"QAnon sheriff" Mark Lamb goes deep into far-right fringe in Arizona Senate race

Ultra-MAGA far-right candidates nearly all lost in Arizona last year. That's not stopping Sheriff Mark Lamb

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published April 22, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

Sheriff of Pinal County Mark Lamb speaks during Republican Senate candidate Jim Lamons town hall event at the Combs Performing Art Center in San Tan Valley, Ariz., on Thursday, July 7, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Sheriff of Pinal County Mark Lamb speaks during Republican Senate candidate Jim Lamons town hall event at the Combs Performing Art Center in San Tan Valley, Ariz., on Thursday, July 7, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Mark Lamb, the sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, is no stranger to conspiracy theories. He first became a celebrity in right-wing media by refusing to enforce Arizona's stay-at-home order during the COVID-19 pandemic, which earned him praise on Fox News and helped him build a large online following.

Now, as Lamb begins a campaign for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat-turned-independent Kyrsten Sinema, the Republican sheriff is attempting to boost his political profile by appearing on shows hosted by QAnon conspiracy theorists, according to Media Matters.

"He's basically spent years trying to build up his political profile by appearing on these fringe toxic media outlets, including QAnon," said Eric Hananoki, a senior investigative reporter at Media Matters. This is more than a matter of endorsing unpopular or extreme supporters, Hananoki continued. "QAnon supporters have a history of violence, including attacking police officers. You never want to give fuel to conspiracy theories, but especially conspiracy theories that have a violent aspect to them —that's what the concern is."

To date, Lamb has appeared on at least five QAnon-friendly shows, including the podcasts "X22 Report" and "Uncensored Abe" as well as shows hosted by John Michael Chambers and Sean Morgan, both prominent figures in the QAnon movement who have pushed a variety of conspiracy theories to their audiences.

During his appearance on "X22 Report" last January, Lamb said: "I follow the show, so this is a treat for me." That show literally features a section on its website titled "Latest From QAnon." 

In that interview, Lamb claimed that "drag shows" were "designed to break the moral compass that exists in each and every one of us, and so it's easier for them to really push that evil and corrupt agenda."

Law enforcement agencies have warned about the potential for violence by QAnon believers, and very few Republicans in elected office have engaged the movement directly, which makes Lamb a notable exception. His office did not respond to Salon's request for comment.

"When people in power believe stuff that is completely disconnected from reality, and especially when they accept conspiracist rules of 'evidence' for those beliefs, we're in trouble," said the founder of the Q Origins Project, who requested anonymity because of their work tracking the movement. Lamb is using his status as a law enforcement officer to pander to QAnon believers, who this person described as "an audience that's desperate to watch their opponents be arrested for crimes that exist only inside the conspiracists' heads."

To those familiar with Lamb's history as sheriff of Pinal County — a heavily Republican rural and suburban area south of Phoenix — it comes as no surprise that he violates political norms in an effort to appeal to far-right audiences, including appearing on a network that has engaged in overt antisemitism, according to Media Matters.

"When people in power believe stuff that is completely disconnected from reality, and especially when they accept conspiracist rules of evidence for those beliefs, we're in trouble."

Lamb emerged as a prominent figure both for rejecting pandemic restrictions and for endorsing election conspiracy theories. He has been a major figure in the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a controversial group of right-wing sheriffs who embrace the fringe belief that under the U.S. Constitution, county sheriffs have extensive power that supersedes all other federal, state or local authorities. (The word "sheriff" does not appear in the Constitution.)

CSPOA, founded by former Oath Keepers board member Richard Mack, was especially active during and after the 2020 election campaign, spreading false claims about widespread voter fraud and endorsing Donald Trump's allegations that the election had been rigged or stolen.

Lamb also helped found Protect America Now, a coalition of almost 70 sheriffs from different parts of the country who say they are working together to protect America against "an overreaching government." In published ads, the coalition described its mission as "fighting back against a liberal takeover."

In partnership with True the Vote, a right-wing group that promotes debunked voter fraud conspiracies, the coalition raised more than $100,000 to fund sheriffs' surveillance of ballot drop boxes and an anonymous hotline for tips about voter fraud ahead of the 2022 midterm election.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

  In the hothouse world of Arizona Republican politics, Lamb has built a profile painting himself as a staunch Trump supporter, even though nearly all the GOP candidates who backed Trump's election claims were defeated in 2022. As he aims for Sinema's Senate seat, which is likely to be one of the hottest races of 2024, Lamb is evidently trying to position himself as far to the right as possible. 

Hananoki of Media Matters said that Lamb was following the pattern set by gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, attorney general candidate Mark Finchem, U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters and Rep. Paul Gosar. (Only Gosar, running in a safe GOP seat, actually won last year.) "These are people who have no problem appealing to far-right constituencies like QAnon," Hananoki said.

Many candidates who cozy up to QAnon are not being "strategic or calculated or cynical", the Q Origins Project researcher said. "It reflects their actual personal beliefs, maybe not in QAnon itself, but in the whole constellation of right-wing conspiracist claims about what's going on in the world," the researcher said.

"Even if they don't believe in QAnon itself, it's clear that a lot of Republican legislators, candidates and officials believe narratives that float around right-wing conspiracist circles," the researcher said. "The idea that 'cultural Marxism' is destroying America from inside by using corporations to turn our kids trans, although it's a totally incoherent word salad, is a mainstream belief among conservatives."

Lamb has also developed powerful allies at conservative institutions much closer to the Republican mainstream, including the Claremont Institute, a Trump-aligned think tank the where he is a fellow. He once spoke at a rally organized by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a prominent anti-immigration organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group. 

"Lamb has spent a lot of years trying to give validation to toxic media outlets. There is a danger with all that, as we've seen, especially with Jan. 6," Hananoki said.

There's an obvious irony to Lamb expressing sympathy for the Jan. 6 rioters, Hananoki observed. "It's sort of interesting, him being a law enforcement officer. He gives a pass to people who actually commit crimes, in this case on Jan. 6, but he's still running a campaign on law and order. It's an unusual contrast with his media appearances and also with his public rhetoric."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

MORE FROM Areeba Shah

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Arizona Conspiracy Theory Elections Far-right Mark Lamb Qanon Reporting