Sen. David Farnsworth this week accused Sen. Kate Brophy McGee of making a veiled threat on his life, prompting detectives from the state’s counter-terrorism task force to show up at her Senate office.
Farnsworth, R-Mesa, told the Arizona Department of Public Safety he felt threatened by Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, during a meeting the two had earlier this week.
Brophy McGee denied making threats and said she welcomed an investigation because she has been concerned for her own safety.
The conflict stems from Farnsworth looking into a possible link between missing children in the state’s foster care system and sex trafficking, he said.
The two Republican senators often don’t see eye-to-eye politically, but both described having a good working relationship that become strained over the past several months as Farnsworth met with a group of critics of the Arizona Department of Child Safety.
Farnsworth’s meetings, held every other week in the Senate’s minority caucus room, included parents with children in state custody and guests from the AZ DCS Oversight Group, which has accused DCS of direct involvement in child trafficking.
Farnsworth said tensions between the two senators reached a boiling point earlier this week, when Brophy McGee told him to “lose the entourage” of conspiracy theorists and “crazy parents” whose children were taken by DCS.
“I’m not asking you to stop. I’m telling you to stop. Stop or my husband will stop you,” Farnsworth recalled Brophy McGee telling him in a meeting on Tuesday. Two Senate employees were present during that conversation.
After their meeting, Farnsworth wrote about the alleged threat in his journal and called the police the next day. He invited reporters from the Arizona Capitol Times to sit in on his interview with DPS officers at his office on Thursday. The officers insisted that the media not be present during the interview.
“The police officer asked me if I felt threatened, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s pretty much all I’ve thought about for the last 24 hours. So, I guess I did feel threatened,’” he said after meeting with police. “Is the threat real? I don’t know. That’s what I tried to determine by asking her. She certainly didn’t make me feel any better. She didn’t back away.”
Brophy McGee said she was “flabbergasted” when detectives contacted her, not only because she did she not threaten Farnsworth but also she has been made to feel unsafe by some of the people he’s been meeting with.
She has interacted with them in her role on legislative committees and governor-appointed task forces that oversee DCS, and described needing help from Senate security to get back to her office as they followed her out of meetings.
“These people are unbalanced, and I kept telling Senator Farnsworth that and he went to them and told them I said they’re unbalanced,” she said. “It’s like ‘thank you, the target on my back just got bigger,’ and then he feels threatened? Welcome to my world.”
The reference to her husband was not a threat, Brophy McGee said, but an attempt to make Farnsworth understand that her concerns about her safety weren’t overblown.
“I was trying to pierce through his view of women by saying, ‘I have talked to my husband about this. My husband is very concerned. He said to tell you that he is very concerned and that you would understand what that meant,’ words to that effect,” Brophy McGee said. “In other words, it’s not me being a fluffhead saying this is a problem. It’s a problem.”
People who attended Farnsworth’s discussions also shared audio of phone conversations with the right-wing Daily Caller for an article that claims Brophy McGee is part of a state conspiracy to snatch kids for federal funds and distributed a poster to lawmakers claiming court employees are dangerous criminals.
On social media, they claim that DCS caseworkers and family court judges are involved in trafficking children and paint a picture of a vast coverup involving DCS employees, lawmakers, judges, Gov. Doug Ducey and former Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
Farnsworth stressed that he doesn’t personally believe anyone at DCS is selling children or facilitating trafficking, but he does believe some of the roughly 550 children who DCS lists as “missing,” “runaways” or “no ID placement” have been kidnapped.
“When I first heard about this, I believed that children from Arizona (custody) were ending up in sex trafficking,” he said. “Now, after the research I’ve done, I’m confident of it. But I can’t prove it.”
State laws, including one that allows DCS to close files on runaways after six months of looking for them, prove that the state can be doing more to protect children in state custody from sex trafficking, he said. And the state should be finding ways to remove fewer children from their homes and return more who have been taken into custody to their homes, he said.
“The safeguards in place to protect our children are not enough,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”
He acknowledged that talking about a worldwide sex trafficking ring may remind outside observers of something like the debunked “Pizzagate” conspiracy that led a North Carolina man to shoot into a D.C. pizza shop because he believed Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager were engaged in a sex trafficking ring from the pizzeria’s basement.
Farnsworth has long been interested in conspiracy theories, especially those with links to government corruption. His transition from a passive observer of politics to a lawmaker started with Gov. Evan Mecham’s impeachment and an afternoon spent in a Mesa library reading a copy of The Arizona Project — the series of articles about organized crime and government corruption in the state written by investigative reporters from around the country in the wake of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles’ murder.
A bound copy of The Arizona Project now sits in his top desk drawer. This year, Farnsworth aired the 1939 Jimmy Stewart film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” at the Capitol to draw attention to the “swamp creatures” in suits and ties he believes roam the Arizona Capitol.
“Corruption is what got me involved,” he said. “I wanted to root it out. Here I am, termed out, I have one session left and I finally find something that wow, this is worth fighting for.”
Yellow Sheet editor Hank Stephenson contributed to this report