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Rep. Paul Gosar spoke Friday night at a Florida event organized by a white nationalist.
To make the appearance at the far-right AFPAC, an extremist alternative to the annual CPAC gathering of conservatives, Gosar, R-Ariz., had to skip voting in person on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that passed the House early Saturday. He had notified the House in writing that he couldn't be physically present in Congress because of the ongoing pandemic.
AFPAC stands for the America First Political Action Committee and was put together by Nick Fuentes, an anti-immigration conservative who attended the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville and last year was banned from YouTube for repeatedly violating its rules against hate speech.
On Saturday, Gosar made an appearance at the rival CPAC, also staged in Florida this year, where he seemed to make a reference to AFPAC and tried to distance himself from racists.
"I denounce, when we talk about white racism, that’s not appropriate," Gosar said during a panel discussion. "I believe in a strong immigration system, but a legal immigration system."
Social media on Friday night made little mention about what Gosar said in his remarks to AFPAC, but its the group's supporters — many using the symbols of white supremacists — were delighted that a sitting member of Congress had helped overshadow the more-traditional Conservative Political Action Conference.
At AFPAC, Gosar spoke after another guest, former Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, whose congressional career ended after he was stripped of his committee duties for questioning why "white supremacist" was considered an offensive term.
ABC News reported that Fuentes, the organizer, spoke after Gosar and told attendees that if the U.S. "loses its white demographic core, then this is not America anymore."
The Daily Beast said Fuentes said, "White people are done being bullied" and praised the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot as "awesome."
At the same time on Capitol Hill, House lawmakers were debating and voting on a massive coronavirus aid package.
Using the proxy voting process he once derided, Gosar designated Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., to cast his congressional votes, citing “the ongoing public health emergency.”
As Herrell served as his proxy in a series of votes that stretched into early Saturday in Washington, Gosar was seen on social media speaking at AFPAC.
Gosar's office did not respond to a request for information early Friday about Gosar’s health or why the year-old coronavirus pandemic has only recently become a problem for him.
Friday's proxy letter was Gosar's third since Jan. 21.
In his letter Friday authorizing his vote by proxy, Gosar said, "I continue to be unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency."
Gosar wasn’t the only Republican to sidestep in-person voting in the House. Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., were among those who also filed for proxy voting and were scheduled to take part in CPAC events. They, too, cited the ongoing health emergency for their absence in Congress.
In Gosar’s case, proxy voting isn’t a new move.
Gosar notified the House clerk on Jan. 21 that he had designated a proxy member to cast his votes. He renewed his need for a proxy on Feb. 3 and again on Friday.
It is a notable change for Gosar, who has previously derided those who didn’t vote in person.
On Feb. 2, Gosar deleted a tweet ripping proxy voting that he posted 35 weeks earlier, according to ProPublica’s database of deleted tweets from politicians.
“Pelosi's 'proxy voting’ scheme is shameful and unconstitutional,” Gosar tweeted at the time, sneering at Democrats who “didn’t show up for work this week. Yet they still got paid by taxpayers.”
Always a lightning rod for controversy, Gosar has drawn even more attention for his fringe views since the 2020 election.
For months, Gosar was a national leader among members of Congress exhorting his supporters to "Stop the Steal" in hopes of averting then-President Donald Trump's election loss to President Joe Biden.
He urged people to attend the Jan. 6 rallies in Washington that later turned into a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol that left five dead, including a police officer, and 140 other officers injured.
The mob's siege of the Capitol interrupted Gosar as he was arguing to the House to set his state's election results.
Democrats in Arizona have since called for him, and other Republicans, including Biggs, to be investigated for inciting an insurrection.
Three of Gosar's nine siblings have since urged Gosar's leading campaign contributors to no longer fund his election runs.
Follow Ronald J. Hansen on Twitter @ronaldjhansen.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: GOP Rep. Paul Gosar talks at white nationalist event ahead of CPAC