Watching later, I was struck by how much the video resembled footage Greene had recorded before she ran for Congress. In 2019, she filmed herself wandering the Capitol looking for Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who are Muslim, to try to make them retake their oaths of office on a Bible instead of a Koran. The next month, she returned to Washington to stalk Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg, berating him about a gun-control bill.
Seen in one light, Greene is a troll-activist success story: She leveraged her harassment of congresspeople to become a congresswoman herself. Seen in another light, she is stuck playing the same role she did before achieving any influence or notoriety. Like the dog who catches the car, she got what she wanted, and she isn’t sure what to do next.
Greene is best known for her past promotion of the byzantine QAnon belief system, though her paranoia about establishment subversion isn’t limited to fictional satanic pedophile rings. Before running for office, she pushed theories about false-flag operations, inside jobs, a mass shooting plotted by the gun-control lobby and countless other imagined plots. This probably goes without saying, but she believes that the presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. Barely one month into her tenure, her colleagues may have reached a breaking point. This past week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called her ideas a “cancer” for the GOP; Greene ended up recanting some of her past positions, forced-confession style. On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted along mostly partisan lines to strip Greene of her committee assignments, a move typically reserved for members charged with a crime (or those who ask why “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” are controversial terms, as Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa did). Though she retains some support from her caucus, Greene has effectively been quarantined from her colleagues, as though to prevent the further spread of her beliefs.
But this lack of legislative influence will probably wind up boosting her brand, which is built on her ability to engage her fans in speculation about the various dark energies she — and they — are up against. Passing laws was never the point.
Last fall, I reported on Greene and the dozens of other “QAnon candidates” running for Congress. Interestingly, none of the candidates I interviewed had spent much time thinking about the theoretical power they’d have, as elected officials, to dismantle the pedophile ring over which they obsessed. One candidate, from California, told me he’d be a “peacemaker” in office. Another, from Illinois, told me she might assign staffers to investigate the matter “on a part-time basis” but wasn’t sure. (Neither won; only Greene emerged victorious.) Compared with the Manichaean battleground of QAnon, in which Trump was to purge evildoers in a cleansing storm of arrests, gridlocked Washington probably seemed a little prosaic. Moreover, actually being in power — drafting bills and heading to the cafeteria with supposed child abusers — makes it harder to free-associate about the machinations of a shadowy elite. For Greene, being thwarted, or “censored,” by the establishment helps resolve this tension.
Well before anyone knew who Greene was, or the Capitol was stormed by true believers, Walter Kirn wrote a perceptive essay in Harper’s about his own semi-serious obsession with “Q,” the self-proclaimed government agent who began posting perverse riddles on 4chan in late 2017. The collective project of solving these riddles became QAnon. All the spurious dot-connecting struck Kirn as a democratized form of storytelling. “The audience for internet narratives doesn’t want to read, it wants to write. It doesn’t want answers provided, it wants to search for them,” he wrote. “It wants to do.”
Before the Trump era, Greene appears to have been apolitical, devoting herself to the CrossFit scene in her wealthy Atlanta suburb, Alpharetta. In 2017, after discovering QAnon and adjacent conspiracy theories, she pivoted her obsessions to politics. As she told her colleagues on Thursday, “I started looking things up on the Internet.” She began blogging at a now-defunct website called American Truth Seekers and discovered an audience for her musings on Facebook Live. She saw subversion all around her — pedophiles, drag queens, women in hijabs — and seemed to derive meaning from trying to identify and root out the secret forces behind it. The searching was the point; finding anything might kill the fun.
In 2019, she started running for a swing seat in Georgia's 6th Congressional District, where she lived. Convinced it was unwinnable, she packed up and started running in the 14th, a far-right district outside Atlanta. On the trail, she exhibited scant interest in local issues, portraying herself as a bulwark against forces that did not plague her district: antifa, socialism. In one post, removed by Facebook, she posed with an assault-style rifle next to an image of the congresswomen known as the Squad, something Democrats would factor into their decision to punish her. After winning, she seemed out of her element, and got to work alleging that Joe Biden's victory — including in Georgia, where she won in the very same election — had been fraudulent.
A related dynamic was apparent during the deadly Capitol riot on Jan. 6. While some of the participants were well-organized and primed for violence, others looked like live-action role players who had stumbled into something mystifyingly real. Against considerable odds, they managed to breach the Senate chamber. Once they arrived, it became clear that they hadn’t anticipated getting there. People rooted through desks, looking for whatever. One guy slumped on the floor and called his dad. Victory turned out to be an anticlimax. Without anything else to occupy their attention, many simply turned their cameras on themselves. “Q says, ‘trust the plan,’ ” James Duesterberg wrote in an essay for the Point about the events of Jan. 6. “But there is no plan, and that’s the point, like in a puzzle or a game. Everyone is livestreaming, watching themselves act.”
One of the curious things about the posts that resulted in Greene’s censure is that a number of them had been shared and documented before she was elected. Previous news cycles, since forgotten, also revolved around people calling for GOP leadership to condemn things she said or did. And it’s not as if these were leaked comments: She had posted them publicly, using them to network with other activists and build her political following. In this way, she’s better understood as a content creator than a politician. Live-streaming about conspiracies, Greene achieved a paradoxical kind of self-actualization: In dialogue with her followers, she created a realm in which people like her were constantly being manipulated by the people who really ran things. On the campaign trail, Greene promised to investigate George Soros’s connection to “BLM/ANTIFA rioters” when she got to Washington. Instead, she picked an even more performative opening act: filing articles of impeachment against Biden the day after he was sworn in.
Greene nodded toward contrition as first the GOP conference (which took no action against her) and then the full House (which did) contemplated what to do about her. But now that she’s been booted from her committees, it’s unclear how much she’ll miss the assignments. She shares with Trump a fondness for noisy inaction — attention seems to be an end for her, rather than a tool for tackling a policy agenda. (She’s not alone in that: 25-year-old freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) announced, “I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation.”) And Greene is proving useful for the Democratic Party, too, even as some of its members call for her expulsion. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has taken out $500,000 in ads tying eight Republican House members, more or less randomly, to Greene and QAnon.
Of course, as with many influencers, attention comes with a little something extra. In November, Greene created (and tweeted a link to) a website called www.stopthebidensteal.com. It redirects to her fundraising page. This past week, I received an email from her campaign with the subject line “Expelled.” Greene was soliciting donations. “Today’s the day I could be removed from committees, or worse, expelled from Congress,” she wrote. “I need all the support I can get so I can defend myself in the public sphere.” By Thursday night, she said, she’d raised more than $330,000 from over 13,000 supporters.
Now that she’s been punished, Greene doesn’t seem overly bothered. “I woke up early this morning literally laughing thinking about what a bunch of morons the Democrats (+11) are for giving some one like me free time,” she tweeted on Friday, referring to the 11 Republicans who supported her censure. “In this Democrat tyrannical government, Conservative Republicans have no say on committees anyway. Oh this is going to be fun!”