The GOP’s latest straw-grasping election conspiracy theory

Arizona is a leading hotbed of GOP election conspiracy nuttery.

Principal actors in this Theater of the Absurd include: Kari Lake, defeated 2022 GOP candidate for governor; Mark Finchem, defeated 2022 GOP candidate for secretary of state; and Kelli Ward, GOP state party chair and 2020 fake elector.

In June 2020, someone set up a Twitter account in Germany. On Jan. 5, 2021, that account was used to tweet that Arizona’s election system is “foreign owned” (see tweet here). Two days later, an Arizona secretary of state staffer flagged that tweet as disinformation, a routine practice followed by many election agencies around the country (see, e.g., story here).

The secretary of state at the time was governor-elect Katie Hobbs, a Democrat. Raw Story notes (here) that Hobbs’ office notified the nonprofit Center for Information Security (CIS) about those tweets, which passed it along to Twitter, whose moderators deleted them as being in violation of its disinformation policies.

Those deletions came to light last weekend from disclosure of “internal Twitter documents,” Arizona Central reported on Tuesday, December 7, 2022 (story here).

Ward jumped on it as censorship, claiming “a bombshell was dropped that Arizona Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs, pressured Twitter to remove posts while she was running to become Governor of Arizona,” and demanded an investigation.

This is completely nuts.

Now let’s dissect this, starting with the “foreign company.” Bear with me, because this is arcane stuff. The tweet was superimposed over an image of a “Certificate of Good Standing” issued by Arizona’s corporations office in 2004 to “Sutherland Global Services, Inc., a foreign corporation organized under the laws of New York,” authorizing it to transact business in Arizona.

In the U.S., corporate charters are issued by states. In Arizona, a domestic corporation is one chartered there, and a foreign corporation is one chartered in another state. Sutherland is a “foreign” corporation in Arizona because it’s a New York corporation. This is legal terminology.

Got that? The ignorant tweeter sure didn’t get it. S/he gave the term its vernacular meaning. You can’t do that when dealing with legal stuff.

Sutherland Global Services, Inc., is a company that provides digital services to customers (see profile here, and their website here). The tweet claims it’s “the main contractor for Arizona Voter Information Database.” So what? Government agencies contract all the time with private companies to perform work requiring specialized skills. And also for pouring concrete, sweeping floors in public buildings, and maintaining computers.

That doesn’t make Arizona’s highways, public buildings, or state agency computer systems “foreign owned.” The tweeter’s insinuation is pure idiocy.

But facts never deterred rightwingers from believing conspiracy theories, a famous example being “Pizzagate,” a Washington D.C. pizza parlor where Hillary Clinton supposedly operated a cannibalistic child sex ring in the basement (see details here). Never mind the building doesn’t even have a basement.

It’s an unfortunate fact that on America’s political right, adherents will believe almost anything that furthers their partisan agendas, no matter how unrealistic it is, and they not only do no fact-checking but refuse to accept debunking when done by others. Refusal to accept truth is deeply embedded in U.S. rightwing culture, and bleeds into GOP politics. Few Republican candidates are more prone to this than those in Arizona.

They also don’t like their disinformation and lies being called out, but I think Lake, Ward & Co. actually believe the nonsense they’re spewing about Hobbs “censoring” a big reveal of entirely false allegations of election interference emanating from some unknown actor’s superheated imagination based on an ignorant misinterpretation of a routine state corporation document.

Ward asked the state attorney general, a Republican, to “immediately investigate” Hobbs for “directing a private company (Twitter) to suppress free speech,” and accused her of “illegally coordinating with Twitter ‘to take down a message she presumably viewed as detrimental to her campaign’.”

There was nothing illegal about it. And what campaign is Ward talking about? This happened five months before Hobbs became a candidate for governor. The Republicans claiming Hobbs waged a “war on free speech” are waging a war on facts. But that will fly over the heads of a credulous GOP base that will believe anything rightwing propagandists tell them, because they have little knowledge and no critical thinking skills.

For example, Fox News host Tucker Carlson told them “the episode disqualifies Hobbs from office and merits a criminal investigation.” The Fox audience will hear this and swallow it whole. To them, what Tucker says is gospel. To the rest of us, it’s horse***t.

Arizona Central puts it this way:

“According to Ward and the most delusional on the far right, it was all an orchestrated plot aimed at stifling dissent so that Hobbs could then march, unchallenged, into the Governor’s Office two years later. ‘The SOS of AZ and Gov candidate, Katie Hobbs, used the power of the AZ SOS to collude w/ Twitter to unconstitutionally violate 1st Amendment rights of Americans for her own political gain,’ Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene declared on Sunday. ‘This is communism and Hobbs can not be governor. I’m calling for a Federal investigation.’”

Freedom and democracy are messy. Liars and blowhards have free speech rights, too, and some of them have loud megaphones. Additionally, Americans are free to believe them and morons are allowed to vote, even for people like Lake and Greene. We cherish these rights, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But I also think we have a basic responsibility as citizens to separate truth from fiction, to sort adults from children in the political arena, and vote for people committed to holding this country together instead of tearing it apart. Until Republicans can do better than this, they’re not electable.

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