Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) had been a member of Congress for all of three days when the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021 took place. But as text messages newly revealed by CNN show, she was already in communication with Mark Meadows, then-President Trump’s chief of staff.
That lie was that the ugly, deadly violence of that day was perpetrated not by Trump supporters but by antifa infiltrators. We now have a window into how quickly leading Trump allies were constructing that lie in private communications.
In a way, it’s fitting that Greene was so deeply involved in this process. After all, she has become one of the most aggressive right-wing peddlers of unhinged hyperbole about the leftist enemy, to justify pretty much anything the right might decide to do in response. Such as overturning elections through mob violence.
Greene’s texts show that she understood perfectly well that Trump supporters were responsible for the gathering threat that day — yet she quickly segued into blaming antifa, anyway.
At 2:28 p.m., while the insurrection was in full swing, Greene texted Meadows to say: “Please tell the President to calm people,” adding that “This isn’t the way to solve anything.” She knew the rioters were people who would listen to Trump.
But then at 3:52 p.m., Greene texted Meadows again: “Mark we don’t think these attackers are our people. We think they are antifa. Dressed like Trump supporters.” Presto, the pro-Trump insurrection became a false flag operation!
Greene wasn’t the only one. Just minutes earlier, Trump adviser Jason Miller had texted Meadows to suggest that Trump should tweet that “Bad apples, likely ANTIFA or other crazed leftists” had “infiltrated” the alleged “peaceful protest” by Trump supporters.
Before long, the antifa lie was in full swing. That evening on Fox News, one show after another featured speculation or outright assertions that antifa was to blame, including on programs hosted by Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham.
“Do not be surprised if we learn in the days ahead that the Trump rioters were infiltrated by leftist extremists,” tweeted Fox’s Brit Hume. Those comments were often peppered with the even more absurd claim that Trump supporters couldn’t possibly be capable of violence.
Remember the larger context: By the time of the attempted coup, right wing media figures and assorted Trump propagandists had been claiming for months that antifa was not a small, loosely connected group of people who liked to engage in ugly street violence, but a highly organized terrorist organization that had committed enormously destructive actions across the country.
For instance, Trump himself tweeted the previous May that the United States would designate antifa a “Terrorist Organization.” That never happened, first because terrorist designations only apply to foreign organizations, and second because antifa is not actually an organization.
But that summer, as protests over the police murder of George Floyd unfolded across the United States, antifa became the shorthand way for right wing demagogues to frighten people into believing that leftist terrorism had pushed civil society to the brink of total collapse. Rumors spread on social media of imminent antifa attacks in places such as South Dakota, Idaho, and Montana.
In town after town, people would circulate rumors of arriving busloads of antifa fighters; armed residents would assemble to repel them, only to find that it was a figment of their imagination. As Carlson told viewers in June 2020, before long, “violent young men with guns will be in charge,” and “they will do what they want. You will do what they say. No one will stop them.”
So when an actual violent assault on political order and civil society was incited by Trump and carried out by Trump supporters on Jan. 6, and Republicans were desperate to insulate Trump and his movement from responsibility, they knew exactly which lie to promote.
All this points to something else as well: The extraordinary cynicism at the core of much right wing fearmongering about the left. Greene belongs to a faction of right wing Republicans who not only traffic in intimations of political violence and thuggery; they often reverse-justify it with wildly hysterical claims about the left’s alleged violence and thuggery whose detachment from any sense of obligation to empirical reality is absolute.
So it’s perfectly telling that Greene moved from calling for Trump to calm his supporters to blaming antifa well before those Trump supporters had finished laying siege to the Capitol.
Another newly revealed text captures this dynamic. Two weeks after the riot, Hannity texted Meadows video of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the Senate floor directly blaming Trump for inciting the mob with “lies.” Hannity then texted Meadows: “Well this is as bad as this can get.”
Hannity understood how damaging it would be for the MAGA movement if Trump and his supporters got properly saddled with blame for the violent coup attempt. No wonder the campaign to scapegoat antifa grew so frenzied in the weeks and months that followed.