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The Ascension of Marjorie Taylor Greene

Marjorie Taylor Greene posted a video of herself titled “Marjorie Greene Confronts David Hogg” to YouTube on January 21, 2020, shot the year before. In it, she follows the Parkland shooting survivor while berating him for not debating her, informing him she has a concealed carry permit. One year later, when CNN published their story, “Video surfaces of Marjorie Taylor Greene confronting Parkland shooting survivor with baseless claims,” rebroadcasting the video, it blew up, and Greene’s stature with it. Families of Parkland victims were brought onto cable news to challenge Greene’s past assertions that the school shooting was a “false flag”—not an original lie, just one common on the Infowars side of online right-wing media and one she had espoused openly before arriving in Congress. This is who Greene is and has been. Nothing needed surfacing. Her bid to become an insult-influencer was sitting right there, on her own YouTube account.

Whether or not Greene is a sign of what the Republican Party has become—or has long contained, from the Birchers onward—she strongly resembles its former leader. Greene has emerged from the same mold as Donald Trump, starring in her own always-rolling kind of reality show meant to convert attention into influence, vengeance into votes. She is best known for endorsing QAnon, as The New York Times has described—it’s not just that QAnon is what we most associate with her but that she is someone whose association with QAnon made her famous. Some Democrats have turned that media attention back on her, trying to hold Greene up as the “face” of the Republican Party; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dropped its first 2022 campaign ads Tuesday, targeting Republicans who, as the ad intones, “stood with Q, not you.” Greene is fundraising off the notoriety she sought out, saying she brought in $1.6 million in the days following calls for her expulsion. All this may further elevate her into a Trumpian figure, a rich sacrificial lamb. She now warns, as her Facebook Live on Tuesday was captioned, “The radical left wing mob is trying to take me out!

Though none of her conspiratorial beliefs are news anymore (as her own press rep told a reporter this week), and they have sometimes been dismissed as mere opportunism, they are being treated now as a threat to democracy. After the events of January 6, that is entirely fair. We are also past the point of debating whether it is right to give Greene more of a role in the spectacle we now live in. She is a member of Congress who has been telling her supporters and opponents alike that it may take a violent battle to defend her fundamentalist worldview and that she is ready and looking for recruits.

The freshman congresswoman from Georgia has positioned her Christian “family values” against what she considers to be “communism,” by which she appears to mean Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In the Republican primary last year, she essentially ran against the Squad. Democrats, Greene claimed coolly in a January 2020 campaign video, “want to murder babies up until the day of birth”—a fiction also shared by Trump—“and they want to take away our guns.” It’s a common refrain for her: Abortion is “the greatest evil,” and women for gun control need to “grow some balls.” Before her Senate run, Greene accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of treason in a Facebook video: “It’s, uh, it’s a crime punishable by death, is what treason is.” A few days before her election night victory in November, Greene said in a Facebook Live interview, “The only way you get your freedoms back is, it’s earned with the price of blood.”

At the same time, Greene’s policy stances—insofar as she has them—comport all too well with the culture-war-as-governance direction of her party. The bills she most recently signed onto, in addition to the “Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act” and the “Life at Conception Act,” target core Republican scapegoats: people who are trans and/or nonbinary—with the “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act,” part of a broader play to create a moral panic about trans athletes in order to roll back trans rights—and the Black Lives Matter movement, by taking the petty step of prohibiting American embassies from displaying BLM banners, with the “Old Glory Only Act.” She fits in.

We can never know how committed Marjorie Taylor Greene is to the bit, and making sense of what she says she believes is an equally senseless task. Her onetime opponent, Kevin Van Ausdal, is one of the very few people who maybe had to, being personally in her crosshairs as a Democrat running against her. “I’ve seen some mention of lizard people?” he told a Washington Post reporter. “And JFK’s ghost? Or maybe he’s still alive? And QAnon is working with Trump to fight the deep state? I’m not sure I understand.” The story continued: “[Ausdal] read about an FBI memo warning that QAnon followers could pose a domestic terrorism threat, and the reality sank in that the only thing standing between Marjorie Taylor Greene and the halls of Congress was him. Kevin.” He dropped out of the race after 31 days. His campaign had pushed him to confront Greene head on. It was too much. “I was scared,” he said to the Post in October, after withdrawing. “I’m being told I need to make a direct attack on groups who respond to people with violence. Who glorify violence.”

Her more openly bigoted and outrageous posts—like the one parroting a conspiracy theory about the California wildfires, now known by detractors as “Jewish space lasers,” or the one about (nonexistent) graphic child sexual exploitation videos on Anthony Weiner’s laptop known by supporters as “frazzledrip”—are easy targets now. More challenging, and more troubling, are all the ways Greene blends in with her party. An obsession with the alleged adoption of “Sharia law” in American town governments, or pleas for the babies lost to the nonexistent “after-birth abortion”—Greene shares these fever dreams with many in the MAGA camp and the Republican Party more generally. She is also very, very good at using them to make herself a household name. The party has seen this before, uncomfortably recently. It tried to turn the base that Trump motivated toward its own success, while also maintaining a respectable distance when necessary, even after those Trump voters then rioted, called Republicans traitors for not trying to overthrow an election, and came for their heads. Greene isn’t just trying to energize those voters. She is in Congress because she is one of them.

Greene has long been building toward this moment of social media turned legacy media infamy. It may have begun as far back as 2011. That year, she underwent a dual transformation. She was rebaptized into an evangelical megachurch called North Point, which founder Andy Stanley says serves 185,000 people weekly (along with “over 10.5 million” views of his own “messages, leadership videos, YouTube videos, and podcasts” each month). You can watch Greene receive the sacrament online. “Thanks for your courage,” the pastor told her, cradling her back just before pressing her down into the water. “Thanks for your obedience in following Christ. You have clearly stewarded this opportunity really, really well. And I know your story is an encouragement to many.”

