I spent two and a half hours with David Farnsworth, the Trump-backed candidate who defeated January 6 committee witness Rusty Bowers. Here's what I learned about religion, 'conspiracy facts,' and the modern Republican party.
- Trump has endorsed former Sen. David Farnsworth to take out AZ House Speaker Rusty Bowers.
- Farnsworth spoke to me for 2.5 hours about why he's challenging Bowers, a prominent Jan. 6 committee witness.
Note: A previous version of this story was published ahead of the August 2 primary. It has been updated in light of Farnsworth's victory.
MESA, Arizona — Even as he was in the midst of his seventh campaign for office in Arizona, David Farnsworth insisted that he really, really, really doesn't like politics.
"I am confident that anywhere there's a consolidation of money and power, evil people are going to congregate there," he said. "It's unpleasant business, a lot of deal making, which just doesn't fit my personality."
Farnsworth, who served in the Arizona Senate from 2013 until 2021, emerged from retirement to take on Rusty Bowers, a former colleague and the outgoing speaker of the Arizona House. The 71-year-old was recruited by Republican figures in Arizona who say the 2020 election was stolen, and who viewed Bowers — recently a star witness at a June hearing of the January 6 committee — as a turncoat who stood in the way of advancing the MAGA agenda.
Sitting in his home office as his wife, Robin, looked on, Farnsworth spoke with me about his abiding faith as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, his reasons for challenging Bowers, and how those two things intertwine.
Farnsworth competed against Bowers, who's term-limited from continuing to serve in the House, for the prize of representing the newly-drawn 10th legislative district in the Arizona Senate. Covering the eastern half of Mesa, the district has a strong conservative bent, and the Farnsworth is almost certainly likely to serve come January 2023.
Shortly after Bowers' June testimony, Farnsworth earned the official backing of former President Donald Trump, Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward, and Republican Rep. Andy Biggs, a former House Freedom Caucus chair who represents Mesa in Congress.
On the plane from Washington to Phoenix earlier this month, I contacted both Farnsworth and Bowers for a story about the primary, which was shaping up to be the latest stop on an ongoing revenge war by the former president against his intra-party political foes. The election also posed an intriguing juxtaposition with the January 6 committee, given the timing of the primary just weeks after Bowers' testimony.
But while the outgoing speaker would make time for a 45-minute phone call, Farnsworth invited me to his home — at least for an hour, he requested — so he could fully explain his worldview.
Once I landed, I gave Farnsworth a call.
Before he would fully agree to an interview, he asked what Insider's partisan leanings were (nonpartisan) and what my own opinions of Trump might have been. I replied that Trump was "certainly a consequential president" and "someone who is clearly going to continue to have significant sway over the future of the party."
And before handing over his address, he had one final question.
"My favorite thing to do is have discussions where I mix patriotism and religion," he said. "Are you comfortable with doing that?"
'We wished we were not in the race'
I arrived about three hours later at Farnsworth's home in eastern Mesa, where he greeted me in front of his modest, ranch-style house along a major thoroughfare. We made our way to Farnsworth's home office, where his wife Robin offered me a glass of ice-cold water; it was roughly 115 degrees Fahrenheit outside.
Outside of politics, Farnsworth has worked in real estate, including a successful career flipping houses. He mentioned that he and his wife hope to make a trip to San Diego soon.
"I'm hands on, I do my own work, I do my own plumbing, electrical, and sheet rock, and Robin's right there with me painting the walls," he said. "We have a little Airbnb up in Snowflake, and that's a story of its own."
The former state senator sat before a bookshelf stocked with two different compendiums of Arizona state law, copies of the Book of Mormon in several different languages, "How to Get Rich" by Donald Trump, and books warning of the dangers of the United Nations, marijuana legalization, and communism.
Above the shelf sat an oversized pencil emblazoned with "Making a Mark for School Choice," along with a portrait of Farnsworth with President Trump, the man whose endorsement powered him to victory.
I recognized the shelves as Farnsworth's backdrop at a virtual debate he'd had with Bowers just days earlier. Despite the fact that many of the MAGA-aligned forces backing Farnsworth were intent on seeing Bowers fall, I had been struck by the congenial, low-key nature of the debate.
