Eighteen Republican members of the Utah Legislature are listed among hundreds of lawmakers from around the country who have followed far-right or extremist groups on social media, including House Speaker Brad Wilson.
A new study from the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights found nearly 900 state legislators have joined at least one of 789 Facebook groups the organization defined as on the “far-right” of the political spectrum. IREHR is a progressive-leaning organization focused on far-right, racist and anti-semitic organizations. These groups included COVID denial, far-right paramilitary groups and posse comitatus or sovereign citizen-focused pages. The study also defines Tea Party-related groups as “far-right” because many of them overlap COVID-denial, anti-immigrant or other right-wing economic philosophies.
The highest-profile Utah legislator on the list is House Speaker Brad Wilson, a member of the LaVoy Finicum; One Cowboy’s Witness #LibertyRising Facebook group, which the report says is influenced by the violent far-right Posse Comitatus movement.
Finicum was part of the group led by Ammon Bundy that staged an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. Finicum was shot and killed by police during an attempted arrest at a roadblock.
The core belief of the Posse Comitatus movement is the mistaken idea that the county sheriff is the highest constitutional authority and can ignore or even nullify federal laws they believe are unconstitutional. Posse Comitatus groups also want to see the 14th and 15th Amendments overturned.
Wilson declined to comment for this story.
Sen. John Johnson, R-Ogden, belongs to seven Facebook groups identified as promoting extremist views, the most among Utah legislators.
Johnson is a member of three groups focused on public education policy, including Stop Critical Race Theory, Weber School District Parents for Choice in Education and Idaho Parents’ Rights in Education.
Johnson is also part of a pair of COVID-denial groups and one affiliated with the Tea Party movement.
Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, belongs to five Facebook groups promoting extremist views. Lyman is part of the It Matters How You Stand and Liberty United groups, which are broadly influenced by the Posse Comitatus movement.
Lyman is also a member of the anti-vaccine Medical Liberty Coalition and COVID-denial Stand for Freedom (Utah) pages. Additionally, he is a member of the Utahns for Election Integrity group, which the study considers a voter suppression organization because of its efforts to eliminate mail-in balloting in Utah. Lyman unsuccessfully sponsored legislation in the 2022 session to return Utah to same-day, in-person voting.
Four other Utah House members belong to groups related to the Posse Comitatus movement. Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, and Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Alpine, are part of the Open Carry Utah Facebook page, which is an arm of Ammon Bundy’s far-right PeoplesRights.org. That Facebook group has been shut down.
Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, is a Constitutional Grassroots Movement page member, and Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, joined Liberty United.
Six legislators have joined various COVID-denial groups on Facebook. Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, is part of Stand for Freedom (Utah) and Utah Workers Against Mandates. In the 2022 session, Brooks sponsored HB60, which would have blocked most private businesses and government agencies from requiring proof of vaccination. The proposal died in the Utah Senate without a vote on the final night of the session.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, Johnson Birkeland and Teuscher are also part of Stand for Freedom (Utah). Additionally, Johnson belongs to Utah Citizens for God Given Rights.
Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, who has announced his resignation from the Legislature, is listed as belonging to three far-right Facebook groups, including the Posse-influenced Liberty Action Coalition.
The remaining legislators on the list joined Tea Party-related groups, including Americans for Prosperity Utah.