"School shootings are absolutely real," Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R–Ga.) declared on the floor of the House today as her colleagues debated whether to take away her committee assignments as punishment for her endorsement of wacky right-wing conspiracy theories. "I also want to tell you 9/11 absolutely happened….It's a tragedy for anyone to say it didn't happen. I definitely want to tell you I do not believe that it's fake."
When a member of Congress feels a need to say things like that, it is clear that something has gone terribly wrong with her critical thinking skills at some point. By Greene's account, it started with her enthusiasm for Donald Trump and her anger at a biased press that falsely and maliciously portrayed him as a Russian stooge. Hungry for alternative sources of information, she "started looking things up on the internet, asking questions, like most people do every day."
In 2017, Greene "stumbled across something…called QAnon," which posited that Trump was battling a secret cabal of Satan worshippers who eat human flesh and run an international operation that sells children for sex. But Greene said she was mostly interested in QAnon's rebuttals of the "Russian collusion" charges against Trump, which is what drew her in. "I got very interested in it," she said, "so I posted about it on Facebook, I read about it, I talked about it, I asked questions about it, and then more information came from it."
During 2018, Greene said, "I was upset about things and didn't trust the government…because the people here were not doing the things I thought they should be doing for us." She added that "a lot of Americans don't trust our government, and that's sad." The problem with such distrust, she said, "is I was allowed to believe things that weren't true, and I would ask questions about them and talk about them. And that is absolutely what I regret, because if it weren't for the Facebook posts and comments that I 'liked' in 2018, I wouldn't be standing here today, and you couldn't point a finger and accuse me of anything wrong, because I've lived a very good life that I'm proud of."
Later that year, Greene said, "I started finding misinformation, lies, things that were not true, in these QAnon posts." At that point, "I stopped believing it" and "walked away from those things." [Update: The New York Times notes that Greene was still peddling QAnon ideas in 2019, when she suggested that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been replaced by a body double, "an element of QAnon's fictional story line."]
Greene warned that "any source of information that is a mix of truth and a mix of lies is dangerous," which is a problem "on the left and on the right." She averred that the mainstream news media are "just as guilty as QAnon of presenting truth and lies to divide us."
As mea culpas go, this one was decidedly mixed. "None of us are perfect," Greene noted while acknowledging "words that I said and I regret." But she said the reason she regrets her flirtation with QAnon is that it provided ammunition to her political opponents. Shouldn't endorsing crazy, defamatory lies against Democrats such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and George Soros be cause for regret regardless of whether it causes bad publicity for you?
Greene is certainly right that many news outlets are hostile to Trump and promoted allegations about him and Russia that proved to be unfounded. But that hardly means The New York Times—which, after all, eventually reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller could not substantiate those charges—is as impervious to evidence as QAnon true believers.
Greene also deflected attention from her alarming credulity by complaining about "cancel culture," repeatedly condemning abortion, and accusing her Democratic colleagues of "condon[ing] riots," referring to the vandalism and violence that marred many of last year's protests against police brutality. Their support of those protests, she suggested, makes her conspiracy mongering pale by comparison.
That is probably not a road Greene wants to head down, since she eagerly promoted Trump's fantasy that the presidential election was stolen through massive cheating on an unprecedented scale—the imaginary grievance that motivated last month's deadly assault on the building where Greene works. She did not say whether she still thinks Trump actually won the election by a landslide, a belief that is about as plausible as the elaborate plot described by QAnon.
Greene also did not retract her charge that the Clintons killed John F. Kennedy Jr., that Obama is a secret Muslim who commissioned the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Green, that Soros is "a piece of crap" who betrayed "his own people" to the Nazis, that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) is a traitor who deserves the death penalty, or that the Rothschilds conspired with California Gov. Jerry Brown to ignite a wildfire with space lasers. Nor did she apologize for sharing a video alleging that "Zionist supremacists" are committing "the biggest genocide in human history" by flooding Europe with nonwhite immigrants. All we know for sure is that she now believes 9/11 actually happened and that children were actually murdered in Newtown and Parkland.
Greene emphasized that she did not peddle QAnon fabrications during her campaign or after she was elected in November. "These were words of the past," she said. "These things do not represent me, they do not represent my district, and they do not represent my values." That is all well and good, but her district will have to decide whether it wants to be represented by someone this gullible and this oblivious to the implications of casually charging people with grave crimes based on nothing more than "information" some idiot posted online.
"Past comments from and endorsed by Marjorie Taylor Greene on school shootings, political violence, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories do not represent the values or beliefs of the House Republican Conference," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–Calif.) said in a statement he issued yesterday. "I condemn those comments unequivocally. I condemned them in the past. I continue to condemn them today. This House condemned QAnon last Congress and continues to do so today."
McCarthy nevertheless rejected the suggestion that he should remove Greene from the committees to which she had been assigned, a demurral that set the stage for today's vote. He faulted Democrats for "choosing to raise the temperature by taking the unprecedented step to further their partisan power grab regarding the committee assignments of the other party." McCarthy has a point about the risk of that precedent, which Democrats surely would not want to see evenhandedly applied to members of their own party who make controversial comments tinged by bigotry.
Still, it is important for Republican leaders like McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) to repudiate the poisonous views that Greene expressed before she was elected, if only to demarcate the limits of what is acceptable in polite GOP company. That criticism forced Greene, who until recently was dismissing concerns about her outlandish, inflammatory, and divisive statements as much ado about nothing, to offer an accounting of herself, however unsatisfying.
Greene blames her susceptibility to conspiracy theories on her suspicion of government, which is an insult to every rational person who shares that suspicion without falling for baseless, wildly implausible claims like the ones she endorsed. Unlike Greene, I do not think distrust of government is "sad," and I doubt the Framers, who carefully constructed a system designed to obstruct and frustrate politicians who seek to impose their will on the nation, would have shared her (current) view of that impulse.
But skepticism of government is rooted in a recognition of human foibles and limitations, which do not disappear in the private sector. Politicians sometimes tell the truth, gadflies sometimes tell lies, and both offer up mixtures of the two. As Greene's experience shows, telling the difference cannot hinge on the identity of the speaker or the political tribe to which he belongs.
Update: The House on Thursday voted to remove Greene from the education and budget committees. The vote was 230 to 199, with 11 Republicans joining Democrats in approving the punishment.