As a mob of pro-Trump rioters overran the U.S. Capitol on January 6, Arizona State Rep. Mark Finchem took a photo of the crowd.
“What happens when the People feel they have been ignored, and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud. #stopthesteal,” he tweeted, along with a picture of pro-Trump rioters waving flags on the Capitol steps after breaching the initial security perimeter.
Now, he wants to be his state’s top election official.
Finchem has launched a campaign to be Arizona’s next secretary of state, a powerful position that oversees the election system of one of the nation’s most important swing states. And he’s running on a “secure elections” platform rooted in conspiracy-mongering.
“Since my very first election, I knew something was very wrong with our elections process,” Finchem claims on his website. “Then on November 3rd, 2020, the unthinkable happened: Americans witnessed real-time reallocation of votes from one candidate to another, broadcast on national television.”
Some Republicans worry that Finchem could be a force to contend with in primary, given how virulently pro-Trump much of the GOP base is in the state. And Democrats are terrified at the prospect of Finchem in charge of Arizona’s election system heading into 2024—when the state could once again be at the epicenter of the presidential map.
“I’m totally freaked out that he’s running. He cannot hold that position. If he does, democracy is completely out of the question,” Pima County Democratic Chair Bonnie Heidler told VICE News.
From gold coins to ‘Stop the Steal’
Finchem won a Tucson-area legislative seat in 2014 and has long been viewed gadfly by many of his colleagues; before the election, he was best known for his failed attempts to end capital gains taxes on gold coins, which drew praise from Ron Paul.
But Donald Trump’s push to overturn his loss in Arizona’s close presidential election gave Finchem a new platform. He seized the chance to be Trump’s loudest defender in the statehouse, organizing an 11-hour unofficial hearing with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and working hand in hand with Ali Alexander, the head of the Stop the Steal campaign, to gin up suspicions about the election.
“Arizona started with one man, state Representative Mark Finchem, and he’s become a great friend and a brother to me,” Alexander said in an interview with Church Militant.
Trump took notice.
“Thank you Mark. Big numbers found in Arizona. We must win for our Country!” Trump tweeted on December 26, retweeting a Finchem tweet.
Trump praised Finchem by name during a January rally, calling him “a very respected man” before reading a letter from Finchem that claimed he had “significant evidence” of voter fraud in Arizona.
Trump’s campaign paid more than $6,000 to Finchem for what was labeled “legal consulting” for the recount, even though Finchem isn’t an attorney.
Finchem has also become a fairly regular guest on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s web show, “The War Room.” In early March during a report from the Conservative Political Action Conference, Finchem told Bannon that Maricopa County’s Republican board of supervisors should be arrested for not cooperating with a statehouse investigation into the election.
That effort has dramatically elevated Finchem’s profile, making him a favorite on the hard right and a real threat to win the GOP nomination for secretary of state.
Finchem had roughly 2,000 Twitter followers as of Election Day; by the time he quit the platform in early January in protest after the platform banned President Trump, he had almost 60,000.
Finchem has moved to the right-wing social media platforms Telegram and Gab, where’s adopted the handle @AZHoneyBadger and has accrued about 20,000 combined followers. His pages are laden with posts alleging widespread voter fraud.
“Seems the deep state is pulling out all the stops to hide the Maricopa election facts from the world. Now the fringe left groups like ‘Protect Democracy’ is threatening to sue the auditors hired by the Arizona Senate. They’re look’in a bit desperate to hide anything that would out the con,” he posted on Wednesday.
“And the left says there is no proof of fraud in the 2020 Election. Willful ignorance is no excuse for misfeasance, malfeasance and mismanagement,” he posted on January 17. “Without a forensic audit of the entire Arizona elections system, all 15 counties, we will never know just how bad the ‘election integrity’ problem is and what we need to do to repair it.”
His profiles are littered with reposts from the right-wing “news” sources Gateway Pundit and Epoch Times touting election conspiracy theories, an account touting the Three Percenters militia movement, GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, and various other fringe posters. He reposted attacks on Dominion Voting Systems, claims that hydroxychloroquine is a COVID-19 cure, arguments that masks don’t protect against COVID, and QAnon-related content.
Finchem has also touted QAnon theories himself.
“They’re finding so many kids. We’ve got a serious problem in this nation. And that’s one of the things that disturbs me so much about our current congressional state of affairs. There’s a lot of people involved in a pedophile network and the distribution of children, and that makes me absolutely sick,” he said during a March 4 appearance on the religious conservative network Victory News. “And unfortunately, there’s a whole lot of elected officials that are involved in that.”
Finchem also has had ties to the Oath Keepers, an anti-government militia that has had 10 members arrested for their involvement in the Capitol insurrection. Federal prosecutors have alleged “substantial evidence” that the group organized a conspiracy to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory on January 6.
In 2014, during his first run for the state legislature, Finchem described himself as “an Oath Keeper committed to the exercise of limited, constitutional governance.” And he used his now-deleted Facebook page to promote a Tucson Oath Keepers recruiting event in late 2014. It’s unclear what subsequent involvement he has had with the militant group, or whether he’s parted ways with them.
Finchem also served as the Arizona coordinator of the Coalition of Western States, an organization dedicated to the end of “bureaucratic terrorism” of the Bureau of Land Management’s management of public lands and a devolution of public lands control from the federal to state governments. Several members of that organization supported the right-wing occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, which ended in an armed standoff with federal officials, though they asserted they were there to try to defuse tensions.
