Jun 13, 2022 - News

"Mainstreaming" extremism in statehouses

Illustration of a computer mouse's wire as a fuse.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A growing number of state lawmakers have Facebook ties to extremist groups and are increasingly advancing far-right ideas in Washington's legislature and other statehouses across America, according to a recent report.

  • The analysis, called "Breaching the Mainstream," was conducted by the Seattle-based nonprofit Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR).

Why it matters: Such "mainstreaming" of far-right dogma is being blamed by some observers as a factor in overt acts of violence, such as the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol and the racially-motivated mass shooting in Buffalo, New York.

  • In the wake of Buffalo's shooting, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) called on Republican leaders to "reject" extremist viewpoints, tweeting: "The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism."

By the numbers: The report identified 875 state lawmakers across all states who were members of at least one of 789 private Facebook groups it characterized as promoting extremist viewpoints.

  • It lists 29 state lawmakers in Washington state — all Republicans — with ties to Facebook groups labeled as extremist.

Between the lines: The Facebook groups include those run by individuals or organizations that contend the 2020 presidential election was rigged; support white nationalism; harbor general anti-government sentiment; and deny elements of the coronavirus pandemic, among other views.

  • Most Washington state lawmakers cited were linked to Facebook groups that denied or challenged the need for COVID-related restrictions or vaccination requirements.
  • At least six Washington legislators were members of groups for paramilitary organizations or militias, including the Three Percenters, an anti-government ideology sometimes linked to racism.

What they're saying: "As state legislators flocked to Facebook's far-right groups, attacks on democracy and human rights popped up in state legislatures around the country," the report says.

  • It cites bills "suppressing the vote, limiting reproductive freedom, preventing efforts to slow the pandemic, lashing out against the LGBTQIA community, curtailing the right to protest, outlawing the discussion of racism," and more.

The other side: Washington State Republican Party spokesperson Ben Gonzalez called IREHR’s report “an absolute joke.”

  • "[S]imply belonging to Facebook groups focused on reopening Washington state and allowing people to return to work to provide for their families lands you the label 'far-right extremist,'" he said.

Yes, but: The number of identified "hate groups" operating in Washington has declined in recent years, dropping from 30 groups counted in 2019 to 19 last year, per the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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