On the June 13 episode of the War Room podcast, host Steven Bannon railed against the January 6 committee for not inviting one of his favorite election deniers to testify at its public hearings. “They want to see the receipts?” Bannon ranted. “They don’t have Finchem. Let’s hear from the guys that have the receipts.”
Bannon was referring to Mark Finchem, Arizona state representative, candidate for secretary of state, and arguably the standard bearer of the 2020 election denialist movement. Finchem’s role in Bannon’s universe is difficult to overstate. As Bannon’s remark that day illustrated, Finchem serves as one of a handful of characters who — in this epistemologically closed feedback loop — has the goods that prove Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.
Finchem, of course, does not have the goods. But in Bannon, Finchem has found a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship wherein each person’s fantastical claims have an eager recipient. He has been on at least 57 episodes of Bannon’s podcast since late 2020, during which the two have tossed baseless conspiracy theories back and forth, much to the delight of Bannon’s devoted audience. Finchem’s history in law enforcement (he retired with a “poor rating”) and modest role in Arizona’s state government gave his early War Room appearances the patina of legitimacy; to the show’s listeners, he was the rare whistleblower ready to risk it all to uncover the truth. Bannon rarely — if ever — mentions Finchem’s membership in the extremist militia the Oath Keepers, though that would likely just underscore his conservatives bona fides for the War Room audience.
Finchem now stands a good chance of becoming Arizona’s top election official, tasked with overseeing the voting operations of a swing state whose congressional delegation and electoral votes could have profound national consequences. Bannon has been his champion every step of the way, providing a crucial platform that helped transform Finchem from local oddball to MAGA hero with a national fanbase.
His ubiquitous presence in Bannon’s orbit has provided him not only with a massive audience, but also with access to the MAGA donor class. Finchem’s campaign has raised more than $1.2 million through early October, including $5,000 from former President Donald Trump’s Save America PAC and $9,300 from Wendy’s franchise kingpin Lewis Topper. Brian Kennedy, another election denier and War Room favorite, donated $5,000 to Finchem as well.
Finchem’s fundraising has far outpaced his Democratic challenger, despite — or because of — his extremist positions, which are manifold. They also align almost completely with Bannon's stated beliefs. Finchem has repeatedly called for a decertification of Arizona’s 2020 election results, including in a debate last month, despite zero evidence of widespread voter fraud. Last month, he said it was “fantasy” that Biden could win legitimately in Arizona, telegraphing his belief that a Democratic win is, by definition, evidence of fraud. He has embraced QAnon, just as Bannon has provided a platform for the conspiracy theory. During a June fundraiser, he vowed that he wouldn’t concede if he loses. “Ain't gonna be no concession speech coming from this guy,” Finchem said. He could've been reading from a transcript of Bannon's election-day show in 2020, when Bannon advised Trump to declare victory before all the votes were counted.
Finchem floundered early in his career; in 2013 he pushed a conspiracy theory that then-President Barack Obama was planning to establish a “totalitarian dictatorship.” Following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Finchem said the event was likely a “deep state PSYOP” — that is, a false flag. But with Stop the Steal, and Steve Bannon, Finchem’s conspiracy-mongering found a home.
“You're becoming a star”
Finchem was a little-known local politician before becoming one of the most prominent election deniers in the country. His meteoric rise occurred nearly simultaneously with his first appearance on War Room, on December 4, as he went from 3,000 Twitter followers in late November 2020 to more than 33,000 by December 8.
From the outset, Bannon and Finchem were singing from the same sheet music. On the December 15 show — Finchem’s fifth appearance — Bannon introduced him as “the driving force” making sure only “legal votes” were counted in Arizona. He contrasted Finchem with the “fantasists” who “all want to be James Bond.” The level-headed Finchem, on the other hand, was working to make sure Dominion voting machines were “seized” for a full forensic audit.
Bannon continued the segment by calling Finchem “a perfect example of a deplorable,” which the MAGA crowd has reappropriated as a term of endearment. “You’re an American patriot and an American hero,” Bannon told Finchem, later adding, “You’re becoming a star.”
Finchem appeared on the show several more times in the following weeks, including on January 6 and 7 to discuss Trump’s attempted fascist coup. By then, he had amassed over 55,000 Twitter followers and was well on his way to conservative stardom. He’d also developed a keen ear for taking Bannon’s leading questions and running with them.
As the fascist mob was beginning to retreat from the Capitol, Bannon and Finchem fantasized about a looming constitutional crisis. “Are we going to be in a situation that becomes evident to everybody that the electors that were awarded to Biden were illegally elected — er, put forward, by the governor?” Bannon speculated. “And that there’s a swath of overwhelming evidence that Trump actually won Arizona?”
“What situation are we going to be in then to the people in Arizona?” he continued.
“I’ve said this over and over, and I’m not going to stop saying it,” Finchem said, not missing a beat. “This ain’t over."
“How are we gonna get your folks to show up?”
