Judy L. Thomas, The Kansas City Star

Credit: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

Nearly 22 percent of Republican lawmakers in the country have joined at least one far-right group on Facebook, and Missouri is in the top five, the observer group said in a study published this month.

During the annual survey of 7,383 seats in state legislatures at the 2021-2022 session, the Institute for Human Rights Research and Education (IREHR) found that 4,011 seats were held by Republicans. Of those Republican lawmakers, 872 – 21.74% – have joined far-right groups on Facebook, according to the Violating Mainstream report.

“The numbers are staggering,” said Devin Burghart, IREHR’s chief executive officer, who monitored extremist groups for decades. “The findings show how deeply the right has penetrated public policy.”

Burghart said lawmakers involved in these Facebook groups are suffering a barrage of misinformation and conspiracy theories.

“And in the echo camera that exists on Facebook, it distorts their view of their constituents,” he said. “It distorts their view of the world, and it has a real negative impact on politics.”

Burghart said not every legislator named in the report can be described as an expression of far-right ideology.

“However, they have all become members of far-right groups on Facebook,” he said.

And this membership, he said, gives the groups a legislative seal of approval.

“It normalizes these groups and gives them the legitimacy they so crave.”

Facebook groups are addressing issues including COVID-19 denial, immigration, and critical racial theory. Some are promoting the Stop Theft movement, which aimed to cancel the 2020 presidential election. And other groups, Burghart said, are influenced by ideas related to far-right paramilitaries, sovereign citizens and the Posse Comitatus, a violent, racist and anti-Semitic movement.

According to the report, Missouri has 36 state lawmakers who joined far-right groups on Facebook – 18% state legislature– fourth place overall after New Hampshire with 62; Pennsylvania, of 40; and Minnesota, from 39.

Kansas has 20 state lawmakers – 12% of the legislature – who have joined such groups, the report said.

The report said Democrats held 3,277 seats in state legislatures, and three of those lawmakers – 0.09% – joined far-right groups on Facebook. No libertarian or independent legislature has joined such groups, the report said.

Left without control, the report says, expanding networks poses a threat to democracy and human rights.

“Thanks to these networks, far-right bills and the conspiracies that drive them are spreading far and wide,” the statement said. “And, like farm clubs in sports, state legislatures often act as a stepping stone to the top. Today’s state representative could become tomorrow’s U.S. senator.”

The impact of “far-right congestion in state legislatures” is already being felt, the report said. State lawmakers who have flocked to far-right Facebook groups have collectively sponsored 963 bills in their 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions – measures on abortion, racism, immigration, LGBTQIA, COVID-19 rejection and voter suppression.

Of those, the report said, 100 became law.

Lawmakers named in the report argued that the Facebook groups to which they belonged were “far right.”

“I think it’s pretty crazy that they are considered the pages of the far right, when just parents who have not even been involved in politics are trying to figure out what to do with the crazy left things going on in their schools.” said Missouri Sen. Rick Bretin, a Republican from Harrisonville and a member of the Conservative Assembly – a group of senators who often face leadership.

The IREHR report states that Bratin belonged to 10 far-right groups on Facebook, including schools / education Take Back Missouri; Discover Missouri; WE, THE PEOPLE … are from Jackson County, Missouri; Stop CRT and national standards of civic culture in K-12 schools; and Americans for prosperity.

“In the groups you described, I was a member and I was invited to be a part and I saw their content,” Bratin told The Star. “Parents of school districts who don’t respond to their wants, needs, desires to get an education are frustrated. And these are the groups they use to express that frustration and see how they make those school districts try to respond to their frustration.”

As a state senator, the IREHR report said, Bratin sponsored legislation banning public and private organizations that received public funds from the requirement for vaccines for entry and measures prohibiting school districts from teaching “critical racial theory or any subsequent theory or concept”.

He also sponsored a bill on fetal heartbeat that “applies through private civil action” and a repeal law that allows the General Assembly to refrain from enforcing any federal laws it deems unconstitutional.

Last week, Bratin, a candidate for the 4th District Congress, successfully passed an amendment to a bill on professional licensing that would not allow state medical licensing councils to punish or revoke medical licenses of doctors who “legally” prescribe controversial drugs. and hydroxychloroquine for patients. The bill has passed both chambers and is awaiting the signature of the governor.

In Kansas, a representative of Pat Proctor, R-Fort Leavenworth, belongs to six far-right groups on Facebook, including Open up Kansas and Lock Down the Governor !; Kansas Convention – Revival of the Patriots; and “Americans for Prosperity,” the report said.

“I ask how they define what is far right,” Proctor told The Star. “Americans for welfare are involved in far-right conspiracies, like children who get a good education and reduce the tax burden on the family. The States Convention is involved in a far-right conspiracy to limit deadlines and balanced budget amendments. ”

Several sites identified as far-right, such as the Open Kansas group, Proctor said, “are people who have made legitimate claims to their government about what they saw as excessive action in response to COVID.”

“And they had to turn to social media because they weren’t listened to by the administration (Governor Laura) Kelly,” he said.

Proctor said elected leaders should be encouraged to participate in public debates, and citizens should be encouraged to communicate with their elected leaders by as much means as possible.

“This attempt to intimidate lawmakers not to talk on sites that this group considers unacceptable political discourse is useless for democracy,” he said. “But the bigger thing I would like to ask is, who is looking at far-left websites? I’ve seen pretty outrageous things on some Black Lives Matter websites … I don’t see anyone pointing to legislators- Democrats who are part of these groups. “

According to an IREHR report, examples of increased activity by lawmakers began to emerge after the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots.

Several state lawmakers have been involved in attempts to undermine the results of the 2020 presidential election, the report said. The Arizona senator addressed a group of white nationalists at its annual conference in February. An investigation by ProPublica found that 48 state and local officials – 10 of them state legislatures – were members of the far-right paramilitary group Guardians of the Oath, some of whose leaders are accused of leading the uprising.

Burghart said the actual number of state lawmakers who have joined far-right groups on Facebook is probably higher than specified in the report.

“For example, we didn’t have a QAnon dataset to search for, so that’s part of what it lacks,” he said. “And we were very specific in what we included because we didn’t want to run into criticism about the fact that it’s just conservative politics.”

For that reason, he said, the study did not include NRA groups, major conservative groups or those that focused on former President Donald Trump and his topic “Make America Great Again.”

“So, given that some lawmakers probably don’t use Facebook that way, and given that some of them were probably kicked out of Facebook and use other platforms, that’s clearly a flaw in the overall problem,” he said. “But it’s at least a snapshot in time about how it looks on one particular platform.”

Burghart said some lawmakers are also using others social networks platforms for interacting with far-right groups. According to him, these platforms include Twitter, Instagram, Telegram, Gab, Parler, MeWe, Wimkin, GETTR and Truth Social.

“These relationships on these platforms deserve extra attention,” he said. “However, Facebook remains the dominant platform for government lawmakers to interact with far-right groups.”

Facebook’s new tools are aimed at misinformation in user groups

2022 The Kansas City Star. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Citation: study (2022, May 26), received May 26, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-05-state-gop-lawmakers-far-right, 1 of 5 state Republican lawmakers in far-right groups in Facebook -facebook.html

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