"I had a whole script here that would have taken it away from that," said Farnsworth. "I've known Rusty for a long time, and, well, I just made the decision not to talk about the negative."
Farnsworth previously served with Bowers in the Arizona House from 1994 to 1996. "I won't say that Rusty and I were friends, but certainly pleasant acquaintances," said Farnsworth. "I mean, we sat next to each other, literally, in the House for two years."
In the middle of their virtual debate, Farnsworth even displayed a caricature that Bowers once drew of him.
"I'm gonna sit in on this, is that okay?" asked his wife Robin, who later explained that she didn't want her husband to be "twisted around" by a reporter. "That's happened one time before."
Farnsworth had warned me ahead of time that he's prone to giving lengthy answers to questions, a warning that he would ultimately follow through with.
He began by explaining how he'd been encouraged by fellow Republicans to run for office again, and how he was viewed as the one man who could take on Bowers in a district with a strong Mormon influence. As he recounted the story of his recruitment, he took pains not to reveal the identity of the state senator who had reached out, explaining that he feared Bowers might retaliate against her.
But then, he slipped up.
"And then I said, Kelly, I don't want to do it — oops, I slipped didn't I," he said. "Strike that, will you?"
The "Kelly" in question was Sen. Kelly Townsend, another MAGA-aligned Republican who was later forthright when I asked her if she'd encouraged Farnsworth to run. "I just don't want to have to serve with him again," she said of Bowers in a phone call days later.
For the Farnsworths, the campaign had been "overwhelming."
"We have both questioned that decision numerous times since then, and in fact, we have expressed to each other that we wished we were not in the race," he said. "And of course, perhaps that brings up more questions than it does answers, I don't know."
'My father warned me not to trust the brethren'
By the time our conversation reached the one-hour mark, Farnsworth had produced a large, well-worn, marked-up copy of the Book of Mormon from his shelf, and was reciting passages from it while explaining how scripture influenced his way of thinking.
He began with one chapter detailing the struggle between "freemen" and "King-men" among the Nephites, a group that settled in the Americas hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus Christ, according to Mormon teachings. He likened that dichotomy to "freedom-loving people" and "socialists" in modern-day America.
He later moved on to a section detailing "secret combinations" that "will seek to destroy the freedom of all lands," which he likened to "the insiders, One World Government people, the socialists" of the modern day. At one point during that discussion, he made a passing reference to the "Clinton Body Count" conspiracy theory.
Farnsworth also said that there were "two types" of Mormons, which he suggested was the explanation for the difference between him and Bowers.
"There are those who look at their leaders as being infallible, almost," said Farnsworth. "And then, you've got the mindset of those that are a little more realistic about it."
In a roundabout way, he said that he places himself in the latter group, pointing to teachings from Brigham Young, the first president of the church, warning of the perils of blindly following leaders.
"My father warned me not to trust the brethren," he said, referring to church authorities. "I believe it was really good for me, because it caused me, at a young age, to question and decide what the proper course is."
It is this mode of thinking — a distrust of authority coupled with a religious conviction in the sanctity of Scripture — that seems to influence much of how Farnsworth approaches politics, whether he's discussing the official certification of the 2020 election in Arizona, public health authorities' pronouncements about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, the motivations of the Mormon-owned Deseret News, or the operating procedures of the state's Department of Child Safety.
I later sought Bowers' take on some of the things Farnsworth had told me.
"I believe that there are conspiracies in the world," Bowers told me over the phone, making a passing reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine. "That doesn't mean every time I disagree with somebody, that they're part of a secret combination."
Farnsworth's case against Bowers was essentially two-fold. The first issue, and the reason for which Trump and others backed him, is that he believes Bowers did not do enough to ensure faith in the state's electoral processes in the wake of the 2020 election.
"You have to have elections that people have confidence in, or you don't have a country," said Farnsworth.
The second issue is his belief that Bowers — who, like Farnsworth, is a member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — strayed from church doctrine by holding a hearing on an LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill that's been endorsed by the Mormon church in the most recent legislative session.
"Have you read about what Rusty has said on the — I don't even know the initials — L, G, B, T," he began as his wife helped him remember the rest of the acronym. Later on, she would ask me what those same letters stood for.
"My foundation is the doctrine of my church, and it flavors everything I do," he said, gesturing towards the books on his shelf. "I believe this is the word of God. I'm reading the Old Testament right now, three chapters every morning. Really enjoying it."
