A cadre of ‘Infowars’-type cooks and quacks.
Last month, Arthur Jones received more than 20,000 votes in an uncontested primary and officially became the Republican nominee for a congressional seat in Illinois’ 3rd district, despite the fact that he denies the Holocaust and has been involved with extremist groups. Jones has been denounced by Republicans in Illinois as a “Nazi,” but his candidacy demonstrates right-wing extremism’s persistent attempts to influence American politics at large.
Extremist and fringe candidates, although they often lack political viability, are able to influence the races they participate in by forcing unearned oxygen toward the bizarre, dangerous and destructive reaches of the right-wing movement.
Here at Right Wing Watch, we’re keeping an eye on a dozen or so far-right figures attempting to steer politics far to the right and win elections across the United States. None can be compared to Jones and his explicit white supremacism—besides, perhaps, Paul Nehlen—but they represent different fringe movements that are attempting to influence American politics in their own ways, often inspired or encouraged by the election of Donald Trump. Some are the longest of long shots, others have a real path to victory, but all are hoping to pull the conservative movement further toward the fringes of the right. Here are 12 of the candidates we’re watching in 2018.
Joe Arpaio, Arizona
The Birther Sheriff Running for U.S. Senate
Joe Arpaio, who gained national infamy for his brutal tactics as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, and was later pardoned by President Trump of criminal contempt charges in a racial profiling case, is running for Senate in Arizona to “support the agenda and policies” of Trump. Arpaio is vying against Kelli Ward and others in the Republican primary to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake.
Arpaio served as sheriff for 24 years, becoming notorious for tactics such as requiring inmates to wear pink underwear, cutting prisoners down to two meals a day and denying them salt and pepper, housing inmates in a tent city that he called a “concentration camp,” and starting “the nation’s first female and juvenile chain gangs.” Arpaio often boasted of his draconian tactics and cooked up new publicity stunts to bolster his “America’s toughest sheriff” tagline, including once framing an innocent man for allegedly attempting to assassinate him.
While Arpaio was busy building a national image for his mistreatment of often Latino prisoners, his office reportedly failed to adequately investigate hundreds of sex crimes, including dozens of child molestations. In 2016, he lost his election for a seventh term as sheriff.
In 2011, a federal judge found that Arpaio had unconstitutionally targeted Latinos for traffic stops and raids. The courts found that Arpaio continued to racially profile Latinos despite an injunction, and he was convicted last year of criminal contempt. A month later, Trump pardoned him, allowing him to avoid a jail sentence and paving the way for his Senate run.
Along with their shared enthusiasm for dehumanizing immigrants, Trump and Arpaio have bonded in the past over the conspiracy theory that President Obama was hiding his Kenyan birth, which Arpaio had established a “Cold Case Posse” to investigate, to the delight of Trump. Arpaio brought up the birther conspiracy theory while speaking at a Trump rally in 2015, and is still clinging to it, saying in March that he would continue talking about the issue as a member of the Senate because he had “proved” that Obama’s birth certificate is “a fake document.”
Kelli Ward, Arizona
The ‘Infowars Doctor’ Running for U.S. Senate
Kelli Ward is an osteopathic physician and former Arizona state senator who is now running for the U.S. Senate seat held by the departing Jeff Flake.
When Ward announced in 2017 that she would challenge Flake (before he announced he would not run again), President Donald Trump tweeted his support. Ward is also supported by Steve Bannon and far-right funder Robert Mercer. In a Facebook Live Q&A last summer, she said, “Taxation is theft, and socialism sucks” and “I’d love to see the U.N. leave the United States, and maybe the U.S. leave the U.N.” She calls Obamacare an “abomination.”
Ward is a fan of off-the-rails conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and the feeling is mutual. When she appeared on his Infowars show in March 2016 making the case that she was a “true conservative” who could defeat McCain, Jones called her “amazing” and said it was “probably the most important Senate race in the country.” Ward has also appeared on the program of conspiracy theorist Rick Wiles.
It’s no wonder that Jones admires Ward. When she was a state senator, she called a public hearing to address her constituents’ concerns about “chemtrails” having an effect on the weather and on people’s blood chemistry. She has declared that the U.S. has armed ISIS. Ward was one of the speakers at a rally sponsored by Jones and Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone in Cleveland on the first day of the 2016 Republican National Convention; Ward mocked McCain while people in the crowd shouted “traitor!”
Ward joined a group of state legislators who traveled to Mesquite, Nevada, in 2014 to stand with rancher Cliven Bundy, who was engaged in an armed standoff with federal officials over his refusal to pay fees to graze his cattle on federal land.
In 2016, Ward appalled many people by immediately calling on McCain to resign when he was diagnosed with brain cancer; Ward ended up drawing about 40 percent of the vote in her primary challenge. In February she repeated her call that he step down.