After his initial burst of appearances, Finchem became a mainstay in the War Room bullpen of regular guests. Over the course of 2021, Finchem would regularly push election conspiracy theories out to the War Room audience, sometimes following Bannon’s lead and sometimes introducing the absurd ideas himself. His appearances often take on a millenarian quality; there is always some impending, dramatic denouement — a report, or audit, or hearing — that will change everything and undo the historic wrong of the 2020 election. When that moment fails to arrive, the two simply move forward with their faith unshaken.
In February, Finchem cited a report from Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft — a conspiracy theory peddler who has repeatedly been voted “dumbest man on the Internet” — to argue that Maricopa County’s own audit of the 2020 election was “fake.” In fact, both the county’s election and audit were reliable and sound.
In July, Finchem appeared on War Room to push the debunked theory that Dominion voting machines were connected to the internet and therefore their vote counts were unreliable. Finchem argued that a recent Arizona senate hearing had found that Dominion’s “anti-virus software [was] not updated since August, 2019.” He then added, “If you're not going to be on the Internet, why would you need to have an antivirus update on a regular basis” — the implication being that the supposed presence of the software was proof the machines had been connected to the internet.
This idea would’ve been familiar to War Room listeners, as Michigan election denialist Patrick Colbeck had been pushing it to Bannon and anybody else who would listen to him since Trump’s loss in 2020. There was no truth to it when Colbeck pushed it, and there was no truth to it when Finchem pushed it.
By that point, Finchem was already running for secretary of state — he’d announced his candidacy in March of 2021 — and keeping the War Room audience on the line would be key to juicing turnout the following November.
Just a few days later, Finchem again appeared on War Room, and again cited a conspiracy theory put forward by Hoft’s Gateway Pundit site. This theory became known as “SharpieGate,” and traveled widely in right-wing activist and media circles. It was completely and totally false.
“Apparently one of the election workers high up in the food chain, Kelly Dixon, ordered her staff to use ballpoint pens for early voting from 10/23 to 11/2 then they suddenly switched positions and they said we need — emphasis added — to use markers on Election Day,” Finchem said. “We've now seen with the evidence collection — paper that does not have the bleed proof coating on it that was just used for the ballot on demand thing."
“What that does is that actually forces post-ballot casting adjudication, which is an area that is fraught with potential for mis-assigning ballots because they have to interpret what the voter meant,” Finchem continued, incorrectly.
Finchem continued to appear on War Room throughout the year and into 2022, as Bannon gave him crucial boosts in the run-up to Arizona’s primary on August 2. Bannon interviewed Finchem at least once in June, twice in July, and once on August 1, in a final push before the primary the following day. In each of those segments, Bannon was effusive in his praise of Finchem, offering him not only a platform for his ideas but also opportunities to drive traffic to his website for fundraising and organizing purposes.
“You got their heads blowing up, Finchem,” Bannon told him in June.
The following month, Finchem appealed to Bannon’s audience for help in the final push of his primary campaign. “We can always use another contribution,” Finchem said. Moments later, he gushed to Bannon: “God bless you and this platform.”
The day before the primary, Bannon had Finchem on again. “This is all about who shows up. How are we gonna get your folks to show up?” Bannon asked. “Where do they go, how do people volunteer, what do they have to do in the next 24 hours?”
Then, the day after the primary, when Finchem had clinched the nomination, Bannon again invited him on for a victory lap — and to do more fundraising for the impending general election. “We’re gonna have to raise about $2 million, brother,” Finchem said, as Bannon enthusiastically gestured at him to underline the point. “If people would click on the donate button — we’ve spent every single penny on this primary, so we are now back to ground zero.”
Bannon’s roadmap forward
In Finchem, Bannon has an uncompromising zealot who knows in his gut — as Bannon does — that Democrats can’t win elections. “If they can’t cheat they can’t win,” Bannon has said while interviewing Finchem. And in Bannon, Finchem has a household name in his corner, singing his praises month after month, incentivizing the Arizona politician to hold the extremist line.
Arizona is arguably the leading edge of the MAGA movement, as Finchem is joined on the ticket by fellow election deniers in Kari Lake, who is running for governor, Blake Masters, running for senator, and Abe Hamadeh, running for attorney general. As of publication, Finchem is slightly leading his opponent, according to a recent CNN poll, and all of the other races are close.
Mainstream reporters often overstate Bannon’s supposed strategic prowess. He endorses extreme, politically weak candidates — Roy Moore comes to mind — who adhere to his uncompromising approach to electoral politics. But if Finchem wins control of Arizona’s elections, it will be in no small part due to Bannon’s mentorship. There would be little difference between Finchem’s approach to election administration in Arizona and the way Bannon himself would run elections in one of the country’s most critical swing states.
Bannon’s show also offers conspiracy theorists like Finchem an opportunity to hone their media skills and talking points prior to being subject to mainstream scrutiny, like working the regional boxing circuit before walking into the ring at the MGM Grand. Finchem put these skills to good use last week, taking advantage of a weak interview from CBS’s Ed O’Keefe to spread his bogus ideas and lies on a national platform with zero pushback.
Two days later, Bannon celebrated the interview. One of his guests on the show that day was Mark Finchem.