The Center for Media and Democracy revealed on August 3 that 224 ALEC-affiliated legislators belong to far-right Facebook groups, based on “Breaching the Mainstream,” a report by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. Five ALEC lawmakers were profiled in the report and are republished here with permission.
STOPPING THE STEAL, SUPPRESSING VOTERS: PHIL STEPHENSON
(R-Texas House of Representatives, District 85)
ALEC member as of 2019.
After the defeat of Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, far-rightists quickly turned to efforts to delegitimize the results and put Trump back in the White House. “Stop the Steal” became the name for the mobilization. Animated by conspiracy theories, scores of groups with variants of the name popped up on Facebook, attracting hundreds of thousands of activists before the groups were removed from the platform.
Like the COVID Denial mobilization, Stop the Steal efforts involved a broad swath of the far-right: from long-time Tea Party leaders and establishment groups like Turning Point USA and Women for America First; to nationalist paramilitaries like the Three Percenters and Oath Keepers; to the street brawlers of the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer; to anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones of Infowars; the anti-vaxxer Freedom Angels; Qanon believers; and white nationalists. “Stop the Steal” efforts moved into the streets and helped pave the way for the January 6th Capitol insurrection.
Several legislators in this report became members of Stop the Steal Facebook groups, but none joined as many as Texas State Representative Phil Stephenson.
In November 2020, Stephenson joined at least 17 different “Stop the Steal” groups, leading in membership in that category among the legislators included in this report.
In addition to engagement with Stop the Steal groups, Phil Stephenson described in August 2021, “It was a momentous day in the Texas House as we passed legislation to protect the integrity of our elections. I was proud to support Senate Bill 1 so we can promote voter access, deter fraud, and restore full faith and confidence in our state’s electoral system.”
As the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law observed, “The legislation restricts nearly every method of voting overwhelmingly used by voters of color in 2020: It limits early voting and ballot drop boxes, curbs how absentee ballots can be distributed and who can vote by mail, and bans drive-thru voting. While the provisions of SB 1 will hinder the ability of all Texans to vote, these new restrictions intentionally and disproportionately impact communities of color.” As a result, the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the U.S. Justice Department filed lawsuits against the voter suppression law.
In February 2020, Stephenson shed light on another aspect of his politics, posting a video on Facebook that declared, “In the Texas House, Phil has argued for and helped advance the Convention of States and the state legislature’s push for Article V, which calls for a Constitutional Convention.” The video ends with, “I’m Phil Stephenson, and I approve this message.”
As early as 2013, Stephenson has expressed his support for a “LIMITED CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION WITH SPECIFIC ITEMS TO BE DISCUSSED AND VOTED ON,” but that he would “BE WARY OF AN OPEN CONVENTION WITH SO MANY DEMOCRATS WHO WANT TO DO AWAY WITH OUR CONSTITUTION” [Capitals in original].
FROM THE TEA PARTY TO THE PARAMILITARY: TAMMY NICHOLS
(R-Idaho State House of Representatives District 11, Seat B)
ALEC State Chair for Idaho
Idaho State Representative Tammy Nichols provides a case study of the radicalization path that moves from the Tea Party movement, militias, and the insurrectionary bent of the People’s Rights network’s mobilizations around COVID Denial, to attacks on “critical race theory” and the embrace of School-Centered far-right activism.
In 2014, Tammy Nichols joined the Boise Tea Party (294 members) Facebook group. In 2018, her first year in office, Nichols joined the far-right paramilitary groups, the Patriot Network Summit (2,799 members*) and U.S. Militia Northern Command-America’s Militia (3,275 members*). She also joined the Posse-Influenced groups, Constitutional Grassroots Movement (7,026 members), Rural Land Rights Advocates (RLRA) (2,626 members), and The National Constitutional Coalition of Patriotic Americans 6,326 members). Finally, in 2019, Nichols joined the Islamophobic group Idaho G416 Patriots (722 members).
In 2020, Nichols joined two of Ammon Bundy’s People’s Rights network chapters—the Area 1 People’s Rights Washington (81 members*) and People’s Rights IDAHO Group (1,345 members*). That same year, Nichols joined the COVID Denial groups Idaho BrushFires (formerly All Jobs are Essential) (1,097 members) and Idaho for Medical Freedom (810 members). In 2021 she joined the School-Centered groups, Stop Critical Race Theory (14,721 members), Stop CRT & National Civics Standards in K-12 Schools (1,694 members), and No Left Turn in Education (11,913 members).
Nichols couples her Facebook memberships with on-the-ground activism. Her state legislative page describes her as the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles State Leader and recipient of the 2016 Phyllis Schlafly Eagle Award. Schlafly was a Christian Right leader who grew to national prominence fighting the Equal Rights Amendment. In addition, Nichols’ page says she received the American Conservative Union Foundation Award in 2019 and 2020 and the Club for Growth Defender of Economic Freedom Award in 2020.
