by April Corbin Girnus, Nevada Current
Seven Nevada Republican lawmakers are members of at least one far-right Facebook group, according to a new national report. Five of the seven are running for new elected positions this year.
The Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a think tank that defends democracy and human rights, identified 875 lawmakers nationwide 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 seven Nevada lawmakers captured in the report were: Minority Floor Leader Robin Titus, Co-Deputy Minority Floor Leader Tom Roberts and Assembly members Alexis Hansen, Annie Black, Jill Dickman, Jim Wheeler and Lisa Krasner. All are Republicans. And all are up for reelection or running for a new elected office this year.
Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-Minden), who is currently running for State Senate District 17, came in as the Nevada elected official who had joined the biggest number of far-right Facebook groups. They include two groups promoting constitutionally-constructed nationalism with a focus on supporting paramilitary activism — U.S. Patriots and U.S. PATRIOTS WOLFPACK NATION MAIN PAGE.
Wheeler is also part of four groups promoting covid denialism — Nevadans to Open our State, Re-Open Nevada, KEEP NEVADA OPEN and Reno Freedom of Choice.
Wheeler’s competitor in the State Senate District 17 Republican primary is Assemblywoman Robin Titus (R-Wellington). She is a member of three far-right groups: Re-Open Nevada, Stand Up Nevada and Nevada Liberty & Reno Tea Party Coalition.
Whoever wins the GOP primary next month is likely to win the November general, as the district leans heavily Republican.
Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner (R-Reno) is also a member of two U.S. Patriots groups promoting constitutionally-constructed nationalism with a focus on supporting paramilitary activism. Krasner is now running against three other Republicans in the primary for Senate District 16, a red but competitive district.
As the events of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection unfolded, Krasner tweeted: “I voice my support for the patriots that went to Washington DC to peacefully protest. The #FirstAmendment however, only protects the right to peacefully protest. I am opposed to violent extremists.”
Assemblywoman Annie Black (R-Mesquite) is a member of two covid-denial groups (Re-Open Nevada and Bare Face is Legal) and one group associated with Q-anon (Fed up Conservative Patriots).
Black’s far-right alliances are well documented. Black has faced criticism for being in Washington DC on Jan. 6, 2021 — though she has maintained she was not physically at the Capitol building for the insurrection. During the 2021 Legislative Session, Black was barred from voting or speaking on the floor because she refused to wear a face mask, which was a violation of legislative rules at the time.
Black currently represents Assembly District 19 but is running in the GOP primary for Congressional District 4 in hopes of challenging U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford this November.
Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) is a member of Constitutional Grassroots Movement, a Facebook group classified as promoting constitutionally-constructed nationalism. The group is substantially influenced by Posse Comitatus, which the report describes as “a violent far-right paramilitary group that pushed the core idea that the county sheriff is the highest law of the land.” Posse Comitatus is Latin for “power of the county.” Dickman is also a member of a covid-denial group (Nevadans to Open our State).
The first-term assemblywoman is up for re-election this year but faces no challengers in either the primary or general elections, meaning she will win by default.
Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks) is a member of KEEP NEVADA OPEN, which is characterized as covid denial group. Like Dickman, Hansen is up for re-election this year but faces no competitors in her heavily Republican Assembly District 32.
Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) is a member of Parents for School Choice, a Facebook group that the report says has been associated with covid denialism.
Former state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, who represented Senate District 16 until October 2021 when he resigned to accept an appointment to the Gaming Control Board, was also identified as a member of a Nevada Facebook group associated with covid denialism. He is not counted as one of Nevada’s seven Republicans since he is no longer seated.
Many of the Facebook groups mentioned in the report are private, meaning non-members cannot see the content or group members.
The seven Nevada lawmakers who have joined far-right Facebook groups make up over a quarter of Republicans — and 11% of the total — in the statehouse. Both chambers of the legislature are currently controlled by Democrats.
Nationally, more than 1 in 5 Republican state lawmakers have joined at least one far-right Facebook group, according to the report.
Together the lawmakers sponsored 963 bills during the most recent legislative sessions, said the group that wrote the report.
The report identified five pieces of proposed anti-human rights legislation in Nevada. Four fell under the category of voter suppression and dealt with election-related issues such as voter identification requirements, absentee voting procedures and same-day voter registration. The fifth was classified as “anti-protest” and would have created new penalties for unlawful protests and protests that block traffic.
None of the bills received even a committee hearing in the Democrat-controlled legislature.
Nationally, 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), Arizona (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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