PHOENIX – In Arizona’s Maricopa County, the consensus among right-wing activists seems to be clear: The only way Democratic candidates can possibly win in these parts is if they commit fraud.
“A party that has cheated will cheat again,” said Lindsay Graham, better known as “Patriot Barbie,” following a small political rally near Phoenix on Monday hosted by right-wing student group Turning Point USA.
Around 100 activists, mostly college-aged, gathered in an astroturfed square between a steakhouse and a sports bar and listened as state lawmakers and MAGA influencers promised that a “red wave” was inevitable on Tuesday. And this isn’t just any election between left and right, speakers said. It's a primordial struggle between good and evil, or “a spiritual battle,” as Graham described it.
“I’m no longer a hairstylist,” she’d told the crowd from the stage earlier. “God brought me to full-time activism.”
The president of Chandler Republican Women, Debra Schinke, led the crowd in a prayer. “Are we not an army that’s rising up, that’s saying we’re taking the territory that the enemy stole from us?” she said. “That’s scripture. We can stand and say that.”
Since 2020, Maricopa County has been a central focus for election conspiracy theorists who incorrectly believe the presidency was stolen from Donald Trump. Those theories were turbocharged by the widely debunked documentary 2,000 Mules, whose legend looms large in this purple county where partisan politics have become increasingly hostile, creating a tense atmosphere heading into the midterms. The documentary inspired armed vigilantes to take matters into their own hands, staking out ballot drop boxes in hopes of catching fraudulent voters in the act. Their efforts were slapped down by a federal judge, who issued a restraining order limiting their surveillance activities.
“I believe there was fraud in the 2020 election, I’ve seen 2,000 Mules,” said Graham. “I don’t think, in Arizona, that [Democrat gubernatorial candidate] Katie Hobbs can stand a chance, unless she’s cheating.”
This kind of rhetoric has also dominated GOP candidates' stump speeches ahead of election days as they made their final bids to voters in their “Arizona First” tour.
On Sunday evening, at a wedding venue outside Phoenix, Republican voters crowded into a barn to hear their candidates speak. They were introduced by none other than Jack Posobiec, a far-right activist who became famous for promoting “Pizzagate,” claiming that Democrats were running a child sex trafficking operation under a pizza joint in Washington, D.C. “They say democracy is on the ballot. Guess what? I agree, it is on the ballot and we are gonna show them more democracy than they can handle,” Posobiec told the crowd. “We have two days left to save this republic!”
Sitting in the front row was the “wall suit guy” (real name Blake Marnell), who, since 2019, has shown up to Trump events wearing a suit patterned to look like the former president’s hallowed border wall, and a MAGA cap. Arizona State Sen. Wendy Rogers, who faced calls to resign from her colleagues after speaking at a white nationalist conference, also had a front-row seat.
Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake played the classics, taking aim at critical race theory, drag queens, gender-affirming care for transgender people, the Chinese Communist Party, Anthony Fauci, mask mandates, the IRS, and the media. (“Never seen so many fuckin’ cameras in my life,” one attendee remarked, glaring at this reporter.) Lake used the phrase “mama bear” in reference to herself at least five times during her speech (as well as “papa bear” and “grandma bear” when talking about others in the crowd). “We have got to get these groomers out of our schools,” she told the crowd, to great applause.
Allusions to 2,000 Mules or election fraud were met with angry cries from the crowd, like “Lock up the mules!” Then Lake welcomed her surprise guest for the evening—Steve Bannon, who was in Arizona one day before a judge agreed he could stay out of prison while he appealed his contempt-of-Congress conviction. Bannon has been a familiar face on Lake’s campaign trail. When he’s not on the campaign trial, Bannon’s been churning out election conspiracies on his War Room podcast, asserting that Democrats are “going to pull every trick in the book” to “steal” the midterms.
“The media’s here from all over the world. You know why? Because they understand the future is here on Tuesday,” Bannon said, gesturing toward the cameras at the back of the room.