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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has been in office less than a month, but she’s already drawing attention for some pretty disturbing superlatives. She’s the only known congressperson to believe in the QAnon conspiracy theory. She filed articles of impeachment against Joe Biden on his first week in office. And a few days back, she got into an argument in the hallway with another freshman congresswoman, Cori Bush. Afterward, Bush moved her offices at the Capitol just to avoid Greene. Over the past couple of weeks, videos have also been surfacing of Greene’s political life before she was elected to office. In one, she seems to have traveled to the Capitol simply to follow a Parkland school shooting survivor around, to try to pick a fight with him. In another, she attempts to tell Muslim congresswomen that they can’t be sworn in using a Quran.
The rise of Marjorie Taylor Greene can’t be disconnected from the rise of President Donald Trump. Like Trump, her superpower is railing against the establishment—an establishment she’s now becoming part of. You could see this contradiction most clearly last month, when the House met to debate Trump’s second impeachment, and Greene wore a mask with the word censored across the front, even though she was speaking to millions, live. On Tuesday’s episode of What Next, I spoke with Atlanta Journal-Constitution political reporter Greg Bluestein about Greene’s lucky political break, how she’s used racism and conspiracy theories to fuel her rise, and why her new colleagues aren’t sure of the best way to stop her. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mary Harris: There’s another way Greene is like Trump, right? While she has aggressively courted a rural base, she doesn’t come from the same world as her constituents.
Greg Bluestein: This gets missed a lot in the national conversation: She’s not some, like, backwoods redneck—people will put these Deliverance memes up when she speaks—she’s not that type. She’s from a very wealthy neighborhood in metro Atlanta. Her kids went to very expensive private schools. She comes from a very affluent background. Some of her critics want to paint her as some backwoods bumpkin, and that’s just not who she is.
Can we talk about the people in her district and what they think of all this? She’s in this very white district that’s been hit really hard by COVID.
It’s very white, very conservative, very rural with a mix of some exurbs. There’s not a very dominant news outlet or newspaper that provides information, so a lot of the voters I talked to during my visits to the district told me that their primary sources of information were social media or very conservative outlets.
A couple of days ago, Marjorie Taylor Green held several town hall meetings for constituents. And over and over again, you heard this fantasy narrative playing out, because she sponsored some kind of push to impeach Joe Biden. She was the only sponsor period on this legislation that’s going to go nowhere to impeach Joe Biden just as he took office. And yet, at these town hall meetings, her constituents are treating it seriously. They’re asking serious questions about why is the mainstream media not paying attention? When is the hearing going to start? How soon is Joe Biden going to be out of office? Those kinds of questions about legislation that objectively is going nowhere—that not even Fox News is reporting as viable. But her constituents are getting the message from alternative news sources that this is somehow this legit push to remove Joe Biden from office.
That’s such an important point, that part of the way the disinformation spreads and grows is when there’s no trusted, vetted source out there. And it sounds like that’s another way that Marjorie Taylor Greene got lucky.
I went to some of these “Stop the Steal” rallies in Georgia, and I would interview people afterward and identify myself as an AJC reporter. And they all know the AJC, and they’d be honest: They’d say, We’re not reading you guys at all. But they also would talk about how frustrated they were because they wanted to vote, but they didn’t know how to because they had been told by President Trump that vote by mail was fraudulent. But they had also been told by President Trump and his allies that there were problems with Georgia’s electronic voting machines. So they were genuinely frustrated and conflicted.
I wonder if your Republican political contacts are looking back at how they played things with Marjorie Taylor Greene and expressing regret or thinking of doing things differently moving forward.
I think it’s a mix of regret and just resignation, because they felt like at the time, given the context of those races, they did what they had to do in order to have a chance at keeping Georgia red. And of course, it didn’t work out for them. And now, they’re going to have to deal with her for at least the next two years, but probably deep into this decade as she continues to give them headaches. And there’s no easy answer for those Republicans now who have suddenly awoken to the fact that she is going to be an embarrassment to the party for a while and that Democrats are eagerly, and probably successfully, going to brand her as the face of the Georgia GOP.
