WASHINGTON – Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, refused to back down Tuesday from his weekend tweet of a violent cartoon that appeared to show him and other House conservatives attacking President Joe Biden and killing a liberal House Democrat.
The 90-second video was flagged by Twitter for violating its rules against “hateful content” and it sparked calls from House Democratic leaders and others for an investigation of Gosar and what one called his “sick behavior.”
Gosar tweeted a response Tuesday telling critics, “It’s a cartoon. Relax.”
In a lengthy response on his congressional office website, Gosar later defended the video as his statement on the fight by conservatives against immigration provisions in president’s Build Back Better plan, which is expected to come up for a vote next week.
“I do not espouse violence or harm towards any Member of Congress or Mr. Biden,” the statement said, adding that the clip “depicts the symbolic nature of a battle between lawful and unlawful policies and in no way intended to be a targeted attack against Representative (Alexandria Ocasio-)Cortez or Mr. Biden.”
The tweet had been taken down entirely by late Tuesday, but it was not immediately clear if that was done by Gosar or by Twitter. It had received more than 3 million views before it was taken down.
The tweet, which was posted Sunday night, was a doctored sequence from “Attack on Titan,” a Japanese anime show in which humans have to defend themselves against giants who destroy their cities and kill or eat the residents.
In Gosar’s version, the faces of Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Biden have been superimposed on the titans. They are attacked by sword-wielding soldiers that have had the faces of Gosar and fellow Freedom Caucus members Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., added, along with what appears to be at least one other House member who could not be identified.
The Gosar character slices the back of the Ocasio-Cortez character’s neck, killing her, and is shown in a later scene swinging toward Biden and brandishing swords before the scene stops.
The video is intercut with scenes of Border Patrol agents and immigrants crossing the border in shots that have what looks like blood splattered across them, followed by screens with the words “murder,” “drugs,” “gangs” and “trafficking,” among others.
Ocasio-Cortez responded in a tweet Monday night that did not name Gosar, but said a “creepy member … shared a fantasy video of him killing me. And he’ll face no consequences bc @GOPLeader cheers him on with excuses,” she said, referring to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. – whose image appears briefly in the video, along with Vice President Kamala Harris and other prominent Democrats – also called on McCarthy to “join in condemning this horrific video and call on the Ethics Committee and law enforcement to investigate.”
“Threats of violence against Members of Congress and the President of the United States must not be tolerated,” Pelosi added.
But McCarthy’s office did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday on the Gosar tweet, and a spokesperson for the House Ethics Committee said the office would have no comment.
A White House spokesperson said Tuesday that there is “absolutely no place for … violence of any sort in this political system,” but that the administration planned to leave it to Twitter to determine how to handle the tweet.
For at least part of the day Tuesday, the video was still available for viewing on Twitter, but with a warning. The social media site flagged the tweet as having “violated the Twitter Rules about hateful conduct.” But the tweet was not taken down immediately because it “may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”
Gosar – who posted the tweet under the line “Any anime fans out there?” – later tweeted that the “creativity of my team is off the hook,” with a link to the video.
It is not the first time Gosar has clashed with his colleagues. He helped drum up support for the Jan. 6 election rally that later turned into an attack on the Capitol, and has defended people arrested in that riot as “political prisoners” and martyrs. Critics have tied him to white supremacist groups, with Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., calling him a “white supremacist clown” who should be expelled from Congress.
Gosar’s office did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
But critics descended on Gosar, a six-term House member. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called it a “disgusting video from a pathetic man” and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., called Gosar’s conduct “grotesque, dangerous and utterly disgraceful.” Gosar’s own sister, Jennifer, told CNN that her brother is “a sociopath” who has been emboldened because he is not held accountable for his actions.
Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, joined a chorus of congressional Democrats who said Gosar’s “despicable behavior should have no place in our country, let alone in Congress.”
“In any other workplace, Rep. Gosar would already have been fired,” Gallego tweeted. “He should be stripped of his committee assignments and censured by the House.”
But Ocasio-Cortez did not appear hopeful that would happen. She tweeted a string of previous threats from Republican members of Congress that she said have ended with no action taken against the member.
“Remember when (Marjorie Taylor) Greene ran after me a few months ago screaming and reaching. Remember when she stalked my office the 1st time w/ insurrectionists & people locked inside,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Monday. “All at my job and nothing ever happens.”