Omar Navarro, California
The ‘New Right’ Candidate Running for Congress, 43rd District
Navarro is seeking election to the House of Representatives in California’s 43rd district, challenging incumbent Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters. Navarro also sought this seat in 2016, when he came in second in the district’s top-two primary, but lost to Waters in the general election by a 52-point margin.
Navarro has widespread support among the “New Right,” a movement that spun off of the racist alt-right movement that claims to disavow the current alt-right. He has brought his message to nontraditional right-wing media, in the form of YouTube channels and podcasts, and has courted the support of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and been pictured with “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Liz Crokin. In March, former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn endorsed Navarro and campaigned for him in California. GOP operative and “dirty trickster” Roger Stone reportedly works as Navarro’s campaign advisor, and Navarro receives calls from Arizona Senate candidate Joe Arpaio on “a weekly basis.” Navarro spoke at a pro-Trump event called “Mother of All Rallies” in Washington, D.C., last year.
Navarro received criticism last year for spreading a fake letter that he claimed was written by Waters, citing it as proof that Waters “wants more terrorists, like the one who bombed NYC, in California’s 43rd District.”
Navarro once pleaded guilty to placing a tracking device on his wife’s car.
Michael Snyder, Idaho
The End-Times Survivalist, Running for Congress, 1st Distrct
Michael Snyder is a Religious Right activist and conspiracy theorist prepper who is seeking election to the House of Representatives in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, the seat being vacated by Rep. Raúl Labrador. Snyder runs a right-wing website called The Economic Collapse, where he posts columns about what he sees as an inevitable looming catastrophe and hawks prepper supplies ranging from emergency food to weapons.
Snyder is a hardcore anti-fluoride and anti-vaccination activist who has made multiple appearances on Infowars, the network founded by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. In fact, Snyder is so close to Jones and his network that he openly brags about it and declares that he would love to see Congress filled with dozens of “Infowars candidates” like himself.
In the lead-up to the 2016 election, Snyder called Hillary Clinton a modern-day Jezebel and insisted that the election was God’s “final test” for America. Prior to the election, he warned that the “elite” might launch an attack on Donald Trump and his family and blame it on a lone wolf, or create a “false flag” event or “some type of event so that they can cancel or suspend the election.”
After the mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, Snyder speculated that it had been carried out by Antifa activists and that “it was an attack on Trump supporters.”
Snyder says that he is running for Congress in order to be President Trump’s “best friend in Congress.”
Shiva Ayyadurai, Massachusetts
The Alt-Right Ally, Running for U.S. Senate
V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai is planning to challenge incumbent Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2018. Ayyadurai launched his campaign seeking the Republican nomination, but has since decided to run as an independent, claiming he was rejected by the state’s Republican Party.
Ayyadurai often makes the contested claim that he is “the inventor of email” and promotes himself as the “real Indian” who can defeat “fake Indian” Warren. Ayyadurai says he mailed Warren a DNA ancestry testing kit asking her to “prove” her Native American heritage.
Ayyadurai has appeared on numerous far-right media outlets, including Alex Jones’ Infowars, to promote his campaign. Earlier this year, Ayyadurai met with an alt-right internet troll who was photographed at the violent white nationalist Unite the Right rally in 2017 and praised him before blessing a statue of “Kek,” a frog deity that is an inside joke among far-right users of anonymous online message boards like 4chan.
Last year, Ayyadurai spoke before far-right activists at a “free speech” rally in Boston that drew tens of thousands of counter-protesters who feared that the event’s lineup of speakers would attract white supremacists like the ones who sparked deadly violence in Charlottesville at the Unite the Right rally days earlier.
In April, Ayyadurai spoke to a gathering of the far-right Proud Boys fraternity, which was recently named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was scheduled to speak alongside Kyle Chapman, who became an alt-right icon known as “Based Stickman” after he physically assaulted an Antifa activist at a pro-Trump rally in Berkeley last year, but Chapman cancelled on the event due to unspecified problems while traveling.
Activists who work in far-right reaches of the internet widely consider Ayyadurai to be an ally to their radical agenda. Ayyadurai frequently appears on platforms alongside conspiracy theorist Infowars hosts and other right-wing figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Gavin McInnes.
Chris McDaniel, Mississippi
The Practice Trump, Running for U.S. Senate
Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who came close to ousting Sen. Thad Cochran in the 2014 Republican primary, now has his sights set on the November election to fill Cochran’s seat after his retirement.
McDaniel ran a Trump-esque campaign in 2014, running against the Republican “establishment” with the help of the financial backing of Tea Party groups and a cheering section at Breitbart, and refusing to concede his loss.
