Politics

The Republican Freshman Class Is a Tribute to Our Nation’s Notorious Local Bozos

A guide to the GOP’s ascendant congressional wing of bullshitters, cranks, zealots, and personal-life disasters.

The six members of Congress seen in close-up.
From upper left, clockwise: Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Texas Rep. Beth Van Duyne, Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson, and Illinois Rep. Mary Miller. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Joe Raedle/Getty Images, Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 RNC via Getty Images, Dustin Chambers/Getty Images, Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc via Getty Images, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, and Jason Kempin/Getty Images.

Every town, midsize city, or urban neighborhood has one, or, perhaps, a family of them: the nuisance litigants, the business owners who address zoning board hearings while visibly intoxicated, the parents who ruin PTA meetings by accusing The Polar Express of encouraging demonry. They are the regulars in the police blotter section of the newspaper, the ones who have been banned from multiple softball leagues for reasons that somehow involve child support. They are America’s local ding-dongs and loose cannons. And, increasingly, they represent the Republican Party’s interests in Congress.

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The demands of politics have always made “popular” figures out of the kinds of people who the average voter would find off-putting in person, and Mr. Psycho Goes to Washington is not a wholly new story. Five-term Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar is apparently such a not-great guy to be around that six (!) of his siblings filmed campaign ads urging his constituents not to vote for him. (In February, Gosar was the featured speaker at a conference organized by a “white identity” fanatic who described the deadly Capitol riot as “awesome.”) It’s not a purely Republican phenomenon, either: onetime Democratic Florida Rep. Alan Grayson was known for both his caustic partisan rhetoric and tendency to appear in headlines like “Grayson Loses $18 Million in Fraud Scheme” and “Grayson Accuses Wife of Bigamy.” Going back further, there are figures like California Rep. John Schmitz, a 1970s Republican so extreme that he was removed from the John Birch Society’s “national council” because the group had gotten tired of dealing with the bad publicity generated, in the words of a 1982 UPI article, by his “statements against homosexuals and Jews.” Schmitz had two children out of wedlock with a woman who’d taken his college political science class and, with his actual wife, fathered ’90s tabloid character Mary Kay Letourneau.

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Never before, though, have our nation’s area weirdos dominated one party’s media presence and priorities as they do now. With much of politics, and political fundraising, carried out through social media performance, the ability to get attention has become functionally identical to the ability to command influence, and a new herd of public figures has stampeded through the gap where the fence dividing fame from infamy used to stand. Many of them were personally inspired by Donald Trump, who got his own start as the notorious protagonist of bankruptcies and divorces in the New York City area. Area creeps are having their moment, and the Republican freshman congressional class is where they are having it. Here, a guide to its most prominently messy legislators.

Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert

Grim/colorful backstory: Boebert’s biggest moment in Congress thus far was appearing via Zoom for a committee hearing with several rifles piled haphazardly on a bookshelf behind her. (Seriously, one of them is just, like, lying on a row of books.) This makes sense given that her claim to fame as a candidate was Shooters Grill—a restaurant, which she operates with her husband, that employs waitresses who ostentatiously carry guns while working. The restaurant owed almost $20,000 in unpaid state taxes while Boebert was running for office; in 2017, a local health department determined that an unlicensed vending stand it set up at a rodeo caused as many as 80 cases of food poisoning.

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Boebert was personally cited in 2010 for failing to properly license her dogs, lost a civil court case over a $1,500 debt in 2012, was arrested for disorderly conduct at a 2015 country music festival, and was arrested again in 2017 for failure to appear in court on “careless driving” charges. Her husband, Jayson, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to public indecency and lewd exposure after a 2004 incident in which he showed his penis to two women waiting in line at a bowling alley. (Lauren Boebert was not yet married to him at the time but was present at the bowling alley during the incident.) Both Boeberts were arrested that year on domestic violence charges involving disputes with each other. (Jayson served time for his; Lauren Boebert was 17 at the time of her arrest, and the relevant court has said it can’t release information about the disposition of her case.) Finally, Boebert’s mother appears to have left a number of comments on a YouTube video more than a decade ago accusing a former WCW wrestler named Stan Lane of trying to evade responsibility for being Boebert’s biological father.

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Biggest current legislative priority: Boebert recently introduced a bill that would move the security fencing that currently surrounds the Capitol to the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Indicative quote: “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.” —an excerpt from the “Our Story” section of Shooters Grill’s website, which appears to have been built using default filler text that no one ever replaced with actual words.

