I left the Republican Party in 2000, but for several years after my departure I held to the belief that the changes I’d seen–the growing radicalization and disregard for evidence that concerned me–remained an essentially fringe phenomenon. Yes, the fringe was growing; yes, it was exerting a troubling amount of control over the reasonable folks who still were in the majority, but it wasn’t (I fondly believed) a wholesale abandonment of sanity and reason in service of bigotry.
I was wrong.
There are undoubtedly people who remain part of the GOP from inertia, or denial, but it is no longer possible to view the Republican Party as anything but a threat to American liberty and equality. In the wake of the horrific massacre in Buffalo, Dana Milbank described the GOP’s transformation from a traditional political party to a White Nationalist cult. He cited statistics for the proposition that the problem–the moral rot– goes “well beyond the rhetoric of a few Republican officials and opinion leaders. Elected Republicans haven’t merely inspired far-right extremists. They have become far-right extremists.”
The study, released on Friday by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a decades-old group that tracks right-wing extremism, found that more than 1 in 5 Republican state legislators in the United States were affiliated with far-right groups. The IREHR (which conducted a similar study with the NAACP in 2010 on racism within the tea party) cross-referenced the personal, campaign and official Facebook profiles of all 7,383 state legislators in the United States during the 2021-22 legislative period with thousands of far-right Facebook groups. The researchers found that 875 legislators — all but three of them Republicans — were members of one or more of 789 far-right Facebook groups. That works out to 22 percent of all Republican state legislators.
I haven’t had time to access the study to ascertain how many of those state-level legislators are members of Indiana’s Statehouse, but I’m sure the number is significant.
The numbers reported are hair-raising enough, but the study excluded from its definition of far-right groups what it called “historically mainstream conservative groups” such as the National Rifle Association and even pro-Trump and MAGA groups. It included contemporary iterations of the tea party and selected antiabortion and Second Amendment groups, white nationalists, neo-Confederates and sovereign citizen organizations that claim to be exempt from U.S. law.
In other words, the study looked only at the most radical of the reactionary groups.
Arguably, then, the study understates the true overlap between state-level Republican legislators and the far right. (Also, for obvious reasons, researchers couldn’t count legislators who belong to the several extremist groups that keep their memberships secret.)
Some of these far-right figures already have high profiles. ProPublica last fall identified 48 Republican state and local government officials — including 10 sitting state lawmakers — on the membership roster of the Oath Keepers, a militant extremist group. One Arizona state senator, Wendy Rogers, gained national attention for a speech to a white-nationalist conference in February during which she called for violence. Her remarks to the gathering (which Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) also addressed) earned her a rebuke by her fellow GOP state senators but proved to be a fundraising bonanza.
Proponents of “replacement theory” have been growing in number since Fox News’s Tucker Carlson has been championing the claim.
Though based in actual demographic trends — Americans of color will gradually become a majority in coming decades — “Great Replacement” holds that Democrats and the left are conspiring by nefarious means to supplant White people.
This idea, expressed by the alleged Buffalo killer (11 of the gunman’s 13 victims were Black), has found support from Stefanik (N.Y.), the No. 3 House Republican. She accused Democrats of “a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION” in the form of an immigration amnesty plan that would “overthrow our current electorate.”
Variations of this have been heard from Republicans such as: Rep. Scott Perry (Pa.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus (“we’re replacing … native-born Americans to permanently transform the political landscape”); Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (Democrats “want to remake the demographics of America to ensure … that they stay in power forever”); Rep. Gaetz of Florida (Carlson “is CORRECT about Replacement Theory”); Vance, the party’s Senate nominee for Ohio (“Biden’s open border is killing Ohioans, with … more Democrat voters pouring into this country”); and Gingrich, former Republican House speaker (“the anti-American left would love to drown traditional, classic Americans … to get rid of the rest of us”).
It’s one thing to name (and–one hopes–shame) the highly visible Republicans promoting this racist bilge, but they aren’t the real problem. The real, very scary problem is that these people are garnering votes and winning elections.
The real problem is the rank-and-file Republicans who support them.