The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A layer cake of misinformation, dishonesty and pro-Russia apologism

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) appears in a Facebook video. (Greene/Facebook)

You would be forgiven if you did not hear that a national political figure addressed the nation about the war in Ukraine on Wednesday night. The figure was Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), the right-wing, first-term backbencher. The address was not carried on any major broadcast network or even any major cable channel; instead, it was hosted on Facebook Live. It was an address to the nation in the sense that anyone broadcasting live on Facebook is addressing the nation. It was an address to the nation in the sense that any of your tweets is a message delivered to the world.

What’s changed about Greene since her days as a rabble-rousing promoter of conspiracy theories and misinformation is simply that she now does the same thing with the trappings of officialdom. Her comments about the war in Ukraine have the slightly elevated weight of coming from a member of Congress, albeit it one with less actual political power than perhaps any other official on Capitol Hill. But they were presented as though she was the elected president — which, I suppose, she, to some extent, is. She is the leader of the very specific and not-very-big subset of Americans: those who accept on faith any criticism of the political left.

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Greene’s power is so diminished that covering her comments runs a real risk of simply giving them an elevated platform. Only about 15,000 people watched her address, according to Facebook’s public metrics, so it’s safe to assume that you were not among them. (Also because you’re reading an article at The Washington Post, whose audience, I believe, is necessarily a bit more discerning in picking its sources of information.) The 10-minute riff, though, distills a very specific and not entirely uncommon worldview that has emerged since Russia invaded Ukraine and is worth assessing from that perspective alone.

So let’s assess.

Greene begins with the assertion that coverage of the invasion of Ukraine is accompanied with “the drumbeat of war,” implying, as have people like Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, that the attention being paid to Russia’s incursion is simply a function of eagerness for America to enter the fray. If anything, of course, the situation is quite different: American leaders have been trying to figure out how to assist Ukraine without risking direct conflict with a nuclear-armed state led by an unpredictable autocrat. But at its heart, Greene’s presentation is about taking the various stringy theories she’s accumulated and weaving something Congress-y out of them. “Drumbeat of war” is something a Serious Politician would Intone About during a National Address, and so here it is.

“We’re told that we have an urgent moral responsibility to send money and munitions to a country 6,000 miles away,” Greene continues, emphasizing that dramatic distance, “a country that just coincidentally Joe Biden has business interest in, as do many other people.” (Ukraine is actually only about 4,000 miles from the United States. For reference, the distance from the northwestern part of Alaska to the tip of Florida is about 4,500 miles.)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Congress on March 16, and officials from Ukraine and Russia expressed optimism for peace talks. (Video: The Washington Post)

Obviously lots of people have business interests in Ukraine, since it’s a country. I’m not sure why Greene claims Biden has business interests there, nor why she later claimed that “Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Mitt Romney” had “direct financial interest” there. It’s probably because Greene applies no discernment to random Internet rumors like the one that circulated in 2019 as part of the broad effort to defend Donald Trump against having withheld aid from Ukraine. Biden’s son used to be on the board of a company in Ukraine, yes, but that’s not the president, anyway. But also: What’s the argument here? That we’re sending weapons to Ukraine not to help repel the invasion of a sovereign nation but because … Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is eager to protect some small fraction of his wealth? Seems like that might be a more complicated theory than is warranted.

Greene isn’t really making that case though. She’s just making a general case against doing anything, in part because it’s government spending, which she’s against when she’s against it. The argument for inaction, though, is a truly bizarre one: Ukraine is going to lose, and the sooner the better. Arming their defense just means Russia will kill more Ukrainians.

This is not an exaggeration of her position.

“There is no doubt that Putin’s actions in Ukraine are despicable and evil. We weep when we see images of men, women and children wounded or killed,” she says. And then, later: “If we truly care about suffering and death on our television screens, we cannot fund more of it by sending money and weaponry to Ukraine to fight a war they cannot possibly win. The only effective, more arms and more money from America will be to prolong the war and magnify human suffering. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be responsible for creating even more refugees and orphans in an already traumatized and dysfunctional world.” And: “It’s not our responsibility to give [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky and the Ukrainian people false hope about a war they cannot win.”

We should simply let Russia roll through Ukraine and end the war faster, she argues, because it’s imperative “as Christians to prevent any more human suffering and death.”

This, of course, from the woman who at one point recommended that Georgians be armed when greeting anyone coming door-to-door offering coronavirus vaccines. The issue isn’t that she wants to end suffering. It’s that she is more worried about attacking Biden than aiding some country only slightly farther from Georgia than is Alaska.

Her attacks on Biden don’t even make sense.

She accuses him of supporting an omnibus government spending bill that “contains $14 billion for Ukraine, but not a dollar for our own border.” It … contains lots of dollars for the border. It’s an omnibus bill, which funds multiple government departments. Here’s the bill; search for the words “U.S. Customs and Border Protection” and scroll down.

She rails against Zelensky’s request that America enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine, warning that doing so “means war.” Well, yeah. That’s why Biden and most of the rest of the American government oppose the idea! This is not an argument in support of the idea Biden’s rushing to war.

Then there’s the claim that Biden “may be barking and waving a stick, but no one is afraid. Our enemies know that he lacks both the will and the ability to see through his saber-rattling.” She claims that sanctions aren’t doing anything. So, which is it? Are we marching toward war or are we simply making wan threats about intervening? Are we supplying weapons that will help Ukraine fight back or are we only imposing sanctions that aren’t doing anything at all? Again, the goal is just to cobble together various BIDEN BAD words and then package them as a national address. This is what you get.

But there is one particular line of argument that deserves dissection.

“This is an eight-year-long smoldering conflict in which peace agreements have been routinely violated by both sides,” Greene claims. “ … A country which government only exists because of the Obama State Department helped to overthrow the previous regime.”

It is true that both Ukraine and Russia violated the terms of an agreement reached in 2014. But that does not make them equivalent, as Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) pointed out in response to Greene. Russia had seized part of Ukraine and was backing insurgents in two eastern provinces of the country. If Canada seized Maine and we reached an uneasy agreement with it to lower conflict, that would not mean that violations of that agreement put both the United States and Canada on equal moral ground. If your next-door neighbor takes over your garage and the police make both you and them agree not to fight, you do not give up your moral position if you then throw eggs at their house.

That claim about the government “only existing” because of the State Department, though, is precisely the propaganda that Russia has promoted. In 2014, a series of protests over a Russia-friendly president in Ukraine led to the government’s collapse. Russia has blamed the United States for inciting those protests. In reality, they were triggered in large part by the sitting president (elected with the assistance of Paul Manafort) rejecting a free-trade agreement with the European Union — something fervently opposed by Russia. That’s a central theme in the moment, of course: Russia invaded Ukraine in part out of concern that the country had moved irrevocably out of its orbit of influence.

What’s particularly noteworthy about Greene’s speech is how it fuses all of these various things together. False claims, debunked nonsense, echoes of Russian propaganda — all merged into an address to the Fringe States of America from its president. This is a conversation we cannot pretend doesn’t exist and has no influence.