American Dental Association Pressured to Extract Itself From Paul Gosar

The controversial Republican congressman has exposed the cracks in the shiny facade of the 'Tooth Party' as the American Dental Association faces pressure to pull funding from their man in Washington.
July 15, 2021, 1:43pm
​The American Dentistry Association is facing calls to pull funding for Republican Congressman Paul Gosar.
The American Dentistry Association is facing calls to pull funding for Republican Congressman Paul Gosar. Photos by Pexel (left) and Getty (right)

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America’s dentists have their man in Washington. His name is Paul Gosar. And these days, Gosar’s open fraternization with known white nationalists is giving the self-described “Tooth Party” a bit of a toothache. 

The American Dental Association has donated over $75,000 to the Republican congressman from Arizona, a former dentist, since he was elected to Congress in 2010, making them his top donor. Over the years, Gosar hasn’t shied away from controversy, from joining the anti-government Bundy standoff in Nevada in 2014, claiming that the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017 was orchestrated by liberal philanthropist George Soros, or referring to Muslim men as a “scourge on society” at an event in support of far-right activist Tommy Robinson. 

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Until recently, the American Dental Association, its political fundraising arm ADPAC, and the 162,000 dentists they represent, have been willing to turn a blind eye to Gosar’s controversies on behalf of “Tooth Party” interests. 

But Gosar’s latest antics are creating fissures in the Tooth Party—for example, his insistence that the 2020 election was “stolen” from former President Donald Trump, his involvement in the conspiracy-driven “Stop the Steal” movement that led to the January 6 insurrection, and his budding bromance with white nationalist live-streamer Nick Fuentes. 

Some prominent dentists have called on the American Dental Association to cut Gosar off financially, while others have rushed to his defense. 

Most recently, Gosar was touted on a flier advertising a joint fundraising event with Fuentes, who has embarked on a tour called “White Boy Summer.” Gosar at first appeared to defend the event, organized under Fuentes’ banner of “America First”, but he later denied having any knowledge of it. 

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However, the two men are not strangers. Gosar spoke at a conference hosted by Fuentes in February where attendees chanted his name. Fuentes posted a picture to his social media that appears to show him and Gosar enjoying a warm beverage together. 

Fuentes, for his part, leads a movement of preppy racists who call themselves “Groypers.” He’s denied the Holocaust, defended segregation, spouted conspiracy theories about “white genocide”, and argued that women shouldn’t be allowed to work or vote. Last weekend he said that he wishes there was a zombie apocalypse so that “we could kill George Floyd two times.” He praised the violent Unite the Right rally as “incredible”, and said it signaled a coming “tidal wave of white identity.” 

The American Dental Association, which has a section on its website touting its commitment to diversity and inclusion, spends millions each year lobbying on issues like preventing teens from vaping, water fluoridation, regulating opioid prescriptions, and expanding access to dental care. They donate to lawmakers and organizations on both sides of the aisle, though Republicans make up the majority of benefactors. Gosar is one of five dentists currently in Congress, and he’s been one of the American Dental Association’s top recipients in the past three election cycles. 

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But the American Dental Association isn’t only getting pressure from within to ditch Gosar. 

Earlier this year, the “Remove Paul Gosar Task Force,” a coalition of activists from Arizona, took aim at dentists’ support of the congressman with a series of videos published under the #CallYourDentist hashtag. “Dentists should brighten your smile, not destroy the Capitol,” one video says, as images of toothy grins flash over footage of insurrectionists at the Capitol. 

Another video even features Gosar’s siblings, who famously dislike their brother, calling on the American Dental Association to end their support of him. (Six of his nine siblings endorsed Gosar’s opponent when he ran for re-election last year; Gosar still won handily with nearly 70% of the vote.) 

The #CallYourDentist campaign may be having some impact: According to the “Remove Paul Gosar” website, the American Dental Association hired a reception service to take calls from angry Americans. In an email to VICE News, the American Dental Association wrote that the issue of its ongoing support for Gosar was currently pending before the Board of Trustees and declined to comment any further. 

