At first glance, President Joe Biden’s trip to Arizona to deliver a speech touting democracy and honoring the late Sen. John McCain might seem like typical politicking — a presidential candidate showing face in a potential swing state.
But these are far from typical times, and I think we do a disservice if we ignore the significance — not just political, but also historical — of Biden’s visit. The visit brought Biden to the epicenter of right-wing extremism in America at a time when such extremism poses an imminent and existential threat to democracy.
Those familiar with Arizona’s political history know these forces have long existed in the Grand Canyon State. So there’s importance to Biden giving this particular speech at this particular time in this particular place. That is, the state that was home to the conservative hero Sen. Barry Goldwater, who said “extremism in defense of liberty” is “no vice.”
Here are a few more examples of extremism and the threat it poses in the state:
- Arizona GOP officials were among the most fervent in the nation to push Donald Trump’s false election fraud claims after the 2020 election.
- Arizona has seen the highest turnover among election officials since 2020, according to a recent study. Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes has said threats and harassment stemming from lies about election fraud are a major culprit.
- Bill Gates, the Republican chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, won’t seek re-election in 2024 after being targeted by Trump supporters. He’s said he suffers from PTSD due to his experience as a Trump target.
- A federal judge recently struck down two voter suppression laws in Arizona that had been challenged by the Justice Department.
- Turning Point USA, the extremist-friendly, Trump-loving organization purportedly designed to attract conservative youth, is headquartered in Arizona.
- Conspiracy theorists Alex Jones and Mike Lindell have homed in on Arizona as a launching place for their election disinformation campaigns.
- Racist birtherism — that is, the false allegation that former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States — was largely conjured by then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (Trump has even credited him for this.)
- Some of the U.S. House's most far-right members represent Arizona, including Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs and Eli Crane. And let's not forget about state Sen. Wendy Rogers.
- Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh hatched his plot in Kingman, Arizona. This part of the state — long known for its conservative extremism — happens to be part of Gosar’s district.
- In 2012, the Supreme Court struck down most of Arizona's SB 1070, an anti-immigrant “show me your papers” law that led to widespread boycotts.
- Arizona lost an opportunity to host the 1993 Super Bowl over conservative officials’ refusal to acknowledge Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a federal holiday.
In Thursday’s speech, Biden spoke directly to the threat of extremism, making reference to Trump's vow to investigate NBC News and MSNBC if elected in 2024, as well as Trump and Rep. Gosar's suggestions that Gen. Mark Milley, retiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, committed treasonous crimes.
Watch a clip here:
And check out the full speech here: