Wendy Rogers spent 10 years trying to get elected to various state and federal offices in Arizona.
She finally won a state Senate race last fall — and immediately launched a crusade to invalidate those results.
The Republican, embracing former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen with nearly unmatched zeal, has repeatedly called for the jailing of public officials who oversaw the vote. She’s traveled the country, wrongly proclaiming that the election in Arizona and elsewhere can be decertified. Trump and prominent allies have in turn praised and promoted her, and among the sizeable pro-Trump, election-denial movement, she’s become a major draw.
“There is a palpable effort to find [the] truth from 2020 before we move on to 2022,” she said to loud cheers at an event earlier this month for Kari Lake, the Trump-backed Republican candidate for governor in Arizona.
At the same event, Rogers called for Mark Brnovich, the state’s Republican attorney general, “to do perp walks and arrest those who have shamed us,” and asserted, with zero evidence, that widespread fraud was attempted in Virginia’s recent elections that saw Republicans retake the governor’s mansion and a majority in the state House of Delegates.
Though Rogers’ exertions are futile, her relentless promotion of Trump’s baseless claims has nonetheless catapulted her from perennial failed candidate to leading voice in the far-right effort to delegitimize President Joe Biden’s victory. Her national touring schedule — stumping for conservative candidates and advocating for election investigations and ballot reviews like the one that took place in Arizona that found no evidence of fraud — is unusual for a first-term state legislator, though in the age of Trump, many breakout figures have become those who echo his lines.
At an event for Josh Mandel, a Republican Senate contender in Ohio, Rogers received a standing ovation and cheers of “we love you!” Eric Greitens, a Republican Senate candidate in Missouri, brought Rogers to his state to rally supporters and to conduct joint interviews in right-wing outlets. And in Pennsylvania, her appearance at an “Audit the Vote” rally — organized by the same group that arranged the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded a pro-Trump mob attack on the U.S. Capitol — received higher billing than House and gubernatorial candidates running in the state.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House chief of staff and far-right radio host who’s hosted Rogers on his program multiple times, told NBC News the state senator is a “breakout star” who is on the “cutting edge” of the MAGA movement.
“I think if you don’t see her run for high office, you’re going to see her in the next Trump administration,” Bannon, who was just indicted by a federal grand jury for contempt of Congress for rebuffing the committee investigating that Jan. 6 attack, said. “Rogers is going to have a big role. I think people are looking to her for the future. People are looking for fighters and she’s clearly separating herself from the pack as having no back-down.”
Rogers’ ascension comes as the Republican Party confronts uncertainty around how closely candidates in upcoming elections must stick with Trump in order to win and divisions over whether the party should dwell on the 2020 presidential election or focus instead on future contests and criticizing the Biden administration.
Her 2020 victory followed a string of congressional and state Senate defeats spanning 2010 through 2018 in multiple districts. Last fall, Rogers, a longtime Tempe resident, relocated to and ran in a more conservative district, besting a longtime Republican incumbent in a primary before winning the general election.
She raised more than $1.16 million for her campaign last year, which was more than $300,000 more than any other statehouse candidate in Arizona, according to campaign finance reports. Originally a backer of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the 2016 primary, Rogers increasingly embraced Trump as he vanquished GOP opponents. Her recent campaigns focused on supporting Trump, gun rights and building a wall on the border with Mexico. While questioning the 2020 results has since become her calling card, election issues were not listed as part of her campaign’s published platform.
“The Trump presidency tipped a lot of things politically and tipped her direction,” Stan Barnes, an Arizona Republican political consultant, said. “And so she fit right in.”
“Now there’s no filter when before there may have been a filter,” he added. “And it seems to be working for her. So I don’t expect she’s going to ever filter herself again.”
Rogers, who declined to comment, is aligned with the far right on more than just the 2020 election. A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who often wears a flight jacket during political events, Rogers has boasted of her membership in the Oath Keepers militia, which had members convicted in connection with the Jan. 6 riot. Last month, Rogers was one of several lawmakers to speak at a QAnon-linked conference, which she sought to downplay by tweeting “What is a Q?” ahead of the event.
This summer, she was accused of signaling to backers of the white nationalist “great replacement” theory when she tweeted “We are being replaced and invaded” in response to a story about migrants caught at the U.S./Mexico border. And she’s repeatedly praised Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, including this month when her message to Virginians readying to vote was “Make General Lee proud.”
“It was clear to me she was going to be the most extreme right-wing elected official in our modern history,” Lauren Kuby, a Democratic city councilwoman in Tempe who has known Rogers for nearly two decades, said of Rogers’ election. “I find her ascendancy disturbing and her unwillingness to try and understand the complexity of the world and her denial of history to be disturbing to the soul.”
“QAnon and radical Trumpism have sort of given names to where Wendy Rogers has always stood,” former Democratic state Sen. David Schapira, who defeated Rogers in a 2010 state Senate race, said.
A first-term member of the state Senate who has served for less than a year, Rogers has little ability to affect Arizona policy. One of her first gambits in office was to try and get a state highway named for Trump.
Her rise, however, coincides with the state Senate’s partisan review of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County, which she promoted extensively on social media, garnering a large following.That review, conducted by a firm that had no experience in Arizona elections and that experts said did not amount to a legitimate audit, found Biden’s margin of victory to be more than 300 votes greater than originally reported. An Associated Press fact check of the report said “it tried to paint routine election practices in Maricopa County as errors, irregularities or sinister efforts to deny Donald Trump another term.”
That hasn’t deterred Rogers, who has also called for such a review to take place in her own northern Arizona district. In recent weeks, she’s promoted a letter signed by roughly 2 percent of all state legislators in the U.S. calling to conduct these investigations in all 50 states and to potentially decertify results, which there is no legal mechanism for in any state.
There is no evidence that widespread fraud affected the 2020 election results, and voter fraud in American elections is exceedingly rare. In the year since Biden’s victory, swing state votes have been counted, recounted and certified. Officials in both parties and in the Trump administration said the election was secure and the courts have dismissed dozens lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies challenging the results.
Rogers has been accused by some, including on the right, of being a “grifter” who’s using Arizona’s partisan ballot review to gain national attention and raise money.
Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates, a Republican, said he believes Rogers’ statements are “very dangerous”and that she is misleading supporters by continuing to suggest the election can be decertified.
“That’s never going to happen,” he said. “The election will never be decertified, no matter what Wendy Rogers does. So she’s giving people false hope. And I think that’s very sad. She’s not being honest with her voters, with her constituents. She’s getting them whipped up.”
Rogers has called for members of Gates’ board to be jailed, too, and in an August appearance on Bannon’s War Room podcast, warned Maricopa County officials: “We’re coming for you. You better check your six.”
Across the country, election workers and officials in both parties have been inundated with threats from people who deny that Trump lost the election.
“If it relates to normalizing threats of either incarcerating us or threats of violence against us, she’s been at the head of the pack,” Gates said, adding there is zero basis for Rogers’ claims. “We’ve done nothing but actually follow the law.”
Now, with the Arizona ballot review increasingly in the rearview mirror, Rogers has taken to using her large social media platform to opine on the latest outrages in the news. This month, when Sesame Street character Big Bird tweeted a message aimed at children explaining the benefit of getting a Covid vaccination, Rogers tweeted “Kids need to be listening to Jesus, not Big Bird,” and “Big Bird is a communist.”
Negative feedback to those tweets encouraged Rogers, as she made clear in a follow-up.
“Apparently this has triggered many,” she wrote. “GOOD.”