The first dentist to go public with disapproval of Gosar was David Lurye, a former practicing dentist who’s been heavily involved in “dental politics” for decades and previously served as a delegate on behalf of the American Dental Association in Colorado and Arizona. In January 2020, around the same time Gosar was being criticized for spreading disinformation when he posted a photoshopped image purporting to cast former president Barack Obama in a negative light, Lurye penned an open letter to the editor of the American Dental Association website. 

“I am sad to say I was one of the many dentists he fooled into supporting him after he promised he would not toe the party line,” wrote Lurye, who now helps facilitate the sales of dental practices. “He now is representing to the nation that his constituents are misinformed, bigoted, believe anything they read or hear from Breitbart, InfoWars, Fox, and the rest of the conservative news sources.” 

Lurye heard from a lot of dentists after his letter was published. Some were livid about his criticism; one dentist, a former state lawmaker from Pennsylvania, even wrote a rebuttal blasting the American Dental Association for publishing the letter in the first place, and accused Lurye of taking a “blunderbuss approach against vague political positions.” 

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A dentist from Oakland, California, then wrote a letter siding with Lurye, stating, “This is not about politics. This is about professionalism.” 

But many more, Lurye said, confided in him that they shared his views—but weren’t willing to say it publicly. 

“There are many dentists that I know, who know him better, and called me and said, “I’m glad you said something because we don’t feel like we’re in a position to say something right now’,” Lurye told VICE News. “There are a lot of people who just don’t want to burn professional bridges. And then there are some people who are so enamored with knowing someone who’s in Congress that they don’t care what they do.”

That was until this year. 

David Dowsett, who has served as a delegate on behalf of the American Dental Association in Oregon, wrote his own letter condemning Gosar, which ran on their website. 

“While we can and should have differing opinions about policy and how best to govern our country, I believe he has now clearly crossed the line from different viewpoints to dangerously offensive,” Dowsett wrote. “Dr. Gosar is hurting all of us. He no longer represents our profession with the integrity and class we expect and the public deserves.” 

Lurye said that he met Gosar over 20 years ago, when they shared a cab from the airport to an event hosted by the American Dental Association. Gosar was a bit of a star in the dentistry world even back then. He’d been knighted Arizona's Dental Association’s “Dentist of the year in 2001,” inducted into their “Hall of Fame” and later elected as the association’s president from 2004 to 2005. 

So when Gosar ran for Congress, and won, the dentist community was thrilled. 

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“I think we were just so eager to get somebody in that we weren’t asking what his positions were all that much,” said Lurye. “And certainly, he seemed like a normal guy at the time. There was nothing to indicate that he was a fringe player—at least from what I saw.” 

That perception of Gosar changed after his first term, when he came back to Arizona to run for reelection. “I don’t know what happened to him during his first term. It’s like he got abducted by aliens or something,” recalled Lurye. He described meetings in which Gosar would arrive “wild-eyed” and “keep reiterating and reiterating the same points over and over.” Those talking points, Lurye recalled, centered around conspiracy theories about billionaire philanthropist George Soros and the border. 

“It was very evident to me that he was latching onto some fringe ideas,” said Lurye. “QAnon wasn’t around back then, but it was just that vibe. You could tell he was really out there with some of his thoughts. It was evident to me, it was evident to a number of us.”

Gosar caught some heat from the dentist community when he became the only member of Congress to boycott the pope’s visit in 2015. The reason for his boycott was the pope’s acknowledgement of the reality of climate change. Lurye recalls a hospitality event put on by the American Dental Association during which a fellow dentist dragged Gosar around the room by his tie to subject him to tongue-lashings from attendees. “I sat him down and said, Paul, you know, that is so disrespectful. I’m the Jewish kid in the room and I would have gone to see this pope…. You’re making a mockery of his visit and you are giving a black eye to dentistry,” Lurye recalled. “And he just replied to me, “David, you know, it’s just what I believe. It’s what I believe and I believe I’m right’.” 

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