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Rep. Paul Gosar says Kari Lake might order military blockade of Tohono O'odham tribal land

The Informant

Rep. Paul Gosar says Kari Lake might order military blockade of Tohono O'odham tribal land

GOP congressman floats idea Lake could order National Guard to surround Tohono O'odham Nation if she becomes Arizona governor

  • Photos of Paul Gosar and Kari Lake by Gage Skidmore, illustration by Nick R. Martin.

In the days leading up to the 2022 election, Arizona Republican Congressman Paul Gosar made an extraordinary claim about what the his party's gubernatorial nominee in the state, Kari Lake, might do in the name of stopping undocumented immigration if she wins office.

In a little-noticed interview on the October 28 edition of the Rumble show "In The Trenches with Teddy Daniels," Gosar said Lake could order the state's National Guard to surround and blockade the Tohono O'odham Nation, a Native American reservation that borders Mexico, ensuring that "no one passes." Gosar also floated the possibility that Lake would go to the U.S. Supreme Court to ask for some kind of authority over the reservation, though he was vague on the details.

The tribe's reservation hasa population of 9,561, about 40 percent of whom live below the poverty line,and is situated on a large tract of land almost twice the size of Delaware that reaches from central Arizona down to a 74-mile stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border. Tribal law enforcement works closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other federal agencies in the area, but the tribe has long opposed building a border wall on its land because its ancestral territory includes part of Mexico and many residents still have family on both sides of the international boundary.

Tribal opposition to a wall has long frustrated efforts by hardliners who advocate sealing off the southwestern U.S. border in an effort to stop undocumented migration. That includes former President Donald Trump, who pledged to build a "great, great wall" along the entirety of the border but quickly ran into practical issues, including the question of who owns the land.

Gosar, a devotee of Trump and an early supporter of Lake's candidacy, suggested in the interview that Lake could mount a significant confrontation with the tribe if she becomes governor.

"What if, just what if, somebody like Kari Lake wins the governorship, which she should, and she follows through on her promise like Donald Trump did, and says, 'OK, I'm calling a state of emergency across the state of Arizona. I'm militia-izing the National Guard. I am putting them on the border. And let's do this: Let's outline the Tohono O'odham Nation'," Gosar said during the interview with racist conspiracy theorist and "Bikers for Trump" member Teddy Daniels, who placed third in the Republican primary for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor earlier this year.

"We outline them, all—with all our National Guard. And we say no one passes. Well, that tells the Tohono O'odham, you're either America and Arizona first. Or you're Mexico first. And Mexico doesn't recognize you. Oh, that's a good one."

Gosar continued, saying Lake might also try to involve the U.S. Supreme Court.

"And then—then we say, 'Wait a minute. You failed at your jurisdiction and your guarantee clause of the invasion clause. So we're taking back order'," the congressman said. "What does the state have that you and I don't? It has direct redress to the Supreme Court. You're at that point now where you have to start that fight. Take the fight to the Supreme Court."

Gosar's comments came a day after Chairman Ned Norris Jr., the leader of the Tohono O'odham Nation, took part in a news conference in which he torched Lake's candidacy, calling parts of her border plan "irresponsible nonsense." Norris has said as far back as 2007 that a wall would be built "over my dead body."

It's not clear whether Gosar was speaking off the cuff or describing plans he's privy to as Lake's campaign surrogate and longtime supporter. Her campaign didn't respond to multiple requests for comment. Gosar's office didn't respond to a request for further comment.

Gosar is among the furthest-right members of Congress. He has a long history of promoting and collaborating with white nationalists, Holocaust deniers and militia members. Last year, he was censured by Congress and stripped of his committee assignments after posting a video on Twitter showing an anime version of himself killing a Democratic colleague and attacking President Biden. He also has a reputation for bizarre and sometimes inscrutable proposals, like recently inviting the presidents of warring nations Russia and Ukraine to travel to Arizona to engage in peace talks with him.

As a political newcomer, Lake has attached herself to various members of the far right, including Gosar, calling him a "hero" and "one of the greatest men to ever walk the halls of Congress." They have endorsed each other and held multiple joint campaign events in Arizona. Gosar's congressional office even used taxpayer money to produce a video starring Lake in the midst of her primary campaign.

Lake's formal border policy plan, titled "Defend Arizona: We Will Do What Washington Will Not," makes Arizona's notoriously harsh 2010 legislation, known as the "show me your papers" law, look tame by comparison.

The plan calls for a massive expansion of government authority across the board: Lake wants to set up a new law enforcement agency to handle border-related crimes, pass legislation to seize more money under civil forfeiture laws, create special state immigration courts, and order the National Guard to deport suspected undocumentented immigrants—a role normally under the purview of the federal government. She has also spoken publicly about wanting to "blow up" suspected drug smuggling tunnels at the border and kill anyone who might be inside. The plan says Lake would "do so in consultation with Israeli military officials..

Lake's plan also mentions the Tohono O'odham Nation. She hopes to create a task force to "focus exclusively on working with tribal leaders to find effective and mutually-respectful solutions for securing the border that runs through tribal territory." But her proposal also notes that dozens of miles of the Arizona-Mexico border are on tribal land and remain without a wall. The plan leaves open the possibility of trying to change that, stating obliquely: "This will require separate actions to resolve."

In that October 27 press conference, Norris noted that Lake wants to declare an "invasion" at the border and that she'd be doing so "in the hopes that this would give her unilateral authority to complete the border wall and take other drastic steps." He pointed to the irony of such a declaration.

"The indigenous peoples of this continent have been addressing and dealing with an invasion for more than 500 years now," Norris said. "Our homelands have been invaded. Our culture has been invaded. Our language has been invaded. Our freedoms have been invaded. And this many years later, we're still addressing—having to address those invasions that have taken place."

In a written statement to The Informant, Norris declined to comment on Gosar's suggestion that the National Guard might be used to blockade the Tohono O'odham Nation. Instead, he focused on another line in the interview in which Gosar falsely accused the tribal government of preventing U.S. border agents from patrolling on reservation land. Norris noted that the tribe has, among other things, worked with Customs and Border Protection for many years and allows the agency to maintain two bases on tribal land. It has also authorized the Department of Homeland Security to construct 10 surveillance towers throughout the reservation as part of a "virtual wall" and participates in a drug smuggling task force that includes agents from multiple federal agencies.

"The Tohono O'odham Nation has been on the front lines of border security for over 165 years and have maintained a productive working relationship with CBP for decades," Norris said in the statement. "In fact, the nation's current Director of Public Safety is a former CBP agent. The nation is committed to protecting our communities and the U.S. homeland using state-of-the-art, responsible, multi-layered tactics that have demonstrated results, rather than looking backward to failed strategies from the past. Experts agree that a multi-layered strategy is the most effective way to address border security."

Recent polling has shown Lake holding a small advantage over Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs in Tuesday's general election. Gosar has no Democratic competitors on the ballot as none filed to run in Arizona's 9th Congressional District. However, two Democrats are running as write-ins: Richard Grayson, who has previously mounted unsuccessful longshot campaigns for Congress in Wyoming, Florida and Arizona; and a man identified on the Arizona elections website only by the name "Tom T."

This report was first published by the The Informant.

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