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May 21, 2022

Pa. lawmakers are among the hundreds of state legislators in U.S. who have joined far-right Facebook groups

A report from a human rights organization identified 40 politicians working in Harrisburg, all of them Republicans

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far right republican PA Dan Rainville/USA TODAY NETWORK

A new report identifies 40 Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers who joined far-right Facebook groups. Thirty-three in the House and seven in the Senate belong to these fringe Facebook communities. Above is a photo of the Capitol in Harrisburg.

More than 1 in 5 Republican state lawmakers in the United State 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 report identifies 40 Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers who joined such groups, a number that accounts for nearly 16% of the membership of the 253-member General Assembly. Thirty-three members of the Pennsylvania House and seven in the state Senate belong to far-right Facebook groups, according to the report. The GOP holds majorities in the state House and Senate in Pennsylvania.

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.


View the map of the Pennsylvania showing the legislative districts where elected House members have joined far-right Facebook groups


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.


View the map of Pennsylvania showing the legislative districts where elected Senate members have joined far-right facebook groups.


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.


Capital-Star Editor John L. Micek contributed to this story. Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

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