Report says hundreds of state legislators have joined far-right Facebook groups

That includes 27 Michigan lawmakers, per the study

By: - May 18, 2022 2:30 pm

An attendee wears a “Three Percenters” patch (far-right, anti-government militia group) to a right-wing rally calling for a so-called “audit” of the 2020 election at the Michigan Capitol, Feb. 8, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Updated, 7:49 a.m., 5/19/22

More than one in five Republican state lawmakers across the country have joined at least one far-right Facebook group, according to a new report.

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.

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.”

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.

The report found 27 Michigan lawmakers participated in far-right groups.

David Reinert holds up a large “Q” sign while waiting in line to see President Donald J. Trump at his rally on August 2, 2018 at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. “Q” represents QAnon, a conspiracy theory group that has been seen at recent rallies. | Rick Loomis/Getty Images

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), 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.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the proportion of state lawmakers who have joined at least one far-right Facebook group. The report’s authors in an overview also misstated the number of Arizona legislators who joined such groups. 

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Kira Lerner
Kira Lerner

Kira Lerner is the democracy reporter for States Newsroom where she covers voting, elections, redistricting, and efforts to subvert democracy. Before joining States Newsroom, Kira was managing editor of Votebeat, a pop-up newsroom launched to cover election administration and voting before and after the 2020 election. She has also covered voting rights, criminal justice, and civil rights issues for outlets including The Appeal and ThinkProgress. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Guardian, Slate, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets. Kira has a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and is a native of the Washington, D.C. area.

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