Despite garnering the American Conservative Union and Club for Growth awards, Nichols’ real-life activities in Idaho have skewed in the Posse-style and paramilitary direction. For example, in May 2018, Nichols announced in the Constitutional Grassroots Movement group, “We (Idaho Political Prisoners Foundation) are bringing KrisAnne Hall here to Boise, Idaho next month and are looking for ad sponsors. I am rounding up groups, organizations, or individuals who may be interested in doing this.” The event was slated to include “political prisoners” Ammon Bundy and Eric Parker, the latter a member of the paramilitary Three Percenters.
In June 2020, along with 15 other legislators, Nichols took part in a gathering at the State House chamber to oppose Governor Brad Little’s COVID-19-related policies. Promoted by far-rightists and attended by Ammon Bundy, Eric Parker, and several armed supporters, the participating far-right Idaho Freedom Foundation commissioned a “study” claiming that attending legislators could pass legislation in violation of House quorum rules. Rather than doing so, the legislators issued a proclamation accusing Little of Constitutional violations, a far-right refrain throughout the waves of COVID Denial mobilizations. In 2022, Tammy Nichols continued to promote Idaho Freedom Foundation text alerts.
In keeping with COVID Denial, Nichols sponsored bills to prohibit vaccination mandates and employer inquiries about employees and potential employees vaccination status.
Nichols’ jaunts into far-right nationalism led her to rub elbows with Michelle Malkin, the self-declared “mommy” to the “Groyper” mobilization led by white nationalist Nick Fuentes. In a “Legislative Summary” circulated in February 2022, Nichols wrote, “It was also my pleasure to attend an event this evening with Michelle Malkin, put on by [the anti-choice] Idaho Chooses Life. Great talk with great reminders…[S]he talked about one of my favorite documentaries that she is on called ‘Rocky Mountain Heist.’ If you have never seen it, please, please watch it as it is currently happening in Idaho.”
The Citizens United-produced “Rocky Mountain Heist” film is narrated and co-written by Michelle Malkin. The film alleges that the “Gang of Four–a secretive group of leftist millionaires and billionaires… orchestrated one of the most successful campaign-funding schemes ever” and initiated “a never-ending campaign to radically change the culture of a once-reliable Red mountain state.”
COVID DENIAL AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE POSSE COMITATUS: ANTHONY SABATINI
(R-Florida House of Representatives, District 32)
Member of ALEC’s Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force
Florida State Representative Anthony Sabatini provides an example of the radicalization seen in the overlapping Stop the Steal and COVID Denial mobilizations. As captured in this report, in 2020, Sabatini joined five COVID Denial, and six Stop the Steal groups. Also that year, Sabatini joined the Posse Comitatus-influenced Constitutional Grassroots Movement.
In keeping with his Stop the Steal memberships, Sabatini pushed election conspiracies and a bill for an election audit in Florida (where Donald Trump won) because, he alleged, several counties had double-scanned ballots “or did things that are far, far worse than that.” Almost three weeks after the election, Sabatini tweeted, “I’m extremely thankful Biden lost in 2020;” in December 2020, he tweeted, “Stop the Steal.”
Sabatini’s COVID Denial activism took him into the realm of Posse-Influenced politics. For instance, he joined the group, ReOpen South Florida (3,070 members). Under the name “Chris Paul,” Florida People’s Rights network activist Chris Nelson is a group administrator. Sabatini appeared in an interview on Nelson’s ReOpen America Podcast and was announced as a speaker along with Nelson and People’s Rights figure Rachael Love Cohen at a 2020 Florida COVID Denial rally.
Sabatini has a long history of racial insensitivity. In his younger days, Sabatini dressed in blackface and as a stereotype of a Mexican. Then, when Confederate statues began to be taken down across the South, he declared that the “solemn” Confederate monuments facing removal “can find a home” in Eustis, where he served as a City Commissioner.
In May 2020, Sabatini joined the Constitutional Grassroots Movement (7,029 members), a group whose administrator, the Constitutional Grassroots Movement Facebook page, frequently posts material from KrisAnne Hall. For his part, Sabatini applied nullification and Posse-style approaches to COVID-19, writing in September 2021, “Today I submitted a Bill (bill draft #79925) which will NULLIFY Biden’s forthcoming vaccine mandate. ANY federal employee in Florida imposing the mandate will be arrested and prosecuted under Florida state law.”
