mostly sticking to warnings about the mainstreaming of socialism in American politics.
“What has government ever done successfully better than the private sector? Nothing,” Ward said. “An example of that is just last week I got a return of a Christmas card that I sent in December in April for an incorrect address.”
Representative Biggs touched upon similar themes in his speech. Ward did not respond to questions from Phoenix New Times regarding the message sent by sharing a speakers’ stage with Loomer. A representative for Biggs’ office did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Monday’s event was not Ward’s first brush with conspiracy theorists. CNN reported last year that Ward’s husband ran a Facebook page that promoted the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. And during her latest failed run for U.S. Senate, Ward held a campaign event with Mike Cernovich, a far-right personality best known for promoting the nonsensical conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats ran a child sex trafficking ring out of the basement of a popular Washington, D.C., pizza place.
Defending their joint appearance at the time, Ward said she did not know Cernovich’s views.
“I know he’s got an audience and we want to serve everyone,” she told MSNBC.
Kevin Jackson, the conservative radio host who organized the event, told New Times in an interview during the rally that he invited Ward, Biggs, and Loomer to speak. He defended his decision to give Loomer an audience and rejected the notion that Ward could send the wrong message by appearing with her.
“That’s like saying by x-degrees of separation, every one of us is associated with a Nazi,” Jackson said.
But they’re sharing the same stage.
“What you’re telling to tell me is, that by definition of what you said, somebody could come back to you later and say, ‘You are at the same event.'”
But this is a rally.
“No, it’s not,” Jackson said. “It’s an event.”
Jackson then made an analogy. What if he had a friend who robbed a bank, and he invited that friend to speak at the same event as Ward. Would the media give her flak for appearing on stage with a bank robber?
“She’s not going to go, ‘Kevin, give me a list of everybody that I’m going to speak with, and I’m going to make an assessment of whether I want to be on stage with them or not,'” he said.
Does Jackson believe Seth Rich was murdered by the Democratic Party?
Does he believe the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, was a staged event?
“No opinion on it at all,” Jackson said. “The very people who will call something a conspiracy will tell you Donald Trump colluded with the Russians.”
Does he have a responsibility to examine the views of people he’s putting on stage?
“If that is the litmus test you are going to live your life by, you better be perfect.”
Shortly before Jackson spoke with New Times, gun rights advocate Alan Korwin took the stage.
“Let’s hear it for Nancy Pelosi,” he said to boos. “Adam Schiff!” More boos. “AOC!” he added, referring to New York Representative and recent boogeyman-of-the-right Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“If you ever call her anything but Cortez, you’re playing into her game.”
Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously identified Kevin Decuyper as the vice president of College Republicans United. He is the former chairman of the group’s umbrella organization, Republicans United.