Arizona Republican who backs white nationalism is censured

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Arizona Republican Sen. Wendy Rogers, standing in the background, defends her inflammatory comments ahead of a censure vote in the Senate on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, at the state Capitol in Phoenix. The Senate voted 24-3 to censure Rogers, whose embrace of white nationalism and calls for violence drew condemnation from across the political spectrum. (AP Photo/Jonathan J. Cooper)

The Arizona Senate voted Tuesday to censure Republican Wendy Rogers, whose embrace of white nationalism and calls for violence drew bipartisan condemnation.

Rogers is in her first term in elected office but has built a national profile among the far right with inflammatory rhetoric and vociferous support for former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Rogers has long faced fierce opposition from Democrats and a handful of Republicans for offensive comments on social media.

Pressure mounted within the GOP this week after she said over the weekend that her political opponents should face a “newly built set of gallows.” She spoke in a video played at the America First Political Action Conference, a white nationalist gathering.

“We do support First Amendment freedom of speech,” said Republican Senate President Karen Fann, who voted to censure. “We absolutely support it. We fight battles over it. But what we do not condone is members threatening each other. To ruin each other. To incite violence. To call us communists. We don’t do that to each other.”

The censure, a formal condemnation that carries no practical consequences, was approved in a 24-3 vote, with all Democrats and most Republicans in support.

Rogers stood as Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray read the censure aloud. When it was her turn to speak, she portrayed the censure as an attack on her constituents and her supporters.

“You’re really censuring them,” Rogers said. “I do not apologize. I will not back down. And I’m sorely disappointed in the leadership of this body for colluding with the Democrats to attempt to destroy my reputation.”

Hours earlier, Rogers said on Twitter that Tuesday “is the day where we find out if the Communists in the GOP throw the sweet grandma under the bus for being white.”

She sat and listened, often smiling, while her colleagues condemned her.

Rogers has trumpeted her ties to right-wing militias, and her prolific posting on social media has included messages and imagery with antisemitic tropes. Most recently, she has also tweeted critically about Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as they fight back against a Russian invasion.

Rogers said Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, “is a globalist puppet for Soros and the Clintons,” referring to the Jewish billionaire donor George Soros.

Rogers has parlayed her national profile into fundraising prowess, raising unprecedented amounts of money for a state legislative race.

Before she built her own national donor network, Rogers was elected with support from the state’s top Republican officials and donors, who poured money into her 2020 race to secure the GOP’s one-seat majority in the Senate.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, whose political action committee spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Rogers eke out a win, said last week, “she’s still better than her opponent.”

“What I need as a governor are governing majorities,” Ducey told reporters. He walked back his support after the censure, saying in a statement that “antisemitic and hateful language has no place in Arizona,” though Rogers had a history of offensive comments long before Ducey’s supportive comments.

Public debates should be about creating opportunity and improving the state, “not denigrating and insulting any individual or group,” Ducey said. The censure sends a clear message that “rhetoric like this is unacceptable,” he said.

The censure of Rogers, believed to be the first censure of an Arizona lawmaker in decades, was based formally on her call to hang political opponents and threats to wage “political destruction” against her critics. It calls those comments “unbecoming of a Senator” and says she “has damaged the reputation of the Arizona State Senate.”

Her white nationalist comments are not part of the formal condemnation.

Democrats said the censure was long overdue. Some said it was insufficient and called for expelling Rogers from the chamber.

“I don’t believe our action today will have any effect on this behavior,” said state Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, the top Democrat. “But it must be done.”