Breaching the Mainstream
A Special Report by the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights
An essential element of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR) mission is to track far-right efforts to advance from the margins to the mainstream. One critical area of concern for the United States is how deeply the far-right has penetrated state politics.
After insurrectionists tried to overthrow the presidential election on January 6, 2021, small pieces of this puzzle started to emerge. Several state legislators took part in state-level efforts to undermine the results of the 2020 election. A state senator gave full-throated support to white nationalists. Forty-eight state and local officials, including ten sitting state lawmakers, were outed as members of the far-right paramilitary group, the Oath Keepers. These are but a few examples of far-right activism by state legislators.
In addition, while attention rightly focused on the insurrection underway in Washington D.C., IREHR documented that forty-five insurrectionist rallies also took place in thirty-two states on that day—making crystal clear that what happened in the nation’s capital was part of a country-wide social movement also targeting state governments.
The depth of far-right activity in state legislatures is still largely unknown. The information to date is fragmented and far from a complete picture.
This report changes that by bringing much-needed context to the national discussion. The IREHR research team reviewed the data of thousands of far-right groups on the Facebook platform and found deepening ties between far-right groups and state legislators.
IREHR researchers identified 875 state legislators serving in the 2021-2022 legislative period and representing all 50 states who have joined at least one of 789 far-right Facebook groups. That is 11.85% of all state legislators in the country.
Given the specific nature of the data used in this report and recognizing that not all far-right aligned legislators belong to Facebook groups, IREHR researchers believe the findings almost certainly understate the breadth of the problem.
Chapter 2 looks at the big picture, examining the national data of legislators that have joined far-right Facebook groups, including breakdowns by partisanship, gender, geography, and chamber.
Chapter 3 profiles ten state legislators who exemplify various corners of the far-right. One lawmaker is a member of “sovereign citizen” and Posse Comitatus-influenced groups. Another is active in many different COVID Denial groups. One was a prodigious joiner of “Stop the Steal” groups bent on overturning the 2020 election. Another is a member of militia groups and Ammon Bundy’s People’s Rights network. It includes a profoundly homophobic legislator who turns bigotry into policy. Another is a prolific joiner of a panoply of far-right Facebook groups.
Chapter 4 discusses the 789 far-right groups joined by these state legislators, outlines their ideologies and political goals, and unpacks the numerous categories of groups in this report. When a legislator, or anyone, joins a far-right group on Facebook, they are endlessly deluged with a barrage of conspiracies, misinformation, and even outright bigotry. The Facebook echo chamber sealed inside these often closed groups amplifies the power of these conspiracies. It gives the false appearance that misinformation is widely accepted in the real, outside world. Moreover, it helps shape the worldview of these legislators and their relationship with their constituents.
Chapter 5 weighs the legislative impact of the legislators that have joined far-right groups. As state legislators flocked to Facebook’s far-right groups, attacks on democracy and human rights popped up in state legislatures around the country: 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 many more. This group of legislators collectively sponsored 963 anti-human rights bills in 2021-22, 62.86% of the total included in this report. Of those 963 bills, 100 became law (10.38%). This report documents the legislators’ sponsorship of a multitude of bills that attack democracy and human rights–including anti-abortion, anti-CRT, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQIA, anti-protest, COVID Denial, and voter suppression legislation.
We hope this report will broaden the dataset regarding the issue of the far-right stampede into the halls of state legislatures.
 See, for instance, Epstein, Reid J. “Fringe Scheme to Reverse 2020 Election Splits Wisconsin G.O.P.” New York Times. February 19, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/19/us/politics/wisconsin-election-decertification.html. Detroit Free Press Editorial Board, “People of the lie: The Michigan Republicans who tried to overturn the election.” Detroit Free Press. January 10, 2021. https://www.freep.com/story/opinion/editorials/2021/01/10/meet-michigan-republicans-who-tried-overturn-2020-election/4143500001/. Micek, John L. “Report: New texts show Pa. Rep. Perry’s ‘key role’ in trying to overturn 2020 election results.” Pennsylvania Capital-Star. April 26, 2022. https://www.penncapital-star.com/blog/report-new-texts-show-pa-rep-perry-key-role-in-trying-to-overturn-2020-election-results/. Hounshell, Blake and Askarinam, Leah. “Arizona’s Right Wing Sought Power to Overturn Votes. Rusty Bowers Said No.” New York Times. February 4, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/04/us/politics/arizona-republicans-rusty-bowers-voting-rights.html. Young, Quentin. “Colorado’s top 10 most dangerous election deniers.” Colorado Newsline. September 27, 2021. https://coloradonewsline.com/2021/09/27/colorados-top-10-most-dangerous-election-deniers/.
 Tanner, Chuck. “’A Deep Desire to Dominate without Mercy” White Nationalists Gain Friends in Power at AFPAC III.” IREHR. March 7, 2022. https://www.irehr.org/2022/03/07/a-deep-desire-to-dominate-without-mercy-white-nationalists-gain-friends-in-power-at-afpac-iii/.
 Arnsdorf, Isaac. “Oath Keepers in the State House: How a Militia Movement Took Root in the Republican Mainstream.” ProPublica. October 21, 2021. https://www.propublica.org/article/oath-keepers-in-the-state-house-how-a-militia-movement-took-root-in-the-republican-mainstream.
 Tanner, Chuck and Devin Burghart. BEYOND DC – MAPPING STOP THE STEAL INSURRECTION RALLIES IN THE STATES. Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. January 8, 2021. https://www.irehr.org/2021/01/08/beyond-dc-mapping-stop-the-steal-insurrection-rallies-in-the-states/.
Breaching the Mainstream
A National Survey of Far-Right Membership in State Legislatures
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