Photo: Erik S Lesser/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Representative-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia’s 14th Congressional District is the only 2020 candidate who won office after saying she believed in QAnon. She recently tried to distance herself from the conspiracy theory, but her first week on Capitol Hill found her spouting paranoid fantasies worthy of its name. Her antics rounded out a regrettable early November for Republicans from Georgia — and presented a damning vision of what their constituents want from them.
Greene owned a CrossFit gym and commercial construction company in the northern Atlanta suburbs before she became one of 81 congressional candidates this year to have endorsed the idea that Satanist pedophiles control the government and Hollywood. Twenty-four of them made it onto the ballot in November: 22 were Republicans, two were independents. Collectively, these would-be lawmakers either believe or once expressed belief in some version of the idea that President Trump is part of a secretive campaign to expose the aforementioned villains and bring them to justice. Greene was an early adopter. As far back as 2017, she was active on several message boards and conspiracist websites where posts from the anonymous “Q” — purportedly a government mole — fomented an obsessive subculture that saw evidence of devil worship and child sex-trafficking hidden in remarks, jokes, and correspondences among public figures ranging from Patton Oswalt to Hillary Clinton. To top it off, Greene is also a classic run-of-the-mill bigot. She has personally characterized the elections of her soon-to-be colleagues Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib as an “Islamic invasion of government.” And she drew national attention early in her campaign for resurfaced social-media videos where she called Jewish billionaire George Soros a “Nazi” and said that Black people should be proud when they see the Confederate flag because it signifies the progress they’ve made since the Civil War.
The exact ways in which this kitchen-sink slurry of right-wing pathologies was meant to congeal into a coherent theory of governing was never very clear, especially given the unique preoccupations of Q-supporting candidates. From Simon van Zuylen-Wood’s September article for New York about this cohort and their congressional ambitions: “[Despite] endorsing the notion that the government is effectively a cover story for a global sex-trafficking network — which, as congresspeople, they could theoretically do something about — the candidates themselves didn’t seem to have given much thought to how they’d expose it, nor did they seem overly suspicious of their presumptive colleagues.”
It would be reasonable, given this pattern, to dismiss these people as superficially committed, opportunistic, or both — indeed, one congressional candidate in El Paso has openly admitted to retweeting Q content to get more social-media followers; others have taken a “why not?” approach, describing their embrace of the conspiracy theory as an easy way to signify their opposition to child sexual abuse. But for the future officials among them like Greene, who, according to Fox News, recently changed her tune to say that “Q-supporting videos are in her past and don’t represent her priorities for Congress,” the journey from Q-poster to Capitol Hill represents less an encroachment on government by fringe elements than a quirky response to familiar incentives. Greene was not elected to fight the good fight against Satanist pedophilia from the inside, as her bona fides might suggest (and the more committed QAnon devotees might hope). She was elected to stage a performance for a slavering right-wing base, to feed her constituents’ paranoia and partisan resentments with unusual flamboyance.
So far, she has delivered. On November 14, she tweeted a video of herself exercising in her hotel room in Washington, D.C., where she was attending orientation for freshman members of Congress. “I work out everyday in a CrossFit gym that is open,” she wrote. “In DC, NOTHING is open bc of Democrat tyrannical control. So here’s my hotel room workout.” Her replies were quickly flooded with documentary evidence that at least a dozen gyms nearby were, in fact, open for business. A day later, Greene tweeted a photo of herself standing next to what she described as the “police escort” she was given “due to BLM / Antifa TERRORIST violence” — an armed officer dressed in body armor and a balaclava. “The streets of DC were a war-zone, but I was left defenseless bc of anti-gun Democrats who run this city,” Greene wrote. “I will work every day to END every gun-free zone.” D.C. is assuredly not a war zone overrun by Black Lives Matter “terrorists,” and Greene was almost certainly never in any real danger.
This series of baseless fictions, outlandish though it may be, tells a coherent story. It’s a story of crusading reactionaries fighting the good fight against theft of freedom and feckless governance, of a conniving Democratic Party that has aligned itself with Black and left-wing terrorists against “real” Americans — typically white people who live outside of big cities, who love firearms and Donald Trump, and who increasingly suspect that any election a Republican loses must be fraudulent — and set them loose on the nation’s largest metropoles, which the liberal party has chosen to operate like pandemic prisons. This posture is not marginal. It is an approach akin to that taken by Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, also Republicans from Georgia, who recently accused Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, without evidence, of overseeing a November election marred by malfeasance. They were cynically following the lead of Trump, who refuses to admit he lost Georgia to Joe Biden, a first for a Republican presidential candidate since 1992. Raffensperger responded to the allegations by calling his compatriots liars. They know he’s right — and that him being right is beside the point. What matters most is the performance: for Republicans to lend voice to and pantomime whatever paranoid fantasy most motivates their base and feeds its anxieties en route to the polls. (Perdue and Loeffler each have runoff elections approaching on January 5, and were reportedly threatened by Trump with negative tweets if they didn’t issue a statement supporting his gambit.)
This is the duty that Greene was sent to Congress to perform, along with what will no doubt be an uninterrupted string of party-line votes. Whether or not QAnon’s influence figures prominently in her lawmaking, it has clearly informed her style, and that style is consistent with what her elected party compatriots were already doing. This month, Georgia Republicans have been a special exemplar. Voters hailing from the northern corner of the state that Greene represents are already getting a return on their investment, and the January swearings-in haven’t even happened yet for Congress. She’s just getting started.