Farnsworth then diverted, expounding for about 15 minutes on the history of the Mormons, his take on the Founding Fathers' conception of the separation of church and state, and the notion of free will before returning to the subject of the nondiscrimination bill.
"It is contrary to our church doctrine," he said, pointing to the church's 1995 proclamation stating that marriage is between one man and one woman.
"It lays out the doctrine of — well, you can find the same thing in the Old Testament, right?" he said. "In fact, the penalties were very severe in the Old Testament on homosexual activities, adultery, and so forth. They took you out to town and stoned you."
Farnsworth added, positively, that the New Testament had put more of a "loving flavor" over the Old Testament, but maintained that the 1995 proclamation was "contrary" to the bill that Bowers held a hearing about.
"If you read the Deseret News, it really sounds like my church is encouraging Rusty to push that bill," said Farnsworth, referring to the LDS-backed bill. "But who owns Deseret News, and who's the one that controls them?"
Later, as we wrapped up our conversation, Farnsworth added that he believes that sexuality is a choice.
"We love gay people, we should love them. It's the Christ-like thing to do. But we do not condone their lifestyle, we try to save them from it," he said, drawing a contrast between nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people and people of color. "To give someone that same protected class because of a lifestyle choice they make? That doesn't carry the same logic."
'It is a conspiracy fact'
"I have two mentors, two heroes," said Farnsworth. "I kind of like President Trump, but I don't count him as one of the two."
One hero that Farnsworth named was Captain Moroni, a military commander who defended the freedom of the Nephites against the "King-men" that he had mentioned before. He mentioned he owned a tie emblazoned with Moroni's image.
The other hero, who Farnsworth says "warned us about the swamp," was Ezra Taft Benson.
Benson, who served as President Dwight Eisenhower's secretary of Agriculture before going on to become the 13th president of the church, had ties to the right-wing John Birch Society. He was well-known for his crusade against communism, and his belief that the leftist ideology was itself a "secret combination." In 1972, he considered running on a presidential ticket with George Wallace, the segregationist Alabama governor.
"If you want to know what I believe, and how I feel, just Google Ezra Taft Benson," he said. "Because I don't disagree with anything he ever said."
And Farnsworth is fond of a particular quote of Benson's.
"There is no conspiracy theory in the Book of Mormon — it is a conspiracy fact," Benson said in a 1972 speech entitled "Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints."
The readiness with which Farnsworth will interpret events as a Satanic conspiracy may explain his position on the 2020 presidential election. During his virtual debate with Bowers, the former state senator said the "devil himself" was behind the supposed theft of the election, an exchange that Farnsworth brought up unprompted when speaking with me.
"This is larger than any of us, because every tyrant that ever lived has been inspired by Satan to take control over the hearts and minds and souls and bodies and lives of mankind," Farnsworth told me.
Farnsworth also said he has "no doubt" that the 2020 election was stolen, but was up-front in declaring that he personally has no evidence to back up that assertion.
Instead, he referred three separate times to "2000 Mules," the widely-debunked Dinesh D'Souza film that purports to show how ballot fraud influenced the 2020 election, which he insisted I find the time to watch. "This came out recently, but it reinforces how I already felt. I felt that the election was stolen. I believed it was stolen, because I know Arizona," he said.
"No, I'm not an attorney. I'm not a brilliant researcher. I can't give you the proof," he also said. "But I am confident that the election was stolen."
His overall argument boiled down to this: With distrust in elections so high (in no small part due to Trump's baseless claims of a stolen election), Bowers had the responsibility to hold hearings and get to the bottom of the issue.
I asked about the details of Trump's pressure campaign against Bowers, which culminated in asking the Arizona house speaker to move to decertify the state's Biden electors, according to Bowers' sworn testimony. Farnsworth says he would've understood how Bowers turned down that request, but insisted that wasn't what happened.
"If that's all he saw was, 'they're asking me to steal the election for Donald Trump,' and he stood against it, I'd call him a hero too," said Farnsworth. "But that wasn't the only option, and I don't believe that's what they were asking him to do."
I asked him if he thought other Democrats elected statewide in Arizona in recent years, including Sen. Mark Kelly in 2020 and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in 2018, had also been elected fraudulently.