As Black Lives Matter demonstrations against police racism and violence were unfolding across the country, Sabatini posted a photo of an AR-15 rifle on Facebook, writing, “Attention potential ‘protesters’ coming near Lake County, FL. This is an AR-15—this will be a very common sight upon illegal entry at any Lake County business—FYI!.”
Sabatini promoted a “Constitutional Carry Rally” featuring himself and Luis Valdes, Florida Director of militia advocate Larry Pratt’s Gun Owners of America. Far-right “constitutionalist” KrisAnne Hall, who refers to Sabatini as her “friend,” engaged in COVID Denial activism with Sabatini, speaking at a June 2020 event with the far-right legislator and writing, “WE WON the Florida mask mandate appeal TODAY! Bravo all who fought!… Congratulations to my friend Anthony Sabatini—Thank you for letting me join you in this fight for #LibertyFirst.”
In November 2021, Sabatini described his and KrisAnne Hall’s joint COVID Denial activism:
“Just spoke to 400+ patriots from around Florida at a rally in Tallahassee in support of a TOTAL BAN on private sector vaccine and mask mandates! Then, constitutional activist KrisAnne Hall, JD and I led the whole crowd through the State Capitol building demanding a meeting with all legislative leaders—calling on them to go on the record in support of a FULL ban.”
Sabatini had attended the far-right National Conservatism conference in Orlando the previous month.
MILITIAS, THE BUNDY’S AND A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION: KELLY TOWNSEND
(R-Arizona State Senate, District 16)
ALEC member as of 2020
Before being elected to the Arizona state Senate, Kelly Townsend was already a seasoned far-right activist, having moved from anti-abortion and Tea Party politics to far-right paramilitary militia groups and efforts to rewrite the U.S. Constitution in the far-right’s image.
In 2009, three years before she won office, Kelly Townsend joined the activist-oriented Walk for Life West Coast—Official Group Page (3,728 members), a San Francisco-based group that organizes an annual anti-choice march on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. In a recap of its 2022 march, the group makes clear its central aim of overturning this legal cornerstone of abortion rights:
“Energized by the impending U.S. Supreme Court case which may finally overturn the notorious Roe v. Wade decision, you came from as far away as Oregon, Idaho and Nebraska to gather in Civic Center Plaza… Our speakers were fantastic, as always. ‘I believe Roe v. Wade has been outlawed, because God remembers you,’ thundered the Rev. Clenard H. Childress, Jr. said, predicting the justices have already decided against Roe v. Wade in their private consultations.”
That same year, Townsend co-founded and served as President of the Greater Phoenix Tea Party.
In 2014, Townsend’s steps toward radicalization were visible when she traveled to Nevada to join other public officials in a rally supporting racist rancher Cliven Bundy, an effort backed by Richard Mack’s far-right Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA). According to CSPOA, Townsend and other legislators planned to “attend the Press Conference Monday afternoon with the CSPOA and Oath Keepers along with the Bundys and other sheriffs and public officials from across the country.”
After taking office, between 2015 and 2017, Townsend joined the National Tea Party #DraintheSwamp (3,927 members*), the Arizona Citizens Defense League, Group Chat (3,106 members), and TEA Party United – Let’s Organize! (13, 275 members).
While proclaiming dedication to “fiscal and constitutional conservatism in government and to return our nation to its founding principles,” TEA Party United – Let’s Organize! nonetheless supported the broad range of issues associated with the Tea Party movement generally, including COVID Denial, conspiracy theories about “fake news” and the 2020 election, anti-Muslim bigotry, anti-immigrant politics, and the jumble of far-right hysteria viewed as “profound” by administrator Thomas Ash:
“I caught Dr. Stanley’s sermon this past Sunday and no more profound words and relevant words have I heard in recent memory other than John 3:16. He talked about the communists that have taken over the Democrat party and are destroying the nation from within. Specifically he was referring to the ‘Mob,’ ‘BLM,’ ‘ANTIFA,’ the ‘Cancel Culture,’ the ‘Woke,’ and the ‘1619 Project,’ and ‘Critical Race Theory’ crowd who seek to divide us, destroy our history, disrespect our flag, hate our country, and weaponize government institutions against those who don’t fit in [sic] world.”
Charles Stanley, referenced here, is an anti-gay bigot who heads In Touch Ministries. Stanley, the former head of the Southern Baptist Convention, once said of homosexuality, “I believe that AIDS is God indicating his displeasure and his attitude toward that form of lifestyle, which we in this country are about to accept.”
The Arizona Citizens Defense League Inc. is a gun-rights group that actively promotes the far-right Gun Owners of America, long led by now-Executive Director Emeritus and militia advocate Larry Pratt.
