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No, Kelli Ward doesn’t believe in the ‘chemtrail’ conspiracy theory

The Senate Leadership Fund resurrects the false claim that former Arizona state senator Kelli Ward believes in the chemtrail conspiracy. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)
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“One year ago Arizona Republicans rejected chemtrail Kelli Ward. Remember why? Ward wasted your tax dollars for a town hall on chemtrail conspiracy theories and sponsoring chemtrail legislation. ‘I’m open. I introduce legislation for constituents all the time.’ About another chemtrail town hall, ‘I’d do it again.’ ”

—— Narration in Senate Leadership Fund ad attacking Arizona GOP Senate hopeful Kelli Ward, Aug. 22, 2017

In a new ad attacking Kelli Ward, the Senate Leadership Fund takes aim at a 2014 town hall that Ward hosted as a state senator as well as several recent statements she made about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Ward lost a hard-fought primary to McCain in 2016, but now she is forging a primary challenge against Arizona’s other Republican senator — Jeff Flake. She has closely aligned herself with President Trump. And the president is no fan of Flake’s. Even this early in primary season, he has come close endorsing to Ward.

Now the Senate Leadership Fund — aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — is stepping up to protect the sitting senator. The ad begins by asking Arizona Republicans to remember when “Ward wasted your tax dollars for a town hall on chemtrail conspiracy theories and sponsoring chemtrail legislation.” Voters may not need much reminding because McCain attacked her over the same issue.

Did Ward set up a town hall on “chemtrail” conspiracy theories and was she open to sponsoring legislation about the conspiracy as an Arizona state senator?

The Facts

“Chemtrails” is shorthand for the conspiracy theory that governments or other parties add chemicals to the atmosphere through aircraft, supposedly for evil intent ranging from sterilization to mind control. The theory has been widely debunked, in part because an effort of this size would require the cooperation of tens of thousands of people — who then would keep it all a secret.

The town hall that the ad says was on “chemtrail conspiracy theories” happened on June 25, 2014. In a Facebook post, Ward, then a state senator, billed the event as an opportunity to meet with representatives from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and “discuss how the Department works to assure safe air and water and to address community concerns about chemtrails.”

She aimed to hear out her constituents and refute what she called “relentless” concerns. While she had yet to come out with a stance of her own, she said she didn’t want to “ignore what many people in her district were concerned about” and hoped the meeting would be “informational and educational.”

The ad is correct that the town hall did largely focus on chemtrails. At the time, the Arizona Republic reported “the audience was focused on so-called ‘chemtrails’ and their effect on plant and human life,” not the other environmental issues billed as part of the event.

However, the ad’s claim that Ward “wasted your tax dollars” for this town hall appears to be a stretch. The two environmental staffers who Ward had arranged to speak are paid with taxpayer dollars. But public outreach is part of their normal duties. They may have received some kind of standard reimbursement for travel, but no significant amount of money appears to have been spent. Furthermore, the town hall was held at the Board of Supervisors Auditorium in Kingman. The building is publicly owned and maintained with taxpayer funds. Public meetings, like the one Ward hosted, are frequently hosted in the building.

When a resident raised the possibility of introducing chemtrails legislation, Ward did say she was “open,” and that she “introduces legislation for constituents all the time,” as the ad claims. However, the ad uses her statement in a misleading way. She is clear that passing such legislation would be difficult unless “you get away from the chemtrail issue.” Here’s Ward’s full answer:

“I don’t know. I’ll just say I don’t know. If there were a way, I mean, I’m open. I introduce legislation for constituents all the time. It’s not my legislation. A lot of times I’m getting things from people. So, if it’s something that can be done in Arizona statute, I’m always willing to entertain that. With this particular issue, I think it is going to be difficult because unless you get away from the chemtrail issue that you all are so passionate about, talking about our environmental quality I think can go farther in terms of making sure that there aren’t any public health issues that are out there with our water, our soil, or our air.”

During the two-hour event, Ward never specifically stated her own beliefs. She did, however, note there was more concern on the issue in her district than other western districts and that she had not seen evidence of the effects people were concerned about from existing environmental testing. Ward also promised bring more experts who would be able to answer the group’s questions.

The ad’s narrator then questions then whether Ward would host another “chemtrail town hall.” The ad follows this with a clip of Ward answering saying “I’d do it again.” But in her full statement, she explains:

“I would do it again because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re elected. You’re supposed to listen to the people and you’re supposed to get them the information that they need to feel confident that they live in a safe environment.”

In the context of her earlier statements about “relentless” constituent concern, this charge hardly seems damning.

Still, Ward hasn’t always been clear on the issue. She did not state a personal position at the town hall. Then, six months later, while she was deciding whether to run against McCain, she told the Arizona Republic she “didn’t really have any opinions about ‘chemtrails’ one way or the other.” But less than a month later, she took a firm stand on the issue both in an interview with Politico and on Twitter saying, “I don’t believe in that.”

Since then, Ward has not shifted from this position. Her current campaign reaffirmed that Ward “doesn’t believe in such things.”

The Senate Leadership Fund claims that Ward’s quotes from the town hall were shortened to save time, noting that the ad used ellipses on screen to indicate that there was more said on either side of the quote that was used. The group also says Ward’s initial response to the chemtrail conspiracy was hardly a stern rebuke.

The Pinocchio Test

This is a classic case of a clip job in a political ad that leaves out a lot of context. The attack ad says that Ward is “crazy” and has her “head in the clouds” because she hosted a town hall on chemtrails and said she would do it again. The ad even tries to pin a label on her — “Chemtrail Kelli Ward.”

But Ward never sponsored chemtrail legislation, and her current campaign reiterated that she “certainly doesn’t believe” in the chemtrail theory. She may have been a bit slow to call out a debunked conspiracy theory for fear of offending constituents. But once Ward made a definitive statement about her beliefs on “chemtrails,” she hasn’t wavered from it.

In any case, it is clear that the town hall she hosted was intended to address pervasive constituent concerns, which is certainly appropriate for a lawmaker. We award Three Pinocchios.

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Three Pinocchios
"One year ago Arizona Republicans rejected chemtrail Kelli Ward. Remember why? Ward wasted your tax dollars for a town hall on chemtrail conspiracy theories and sponsoring chemtrail legislation. ’I’m open. I introduce legislation for constituents all the time.’ About another chemtrail town hall, ’I’d do it again.’"
In a political ad
Tuesday, August 22, 2017