As Marjorie Taylor Greene entered a runoff last year to be the Republican nominee for a U.S. House seat in Georgia, her opponent sounded the alarm. He warned top party officials that she had made several dangerous, baseless claims, and that she would tear apart the GOP if she won.
Greene was “exactly the kind of fighter needed in Washington to stand with me against the radical left,” declared Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Debbie Meadows, who ran an influential political action committee and whose husband, Mark Meadows, became Trump’s chief of staff, gushed, “We cannot wait to welcome her to Congress.”
Greene trounced neurosurgeon John Cowan in the runoff and easily won in the fall — paving the way for her emergence as a symbol of the radicalized ideology that believes in QAnon, which inspired the pro-Trump rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and has enveloped much of the Republican Party while sparking fears of additional violence.
While some Republicans have tried to portray Greene as a political anomaly, her ascent demonstrates the extent to which key party leaders embraced her and propelled her to victory despite her well-documented history of spreading false claims and violent rhetoric. Critical to Greene’s success was the early intervention on her behalf by some of the party’s most staunchly pro-Trump figures and Greene’s ability to tap into the far-right online world where baseless claims thrive.
“She really got ingratiated with the House Freedom Caucus, and they’re the ones who really spring-boarded her,” Cowan told The Washington Post. “They were clearly picking their favorite from very early on.”
Now, Democrats point to Greene as a direct threat to their physical safety, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) saying the “enemy is within the House,” in an apparent reference to Greene and other gun-toting House members, and Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) on Friday announcing she was moving her office away from Greene’s.
Cowan said he warned that Greene’s support of QAnon and other theories would harm the party. QAnon represents a sprawling set of false claims that have coalesced into an extremist ideology that has radicalized its followers, some of whom participated in the Capitol attack.
Among those Cowan called was Ben Carson, President Donald Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development, who had taught Cowan in medical school and had performed surgeries with him.
Cowan said that Carson told him there was nothing he could do. Carson could not be reached for comment.
Yet for a brief moment in the summer of 2020 as Greene faced Cowan in a runoff, it seemed that other Republican Party officials would turn against her. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Greene’s comments were “appalling,” and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said they were “disgusting.” But that didn’t seem to slow Republican support for Greene.
Greene, meanwhile, hired an advertising consultant who had once said the NAACP is “the Black KKK, only more violent and dangerous.” She spent $211,000 to advertise on Parler, the social media site that attracted adherents to QAnon, according to Federal Election Commission records. The next highest amount spent on Parler by a congressional candidate last year was $1,400. Parler declined to comment.
Now, Republicans have rewarded Greene with a coveted seat on the Education and Labor Committee, a post that she probably could not have won without the acquiescence of her onetime critics, McCarthy and Scalise.
The appointment, along with daily revelations of Greene’s past postings on social media, has led Democrats to call for some form of punishment. After reports emerged that Greene in 2019 endorsed the execution of Democrats and said Pelosi “is guilty of treason . . . a crime punishable by death,” Pelosi said the decision by Republican leaders to put Greene on the Education panel was “absolutely appalling.”
Greene said in a statement to The Post that “Democrats and their spokesmen in the Fake News Media will stop at nothing to defeat conservative Republicans.” She tweeted Saturday that she’d had “a GREAT call with my all time favorite POTUS, President Trump! I’m so grateful for his support. . . . I can promise you this. . . . I won’t back down, I’ll never apologize. And I’ll always keep fighting for the people.”
A Trump spokeswoman declined to comment.
Greene, 46, married and the mother of three, became wealthy from her family business. Her father, Robert Taylor, founded a construction company, which Greene eventually helped manage. She founded a gym called CrossFit Passion, which she promoted in the media, helping her to become known.
In a December 2015 radio interview about the gym, she never mentioned her political outlook but instead presented herself as sunnily focused on her personal athletic accomplishments and her desire to help people get in shape.
“I don’t judge a single person,” Greene said on the Business Radio X show. “In bettering themselves, they want to see others better themselves.” The main societal concern she expressed on the show was that children spent too much time watching television.
Greene became an avid Trump supporter, but she initially presented her views in a markedly non-adversarial way. In a Facebook post on the day of a presidential debate in October 2016, Greene wrote that “I just want a president, cabinet, and congress that will work on real solutions like our 20 trillion dollar national debt, sinking healthcare system and create a growing economy that increases jobs for Americans. I don’t care if they are red or blue, I really don’t. To be honest I’m sick and tired of politicians anyway.”
Soon, however, Greene began filming herself spreading an array of far-right views, laying the groundwork for her political persona. Energized by Trump’s election, she became particularly entranced by QAnon. She adopted the baseless belief an anonymous person called Q was revealing secrets about a child trafficking ring orchestrated by Democrats and global elites.