"I don't know. It wouldn't surprise me. I have no evidence," he said. "I have no strong feelings one way or the other."
'A shot that probably does more harm than good'
Farnsworth's conspiratorial thinking took him in a variety of directions, leading him at one point to allege that a man associated with an outside political spending effort in support of Bowers was "working for Satan."
He also criticized the Deseret News for its favorable coverage of Bowers, suggesting another conspiracy was afoot by a news outlet with a wide reach among members of the Church.
"I don't know who owns the Deseret News, but the word 'Deseret' comes from the Book of Mormon," he said. "So people view that as doctrinal. And yes, it troubles me that they have worked so hard — from what I've seen looking at their articles, it's not objective. Their intention is to make a hero out of Rusty Bowers."
He wondered at several points "what happened" to his primary opponent. "You know, I would love to see inside Rusty's head to see what happened to him," says Farnsworth.
And he spoke of his frustration with the closing of congregations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The most frustrating thing of my life was when our churches were shut down," he said. "And when we could go back, we had to wear masks, but the most frustrating thing of all, we were not allowed to sing!"
"If this is a real epidemic, why wouldn't we be fasting and praying that the Lord would turn it aside, rather than going after the solutions of men?" he added. "Which is a shot that probably does more harm than good."
I asked, for good measure, whether he's been vaccinated. He replied that he's never even taken a COVID test.
'We have evil people in our church'
At one point in the conversation, I had asked Farnsworth what he made of figures like Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and former Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona — two prominent Mormon Republicans who had been among the harshest GOP critics of Trump.
His wife had interjected to say that "they're not" Mormons.
"There is a lot of judgment — I'll say in the world, I'm not going to pick on my own church," said Farnsworth, alluding to Trump's aggressiveness and often crude language. "To me it comes down to who really understands the truth of the doctrine."
He insisted on reading from one of Ezra Taft Benson's books before I left, landing on a passage arguing that followers of the devil had been placed "within the kingdom in order to try to destroy it."
"This was approved by the First Presidency when he was a prophet, so I would say this is church doctrine," he said. "This is the Prophet, the president of the Church, saying we have infiltrators, we have evil people in our church."
He eventually came to liken Flake and other Trump-critical Republicans to the infiltrators of which Benson spoke, before appearing to come to grips in real time with the implications of his analogy.
"I'm not saying Jeff is an evil man," he insisted. "I'm not saying Rusty's an evil man."
At that point, I had to leave for my next event. Farnsworth thanked me for indulging him, and I thanked him for the opportunity.
"I haven't done this very often," he said. "And this is obviously the longest interview I've ever had with a reporter."
'Some of the comments they made seemed logical to me'
"Everybody is scared to death of Dave Farnsworth," Bowers would later tell me. "He doesn't invest intellectual capital."
I had been unable to make time during my lengthy interview with Farnsworth to ask him about QAnon, a conspiracy theory that posits that Trump is engaged in an ongoing, secret war against elite, Satan-worshiping pedophiles.
The Arizona Mirror had reported that Farnsworth said his "basic impression" of the conspiracy theory is that it was "credible."
"I have talked to quite a few people who really believe they are good people who are trying to bring out the truth," Farnsworth once texted a friend, according to a screenshot shared with the outlet. "You are the first person I have known who doesn't think they make sense."
And in his prior tenure as a senator, Farnsworth had been known for undertaking investigations of allegations of child sex-trafficking in the Department of Child Safety, which eventually led to a dust-up with a fellow Republican state senator after she told him to cut it out.
I called Farnsworth again on Monday as he was driving back down to Mesa from Snowflake — a heavily-Mormon town in eastern Arizona co-founded by the great-great-grandfather of Sen. Flake — where the Farnsworths maintain an Airbnb.
"I know almost nothing about them. All I've seen is, you know, snatches where something would pop up on Facebook or, you know, something I couldn't avoid," he said of QAnon. "And some of the comments they made seemed logical to me."
Having spent hours speaking with Farnsworth about his worldview, his explanation largely made sense to me.
"My philosophy is, I learn from wherever I can," he added. "If something fits into, you know, the jigsaw puzzle of understanding that we continually work on, then I don't accept or reject according to where I hear it. I accept or reject according to the logic of what is presented."
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