Arizona Senate to investigate Wendy Rogers over social media post on Buffalo shooting

Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers gives a speech ahead of former President Donald Trump's speech in Florence on Jan. 15, 2022.
Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers gives a speech ahead of former President Donald Trump's speech in Florence on Jan. 15, 2022.

The Arizona Senate will investigate a social media post from state Sen. Wendy Rogers that suggested the shooter in a mass killing in Buffalo, New York, last weekend was a federal agent and part of a federal conspiracy.

The Senate voted 24-3, with three members not voting, to move forward with an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee. The committee will now examine Rogers' remarks "relating to the Buffalo shooting as inappropriate of an elected official with this body."

An effort to expel Rogers, pushed by Democrats, failed on a 11-15 vote just after 4 p.m.

Rogers, a Trump-endorsed, first-term politician who belongs to the Oath Keepers and has espoused conspiracy theories, was censured by her Senate peers on March 1 after she promoted hanging political enemies during an appearance at an event hosted by Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and threatened to destroy fellow Republicans' careers.

Rogers also drew condemnation at the time for antisemitic statements and behavior, including a promotional photo of her next to do a dead rhino marked with a Star of David.

On Saturday, following the shooting deaths of 10 people at a Buffalo store, Rogers posted on the social media site Telegram, "Fed boy summer has started in Buffalo."

Numerous political observers and journalists said that Rogers' statement meant that she was calling the shooting a "false flag" operation by federal authorities. The statement drew nearly 200 comments that were subsequently blocked from view by Telegram.

Sen. Rick Gray, R-Sun City, made the motion to investigate the comment, which was affirmed by 11 Republicans and 12 Democrats.

"A motion to expel would be arbitrary and would violate due process," Gray said. "We get to investigate — we get to evaluate it. It isn't just an arbitrary decision. And to me, that was much better than to just vote to expel a member. I've got concerns. We put out a statement in support of the families and how we were opposed to what happened. But again, that's why this motion is up."

Gray was referring to a statement the Senate released Monday morning calling the murders "acts of domestic terrorism" that are "both devastating and infuriating." With racism the motive of the shooting, Senate Republicans "condemn any and all hate speech that has served as inspiration for these kinds of heinous crimes."

The GOP statement did not make a reference to Rogers or her social media post.

Before the Senate voted on her Telegram post on Monday, Rogers published a message on Twitter saying, “Of course I condemn the violence in Buffalo, who doesn’t?” She went on to say that she also condemns “fake news” and “the government promoting violence and then blaming it on regular patriotic Americans as if regular Americans share those despicable views. Everything is not what it seems!”

Besides Rogers, two other senators voted no on the motion to investigate: Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said he voted that way because he hadn't yet heard what Rogers had posted; Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, who's running against Rogers in the newly created Legislative District 6 in the GOP primary, also voted no despite concerns about "harmful, racist" speech.

"I can only imagine the additional pain brought to those families by the dismissive comments that were made," Townsend said, adding that Rogers still has the right to make the comments. "I'm embarrassed for our state."

Wendy Rogers: Persistent. Hard right. Divisive. She's now on the national radar

'What more investigation do we need?'

Arizona state Senator Wendy Rogers salutes former President Donald Trump at the Save America Rally in Florence on Jan. 15, 2022.
Arizona state Senator Wendy Rogers salutes former President Donald Trump at the Save America Rally in Florence on Jan. 15, 2022.

Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said the members were skipping the harder choice to expel Rogers, which would have required senators to "examine our ethics" and whether Rogers' comment was "right or wrong."

The investigation vote "kicks the can down the road" and avoids the fact that Rogers already has a history of making problematic statements.

"What more investigation do we need?" Otondo said. "The evidence is right here in front of us."

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said he had "no idea what the hell" Rogers' comment meant, and he would vote for the investigation only under protest.

"I do believe this needs to be investigated to make sure the senator from District 6 is cleared," Borrelli said.

Monday's vote came after calls by activists and members of the public for Arizona leaders to hold Rogers accountable for the statement on Telegram, which is a social media site favored by those on the right. The condemnation gained traction after a screenshot was posted by others on Twitter.

“What Wendy Rogers posted is a reprehensible attempt to create a false narrative about the massacre," said Susan Corke, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project. "In our opinion, she is clearly implying that the Buffalo attack was a false flag. This is a common narrative on the far right after racist attacks. At times like this, political leaders should speak out to condemn hate, not to dismiss it.”

After the vote on the ethics investigation, Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, complained that she was not allowed to submit a motion for a vote to expel Rogers, who she said was "slowly dripping racism and hate and antisemitism that actually is poisoning the soul of Arizona and our entire nation."

After a procedural vote failed, Senate President Karen Fann allowed Rios to motion that Rogers damaged the reputation of the Senate with her comment and that she should face expulsion. Fann reminded the senators that a two-thirds supermajority vote was needed to expel Rogers.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, criticized the expulsion motion as "obnoxious" because voters can decide how they feel about Rogers in the upcoming election.

Democratic senators gave fiery speeches blasting Rogers, while Borrelli took time to defend her, and members on both sides debated their right to expound on the issue.

"This is all emblematic of a much bigger issue that this body has continuously refused to engage in," Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said.

Rogers didn’t say anything during the Senate debate. But as attention grew online about the post, Rogers posted a message on Telegram on Sunday saying that “free speech mattered” and calling it ironic how people “who whine” about her posts tend to “amplify” them.

Later Sunday, she attended a Save the Vote rally in Payson with Arizona candidates supported by former President Donald Trump, including Kari Lake, a Republican candidate for governor, and Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who’s running for secretary of state.

About 90 minutes after the Senate adjourned, Rogers issue a press release saying that she will be "vindicated" when the facts are reviewed, but didn't explain what she meant by the Telegram post.

"Sadly, my comment was taken completely out of context and became a false narrative that's now the focal point of a firestorm created by certain race-obsessed members of the media," Rogers said. "Unfortunately, our Democrat members of the Senate are now turning this issue into a political tool and are continuing to perpetuate this erroneous message in an effort to foment division within our party. ... My heart breaks for those who lost their lives as well as for their families in this weekend's shooting in Buffalo, New York. I pray justice is brought to the perpetrator."

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Sen. Wendy Rogers to face probe over post on Buffalo shooting