“Have you guys been following 4chan? Q? Any of that stuff?” Greene asked her followers in November 2017. “Q is a patriot, we know that for sure. . . . He is someone that very much loves his country, and he’s on the same page as us, and he is very pro-Trump.”
In that video, which Greene has since removed from her social media accounts but has been reposted to YouTube, the future congresswoman told the uninitiated where to go to learn more: AmericanTruthSeekers.com, a now-defunct blog.
Greene’s author page on an archived version of the site, highlighted by NBC News in August, says she wrote 59 posts. One is headlined: “MUST READ — Democratic Party Involved With Child Sex, Satanism, and The Occult.” A January 2018 post extolled Q for possessing “obvious intelligence beyond the normal person.”
Greene also began advancing baseless theories that appeal to extreme gun rights advocates: that several mass shootings were “false flag” events that were staged by gun control proponents. Greene said that these included the 2017 massacre in Las Vegas and the 2018 Parkland school shooting.
After the March 2019 shootings at mosques in New Zealand that killed 51 people, Greene wrote, according to a Facebook screenshot made by the Southern Poverty Law Center: “This is a false flag shooting with an intent purpose to affect our 2A rights and try to frame those who are on 8 Chan.”
In a pair of videos taken in March 2019, just after the first anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 students and staff, Greene berated David Hogg, who survived the attack and has pushed for gun control measures.
Outside the U.S. Capitol, she trailed Hogg for nearly two minutes, repeating baseless theories and accusing him of trying to “take away my Second Amendment rights.” She called Hogg, then 18 years old, “a coward” for not responding to her.
In an interview, Hogg said the run-in with Greene is indicative of the near-constant harassment he receives, including numerous death threats. Now Hogg is calling on House Republicans to strip Greene of her committee assignments and expel her from Congress.
“I would hope we can agree there should be no place, no committee assignment, but no place period for people who spread conspiracies about school shootings or threaten to kill Democratic lawmakers,” Hogg said.
As QAnon grew in prominence, so did Greene. She thrived in the algorithm-driven ecosystem of online right-wing commentary, said Michael Edison Hayden, spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, an advocacy group focused on extremism that highlighted her views on its Hatewatch website in August 2019.
“Greene comes up in that world,” Hayden said. “She seeks to become an influencer on social media and is really a person of this new landscape for right-wing media, building her way up in popularity by embracing increasingly deranged conspiracy theories.”
In August, Greene told Fox News that she once had supported the theories of QAnon but said she “decided that I would choose another path.”
Greene supplemented her QAnon and gun theories with rants about Muslims. Greene said Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, represented “an Islamic invasion into our government offices.” She said, falsely, that they couldn’t be sworn into Congress with a Koran, saying that Bible must be used.
Courted by Freedom Caucus
As Greene’s videos received wider viewership, she announced that she was considering a run for Congress in the district where she lived near Atlanta.
That prompted a number of reports in the summer of 2019 about her videos. She was initially described in the local media as a long shot and was widely written off. But when then-Rep. Tom Graves retired from a heavily Republican district in north Georgia, Greene said she was urged by top Republicans in Washington to switch to that race.
Greene said at a GOP breakfast that “I started getting phone calls from the most conservative members in the House Freedom Caucus. Debbie Meadows — Mark Meadows’ wife — Jim Jordan, Andy Biggs,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Biggs (R-Ariz.) is chairman of the Freedom Caucus.
At the time, Mark Meadows was preparing to resign his seat as a North Carolina member of the House to become Trump’s chief of staff, and Debbie Meadows would become executive director of Right Women, a political action committee devoted to electing women who agree to become members of the House Freedom Caucus. The website of Right Women said that it has a “robust vetting process,” suggesting it would have been aware of the reporting about Greene’s comments.
Debbie and Mark Meadows, Jordan and Biggs did not respond to requests for comment.
Greene switched to the north Georgia district, where the politics and culture of Atlanta’s northernmost suburbs fade into those of the rural Appalachian foothills, a transition heralded by billboards for Jesus, gun shops and discount lawyers that dot the two-lane highways connecting small towns with rural problems — health care, drugs, poverty.
Economically, the area depends heavily on manufacturing, especially the floor-covering industry centered in Dalton, where the Latino population has surged in recent years and which is a Democratic stronghold, along with the city of Rome. Otherwise, the district remains overwhelmingly White, evangelical, pro-Trump and doggedly pro-gun, a place where politics is grounded in resistance to a changing America.
Greene and Cowan emerged from the seven-person primary as the two top vote-getters for a runoff.
