'Start locally': How some US political candidates with ties to extremist groups have sought office

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As the House select committee continues their hearings on the Jan. 6 insurrection, members linked to right-wing extremist groups that participated in the attack are seeking public office.

Politicians with ties to right-wing extremist groups, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, are running for office in local elections across the country as a way to further their extremist views and impose them, according to Catrina Doxsee, an associate director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Essentially what they’re doing is following the advice that is often given to advocates – individuals who want to make a political difference broadly – which is just start locally. To target local politics where you can make more of a concrete difference … and eventually building a political base so that you can run for office at a higher level,” Doxsee told USA TODAY.

Anti-Defamination League’s Center on Extremism found that there were more than 100 “problematic political candidates” claiming to be running for office at the start of 2022. Among these candidates were individuals who promoted extreme views, were associated with extremists or were members of an extremist group.

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As we move through the Midterm elections, here are five people with ties to right-wing extremist organizations who've run for office.

Jarome Bell: Virginia

How he's connected: Bell likened himself to Trump, telling WAVY that he isn't a politician, but an "outsider and a fighter like President Trump was."

Bell's campaign website highlights sentiments familiar to Trump supporters, including his support for a wall at the U.S-Mexico border, his view that the "Communist Chinese Party" is the biggest threat to the United States and references to the coronavirus in xenophobic terms such as "China Virus."

Bell previously called for the audit of votes in all 50 states after the 2020 presidential election, and spread the false theory of election fraud by calling for the conviction and execution for "all involved" with Trump's loss in a now-deleted tweet, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

About his campaign: Bell is in the June 21 Virginia primary running as a Republican for the House of Representatives in the state's 2nd district. Bell previously lost the Republican primary for the same seat in 2020.

Bell did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.

Ammon Bundy: Idaho

How he’s connected: Bundy, a far-right anti-government activist, launched his own organization named the People’s Rights network, which the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights labeled a “dangerous new network” of militia members and conspiracists.

Since the inception of Bundy’s organization with a few dozen members, the People’s Rights Network has grown its membership to over 20,000 with members all across the country.

About his campaign: Bundy is running for governor of Idaho, outlining that he’s tired of “this political garbage” and of “our freedoms being taken from us,” on his campaign website. He also reiterates common right-wing talking points, including accusing the current administration of attempting to “violate the Constitution in unimaginable ways.”

Bundy denies that he is an anti-government activist, stating that he does not support “government overreach nor any open, plain, or obvious corruption in government,” according to his website.

Bundy, who is running as an Independent in Idaho’s gubernatorial election later this year, declined to comment.

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Michael Ray Williams: Wyoming

How he’s connected: Williams is a member of the Oath Keepers. He told Buzzfeed News in a brief interview in 2021 that he joined the organization over a year ago.

About his campaign: Williams is running for Wyoming state senate in district 11 as a Republican on the platform of protecting the “right to bear arms” and supporting “blue-collar workers” and “small businesses,” according to his campaign’s Facebook page.

While Williams has publicly acknowledged his affiliation with the Oath Keepers, there’s no mention on his Facebook page of the extremist organization. However, Williams did defend the group in his interview with Buzzfeed, saying that the Oath Keepers are misunderstood and had “nothing to do” with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“It’s not an anti-government group, it’s not a militia at all,” Williams told Buzzfeed News. “They’re pro-law enforcement, pro-liberty, pro-military, pro-family.”

Williams did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.

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Neil Kumar: Arkansas

How he’s connected: Kumar’s been connected to white nationalists and has written for white nationalist outlets where he pushes racist white supremacy ideology, including replacement theory, according to the ADL.

Kumar identifies himself as a member of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, according to his Candidate Connection Survey on Ballotpedia.

About his campaign: Kumar was running for Congress to serve in the House for Arkansas district 3 but received less than 20% of the vote in a Republican primary loss to incumbent Rep. Steve Womack.

Prior to his loss, the Republican Party of Arkansas’ executive committee refused to support Kumar’s bid, stating that they wouldn’t endorse of defend “racist, bigoted, sexist or threatening language by any candidate,” Jonelle Fulmer, the committee’s chairman, said in a statement.

The committee also designed Kumar as a “non-recommended candidate” in the election, according to the statement.

During his campaign, Kumar previously told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that the most pressing issue facing both his constituents and the country was the great replacement theory, mentioning his 20-year immigration plan, which included ending “legal and illegal immigration, as well as mass deportations of all illegals.”

Kumar did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.

►'Proud Boys': Extremist group can still attend Donald Trump rallies – but no logos allowed

Daniel Tooze: Oregon

How he’s connected: Tooze told Willamette Week that he identifies as a “Proud Boy whenever I feel like it, just like I would if I was an Elk member. Proud Boys don’t come from a factory in Kentucky. They’re just regular people.”

About his campaign: This was Tooze’s second campaign for district 40’s seat in Oregon’s House of Representatives after failing to secure the Republican nomination for the same seat in 2020. Tooze’s run ended again this year after losing the Republican nomination during the primary to Adam Baker. In both primaries, Tooze received about 40% of the vote.

Tooze’s platform echoed some familiar right-wing talking points, including banning Critical Race Theory and mask mandates in schools, he also borrowed former President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, replacing “America” with “Oregon.”

Tooze did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Candidates for political office in US with ties to extremist groups