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Azinger criticized for antifa, Biden election comments

PARKERSBURG — A state senator from Wood County is drawing criticism for his attendance at a rally in support of President Donald Trump and comments blaming antifa for the violence that followed.

The Wood County Democratic Executive Committee issued a press release this week calling for the resignation of Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, based on his recent statements and presence at the rally.

“Sen. Azinger’s actions show a great disrespect to the Constitution, our nation’s Capitol and our country,” county Democratic Chairwoman Judith Stephens said in the release. “Sen. Azinger’s presence during the riot and continued support for those that stormed the Capitol Building is a complete dereliction of his duties as a senator. … The West Virginia Republican Party should immediately ask for his resignation.”

Azinger fired back in an emailed response.

“The fascistic and Marxist call from the Wood County Democrat Party for my resignation is laughable – I’ll resign when cows fly,” he said. “November’s elections prove that West Virginians are overwhelmingly and unabashedly lovers of President Trump. So am I.”

Azinger said he walked to the Capitol on Jan. 6 but was at the “back edge” of the group there.

Asked to clarify the remark about Azinger’s “presence during the riot,” Stephens said “just the fact that he was there for … the march shows his support.”

In an interview last week with The Parkersburg News and Sentinel, Azinger said he attended the Save America March on Jan. 6 and walked toward the Capitol afterward. Trump spoke at the rally and urged supporters to march to the Capitol and fight to prevent the election from being stolen.

Asked about the storming of the Capitol, Azinger said, “the people that are responsible for that were antifa.”

The Associated Press reported that Steven D’Antuono, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, said investigators had seen “no indication” of antifa activists disguised as Trump supporters at the riot. A review by the AP of social media posts, voter registrations, court files and other public records for more than 120 people either facing criminal charges related to the unrest or who were later identified through photographs and videos determined the group overwhelmingly consisted of longtime Trump supporters.

Azinger on Monday cited a litany of reasons he believes “Antifa was responsible for some (if not more) of the chaos and destruction of the U.S. Capitol,” including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., saying so on the House floor, statements from a White House source and items in the New York Post and Washington Times.

“We know that antifa was in the area because they pounded on the door of Sen. Josh Hawley’s (house in Virginia) while his wife was home with their baby,” Azinger said.

The Associated Press reported Hawley tweeted that “antifa scumbags” threatened his wife and daughter on Jan. 4 while he was in Missouri. A group called Shutdown DC posted a nearly hour-long video showing about a dozen protesters arriving at Hawley’s home, chanting and shouting through a megaphone, walking up to the doorstep, waving signs and writing on the sidewalk with chalk in front of Hawley’s Vienna, Va., home. A Town of Vienna Police officer said the group left after they were told they were violating multiple laws, according to the AP report.

Azinger said video of the Jan. 6 riot showed “antifa-like dress and tactics.

“This is how antifa works,” he said. “If it quacks like a duck…”

In the Democratic committee release, Stephens said, “Azinger knows this claim (about antifa) is patently false, as he was at the Capitol that day, participating in the events that led up to the assault on our Capitol.”

The release notes recently resigned state Delegate Derrick Evans, R-Wayne, was among those arrested after he recorded himself on his cell phone inside the Capitol. It says Azinger has supported him.

In his interview with the News and Sentinel on Friday, Azinger said he thought Evans “deserves to tell his side” of the story, echoing comments made to another local outlet.

Newly elected state Delegate Roger Conley, the chairman of the Wood County Republican Executive Committee, said Monday that he and the majority of Republicans in the county, state and country “condemn the assault on our Capitol in the strongest possible terms.”

But “we all have the right to peaceful protest. Sen. Azinger also has that right,” he said. “The senator being in Washington to support our president and his party in no way makes him a participant in the alleged criminal activity at the Capitol.”

Asked about Azinger’s remarks on antifa being responsible for the riot, Conley said he believes “there is evidence of outside involvement.”

“The incident of Jan. 6 is still under investigation, and I believe the results of that investigation will (bear) that out,” he said.

Also on Monday, Azinger was labeled by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee as one of 16 Republican lawmakers from multiple states who were “involved in the riots in Washington.”

“Every elected official who betrayed our democracy is unfit to represent their communities,” DLCC President Jessica Post said in a news release.

Asked to specify what the release meant by Azinger’s involvement, DLCC press secretary Christina Polizzi said, “It’s our purview that any elected official who traveled to these riots was attending an event whose purpose was to undermine the integrity of our elections.”

Azinger dismissed this as “the Dem Party trying to stir the pot.”

In an interview on a statewide radio program Monday, Azinger repeated claims that the election was stolen from Trump, prompting a rebuke from the West Virginia Democratic Party.

“It is extremely concerning that Sen. Azinger is continuing the false and inflammatory rhetoric that led to last week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol,” West Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore said in an emailed release. “Every Republican official, including Sen. Azinger, who continues to double down on the lies about the election should acknowledge how their words and actions have led to deadly violence.”

Azinger responded by saying Biafore should resign her post.

“Biafore is an absurdity and should step down from that party she seems intent on destroying with these Stalinist accusations,” he said. “What did she have to say when antifa was burning down half of America?” he added, an apparent reference to rioting among protests over racial injustice in 2020.

Multiple court filings challenging the election results have been dismissed by judges around the country, and Attorney General William Barr has said there was no sign of widespread fraud.

UPDATE: The West Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus issued a press release Monday evening taking issue with Azinger’s description of the Jan. 6 events in the radio interview. He described the “sight at the Capitol” as “awe-inspiring … patriotic and peaceful,” while the statement from the caucus called it “an attempted insurrection in which a police officer was killed in the line of duty.”

Azinger previously said he didn’t get close enough to the Capitol to see what was going on inside.

“We call on all of our Senate colleagues, including Sen. Azinger,to condemn the violence, to stop flaming the fires of division, to speak with truth, and to support our nation’s cherished tradition of the peaceful transfer of power,” the Democratic caucus release said.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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