Individuals who belong to extremist organizations or harbor extremist views employ a variety of strategies to influence mainstream society, one of which is running for public office. Once elected, these candidates are able to affect laws and public policy from the inside as a part of the political system. Exposing Extremism in Elections — a project of the SPLC Action Fund — is an attempt to reveal this strategy and arm voters with the information they need to protect our democracy from extremist influences.
With support from the SPLC Action Fund, the SPLC Intelligence Project has compiled a list of candidates running for office in 2020 who appear to have ties to extremism. These ties take different forms – seemingly sympathetic retweets, endorsements, organization memberships or other indications of alignment with philosophies dangerous to participative democracy. We believe that providing this information to the general public will expose the ties these candidates have to extremist groups or ideologies and contribute to an informed voter base. Ultimately, we hope this effort will help preserve our democracy by preventing extremist ideologies from infiltrating institutions of power.
The Exposing Extremism in Elections project provides a list of extremist-tied candidates, new or incumbent, running for public office at city, county, state and federal levels; this list also includes detailed information about the candidate, their election status and any ties to extremist groups and/or ideologies. In this data set, you will find candidates with apparent relationships to, or support from, both hate and antigovernment extremist movements, as well as an array of extremist groups and ideologies. Such candidates are running for all levels of office, all across the country, and in almost every U.S. state – extremist-tied candidates are not isolated to any geographic area.
The Intelligence Project team used a standardized method to identify and compile the information in the Exposing Extremism in Elections data set. The information comes from open source materials and tips submitted to the Intelligence Project by the general public and verified by our researchers. The candidate and election information available in the data set was collected from publicly available election resources.
The candidates identified in this data set as having extremist ties came to the Intelligence Project’s attention during its regular monitoring and research of extremist groups and individuals. Once a candidate was identified as having potential ties to extremism, research analysts on the Intelligence Project team conducted further investigation into the nature of the candidate’s associations. Based on the evidence collected, the Intelligence Project team determined whether the candidate’s extremist affiliations met the definition of one of five “relationship type” categories:
The candidate is a known leader of an extremist group, chapter or ideological movement.
The candidate is a known member of an extremist group, chapter or ideological movement.
The candidate is a known former member of an extremist group, chapter or ideological movement (NOTE: This does not include reformed extremists).
The candidate is not known to be a member or leader of an extremist group, chapter or ideological movement but their platform, rhetoric and/or behavior demonstrates agreement or alignment with specific extremist ideologies.
The candidate is not known to be a member or leader of an extremist group, chapter or ideological movement and does not have any known extremist views or ideologies; however, the candidate has engaged with an extremist group or ideological movement, potentially to benefit from this association (e.g., to gain votes).
These categories were created by the Intelligence Project team to describe the quality of the candidate’s association with extremism. If a candidate met the threshold for one of the five relationship categories, they were included in the data set; if they did not meet the threshold for one of these categories, they were excluded from the data set.
The Intelligence Project team engaged in a peer-review process to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information presented in the Exposing Extremism in Elections data set.
In addition to the interactive and downloadable list of extremist-tied candidates, the Exposing Extremism in Elections project also offers supplementary materials and tools, including:
The SPLC Action Fund does not endorse the viewpoints or vouch for the accuracy of materials or reports that are not its own.
The Exposing Extremism in Elections data set includes a list of candidates running for public office in 2020 who SPLC’s research indicates have ties to extremist groups or ideologies. This data set provides an easy and accessible way to research 2020 candidates and their ties to such extremism. This data set is available as both an online interactive document and as a downloadable document. Download the data set here.
The type of information contained in the dataset can be found in the column headers running across the top row of the data set. The data set largely is divided into three sections of information: 1) Candidate information, 2) Election information, and 3) Information on the candidate’s ties to extremist groups or ideologies.
Each row of the data set represents a candidate running for office in 2020. If a candidate is running or ran for more than one position during the 2020 election cycle (e.g., ran for state senate but dropped out and instead ran for state house), the candidate will appear in multiple rows of the data set, one for each public office they sought.
The first column of the data set, labeled Last Checked, provides the date the candidate’s information was last updated by the Intelligence Project team.
