Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s past ties to far-left groups are resurfacing as she campaigns to win Arizona’s Senate race against her Republican opponent, Rep. Martha McSally. Sinema is running on her Congressional record as a hawk on military spending and defense, proclaiming in an ad she would do “whatever it takes” to keep America safe and boasting that she fought for “billions for military spending.”
But the Democratic congresswoman also has an extensive past as a progressive activist. Her events and associations in opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and her early years as a Democratic lawmaker in Arizona – frequently brought her into contact with the left-wing fringe, a KFile review finds.
Sinema, with her nearly 14-year legislative history, six as a state representative, one as a state senator, and almost six years as a member of Congress wants to run on her record in the House of Representatives. But Republican groups and her opponent have sought to make her judgment an issue, highlighting her liberal activism and anti-war work in ads.
While McSally has pointed to Sinema’s opposition to Iraq, public opinion has shifted dramatically against the US intervention in the years since the war began. And even Sinema’s opposition to Afghanistan, far outside the mainstream at the time, might not be a liability as the war continues into its 17th year. Still, it is a contrast to the more recent views she has espoused since joining Congress. The race between the two women is tight with CNN ranking it a toss-up, the most competitive designation.
Opposition to the war
Sinema, a former Green Party spokeswoman in Arizona who at the age of 25 in 2001 and 2002 ran and lost races for local office as an independent. She had moved to Arizona in 1995 and worked as a social worker.
When George W. Bush was elected president, Sinema quickly began to make a name for herself in the state with left-wing activism. In the run-up to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sinema, then a law student at Arizona State University, was a frequent organizer of anti-war rallies, organizing 15 by the start of the Iraq War.
Her biggest anti-war event was a February 15, 2003, protest in Patriot’s Square Park in Phoenix. Flyers, as first reported by CNN’s KFile, distributed by an anti-war group led by Sinema depicted a US soldier as a menacing skeleton inflicting “U.S. terror” in Iraq and the Middle East.
In her activism for that event, Sinema was willing to work with all groups, including a local anarchist group that helped organize the rally. Appearing on the radio show of local libertarian activist Ernest Hancock a day before the event, Sinema said, “Libertarians, Democrats, Republicans, Greens, independents, anarchists, socialists, communists, whoever wants to come. They’re all welcome.”
Later, Sinema and Hancock discussed their political views, with Hancock taking up the libertarian argument against intervention and raising as a hypothetical against Sinema’s worldview if she would oppose him joining the Taliban army.
“Now you would say, maybe we do owe something to the world, as long as it’s nice and sweet and peaceful and what you want to do,” Hancock said to Sinema on his show, “Declare Your Independence with Ernest Hancock.”
“Well it’s not so much a candy cane kind of theory as you’re making it stand out,” Sinema responded. “But I do think that those of us who are privileged to have more do owe something to others.”
“By force?” Hancock asked. “By me, as an individual, if I want to go fight in the Taliban army, I go over there and I’m fighting for the Taliban. I’m saying that’s a personal decision…”
“Fine,” Sinema interjected, “I don’t care if you want to do that, go ahead.”
Hancock then listed off other hypotheticals, including joining Britain’s Royal Air Force in World War II to fight the Germans bombing London, saying he has no problems with what individuals choose to do with their money, as long as its not by government force. Sinema responded by saying, “When you say we owe something to the world, my definition of owing something to the world does not involve war and destruction.”
Sinema then said she’d like to get back on topic to her opposition to the Iraq War.
“I don’t want to debate any kind of, I don’t know, fiscal opportunities with you,” Sinema said. “I’m interested in talking about the war. Specifically I’m interested in talking about opposition to the war that’s happening tomorrow.”
Helen Hare, a spokeswoman for the Sinema campaign, said her comment on Hancock’s program was “clearly offhand and an effort to get back on the topic of why she opposed the war.”
Ties to the far-left
Sinema’s appearance on Hancock’s radio program is just one of many she made on the Arizona airwaves during the 2000s, as her success as an activist led to her being elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in the 2004 election.
In 2005 and 2006, Sinema hosted a radio show on Air America Phoenix, Truth to Power Hour, with fellow progressive activist Jeff Farias. Both Sinema and Farias were opposed to the Iraq War, serving as co-master of ceremonies for an October 2006 anti-Iraq War rally, according to numerous fliers for the event posted online. They both also spoke at a March 2008 rally on the fifth anniversary of the launching of the war in Iraq and Farias would moderate a panel on which Sinema appeared in 2010 on the war in Afghanistan.
There is no audio available online of shows Sinema co-hosted with Farias. However, there is audio available of some episodes from after Sinema departed. Several episodes that aired in 2006 and 2007, months after Sinema left the program, feature Farias discussing 9/11 conspiracy theories, including promoting the 9/11 truth film “Loose Change,” which sets forth an unfounded theory alleging US government involvement in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
CNN’s KFile found no evidence that Farias promoted those theories when Sinema was a co-host or that Sinema endorsed such theories at any time. In a phone interview with CNN’s KFile, Farias said that his show with Sinema mostly revolved around local issues, although callers sometimes brought up national ones.
While Farias said that he and Sinema never discussed 9/11 on or off the air, Sinema’s continued association with him long after he became prominent in the 9/11 truth movement shows how her left-wing activism brought her into contact with the those on the left who held fringe views during her political rise.
Farias said Sinema left the program after the station that broadcast it was sold because she was too busy to resume as co-host by the time the show was ready to be aired on a new station.
Farias, who went on in February 2007 to serve as the master of ceremonies at a 9/11 truther conference in Arizona, continued to host a radio program. On his personal website launched in March 2007, he described “9/11 truth” as a topic that would be discussed frequently on his show, along with the issues of impeaching President George W. Bush, immigration, and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Archived web pages online show that Sinema appeared on Farias’ various radio programs at least five times since they stopped doing the “Truth to Power Hour” together. A review by CNN’s KFile found appearances listed in August 2012, April 2010, twice in July 2009, and in 2008. The audio of the programs is not archived online.
Hare, the campaign spokeswoman, said Sinema was unaware of Farias’ views at the time.
“The implications here are misleading, ridiculous, and yet another example of the lies and distortions that the McSally campaign and her Washington allies are using to try to hide McSally’s record of voting to hurt Arizonans on the issues they actually care about, like protections for pre-existing conditions,” Hare said in a statement.
Farias told CNN he and Sinema are still friendly but no longer in contact. He said the last time he saw her was a few years ago during a trip to Washington, DC.
In January 2015, he posted a photo of himself and Sinema co-hosting their show in September 2005, noting in a comment, “saw the Congresswoman and met staff at her new digs on Wednesday!”
As Sinema has made the jump to national politics, she has said that her views on the use of military force have shifted. In 2012, she told The Hill newspaper her views had evolved over the years. Sinema said she now favors aggressive diplomacy with military intervention as a last resort. She said she would have still opposed the war in Iraq, but supported the war in Afghanistan.
Since joining Congress, Sinema has become consistently more hawkish. She voted against approving the Iran deal and, this past April, backed President Donald Trump’s decision to strike Syria. In 2015, she voted with Republicans to stop admitting Syrian and Iraqi refugees until the vetting process was strengthened.
Farias told CNN’s KFile that he doesn’t think Sinema has abandoned any of her core principles in her shift to the center, saying she had simply adjusted to the necessities of being an elected official in a state with a more moderate Democratic party.
“I think she learned how to play politics,” he said.