Around the same time, Greene “committed full time” to the exercise enterprise CrossFit, according to an appearance she made on a local business podcast, as “Marjorie Greene from CrossFit Passion in Alpharetta,” the gym she opened in 2013. “She had a lot of time and a lot of money,” the owner of a CrossFit gym where she used to work told The New Yorker. The gym still figures in her campaign bio as a sign of her business success, and even after she sold it and her political life took over, the high-intensity brand continued to suit her own. Still apparently sweaty, sitting in her car just after working out sometime during her primary race, Greene hopped on Facebook Live to give a shout-out to “small business owners” like herself and blamed “Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats for using this virus to achieve their Socialist goals for America!!!”

Her self-styled business success also evokes Trump: She had her father’s money, from a construction business. “A wealthy Alpharetta businesswoman is considering a run for the 14th Congressional District seat,” the Rome News-Tribune reported in late 2019, one week after the district’s congressman announced his retirement. Marjorie Taylor Greene did not yet live in the district. She folded up her congressional campaign in the district where did reside, nearer to Atlanta, and officially got into what was seen as the more winnable race for a “Christian conservative,” as the paper described her. No mention was made of her more extreme politics, the beliefs she apparently adopted in 2017, the earliest days of QAnon.

Like Trump’s, Greene’s conspiratorial worldview was out in the open before she seriously sought elected office. The man whose time in the White House ended without a concession, mired in obsessions about vast voter fraud, started on his path by pushing the lie that Barack Obama was an illegitimate president. On Facebook, meanwhile, Greene went from being a Trump supporter in 2016 to a QAnon follower within a year.

At the time, QAnon’s audience was still growing, and belonging meant becoming part of a kind of citizen media cargo cult, in which news stories on Breitbart or the Daily Caller were scrutinized for proof of the new pedophile world order. Greene was then a blogger, as Brandy Zadrozny at NBC News reported in June, responsible for posts like “MUST READ—Democratic Party Involved With Child Sex, Satanism, and The Occult,” which rounded up far-right news sites doing their own dubious aggregating, giving Greene the fodder to connect the dots from anti-abortion legislation, the Satanic Temple, D.C. society power couples, John Podesta, Backpage.com, Hillary Clinton, and Jeffrey Epstein. The site where Green blogged, americantruthseekers.com, may have been a few rungs below those others on which it relied for content. But Greene had become part of the same media circuit, transforming local journalism into truth-shredding right-wing website fodder and again into headlines to drive traffic from Facebook back to those websites. And from there, perhaps to Fox News. (And eventually, from the president’s indiscriminate mouth.)

Like any aspiring influencer, though, Greene was going to have to stake out her own brand. She made her own videos poring over QAnon drops, laundering them from further-flung websites onto social media platforms. In a series of now-deleted tweets supporting QAnon, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported, Greene told her Twitter followers to message her and she would “walk you through the whole thing.” (Media Matters was tracking such posts all through the 2020 election cycle, in which it counted 97 congressional candidates who had “embraced” QAnon.) Some of Greene’s videos, Politico reported, pushed antisemitic conspiracy theories about constant QAnon target George Soros. She adopted the style of other far-right video demi-celebrities, doing stunts like targeting Muslim members of congress Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, attempting to track them down at the Capitol. She wrapped a fairly standard-fare GOP Islamophobic trope in maternalism: “I truly feel like as a woman in America, I really need to go talk to these ladies … as an American woman, as a business owner, as a mother—I have two daughters—I never want to see Sharia in America.”

February 2019 seems to be when her efforts began to pay off, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The previous December, at a conference, Greene met media grifters like Roger Stone, Laura Loomer, and Mike Cernovich. She then, along with an Infowars contributor and an anti-immigration activist, organized a “rally” in Washington to support Trump’s border wall, which the group used as an “opportunity to livestream its confrontations with lawmakers’ staff members.” This brings us back to where we began: the David Hogg video, which, before it was on CNN, or YouTube, first appeared on her Facebook page in 2019.

The month before Greene launched herself, Republicans stripped Representative Steve King of his committee assignments, after years of his racist, anti-immigrant remarks. It took so long, the political science professors Sam Rosenfeld and Daniel Schlozman wrote at the time, in part because the party had essentially been made extremist-proof. The GOP had been “captured” by what they called “the Long New Right,” defined by “a politics centered on mobilizing group resentment and conflict, and a determined refusal to police boundaries.” Greene was only barely a player at that point, but a half-century of Republican strategy helped pave the way for her: trying to wield their own openly racist, even violent fringes for electoral victory and being faced, again and again, with the reality that they could not control them. They were them. That’s a bit different from saying Greene is the future of the party. She is just part of its legacy.

Greene is not some wayward suburban CrossFit wife, a Trump supporter who lost herself in a conspiratorial riptide. Neither are her brothers and sisters in QAnon, a trap Democratic leaders like DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney risk falling into themselves, by positioning “college-educated voters” as their opposite. Marjorie Taylor Greene has only benefited from being so underestimated. It gave her GOP power brokers time to make her a real candidate. Even after January 6, after Greene refused to accept the election of Joe Biden, many of her donors stayed with her, according to a Georgia Recorder analysis. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy may reportedly be leaning toward asking Greene to resign from the House education and labor committee, but that’s what was offered as the compromise position, an attempt to keep Democrats from voting to strip her of all committee assignments, which they will take up on Thursday. Greene is winning in her party, not because she’s particularly good at playing the political heel, as Trump tried, but because it’s not at all beyond belief that she will be able to get away with it.

Source: The Ascension of Marjorie Taylor Greene

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