North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn

Grim/colorful backstory: Cawthorn, who was partially paralyzed in a 2014 car accident during a spring break trip to Florida, has turned the incident into a gripping origin story, telling audiences that the friend who was driving at the time abandoned him to die in the burning vehicle and that his injuries prevented him from attending the Naval Academy. The friend in question, however, says he is actually the one who pulled Cawthorn out of the wreckage of his vehicle, and Cawthorn admited in an insurance-related 2017 deposition that he’d been rejected from Annapolis before the accident took place. (He also didn’t mention anything during the deposition about his friend leaving him behind in the car, saying instead that he didn’t remember the accident.) He attended college for a single semester, earning what the Washington Post described as “mostly D’s” and developing a reputation for being the kind of guy that female students should avoid being alone with.

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During his campaign, he claimed to be a real estate CEO and to have spent two years as a full-time staffer for former Rep. Mark Meadows; in fact, Cawthorn’s real estate company in question has no other employees and has only ever made one purchase, and he worked for Meadows part time. (As Jezebel discovered, Cawthorn’s company was named after a particular Roman phrase that happens to be popular among the “Western civilization”–fetishizing wing of the white nationalist movement.) Disclosure forms suggest Cawthorn has not held a steady job in some time, but he did receive a $3 million settlement after the accident. He has also described himself at points as being in the process of attempting to qualify for the Paralympics, a claim that actual Paralympians interviewed by the Nation found extremely implausible given his nonexistent record of participation in recognized competitions.

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Biggest current legislative priority: Despite purportedly prioritizing “comms” (i.e., communications) when hiring his congressional staff, Cawthorn has not posted a statement to his congressional website since Jan. 13. He did trend on Twitter in early March when someone posted an old video of him punching a tree.

Indicative quote: “Call your congressman and feel free, you can lightly threaten them and say, you know what, if you don’t start supporting election integrity—I’m coming after you, Madison Cawthorn is coming after you, everybody’s coming after you.” —Cawthorn, speaking at a right-wing panel event over two weeks before a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to threaten and come after members of Congress.

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Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene

Grim/colorful backstory: Ah, Christ. I mean, where to begin.

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A long recent profile in Politico begins in 2019 with Greene staging a one-woman, self-videotaped protest of a “Drag Queen Story Hour” event for children at a local library, deploying the time-honored annoying person catchphrase “I’m a taxpayer” during the course of arguing with a police officer and a library staffer. In 2012, she filed for divorce while reportedly conducting open affairs with two men she’d met through the CrossFit program. (The Daily Mail recently published a Facebook photo of one of them flexing while naked, buttocks shimmering toward the camera, in a waterfall. The Mail reports that he is currently in the Seattle area “running a gladiator-style bootcamp called The Ludus where he teaches sword fighting.”) She has since reconciled with her husband, who runs a siding business founded by her father; during a period in which she was listed as its chief financial officer, the state of Georgia filed two tax liens against it, and she and her husband have been delinquent on property taxes five times. (Greene’s father, incidentally, has published a 600-page novel related to his belief that the fluctuations of the stock market are influenced by gravity.)

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Greene became active online by blogging and posting on social media about CrossFit, segueing into far-right politics—a subject she’d never shown any previous interest in—after Donald Trump’s election. In 2019, she gained notoriety by launching a campaign calling for Nancy Pelosi to be impeached for treason, and she has at various points suggested that Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and FBI agents who were disloyal to Trump should be executed. She also infamously traveled to D.C. in 2019 to film herself shouting at school shooting survivor-activist David Hogg, who she referred to online as “#LittleHitler.” Originally a resident of Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, she initially suggested she would run for office in the 7th District before eventually filing in the 14th, which she now represents.

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Biggest current legislative priority: For some reason, Greene moves to adjourn the House every day.

Indicative quote: “A laser beam or light beam coming down to Earth I guess. Could that cause a fire? Hmmm, I don’t know. I hope not! That wouldn’t look so good for PG&E, Rothschild Inc, Solaren or Jerry Brown” —a narratively crucial passage from Greene’s now-famous “Jewish space laser” Facebook post about 2018 California wildfires.

Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson

Grim/colorful backstory: Jackson, for most of his career as a Naval officer and doctor, seems to have passed as a pretty normal guy, culminating in his becoming the presidential physician during Barack Obama’s second term. But then Trump assumed office, took a liking to Jackson (bad sign!), and nominated him to run the Department of Veterans Affairs, at which point rumors started circulating that he had a reputation for unprofessional behavior. Indeed, a Defense Department inspector general investigation eventually found that Jackson was known for screaming abusively at co-workers, took Ambien multiple times while he was on call to potentially provide emergency medical care for the president despite telling a colleague that “after he took Ambien, he needed to take another medication to function properly again,” and made “sexual comments to a subordinate about another subordinate’s anatomy.” After these allegations began to become public, Jackson withdrew from Cabinet consideration—but then ran successfully for Congress.