In his Senate run, McDaniel drew the backing of a host of fringe activists and happily courted their support. In 2013, he spoke to a secession-supporting neo-Confederate group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He closed out his campaign on a bus tour with then-American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer, who had gained national notoriety for his radically bigoted statements about LGBTQ people, Muslims and others, and with Wayne Allyn Root, an activist who specialized in racist conspiracy theories about President Obama before becoming a full-time Donald Trump booster.
In the mid-2000s, McDaniel hosted a conservative radio program, where he blamed gun violence on “hip-hop culture” and called Democrats “the party of sex on demand, the party that supports the homosexual agenda.”
Dan Fisher, Oklahoma
The Abortion ‘Abolitionist’, Running for Governor
Former state representative Dan Fisher is in a crowded race to be the Republican nominee for governor in Oklahoma, but he has a niche platform that has made him a star in the fringes of the anti-choice movement: He promises that if he is elected, he will ignore court rulings and criminalize abortion in the state.
In March, Fisher gathered some of the most extreme anti-choice activists in the country for a rally where he laid out his “plan for abolishing abortion in Oklahoma.” He told them that the moment he becomes governor, he’ll ask the state legislature to pass a bill “that criminalizes abortion as murder” and he’d sign it. He would then instruct law enforcement officers to immediately start treating abortion as murder and would “ignore all court orders” to stop.
Fisher said that if he gets the Republican nomination, he’ll schedule a meeting with the White House and ask President Trump to “hold off the federal hounds” while he defies court orders to criminalize abortion.
Fisher is also known in some Religious Right circles for a presentation he gives in period garb about pastors in the Revolutionary War era to illustrate that “Christians cannot compartmentalize their lives into the ‘secular’ and the ‘sacred,’ but are called by Jesus to be ‘salt and light’ in every area of society—including government.” In addition to his anti-choice campaign centerpiece, Fisher is running on a platform of “state sovereignty” and smaller government, keeping “the influences of European Socialists and mandates of the United Nations” away from the police and some more libertarian stances, such as decriminalizing medical marijuana.
Mark Burns, South Carolina
Trump’s Pastor, Running for Congress, 4th District
Mark Burns, a pastor who was a loyal evangelical supporter of Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign, is running to replace Rep. Trey Gowdy in South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District.
Burns is leaning heavily on his relationship with Trump, launching his campaign with a video that lingered on photos of him with Trump and footage of his Trump-praising speech to the Republican National Convention.
During the 2016 campaign, Burns enthusiastically pushed the narrative that Trump’s campaign was divinely inspired, saying that Trump was driven by the Holy Spirit. At one campaign rally, Burns said that Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, “gotta get saved, he gotta meet Jesus.”
In addition to his speech to the RNC, Burns gave a benediction where he called on God to help Trump defeat the “enemy” that was “Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.”
“Father God, in the name of Jesus, Lord, we’re so thankful for the life of Donald Trump,” he said. “We’re thankful that you are guiding him, that you are giving him the words to unite this party, this country, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party, to keep us divided and not united. Because we are the United States of America, and we are the conservative party under God.”
Shortly before the 2016 election, Burns was found to have falsified biographical claims on his website, which he first tried to explain away by claiming that he had been hacked.
Burns is now a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, which has given him at least some White House access. Burns has called Roger Stone, the political operative and one-time Trump campaign operative “an amazing mentor to my life.”
Cynthia Dunbar, Virginia
The Textbook Crusader, Running for Congress, 6th District
Cynthia Dunbar is a far-right activist seeking election to the House of Representatives in Virginia’s 6th Congressional District. Dunbar first gained notoriety in 2009, when she served on the Texas State Board of Education, despite her well-documented loathing of the public school system.
In this position, Dunbar led a crusade to rewrite the state’s textbooks and curriculum to ensure that they reflected the Religious Right’s pseudo-historical narrative about the nation’s Christian founding and purpose.
Dunbar is also an anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice activist who believes that Christians must gain control over our “socialized education system” in order to stop schools from “effectively indoctrinating our children” with messages and values that conflict with the Religious Right’s reading of the Bible. During the 2008 presidential campaign, she questioned Barack Obama’s American birth and suggested that he “truly sympathizes” with America’s enemies.
Dunbar eventually landed a teaching position with the Liberty University School of Law, the law school of the Virginia evangelical college founded by the late Jerry Falwell. In Virginia, she continued to spout anti-LGBTQ views, once claiming that gay rights activism is “the same type of thing that was done in pre-Holocaust Germany, as far as propaganda and presentation and swaying the whole mindset of a nation.”
Since launching her congressional campaign, Dunbar has continued to promote the same false history that she inserted into Texas textbooks while insisting that, according to the Bible, the government is to play no role in helping the poor.
Dunbar’s plan to win the Republican nomination hinges on the fact that, in Virginia, nominees are selected by party-nominating conventions rather than primary elections, which means that she simply needs to stack the convention with delegates in order to win. If she can do that, she is almost assured of a seat in Congress because, as she noted, “it’s such a conservative district [that] whoever gets the nomination will actually be the congressman.”
