As the investigations into the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol ramp up, it’s becoming increasingly clear that right-wing QAnon adherent Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was a leading advocate of declaring martial law after Donald Trump’s election defeat. Earlier this week, Judge Charles Beaudrot pondered whether to recommend to the Georgia secretary of state that she be prevented from running for her seat again, under a post-Civil War law designed to stop insurrectionists from holding public office. Meanwhile, the House investigative committee revealed that Greene had texted Trump’s then-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows inquiring about martial law.
Whether that technically meets the definition of “insurrection,” I’ll leave to the lawyers and constitutional scholars. And whether Greene’s preposterous statement that she couldn’t remember whether she asked about martial law stands up in court, as well as all the other instances of memory failure that she claims to have relating to that day of infamy, I’ll also leave to the experts. What is evident, however, is that Greene now has a long and incriminating paper trail for putting herself on the morally wrong side of a host of issues and sinking deep into a morass of outrageous conspiracy theories. And not just when it comes to siding with a would-be dictator unwilling to concede electoral defeat and his mob willing to shed blood to keep their man in power.
She is, after all, the person who suggested space lasers were responsible for California’s spate of devastating wildfires and who all but accused Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama of assassinating their political enemies, including, in Clinton’s case, John Kennedy Jr.
But, as with Trump, the message that Greene puts out is at least as dangerous as it is absurd. In her willingness to embrace any and every conspiracy theory so long as it jazzes up her base, she’s fine-tuning the craft of demagoguery, launching a freewheeling assault on the concept of truth. And in her endless entanglement with political violence, she’s throwing cans of gasoline on an already raging political fire.
Earlier this year, Greene, her colleague Rep. Paul Gosar, and a number of prominent state politicians, spoke at an avowedly white nationalist event hosted by the America First Political Action Committee.
Greene is also alleged to have used her Facebook page in 2018 and 2019 to advocate killing senior Democrats.
The list of Congresswoman Greene’s absurdities and obscenities is a long one, and the case that she ought not to be anywhere near the halls of power is, in my mind, pretty watertight.
But the question is, should the courts make that decision, or should the people who sent her to Congress in the first place?
I fear a trap is being set here. Because Greene has pushed violence against the very political institution that she is a part of, it’s at least possible that Judge Beaudrot will end up deciding she isn’t fit to be in Congress. But, if he makes such a recommendation, then what?
The voters in rural northwest Georgia who sent Greene to Washington, D.C. in 2020 aren’t going to be any less prone to support her if a judge seeks to banish her from Congress. Instead, they’re likely to view it as yet more evidence that the fix is in, that the supposedly all-powerful “Deep State” has tentacles capable of plucking from power anyone who steps outside the closely monitored boundaries of acceptable political discourse. After all, in 2020, as an unapologetic QAnoner, she won her race by more than 225,000 votes — despite, or maybe because of, the vast national attention generated around her toxic presence on the campaign trail.
Trump has been using the Greene case to rally his supporters. So, too, gubernatorial hopeful David Perdue has been tweeting out his support for the congresswoman. There is a real risk here that Greene, one of the weirdest and most demagogic of the U.S.’s copious crop of demagogic 21st-century personalities, will be made an icon of the right through this case.
Earlier this year, the boundaries of Greene’s district were redrawn to include historically Black parts of Cobb County that are more politically liberal than the rest of the district. That doesn’t mean the district is about to flip anytime soon. It was, and remains, an overwhelmingly Republican district — one that voted for Trump by a margin of over 50 points in 2020. But it does provide a window into how a long-term strategy against figures such as Greene might work: her opponents may be able to gradually chip away at her support base among conservatives, and, at the same time, start to build as broad and as big a reform coalition as possible in the parts of the districts where progressive change might take root.
That’s hardly a satisfying short-term solution to the dangers posed by political figures such as Greene. But it might, paradoxically, yield a better result for progressives than the alternative of barring her from seeking reelection. For if Judge Beaudrot prevents Greene from running in 2022, it’s entirely possible that a majority of voters in her district, which is one of the most radical-right-leaning in the country, could turn around and either write her in as a candidate, or elect someone else cut out of the same cloth.
That hundreds of thousands of Georgians supported Greene in 2020 is truly terrifying. That they still support her today, and will continue to support her no matter what the court decides, is also terrifying. That tens of millions support Trump and his vicious attacks on the democracy’s infrastructure is a nightmare. This nihilistic, irrational and violent movement truly must be deconstructed — but to really carry water, that takedown must come from a populace that is empowered and educated on the dangers of demagoguery, rather than from the courts. That’s a vastly difficult undertaking — and time is not on the side of the anti-demagogues these days — but it’s an essential one if the U.S. system of democracy is to survive the forces that have pushed to the fore, and continue to elevate, political figures such as Greene.