In 2020, Townsend joined the Arizona State Militia Community (607 members*). That same year, and into 2021, Townsend joined such COVID Denial groups as Arizonans for Liberty (1,750 members), the Anti-Vaxxer group Homeschoolers for Medical Freedom (1,452 members), and the Maricopa County chapter of the national School-Centered group Moms for Liberty (1,144 members).
Townsend’s own COVID Denial activism included tweeting an image comparing vaccinations to the German Nazis. Showing the nuances in bigotry on the far right, and despite such a display of antisemitism, Townsend also criticized Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers for her close relationship with white nationalist Nick Fuentes, writing,
“Hanging out with white supremacists, endorsing them, and declaring them the finest of patriots is all something Wendy Rogers has a constitutional right to do. But good and decent people are also free to find it repulsive and un-American.”
As a legislator, Kelly Townsend led an effort for a resolution supporting an Article V Constitutional Convention, working with the far-right Convention of States to do so. Townsend also introduced a bill to give Arizona’s 11 electoral college votes to Donald Trump on the claim that the 2020 election “was marred by irregularities so significant as to render it highly doubtful whether the certified results accurately represent the will of the voters.”
THE FAR-RIGHT LEGISLATOR: DANIEL KNODL
(R-Wisconsin State Assembly, District 24)
Former alternate for ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force and Public Safety and Elections Task Force
Daniel Knodl holds the distinction of being the most prolific sponsor of far-right anti-human rights legislation included in this report. Knodl’s 31 bills cut across multiple issue areas, including 13 COVID Denial/Vaccines bills, eight voter suppression bills, three each anti-abortion rights and anti-protest bills, and two each anti-LGBTQIA and anti-CRT bills. (Appendix B)
The multi-issue character of Knodl’s bill sponsorship mirrors the focus of the three Facebook groups he is known to have joined. In 2019, Knodl joined Wisconsin Patriot EVENTS List (517 members). In 2020, he joined the WI/IL Convention of the States Supporters (176 members), and in 2021, he joined No Left Turn in Education-Wisconsin (1,252 members).
The WI/IL Convention of the States Supporters is linked to the Convention of the States, a group founded by former Tea Party Patriots leader Mark Meckler–a national leader in the effort to host a far-right Article V Constitutional Convention to amend the U.S. Constitution. While the group offers little information on the specific amendments it seeks to pass, save for term limits, any such convention would likely devolve into a free-for-all built around re-making the Constitution in the image of Tea Party-style politics.
Similarly, Wisconsin Patriot EVENTS List has promoted a range of political messages. The group describes that it:
“Supports C.U.T. Wisconsin who is ProLife First and Foremost and are dedicated to preserving ProLife/ProFamily Ministries such as Q90 Christian Radio, Wisconsin’s Black Robe Regiment, A&A Alexandrina Center (Pro_Life Green Bay), 40 Days for Life, Many Many More.”
The group’s Administrators have also promoted COVID Denial, pro-Trump messages, and the work of anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Trevor Loudon. Administrator Pat Batemen is also a member of the Posse-Style group Constitutional Grassroots Movement and TEA Party United – Let’s Organize. Moderator Marlene Sobolik is a Wisconsinites Against Excessive Quarantine member. And Moderator Scott Alan Buss is a member of STOP Illegal Immigration & Secure OUR Borders NOW! and the Second Amendment Alliance Foundation.
In the framework common in School-Centered far-right groups, No Left Turn in Education, the national parent of the group to which Knodl belongs, declared,
“Radical teachings motivated by a political agenda and deliberately spread by teachers, administrators, school board members, and even state officials have infiltrated schools across the nation. Unfortunately, all too often words such as diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, systemic racism, human rights education and health education concealed an aggressive, radical totalitarian ideology. From The 1619 Project, to Critical Race Theory, to Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), the goal is to overturn our society by sowing divisiveness and hate. The social unrest that erupted in May 2020 provided the perfect cover for a complete assault and takeover of our educational system. Aided by the mainstream media, the teachers’ unions, together with an increasing number of educators and administrators have become the true schoolyard bullies, using taxpayer funds to indoctrinate their captive audience – our children.”
Befitting such an attack on “diversity, equity, [and] inclusion,” one board member of the No Left Turn national organization is David A. Clarke Jr., the former Milwaukee County Sheriff who called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist movement” and “hate group” and declared that they “will join forces with ISIS to being down our legal constituted republic.” In 2016, Clarke accepted a “Leadership Award” from the New York chapter of the Oath Keepers, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Standing before an Oath Keepers banner, Clarke told the crowd, “I’m one of those that believes that only a citizen uprising is going to allow we the people to resume our rightful place in this republic.”
As of 2015, Clarke was also a member of Richard Mack’s Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Clarke was named the group’s “Sheriff of the Year” in 2013.
To view the sources for these profiles, go here.