Even among radical voices in Republican politics, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona stands out as extraordinary. Plenty of GOP officials peddle strange conspiracy theories about Donald Trump's 2020 election defeat, but the Arizona congressman — best known for his associations with white nationalists and animated video in which he was depicted killing one of his House colleagues — is a special case.
After all, Gosar has described President Joe Biden as a "fraudulent usurper." He called the certification of the election results as "sedition." He praised Jan. 6 rioters as "peaceful patriots." He recently claimed to have a secret CIA source who told him about hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes, pointing to an intelligence office that doesn't appear to exist.
But this week, we gained new insights into just how seriously the far-right lawmaker and his office went in pursuit of these conspiracy theories.
The New York Times reported on the "band of loyalists" who worked closely with Trump in the aftermath of his defeat, taking on "an outsize role in pressuring the Justice Department, amplifying conspiracy theories and flooding the courts in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election."
Not surprisingly, Gosar was a member of this inner circle, and the article noted that he played a direct role in lobbying his home state's Republican governor, Doug Ducey, pressing him to investigate voting equipment made by Dominion Voting Systems, a company that's been at the heart of many discredited right-wing claims.
But the Times' article then referenced an anecdote I hadn't heard before.
Mr. Gosar embraced the fraud claims so closely that his chief of staff, Tom Van Flein, rushed to an airplane hangar parking lot in Phoenix after a conspiracy theory began circulating that a suspicious jet carrying ballots from South Korea was about to land, perhaps in a bid to steal the election from Mr. Trump, according to court documents filed by one of the participants.
Over the course of 2021, there's been a debate in some circles over the sincerity of pro-Trump conspiracy theorists. Some have argued that the Republicans who peddle this nonsense realize that they're shoveling garbage, but they do so anyway because it's good for fundraising; it helps justify new voter-suppression measures; it keeps the GOP base agitated ahead of the 2022 midterm cycle; and it undermines Joe Biden's presidency. They know they're lying, the argument goes, but Republicans have concluded that these are lies worth telling.
Others have argued that the GOP's election conspiracy theorists are so far gone that they've started to believe that the nonsense is true. They're lying, but they no longer appreciate the differences between fact and fiction.
The truth is, it's not an either/or problem: There are plenty of Republican charlatans who are well aware of the scam, while others are true believers.
But this anecdote from the Times suggests Team Gosar has bought into the conspiracy theories to an unsettling degree.
In most congressional offices, absurd rumors about a Korean plane full of fraudulent ballots would've generated eye-rolling and indifference. But in Gosar's office, the congressman's chief of staff reportedly tried to catch the plane and uncover proof of a nefarious scheme.
The Times' report added, "The claim turned out to be baseless." You don't say.