Extremism goes beyond the ballot: today so far

A new study points to far-right lawmakers and the role social media plays in radicalized politics. It’s a new perspective on something a Washington sheriff has been talking about for years.

This post originally appeared in KUOW’s Today So Far newsletter on June 10, 2022.

It’s worth taking a closer look at your next ballot. A greater threat is emerging in the United States than the usual left-versus-right tug-of-war. A new study shows that 875 state legislators (11.85% of all US state legislators) have been engaging with far-right groups on Facebook: 30 were found in Washington state. It is a sign that extremism is making its way into elected office.

I have spoken with Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich several times in the past while reporting on political extremism in Washington state. We covered a lot of territory, but one point he brought up stuck with me: Extremist groups seek validation and influence from the mainstream, and part of that effort is getting elected to office. In fact, Knezovich told me that many of the candidates who have run against him for the sheriff’s job, trying to take over law enforcement work, have come from radical groups (particularly the John Birch Society, but not let’s go down that rabbit hole here).

Achieving widespread acceptance is aided by the use of words like “patriot” or even “Christian” by extremist groups. It is an effective mark on the surface. But look closer and you will discover more radical ideologies.

Keep in mind that Sheriff Knezovich is a conservative and speaks out against extremism coming from his right. To be fair to his perspective, I must point out that the sheriff argues that the extremist threat to America comes from multiple angles: left and right. A good example of this problem is the drama surrounding Representative Matt Shea from the Spokane area. Shea was charged with engaging in domestic terrorism. It was Sheriff Knezovich who first told me, “Matt Shea is dangerous.”

Which brings me back to the issue of extremist ideologies trying to break into mainstream acceptance through elections. KUOW’s Kim Malcolm spoke with Devin Burghart of the Institute for Human Rights Research and Education. His study found that radicalized candidates have not only achieved public office, but are also passing laws.

One metric used for this study is legislators’ involvement with extreme social media groups, from conspiracy groups to militias to neo-Confederates. Most of the online groups the 30 Washington state lawmakers were found to participate with involved Covid denial or objection to pandemic measures. There were also some far-right militias.

“I think it’s important for people to understand that we’re dealing with a challenge right now that is much bigger than when I started doing this work 30 years ago,” Burghart told KUOW. “The far right has moved significantly from the fringes to the mainstream. The insurrection of January 6 was not the end of the problem of the extreme right in this country. It was a wake-up call about the ongoing problem we are facing.”

The study is intriguing because it looks at several factors that are contributing to our political divisions these days: extremism and the role that the internet and social media play in it.

The lesson here: the next time you get a ballot, take your time. Don’t fill in that box just because someone puts an “R” or “D” next to their name. It is worth taking a closer look. And please don’t use social media or unverified websites as “research.”

Listen to the full conversation with Burghart here.

What we are also reporting:

AS SEEN ON KUOW


Caption: Private pilots and cyclists will take to the air and the streets separately this month to practice delivering relief supplies after a catastrophic earthquake.

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On Saturday, June 11, about 40 to 50 cargo cyclists will compete in a disaster relief drill in Portland. The following weekend, June 18, more than 100 private pilots from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia will take to the skies to transport food from airfield to airfield in another mock earthquake relief effort. Drilling scenarios involve a complete 9.0 magnitude rupture of the Cascadia earthquake fault offshore from Vancouver Island to Northern California, also known as “The Big One.” (Courtesy of Sarah Harrington)

DID YOU KNOW?

It is getting harder and harder for people to pay for household expenses in Washington State.

The nerds at QuoteWizard dove into data from the Pulse Household Survey (Census) data tables and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics to see how inflation has affected people since June 2021. time” to cover household expenses.After months of inflation, that number is up 15% as of May.

It’s a similar story in Washington state. Those figures went from 4% to 10% in the year.

Signs of financial hardship are also increasingly affecting people in other groups. Nationwide, QuoteWizard found that fewer people reported having no difficulty making ends meet, while the numbers of those feeling the strain of inflation increased.

ALSO IN OUR MINDS


Caption: The House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol holds its first public hearing to reveal the findings of a year-long investigation, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, January 9 June 2022.

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New revelations and 3 other conclusions from the committee’s first hearing on January 6

“Tonight I say this to my fellow Republicans who defend the indefensible. There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but the disgrace of him will remain.”

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