A new report identified 875 state legislators nationwide who have joined at least one far-right Facebook group. The lawmakers, who are almost all Republicans, account for nearly 22% of all GOP legislators in America. Photo by Stephanie Keith | Getty Images
More than 1 in 5 Republican state lawmakers across the country have joined at least one far-right Facebook group, according to a new report. In Arizona, 12 have done so — about 25% of the state’s GOP legislators.
Together the lawmakers sponsored 963 bills during the most recent legislative sessions, said the group that wrote the report, which describes the far-right efforts as anti-human rights.
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The Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a think tank that defends democracy and human rights, identified 875 lawmakers who have joined at least one of 789 Facebook groups, including white nationalist groups, groups tied to QAnon, groups that spout conspiracy theories about COVID-19, and others that promote former president Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that voter fraud cost him the 2020 election.
The institute’s report, titled Breaching the Mainstream, lists all of the legislators identified as being part of far-right Facebook groups and detailed their legislative impact.
“We knew we had a problem on our hands, but we hadn’t been able to quantify the depths of it,” said Devin Burghart, president and executive director of the institute. “This was a first attempt on our part to wrap our heads around it, and it was pretty striking in terms of the various pipelines that have opened up to pump disinformation and far-right ideas into legislatures.”
One of the state legislators profiled by IREHR was Arizona state Sen. Kelly Townsend, a Republican from Apache Junction who was a tea party leader before being elected to the legislature in 2012. Townsend, the researchers wrote, has “moved from anti-abortion and Tea Party politics to far-right paramilitary militia groups and efforts to rewrite the U.S. Constitution in the far-right’s image.”
Townsend has been a vocal advocate of the baseless allegations that the 2020 election was rigged against Trump, and has promoted drastic new restrictions on voting. And she has faced criticism last year from the Anti-Defamation League for comparing COVID-19 vaccine advocates to Nazis and tweeting an image of a swastika made from syringes.
In Arizona, 12 of the state's 47 Republican legislators were found to be members of at least one far-right Facebook group.
The legislators who have joined far-right groups made up 21.74% of all Republican legislators and 0.09% of all Democratic state legislators in the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions, according to the report.
More than 75% of the legislators in far-right Facebook groups identify as male, while 24.45% identify as female. Nationally, 31.2% of all legislative seats are currently held by women.
While the legislators in far-right groups come from all 50 states, some states are represented more than others. The representation is highest in New Hampshire (62), followed by Pennsylvania (40), Minnesota (39), Missouri (36), Arkansas (34), Montana (34), Maine (34), Georgia (32), Washington (30) and Maryland (27), according to the report.
The state lawmakers are also spread out in all regions of the country. Currently, 221 of them represent districts in the Midwest, 191 in the Northeast, 264 in the South and 200 in the West.
“It’s a nationwide phenomenon,” Burghart said. “Far too often, people think of this activity as being relegated to the deep South or the Pacific Northwest, but there are legislators in all 50 states who have joined these different far-right Facebook groups.”
Many of the legislators identified have been at the forefront of pushing anti-democracy and anti-human rights bills, according to the report.
The lawmakers identified have supported far-right legislation including “Don’t say gay” proposals and bills targeting the teaching of critical race theory in schools. They’ve proposed bills attacking women’s reproductive rights, immigrants and the LGBTQIA community, the report noted.
“There was a very high level of support and sponsorship of bills coming from this cluster of legislators that we’d identified,” Burghart said.
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