U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-AZ 

Karolyn Benger was not surprised when she read that Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona District 9 employs a prominent follower of Nick Fuentes, given the congressman’s past support of and connections to Fuentes, a white supremacist leader. After all, two years ago Gosar drew the ire of Jewish groups across the political spectrum when he joined fundraising forces with Fuentes, who questions the number of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust and believes that Israel has a malicious influence on U.S. policy. The Arizona congressman even appeared at two of Fuentes’ “America First” conferences.

Extremism trackers like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have long classified Fuentes as a hate-group leader who advocates antisemitism and Holocaust denial, in addition to racist and nativist ideologies. Yet, none of this deterred Gosar from associating with him.

“I wasn’t shocked by this latest news, but I am saddened that the Republican party isn’t saying anything and doesn’t seem concerned about this growing problem of white supremacy in our country — that shows a lack of leadership,” Benger told Jewish News.

On Sunday, the political news outlet Talking Points Memo (TPM) published an article detailing close ties between Wade Searle, Gosar’s digital director for the last year, and Fuentes. In it, reporter Hunter Walker extensively outlined and documented Searle’s digital trail under variations of the persona “ChickenRight” to prove that he’s not a mere admirer of Fuentes but a known ally, earning a government salary.

This revelation “is a big deal,” according to Cassie Miller, senior research analyst, lead for SPLC’s Intelligence Project, which monitors domestic hate groups. “It’s really crucial that people take this seriously and don’t meet it with a shrug.”

After reading Walker’s article, Benger, who is an active member of the Greater Phoenix Jewish community and the vice president of the Arizona Interfaith Movement, turned to Twitter to ask various Republican leaders in Arizona to release statements holding Gosar accountable for hiring a “Groyper,” the name for Fuentes’ network of supporters.

She will leave the details up to the Republican Party but insisted that its leaders are obligated to say or do something. The fact that there’s a white supremacist working in a congressional office “doesn’t just push the envelope, it should blow up the mailbox,” she said.

“It is shameful that they censured Cindy McCain for supporting a Democrat but aren’t interested in censuring another Republican for actively employing white supremacists. I would think they’d want to reject that faction of their party but they seem not to want to upset it. I don’t have much hope they’ll say anything,” she said.

Thus far, her pessimism seems justified.

Elected Republican officials, both state and federal, have been quiet. Neither the Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy nor the Arizona Republican Party have released a statement or responded to Jewish News’ request for comment.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer is the only Republican so far to respond to Jewish News’ requests for comment on the matter, and he doesn’t believe that Gosar will face any consequences.

“Nick Fuentes’ virulent antisemitism has been known for a while, but many politicians have long associated with him with no consequence,” Richer told Jewish News in an email.

“The white nationalist movement wants to wear people down so they won’t push back,” Miller told Jewish News. “People are exhausted with politics and that’s a dangerous place to be. The movement wants people with real political power parroting these ideas until people become more comfortable with them and the people who want to push back are more apprehensive to do so.”

Though the outrage level isn’t where Miller and others would like it to be, there has been pushback.

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), an advocacy group which has criticized Gosar’s support of Fuentes in the past, released a statement calling this news “part of a pattern for Congressman Paul Gosar.” The statement focused its vitriol on Fuentes, who the RJC called “a vile antisemite who traffics in nauseating Jew hatred” whose “bilious rhetoric has absolutely no place in the Republican Party or in the halls of Congress.”

Sarah Kader, ADL Arizona’s community manager, released a statement calling for an investigation “into the conduct of Rep. Gosar and his staff, which pose a threat to the security of our nation.”

Today, White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates released a statement regarding President Joe Biden’s reaction to the Gosar news saying, “The dangerous agenda this person chooses to associate with — including by promoting an extremist who openly praises Nazism and Hitler — could not be more opposed to the fundamental values of our nation.” Three days ago, five Jewish freshmen Congressional Democrats also wrote a letter to McCarthy asking that Gosar be censured and asking the Speaker to be “an ally to the Jewish people and take a strong stand against the antisemitism and white supremacy flourishing in your own party.”

Gosar turned off his Twitter comments and replies and seems to be laying low. When asked in person to respond to news of his white supremacist staffer, Gosar told Ben Jacobs, an independent journalist, “No comment.” “When I followed up he said ‘take a hike’ as he meandered away,” tweeted Jacobs.

This wasn’t Jacobs’ first go-around covering Gosar’s ties to extremists. In a 2021 article for Intelligencer, Jacobs posited that even though Gosar has said and done similar things to Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who has faced official Republican rebukes, his style is much less flamboyant so he’s able to “fly under the radar of the national media.” Republicans, who are occupied by the debt ceiling and fallout from New York’s Republican Rep. George Santos’ arrest, likely won’t face blowback for inaction on Gosar without even more external pressure.

Paul Rockower, executive director for Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix, wants to see real accountability for Gosar this time and has no plans to let the media off the hook.

“We are trying to make sure it is known that he (Gosar) is actively employing a neo-Nazi and that Congressional leadership owns it, because this is beyond the pale,” he said.

For Haley Orion, whose own research on the Searle-Fuentes connection informed the TPM article, the muted reaction across the board has been frustrating.

“It wasn’t even the lack of Republican response that annoyed me, it was the lack of response from almost anyone,” Orion told Jewish News. People who are shrugging this news off as simply more evidence of Gosar’s ties to antisemites and racists “are missing the point of the (TPM) article.”

She runs the AZ Right Wing Watch Twitter account, writes the Arizona Right Watch newsletter and spent the last nine months building a case against Searle and Gosar, researching and archiving their social media content. As Gosar’s account began to use more far-right Groyper imagery, it seemed unlikely that the 64-year-old Congressman was posting as, what she termed, a “Zoomer Groyper.”

“It means something when you’re letting a follower of a white nationalist cult have free rein of your social media account, making propaganda for this group,” she said.

She hopes that people will begin to look more critically at “the whole industry behind these politicians. It seems silly to think that this one kid is the only white nationalist in politics right now,” she said.

Curating large, public social media accounts like Gosar’s is not a trivial job. It’s one that can have lasting and harmful consequences.

Kader’s statement confirms that ADL’s own research points out that “antisemitic language can and does normalize other acts of antisemitism — particularly when it comes from an elected official with a large platform.”

JCRC Chair Alan Zeichick remains optimistic that “the vast majority of members of Congress, in both parties, are non-racist and are not antisemitic, and sincerely don’t want to associate with those people.” Still, he admitted that “there are a few politicians for whom these haters are attractive,” and they’re watching to see what will happen.

“If Rep. Gosar gets away with it, yes, we may see more hires like this in those few offices,” he said. JN