The first main section of the data set provides information on the candidate themselves, including:
The second section of the data set provides election information that is specific to the candidate’s campaign, including:
The third section of the data set provides the information our investigation uncovered on the candidate’s ties to extremist groups or ideologies, including:
NOTE: If our research suggested that a candidate has ties to more than one extremist group or ideology, each is listed sequentially within the candidate’s row.
The signatories and proponents of these model policies are a coalition of civil rights, human rights, technology policy, and consumer protection organizations. The policies themselves were drafted by the Center for American Progress, Color of Change, Free Press, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
These drafters spent approximately nine months consulting with a wide range of civil and human rights experts and technologists to try to develop a thorough yet flexible set of policies.
Under these policies, a company commits to not allowing their services to be used for hateful activities.
There are several legal obstacles—which serve important purposes—that prevent government action from unilaterally solving this problem, even if we wanted it to. Moreover, the tech companies who built these highly profitable platforms also created these problems as collateral damage. Those who profit from these systems should bear the burden of solving the problem.
First, the First Amendment protects free speech in the United States, including hate speech. American federal and state governments cannot ban hate speech. But even outside the United States, speech laws vary wildly from one country to another. It is preferable to develop a set of policies that major tech companies can apply globally so that hateful actors cannot launder their activity by routing their traffic through a different jurisdiction.
Second, in the United States, hateful activities and hate crimes are already illegal in most jurisdictions. An injured person in many cases can bring a civil lawsuit against someone who defames, harasses, or threatens them. But such one-off litigation is very slow and expensive, and sometimes you cannot identify your attacker; many marginalized communities do not have sufficient access to legal services to make this an effective strategy in most cases. Online hate is a systemic problem that needs a systemic solution.
Third, the United States gave tech companies some limited legal immunity under the Communications Decency Act. This immunity is vital to Internet innovation and small startups; without it we would not have the Internet as we know it today. But the trade-off is that we expect the tech companies to police their own platforms.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if any government began regulating online speech directly, there would be huge risks that the majority would silence and oppress the minority. Historically, censorship laws have always disproportionately silenced activists and minorities.
These policies are intended for Internet companies that provide the following types of services:
This policies are not intended to be used by Internet Service Providers (e.g., Comcast or AT&T).We are committed to an open Internet. Nothing in these policies is intended to allow or support blocking, throttling, or prioritizing any lawful content by anInternet Service Provider.
This code book provides additional detail on the information contained within the data set and the process the Intelligence Project team used to compile and code the information.
Each column name in the data set is described in further detail in this code book. Each of the column names in the dataset is listed down the first column of the code book, appearing in the same order as in the data set.
This code book provides additional information for each column name (variable) in the data set, including:
These model policies are meant to be a living document. This is Version 1.0. We fully expect that they will need evaluation and revision going forward. We will learn lessons from their implementation and online behavior will evolve. We hope that the transparency and reporting procedures in these policies will independent researchers and the public the data needed to figure out what works and what does not. And then we will revise.
In addition, we recognize that these are model policies and that every company has a different architecture and business model. We have tried to write these policies in a flexible manner so that companies can adapt their execution to the structure of their services while maintaining some baseline expectations for fairness, transparency, and consumer protection.
No. Tech companies should not be allowed to use these policies as an excuse to invade their users’ privacy, strip them of their anonymity, or undermine the security and privacy of encrypted messaging services. Hateful activities can be reduced while respecting consumers’ rights.
Internet companies must ensure that their efforts are tailored to the mission of addressing hateful activities, and do not inappropriately invade users’ privacy, profile users based solely on their identity or affiliations, or initiate investigations solely based on offensive speech that does not qualify as hateful activities.
We intend these policies to be flexible depending on the nature of the service the tech company is providing. For some companies, requiring an authentic identity is part of the structure of the platform. For others, their users value anonymity.
When tech companies are structuring their practices to implement these policies, they will need to take into account the reasonable expectations of their users. However, a commitment to anonymity cannot be a reason to not address hateful activities. Similarly, a commitment to users disclosing who they are has not in and of itself stopped these kinds of hateful activities on social media platforms.