Whether it’s harassing the survivor of a school shooting for the benefit of a cameraman or accusing the Rothschild family of building a satellite-mounted laser that nearly burned down California, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has made it clear that she will do almost anything for attention.
But unlike nearly everyone else in the country, the White House isn’t interested in giving it to her. Period.
The Biden administration’s policy regarding the first-term congresswoman from Georgia was made clear on Wednesday when a reporter asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki whether the president had any reaction to recent reports of online behavior that many found appalling, even for an avowed supporter of the QAnon conspiracy cult.
Was there any response to the first-term congresswoman’s online and in-person behavior, which included the harassment of David Hogg, a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting she once called “#littleHitler”? As well as her apparent belief that the shooting itself was a “false flag”? And a Facebook comment in which she suggested removing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with “a bullet to the head”?
“We don’t,” Psaki said curtly. “And I’m not going to speak further about her, I think, in this briefing room.”
For an administration that has made fighting disinformation and right-wing extremism a top priority following the attack on the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, and a communications team with a demonstrated unwillingness to cede ground to unhelpful narratives, Psaki’s blunt refusal even to say Greene’s name was surprising. But according to those familiar with the administration’s thinking, it was also strategic—and proof, they said, that the Biden administration has learned the lesson of the early months of Donald Trump’s campaign for the White House, when unfettered attention helped raise his profile and stoke the followers who would eventually carry him to the Oval Office.
Like Trump, one person familiar with the communications team’s thinking said, Greene thrives off both positive and negative attention, and is validated when those in power stoop to fight her. In a media landscape that plays up conflict, such an engagement would actually raise her profile—and while a West Wing-style takedown from the briefing room podium would make great television, it would also give Greene’s stans one more battle arena in which to root for her.
Refusing even to say her name in the White House briefing room makes their disapproval clear, one administration ally said, without dignifying her behavior with the attention of the leader of the free world.
“It was the perfect balance,” the ally told The Daily Beast, who said that Psaki’s refusal to feed the troll—even one elected to Congress—was “clearly rooted in a rare understanding of the modern environment.”
“She simultaneously displayed sincere condemnation while denying that anthropomorphic hemorrhoid the attention she craves,” the ally said, perhaps a bit graphically.
“By talking about her, they make her a hero to the folks on the fringe—she’d become sort of the right-wing AOC, and then gets more attention than she probably should have.”
Psaki’s refusal to engage may have been frustrating for those expecting a full-throated condemnation of Greene’s conspiracism and calls for violence, but experts in the far right told The Daily Beast that the approach is the least-bad option when dealing with extremists desperate for the spotlight.
“By talking about her, they make her a hero to the folks on the fringe—she’d become sort of the right-wing AOC, and then gets more attention than she probably should have,” said Randy Blazak, an Oregon-based sociology professor and hate crime researcher who specializes in movements that want to overthrow the U.S. government.
“The Biden administration is treading carefully on this matter, because it’s easy to blame them,” Blazak said, summing up how far-right extremists would view any on-camera condemnation from the White House. “One ‘basket of deplorables’ comment and they’ve got a whole new bunch of recruits to bring in. They have to be very careful in how they navigate this because this is no longer a small fringe group—it’s now a largely mainstream movement that includes people in our own families.”
House Democrats, meanwhile, are forced by proximity to deal directly with Greene. And few within their ranks feel like ignoring her: In her short time in office, the freshman congresswoman has explained away the Jan. 6 attack with a conspiracy theory, conspicuously shunned a mask in a crowded safe room where several of her colleagues later came down with COVID, immediately moved to impeach President Joe Biden, and was discovered to have endorsed the execution of the Democratic party’s leader and to have flirted with the theory that a Jewish-controlled space laser started California wildfires.
Greene has responded by calling the reporting on her publicly available social media activity by CNN’s KFILE—much of which has been scrubbed since—a project of the Democrats and the so-called fake news. “They are coming after me because I’m a threat to their goal of Socialism,” said Greene, in a statement given on Thursday. “They are coming after me because like President Trump, I will always defend conservative values. They want to take me out because I represent the people. And they absolutely hate it.“
On Twitter on Thursday morning, Greene posted a 2016 Facebook comment in which she said “I have friends of different races, religions, and political preferences” and asked why that sentiment was being ignored alongside her endorsement of killing Pelosi.
Many Democratic lawmakers feel that Greene’s conduct deserves the most forceful reprimand they can muster—a vote to expel her from Congress. On Wednesday night, Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) introduced a resolution calling for just that, and it could come to the floor as soon as Tuesday. Two-thirds of the House would have to vote in favor to secure her removal, however, and few Republicans expect that dozens of their lawmakers will vote to oust Greene, even if many believe she’s the second coming of Steve King, the former congressman and notorious racist.