“This is a race that could be completely controlled by the Christian vote,” she said.
E.W. Jackson, Virginia
The Anti-LGBTQ Radio Host, Running for U.S. Senate
E.W. Jackson is a right-wing pastor, Religious Right activist and radio host who is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, despite the fact that his well-documented record of making outrageous statements helped to doom his previous run for office in the state.
Back in 2013, Jackson won the Virginia Republican Party’s nomination to be lieutenant governor, but then spent most of his campaign having to answer for controversial comments he had made over the years, such as referring to gays and lesbians as “perverted,” “degenerate,” “spiritually darkened” and “frankly very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally” and declaring that homosexuality “poisons culture, it destroys families, it destroys societies; it brings the judgment of God unlike very few things that we can think of.”
Throughout the campaign, Jackson tried to play the victim by complaining that he was being persecuted and that his freedom of speech was being trampled. When he ultimately lost the race, he fumed that he had been portrayed as a “nutcase” and insisted that he should have won the election based on the fact that he won “70 percent of the geographic region of the state.”
Following the loss, Jackson began hosting a daily radio program where he continued to share his bigoted and offensive views, such as his contention that LGBTQ activists are “not satisfied to go to hell, they want to take the whole country with ’em,” that liberals and the KKK share “a virulent hatred of true Christianity” and that “white liberals are far more racist than any Klansman.” He even managed to link hurricanes to the acceptance of LGBTQ candidates running for office.
Immediately after launching his current campaign, Jackson was again struggling to explain his past statements, insisting that his previous comments should not be held against him in his bid for office because they were “said not in the context of a campaign but on Christian radio, where I’m speaking as a pastor and minister to Christians.”
Corey Stewart, Virginia
The Confederate Nostalgist, Running for U.S. Senate
Corey Stewart is an anti-immigrant conspiracy theorist seeking election to the Senate in Virginia. In 2017, Stewart ran for governor of Virginia but was defeated in the Republican primary. He will face off against E.W. Jackson and others in Virginia’s June 12 primary.
Stewart served as the Virginia co-chairman of Donald Trump’s campaign for president in 2016, but was removed from the position after organizing a protest in front of the Republican National Committee headquarters, claiming that the RNC had not done enough to support Trump.
Stewart has compared removing Confederate monuments to ISIS atrocities and ran for governor on a platform of Confederate nostalgia. Some Republicans in Virginia have expressed alarm at the possibility of Stewart winning the party’s nomination to run against Sen. Tim Kaine in 2018, and have attempted to organize an alternative candidate to defeat Stewart in the primary.
Stewart has given interviews to pro-Trump conspiracy theorists like Mike Cernovich, to whom he joked about “cucks” (an alt-right insult for moderate conservatives) and suggested that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was behind the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women.
Paul Nehlen, Wisconsin
The White Supremacist Troll, Running for Congress, 1st District
Paul Nehlen is a white nationalist and anti-Semite who is trying for the second time to be elected to Congress in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. In 2016, Nehlen received only 16 percent of the primary vote against House Speaker Paul Ryan, but used the election to build a national platform with the support of far-right leaders. Ryan has announced that he won’t be running again in 2018, leaving a vacuum of conservative candidates that could provide an opening for Nehlen, despite the fact that he is so radical he has been disowned by the state Republican Party.
In his 2016 campaign against Ryan, Nehlen earned the ringing endorsement of Steve Bannon, the Trump campaign strategist who went on to work in the White House, and the support of Bannon’s Breitbart News. As a result of that publicity, he won the support of so-called “New Right” movement leaders such as Jack Posobiec and conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. However, he lost the public support of many of these activists and of the Wisconsin Republican Party in early 2017, when he began openly sharing anti-Semitic messages on his Twitter account.
After posting the anti-Semitic messages and losing the support of much of the fringe right-wing media, Nehlen quickly gained backing from some of the most prominent voices in the racist alt-right movement. Since then, Nehlen has delved even further into anti-Semitism and begun spreading white nationalist memes, such as an “It’s Okay to Be White” meme that was created by neo-Nazi activists in an attempt to convince the public that American culture has an unspoken anti-white bias.
Nehlen recently lost the support of the alt-right, however, after he publicized the personal identity of a white nationalist internet troll who was critical of him. The dox was enough to earn him a suspension from Gab, a Twitter alternative popular with white nationalists and one of the few social media websites he had not already been suspended from.
Nehlen’s campaign is widely perceived to be dead on arrival, but Nehlen has made clear that his real goal in running for office is to shift the “Overton Window” and use his candidacy to drag political debate further into the fringes of the right.
Originally published by Right Wing Watch, a project of People for the American Way, a program of Open Society Foundations, under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.