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The Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund has launched a new elections project that calls out candidates who have ties to — or sympathize with — extremist groups or ideologies. The Exposing Extremism in Elections project has created a guide outlining a list of candidates who have relationships with, or enjoy support from, hate and anti-government movements. The list, which currently includes 162 federal, state, and local candidates, categorizes the type of extremism to which candidates are linked.
“The disturbing reality of American politics today is that extremist ideology has made substantial advances among many politicians running in this election cycle,” SPLC Action Fund President and CEO Margaret Huang said in a statement.
“Voters have a right to know the organizations candidates associate with and ideologies they follow, because if elected, these individuals will be able to influence laws, public policy, and political agendas at the federal and state level. The Exposing Extremism in Elections is an attempt to reveal these ties and beliefs and to provide the American electorate with the information they need to make an informed decision about who should represent them.”
The information in the guide is drawn from open-source materials and has been verified by a team of researchers. In addition to an interactive and downloadable data set, the project offers supplementary materials and tools, including summaries of newer ideological movements, descriptions of sub-categories within the anti-government extremist movement, and links to articles and reports on candidates or extremism.
“Our aim was to educate the public about political candidates’ apparent ties to or sympathies towards extremist organizations or ideologies,” says Seth Levi, chief program strategy officer at the SPLC Action Fund. “We looked at candidates running for all levels of office — local, state and federal — across the United States, looking for people who may be the leader or member or former member of an organization that either has some kind of anti-government ideology or a hate group ideology, as well as just looking for candidates who subscribe to some kind of extremist ideological viewpoint or have had a transactional relationship with extremist organizations.”
Levi warned that not every candidate on the list necessarily has an extremist viewpoint, but the project is merely to highlight any ties to extremist organizations. That includes instances where a candidate attended an event sponsored by questionable organizations, appeared on a radio, show, or incorporated people with extremist views into their campaign.
As for what constitutes “extremism,” Levi says SPLC uses the term to refer to organizations or movements ideologies that embrace an anti-government viewpoint rooted in baseless conspiracy theories, such as QAnon, or organizations that the SPLC designates as hate groups, defined as “any organization that maligns a group of people for their immutable characteristics.”
“For instance, the organizations that we list as anti-LGBTQ hate groups are ones who spread lies and misinformation for the purpose of trying to marginalize and demonize LGBTQ people, using dehumanizing rhetoric such as saying that LGBTQ people are pedophiles by nature, and therefore, we need to have different laws and restrictions for them because of it,” Levi says.
“I remember when there was the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ several years ago, people were making ludicrous claims that soldiers who were LGBTQ would be out there trying to sexually assault other soldiers. And it’s just flat out lies and demonizing rhetoric like that, which has that intent of trying to marginalize those people. It has nothing to do with religious beliefs or beliefs about same-sex marriage.”
The political right has frequently criticized SPLC for its classifications of various organizations as hate groups. But Levi points out the SPLC Action Fund is simply putting publicly available information in a single, easily accessible place.
“The examples of these extremist acts or beliefs these candidates have often come from either their campaign website or their social media accounts or videos that they’ve posted,” he says. “So this is what the candidates have said and done. There is know no commentary from us about whether this is right or wrong. At this point, we’re just putting this information out there online.
“We do hope to build on this database in future years and look for other ways to get the information out there. I also imagine that voters are looking for this information, trying to understand more about these organizations and some of these candidates who might be affiliated with various ideologies. Just through the power of a Google search, we’re becoming another resource for voters.”
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