House Democratic leaders aren’t disavowing the push to remove Greene, but their careful remarks so far suggest they are just as interested, if not more so, in holding House GOP leadership accountable for Greene than Greene herself.
Party brass have zeroed in on the House GOP leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who has so far done little to signal any repercussions for Greene’s conduct. After the CNN story dropped, McCarthy promised to have a “conversation” with her about the Facebook posts.
At a press conference on Thursday, the first question asked of Pelosi was about concern around Greene, but the first words out of her mouth were about McCarthy. “What I’m concerned about is Republican leadership in the House of Representatives,” said the speaker. Mentioning GOP leadership’s appointment of Greene—who has posited that the country’s most horrific school shootings, from Sandy Hook to Parkland, Florida, were “false flags”—to the House Education and Labor Committee, Pelosi asked, “What could they be thinking?” before quickly adding “thinking might be too generous a word.”
Asked about Pelosi’s comments Thursday, a McCarthy spokesperson forwarded the comment they provided to Axios two days ago: “These comments are deeply disturbing and Leader McCarthy plans to have a conversation with the Congresswoman about them.”
Later Thursday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said at a press briefing that the group had not talked about taking a position on Greene’s ouster. “I know there is a lot of rage and even fear from many of our members, frankly across the Democratic caucus, about serving with people like Marjorie Taylor Greene who… condoned putting a bullet in the head of Speaker Pelosi,” said Jayapal, when asked by The Daily Beast. “We’re looking at all of the options, working with leadership on how we bring accountability.”
But Jayapal hastened to add a question: “What is Kevin McCarthy doing about this? What are our Republican colleagues doing about this?”
To one House Democratic aide, those moves solidified what the party’s approach should be. “As a matter of strategy, when you start talking about expelling, it puts the onus on Dems,” the aide told The Daily Beast. “And I think the argument that the onus should be on Republicans is persuasive.”
Democrats are betting that McCarthy won’t reprimand Greene in any serious way—and are laying the groundwork to make Republicans pay for it at the ballot box. Already, those who are working to elect more Democrats in 2021 and 2022 as reinforcements for Biden have seized on the lightning-rod lawmaker the president conspicuously ignores as an effective bogeyman for the post-Trump era.
In the last week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s official House campaign arm, has sent out a press release on a near-daily basis in an attempt to make Greene an albatross for McCarthy and every GOP lawmaker running for re-election. Several Democrats are fundraising off Greene—including Terry McAuliffe, the former DNC chair running for another term as governor of Virginia, who put Greene’s name as the subject line of a recent fundraising email.
“While the White House isn’t going to engage, Democratic strategists around the House map plan to put her front and center.”
Democratic strategists see the attempt to make Greene the face of today’s GOP as a potent strategy to put vulnerable Republicans in a tight spot. Tying the opposing party to its most extreme members is the playbook Republicans ran last year against House and Senate candidates. But Democrats are confident that independent-minded suburban voters will find Greene’s endorsement of political assassinations and a conspiracy theory about cannibalistic pedophile elites more extreme and off-putting than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) endorsement of, for example, the Green New Deal.
“While the White House isn’t going to engage, Democratic strategists around the House map plan to put her front and center,” said one Democratic operative of Greene. “Every day that Marjorie Taylor Greene dominates, and is the face of Republicans in the House, is another bad day for them.”
But as long as Greene remains in a position of authority, she will likely remain a hero to those who see her as an ally in the dream of overthrowing liberal democracy.
In Georgia, few believe that Greene’s constituents will boot her—she convincingly won a June primary after many of her Q-sympathetic and Islamophobic comments were already public knowledge—and there is not, as of yet, any kind of real effort brewing to defeat her. The district is so heavily Republican that a Democratic win is virtually impossible.
Blazak pointed to The Turner Diaries—an ur-text of white supremacist fantasies about violently toppling the U.S. government, which he called “sort of a flowchart model of how to start a civil war in America”—as a guideline for what those who stormed the U.S. Capitol hope to see out of Greene.
“Part of the plan is to have people who are sympathetic on the inside who can figuratively, or literally, open the door and let the barbarians into the gates, that can provide access to nuclear code so they can bomb Israel,” Blazak said. “This is how far it goes.”
The current unwillingness of Republican congressional leadership to take action against Greene has only emboldened the extremists who back her—with potentially catastrophic consequences.
“I have this naive hope that Biden, being an old-school politician, can talk to the Democratic leadership and talk to the Republican leadership in a way that says, we’ve got a real crisis here and we have to determine what the country is going to look like, what these political parties are going to look like, and encourage them, maybe behind the scenes, to push this person off,” Blazak said. “But the fact that she was given a pretty decent committee position on education, of all things, means that work really needs to be done inside the community.”
“We’re gonna see the Tea Party on meth,” Blazak said.