The January 6 Insurrection
Finchem has repeatedly denied that he participated in any way in the riot or entered the Capitol on January 6, and no evidence has emerged that he did. He’s said he attended President Trump’s speech at the Ellipse before walking to the Capitol, didn’t realize the Capitol had been breached by rioters when he sent his tweet, and had gone down to the Capitol grounds because he’d been scheduled to speak at a Stop the Steal rally nearby. He said in a statement that he milled around for around 20 minutes and snapped a few photos before departing.
“I was somewhere between 300 and 500 yeards from the Capitol. I was never really there— I mean, I was there on the property, but I was on the outskirts of it,” Finchem told the Epoch Times in an interview during the Conservative Political Action Conference in March.
Finchem has refused to comply with a public records request for his phone records that could shed more light on his activities that day.
Arizona’s Democratic lawmakers filed a slew of ethics complaints against him, but in February the Arizona House Ethics Committee’s GOP chair dismissed the complaints, saying they didn’t provide any evidence that Finchem had supported the violent overthrow of the government, so the objections amounted to complains of his “advocacy of controversial political opinions” rather than actual ethical breaches.
He’s now suing the Democrats, claiming that they “smeared” him by accusing him of helping to incite the insurrection.
And he’s looking for others to help pay for the effort. Finchem recently launched The Guardian Defense Fund, to underwrite his legal defense against a “malicious, defamatory and fallacious ethics complaint filed against him by certain Arizona Democrat Legislators.”
Finchem initially agreed to a telephone interview, but his legislative assistant later emailed asking for the questions in writing. He didn’t answer subsequent phone calls and didn’t respond to a list of questions VICE News emailed to his office about January 6, the 2020 election, and what role he had with the Oath Keepers.
Finchem has repeatedly claimed that the pro-Trump crowd didn’t attack the Capitol—while repeatedly pushing the debunked conspiracy theory that it was actually left-wing “ANTIFA infiltrators.”
This isn’t the first time that Finchem has falsely blamed the left for right-wing violence.
After the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” neo-Nazi rally turned violent in 2017, Finchem claimed “there was no ‘far right’ there,” and argued that reporting undercovering right-wing extremist violence “has Deep State PSYOP written all over it.”
“If He Wins the Primary, We’re Done”
Finchem is the first candidate in the race, but he’s likely to have a lot of company—especially if Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs opts to run for governor, which most strategists in the state expect will happen.
Former GOP state Sen. Kate Brophy McGee is looking at the race, but Republicans worry she’s too moderate to win a primary. State Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who has pushed a number of voting restriction bills but never claimed the 2020 election was rigged, is another potential candidate who Republicans think could be conservative enough to win a primary but savvy enough to win statewide. Democrats are waiting to see what Hobbs does before gearing up for a race.
“There is an avenue for someone who’s most definitely conservative and interested in election reform from a conservative lens to be popular enough to get through a primary,” Arizona Republican state Sen. TJ Shope told VICE News. “There are people out there who feel passionately about election reform but didn’t go to the Capitol on January 6 and proclaim loudly the election was stolen.”
Republicans predict that if Finchem does win the nomination, he’s cooked in the general.
“If he wins the primary, we’re done,” one conservative Arizona GOP strategist said, warning that Democrats and the media would make Finchem the “gross uncle” of the GOP.
Before he can get to his statewide campaign, Finchem has to contend with efforts to kick him out of office. A Democratic group dubbed Rural Arizona Action is collecting signatures to remove him from office. If they get 27,000 people onboard by the July deadline, he’ll face a November recall election.
That’s an uphill effort in a ruby-red, mostly rural district outside of Tucson. But statewide, it’s a different story.
Arizona is changing fast; it’d been a conservative bulwark until recent years, when the fast-growing Hispanic community and suburbanites’ disgust with Trump made it a key battleground. Democrats won Senate races in 2018 and 2020, and Biden was the first Democratic presidential candidate in a quarter-century to win the state.
But as Arizona has grown more competitive, the state GOP has gone the opposite direction. Former Sen. John McCain had to fight hard to ward off right-wing primaries in 2010 and 2016, former Sen. Jeff Flake retired rather than lose because his Trump criticism had ruined his standing with Republicans, and the state’s GOP congressional and state legislative delegations have taken hard right turns. Arizona GOP Gov. Doug Ducey, one of the state’s last powerful business-minded Republicans, is term-limited.
Candidates from both parties are playing a high-stakes game of musical chairs as they jostle for governor, senator, attorney general, and secretary of state that’s been exacerbated by the uncertainty created by redistricting, which will scramble both the statehouse and congressional maps.
Establishment Republicans predict that Finchem will struggle to raise money, and promise that he will have a well-funded opponent. But the big question is whether it will be someone who can walk the tightrope of appealing to the hardline pro-Trump base, who are completely convinced the election was stolen, without alienating the business community.
“I think that he is a legitimate threat to not only win the nomination but to ride a wave of lies and conspiracy theories into office,” said Tony Cani, who worked on Biden’s Arizona campaign and is now involved in the Finchem recall effort. “Elections in Arizona are a wildcard and we have a history of people with extreme views navigating their way into office.”