Greene’s emergence briefly led to a round of reporting about her belief in extremist ideology and other comments, which prompted the top two House Republicans, McCarthy and Scalise, to condemn her. “The comments made by Ms. Greene are disgusting and don’t reflect the values of equality and decency that make our country great,” said Scalise, who endorsed Cowan.
But that had little impact by comparison to the stepped-up support from other Republicans such as Debbie Meadows and her Right Women committee, who emphasized ties to Trump at a time when her husband was the president’s chief of staff.
“Right Women is enthusiastic in our support of Marjorie Greene, and we are thrilled that she will advance to the runoff in August,” Debbie Meadows said in a news release in June 2020. “Marjorie is committed to standing up for economic freedom and will help advance President Trump’s Make America Great Again agenda.”
With her $1 million loan to her campaign, Greene was able to run an extensive television ad campaign. Her campaign paid $656,000 for advertising, polling, media buys and other services to a company called Neighborhood Research and Media, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
The company is run by Richard K. Shaftan, who was the subject of an investigation in 2018 by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which reported on his social media posts. The newspaper said the posts included: the NAACP is “the Black KKK, only more violent and dangerous,” “After #Ferguson, only a fool would start, finance or insure a business in a black neighborhood” and “We honor Dr. King’s memory by naming the worst most drug and crime invested street in every town after him. #ItIsWhatItIs.”
The Facebook page of Shaftan’s company provides a link to a firm called Mountaintop Media, which produced an ad for Greene that said Cowan “won’t condemn antifa, Black Lives Matter or even George Soros.”
Reached by phone for comment about his work for Greene, Shaftan said he doesn’t discuss his clients, saying, “You can figure it out on your own.” His Twitter biography has an image of a story headlined, “State NAACP head calls Reagan a racist.”
Greene’s ad reflected her own beliefs, based on statements she made on social media. She said that Black Americans are controlled by gangs. “The gangs are holding them back, it’s not white people.”
As for the billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who has supported Democratic candidates, Greene said, “George Soros is the piece of crap that turned in — he’s a Jew — he turned in his own people over to the Nazis.” In fact, Soros has told The Post that he used false papers at age 13 to survive the Nazi occupation of Hungary and that any suggestion he turned over Jews to the Nazis is a “total fabrication.”
Support of gun groups
At Greene’s campaign events last summer and fall, her most visible and consistent support came not from QAnon followers but from county-based gun groups who claim thousands of members across northwest Georgia. The groups are part of the Second Amendment “sanctuary movement,” which aims to establish counties where gun restrictions are not enforced.
At one event where Greene headlined, a militia called the Georgia III Percent Martyrs — which would later claim to have hundreds of members outside the U.S. Capitol on the insurrection day of Jan. 6 — provided security, wearing camouflage, body armor, radios and in one case a battle ax.
“She is where she is now because of us,” Jonathan Ledwell, a gun group member, said at one of Greene’s events last summer.
Another member, James Waycasie, said that while he doesn’t think Greene is a Q supporter, and he doesn’t know if Q is real, “you can’t deny” that millions of people are involved in “the movement.”
Greene easily beat Cowan, prompting Trump to tweet his congratulations to the “future Republican star . . . Marjorie is strong on everything and never gives up — a real WINNER!” The Democratic candidate, Kevin Van Ausdal, who had little chance in such a heavily Republican district, eventually dropped out for personal reasons compounded by the stress of a campaign he said left him “broken.”
After her election, Greene’s support in extreme corners of the Internet is stronger than ever. On Patriots.win — a website that descended from Reddit’s forum /r/The_Donald, which was banned last year — users cheered her on.
“They are trying to discredit her,” one wrote. “It won’t work, it will only make us love her more.”
Another wrote, “I wish we had a million more just like her.”
Now, in the same place where she once filmed her Facebook videos about extremist theories, Greene roams the Capitol as a member of the House. Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) said he plans to introduce a resolution expelling her from Congress. “What she is doing matters and can lead to violence,” Gomez said in an interview.
Some Republican leaders, just as they did during her campaign, have once again expressed outrage at her comments, even as they stand by their decision to put her on the Education and Labor Committee.
A spokesman on Wednesday said McCarthy found Greene’s comments “deeply disturbing” and said the house minority leader “plans to have a conversation with the Congresswoman about them” this week. Scalise said in a statement that “there is no place for comments like that in our political discourse.” Scalise and McCarthy did not respond to a request for comment about Greene’s future.
On Thursday, CNN reported that Greene had agreed to transfer $175,000 from her campaign to the National Republican Campaign Committee, which works to elect GOP members to House. The transfer was confirmed by a knowledgeable official.
As of Friday, there was no word that Republican leaders had raised concerns directly with Greene.
Alice Crites, Zach Purser Brown and Anu Narayanswamy contributed to this report.