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Biggest current legislative priority: Credit where it’s due—Jackson recently became the co-sponsor of an actual bipartisan infrastructure bill that would extend an interstate through his district.

Indicative quote: “We found no evidence to support the allegation that RDML Jackson ‘got drunk and wrecked a government vehicle.’ ” —one of the few statements in the Department of Defense inspector general report that, from Jackson’s perspective, constituted good news. (The allegation about a government vehicle had circulated in 2018.)

Illinois Rep. Mary Miller

Grim/colorful backstory: Miller has previously been overshadowed as a public figure by her husband, Chris, with whom she runs a farm and participates in a home-schooling organization in southern Illinois. (The organization describes its philosophy as a rejection of “so-called science” and cautions that “even positive peer relationships and teacher-child relationships” should be avoided whenever possible because they constitute time that children are not spending with their parents.)

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In an unusual reversal of the state’s typical migration pattern, Mary Miller moved to the region after being raised in the well-to-do Chicago suburb of Naperville; Chris Miller himself serves the area in the Illinois legislature, where he has made news for calling on the Congress to remove Chicago from the state and for claiming that a critical Facebook message about a GOP leader was posted on his account by a hacker. (“I was dubious of the explanation,” wrote the columnist he made the claim to.) He also made the news this year for parking his truck in a restricted area near the (U.S.) Capitol on Jan. 6 with a “Three Percenter” sticker visible in its window (the Three Percenters are a militia-style far-right group whose members include several individuals arrested for participating in that day’s violence) before recording a Facebook Live video in which he described himself as a participant in a “great cultural war” against “communism” and “Democrat terrorists.” (He later said he believed the Three Percenter image represented nothing more other than “patriotism and love of country.”) You’d think that would have made Chris Miller the most newsworthy member of his household that day, but you’d be wrong: Mary Miller began part of a speech outside the Capitol with the phrase, “Hitler was right on one thing,” which is not an auspicious thing to have said on the morning of a white nationalist riot. (What she claimed Hitler was right about is the phrase “Whoever has the youth has the future.”) She later apologized—sort of, accusing critics of trying to “twist” her words and asserting that she does not regret trying to “illustrate the dangers that outside influences can have on our youth.” Outside influences … hmm.

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Biggest current legislative priority: Miller introduced a bill that would prohibit the Biden administration from intervening against schools that prohibit trans girls from using girls’ bathrooms and playing on girls’ sports teams.

Indicative quote: “Chris and Mary Miller are sinners saved by grace. They grew up in the 60s and 70s, believing every lie the enemy offered.” —the Millers’ biography on the Illinois Christian Home Educators website.

Texas Rep. Beth Van Duyne

Grim/colorful backstory: Van Duyne got her start in Texas politics by confronting a City Council member at a Four Seasons hotel because she was upset about a zoning issue involving her gated neighborhood. (Like Miller, Van Duyne is not actually a native of the area she represents: Raised until her mid-teens in upstate New York, she graduated from Cornell University.) She eventually became the mayor of the city of Irving, where she made national news by claiming a dispute-resolution service offered through a local mosque was an attempt to institute “sharia law” and, later, defended the city’s police department for arresting 14-year-old high school freshman Ahmed Mohamed on the grounds that a homemade clock he had brought to show his science teacher was a “hoax bomb.” During her 2020 campaign, she said her opponent’s reluctance to hold in-person events during the pandemic demonstrated a lack of courage. Since taking office in January, Van Duyne has fired both her chief of staff and legislative director, and her communications director has resigned.

Biggest current legislative priority: Van Duyne recently introduced a bill that would require the Small Business Administration to issue a report about “potential negative effects of the Democrats’ proposed $15 per hour federal minimum wage.”

Indicative quote: “My perspective is that of a Christian.” —Van Duyne, in a 2016 op-ed explaining why she was still going to vote for Trump after the release of the Access Hollywood tape.

Traditionally, freshmen are some of the least powerful members of a congressional caucus, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy would probably like to be setting up the 2022 cycle by attacking Joe Biden on wedge issues like school reopening, police reform, and immigration. Instead, McCarthy is the dog being wagged by the tail as his newest members weave the party’s agenda around election-theft conspiracies, open-carry gun stunts, and the purported protection of girls’ bathrooms. Call them crazy, call them embarrassing, call them whatever—but call them the future.

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