I feel like some of the national coverage has talked about a war within the GOP, but when I hear you talk, it doesn’t sound like a war. It sounds like very polite, slow-moving negotiations. I’m not sure how effective that is in quieting down the kind of rhetoric that Marjorie Taylor Greene is putting out there now.
It’s almost like appeasement. Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, says he’ll have a conversation with her. That’s not exactly the type of response that we could have expected a few years ago in the pre-Trump era.
More than a few people have noted that the Republican response to Marjorie Taylor Greene in Congress has been far more muted than the Republican response to Liz Cheney, who is one of the 10 Republicans who voted for the impeachment of President Trump. You know, that Liz Cheney is getting more backlash for voting for impeachment than Marjorie Taylor Greene did for endorsing the death of the House speaker.
And that may tell you what you need to know.
That’s true to a lesser degree in Georgia. We’re not hearing the governor or the former senators or any of the party’s top statesmen coming out and warning what would happen, saying that Marjorie Taylor Greene needs to be ousted or censored or whatever, or saying this does not represent Georgia. It mirrored what happened after Trump lost Georgia in November. It took a very long time for Republican leaders to speak out against Trump calling it a rigged election. It was this gradual process.
It’s Democrats who are calling for Greene to be held to account. Some have called for censure, even expulsion from office. This week, Democratic leadership gave the GOP an ultimatum: strip Marjorie Taylor Greene of her assignments on the education and budget committees within 72 hours, or they’ll do it themselves. But in some ways, you think that reaction plays right into Marjorie Taylor Greene’s hands, right?
She wants to be martyred, and you can tell by her Twitter feed that all this does is fuel her claims that she is being censored, that she is being cast aside. But, look, House lawmakers are in a very tough situation with this because Democrats at first said this is a Republican issue. They prefer that Republicans deal with this. But when Republican leaders put her on the education committee, even after videos came forward that showed that she was mocking victims of mass shootings at Sandy Hook and at Parkland, it became an untenable situation for Democrats.
How do you think her constituents are going to see all this?
Most of them, the people who supported her in November, are going to echo what she’s been saying. They’re going to echo the fact that this is another example of Republican Trump supporters being silenced. It’s why she’s wearing a censored mask. She will definitely be sending fundraising emails out about it. She’ll probably raise another boatload of cash off this. She raised about $1.6 million in a few days in the run-up to the last big controversy. That’s a lot of money. And she’s got this national audience now. She has more than 300,000 followers on Twitter. That’s a powerful megaphone to raise cash and to get your message out.
I wonder if you feel like you’ve learned anything from covering the Trump years that you now want to apply to covering Marjorie Taylor Green, because she really is borrowing from the playbook.
Yeah, a couple of things. First, we’re not breathlessly reporting everything she says. That’s what a lot of media did with Trump, including the AJC.
Second, we can’t discount that appeal she has. We can’t just ignore what she’s saying, that the grievances she’s playing into are doing so for a reason and that there is a deep well of support for her. This isn’t just some fluke. She did take advantage of an unbelievable situation to win. But she won for a reason and she beat out all those other local Republicans, including a neurosurgeon, John Cowan, who had lived in the district for decades.
And third, we’ve got to call it out as often as we can when there’s lies, when there’s falsehoods, when there’s racist and anti-Semitic and xenophobic remarks. We don’t use “racially tinged” or those kinds of mealy-mouth words. We say in pretty much every story that she has a history of racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic remarks. We include links to those in the stories. We call out the fact that she has been promoting lies about widespread voting fraud and that she is being blamed by Republicans for contributing to the election defeats of Sens. Loeffler and Perdue in January. We’re not letting folks forget about that background.
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