eli crane Eli Crane, candidate for the Arizona 2nd Congressional district seat, shakes hands outside after speaking to the Prescott Valley Republican Women meeting in Prescott.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The Trump-endorsed candidate for Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District has rejected the extremist label while attacking his opponent with conspiracies and half-truths.

Eli Crane, an Arizona congressional candidate, claims his opponents are falsely smearing him as a right-wing “extremist.” But in multiple interviews, he has openly embraced principles that are core components of far-right or even fascist ideology.

Crane, a Trump-endorsed Republican who casts himself as a political outsider, says his experience as a small business owner and member of the military, including three years overseas as a Navy Seal, gives him the sensibilities required to protect small business and family values. 

He has characterized the state of the US-Mexico border as an “invasion.” He also lists election integrity as one of his top priorities, which is based on the false idea that the 2020 election was rigged by Democrats.

Support for Nationalism

Some ads from the campaign of his opponent, incumbent Rep. Tom O’Halleran, have focused on these extreme tendencies. Crane has claimed that the critiques of him go too far, and baselessly smear him as a fascist.

“You know, they’re trying to link me with, you know, being an extremist, too radical for Arizona and even a white supremacist and a Nazi. And it’s just straight garbage. I don’t know about you. I don’t believe that,” Crane said in an interview on The Jeff Oravits Show. “The people of Arizona, I don’t believe that the people of this country believe this nonsense anymore. You can only you can only be the boy that cried wolf crying, you know, white supremacist so many times before people start to wake up and realize that that’s all they can do, because they can’t talk about their successes.”

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While Crane objects to this characterization, fascism-linked ideas are, in fact, embedded in his campaign messaging. In a Aug. 25 interview on The Seth Leibsohn Show on 960 The Patriot radio in Phoenix, he said that he is sympathetic to nationalism: “This fight is, you know, it’s starting to shift a little bit from Democrat versus Republican, you know, to globalists versus nationalists, people that believe that we should be able to have national sovereignty, and people that, you know, don’t want any country to have borders.” 

Breaking Down the Labels

In his 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism,” Umberto Eco, an Italian philosopher, and commentator who lived under Benito Mussolini’s regime, outlined fourteen common threads found in fascist ideology. Many of Eco’s ideas are reflected in Crane’s key talking points. In a September interview, Crane discussed his issues with the US education system.

“You know, while their kids were doing school in home. [Parents] got to see a lot of this critical race theory, this cultural Marxism crap that’s being taught to our kids,” Crane said. “And they were, it woke a lot of mama bears up, and it woke a lot of Arizonans and a lot of Americans up.” 

Cultural Marxism refers to the idea of a conspiratorial attempt to undermine western culture and traditional values from within by advocating for multiculturalism, tolerance, and sexual freedom. In this theory, the perpetrators are doing this in an attempt to reorder society based on Marxist ideology. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the theory has deeply antisemitic roots: in its original form, it alleged that a small group of Jewish philosophers, after fleeing Germany for America in the 1930s, began to target American society in this way through higher education.

A Rise in Divisive Rhetoric

Within the past few years alone, cultural Marxism has been touted by politicians such as Eli Crane and Ron Paul, to conservative ideologues like Jordan Peterson, to extremists like Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway during a 2011 mass shooting after repeatedly invoking the idea in his political manifesto.

Moreover, Crane’s ire for “cultural Marxism” in modern education plays into one of Eco’s fourteen points: “the rejection of modernism,” which concerns the idea that society has degenerated from traditional morals into depravity. 

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Later in the Sept. 21 interview, Crane said: “One of the quotes I like to come back to when I’m feeling down about what I see going on is ‘Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. Weak men create hard times.’ And I believe we’re living right between the third and the fourth stanza of that, of that quote. And it’s we’ve got a bunch of weak men and women who are creating hard times for everybody. But if you study that, if you study that saying that I just gave you, it appears to be cyclical and hard times do create strong men.” 

An ‘Us Versus Them’ Mentality

The quote is commonly attributed to a 2016 post-apocalyptic novel by G. Michael Hopf, but has gained a life of its own, with memes using the quote being popularized over the past few years. As Crane uses it, the quote disparages the modern liberal elite as “weak” and doomed to failure, as well as ultimately responsible for economic hardship, political turmoil, and various other problems. 

In turn, it lionizes Crane and other “America First” conservatives as “strong” and destined to bring about a golden age. This again echoes one of Eco’s points: “contempt for the weak.” 

Fiction Mingled With Fact

Another key point from Eco’s essay is “obsession with a plot,” referring to belief in a nefarious conspiracy attacking followers and their way of life. Crane does believe there is an intentional conspiracy to undermine America and instate an authoritarian socialist government. He discussed this idea during an interview in May.

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“Having a wide open border during a pandemic. I don’t know about you, Jeff, but I don’t believe that they’re that stupid. Okay? I believe that they didn’t care or there’s an agenda there,” Crane said. “But it’s not, ‘oh, God, these guys are just morons. Why? Why would anybody do that?’” Crane said. “And so, and let me go a little bit further and say, the reason I believe that they’re trying to tank it or destroy it is because that way they can rebuild it into what they always wanted in the first place. And I do believe they want socialism. I do believe they want massive government control.” 

But Crane’s conclusion is based on an inaccurate telling of how the US handled border travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. US borders were tightly restricted during the height of the pandemic, with passage to Mexico and Canada being limited to essential travel only in March 2020. Ports of entry operated under a limited capacity for nearly two years, when the Texas Tribune reported that the US reopened its border with Mexico to vaccinated travelers in Nov. 2021. 

Crane’s campaign did not respond to an email requesting comment. This article will be updated with any response received.

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