ATLANTA — U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene declared she was “freed” to pursue her brand of politics when fellow lawmakers recently exiled her from serving on Congressional committees.
Yet Republicans are still in a bind.
Only one month into her nascent term, the north Georgia Republican was booted off her assignments on the House Education and Labor as well as the Budget committees. She was also disqualified from serving on any other committees.
The unusual series of events developed quickly after Greene came under fire from videos and social media posts that surfaced featuring her questioning the reality of some school shootings, the Sept. 11 attacks and supporting the execution of high-profile Democratic leaders.
Past social media videos and posts also detail her support of fringe conspiracy theory QAnon, which the FBI has linked to domestic terrorism.
Greene’s controversial assertions and embrace of conspiracy theories were no surprise to those who followed her quick ascension toward the national political stage.
But many of her constituents are left wondering if the candidate they met on the campaign trail is the lawmaker they sent to Congress.
Before she launched a political career, Greene — aided by social media — cultivated a base of far-right supporters. And when an incumbent in a conservative swath of north Georgia stepped down, Greene was ready with an anti-establishment message that resonated with voters.
On the campaign trail, Greene won supporters by promoting the same image that sent Donald Trump to the White House in 2016: a political outsider and savvy businessperson who promised to reject the status quo.
Whitfield County Republican Party Chairman Dianne Putnam maintains Greene wasn’t stripped of congressional duties for her past social media transgressions.
"She was punished because she is a strong conservative and a strong supporter of President Trump," Putnam said.
Experts and political insiders say partisan gerrymandering that took place a decade ago had a hand in creating the extreme conservative environment in north Georgia’s 14th District where Greene won her seat in Congress.
With another round of redistricting just around the corner, the GOP could try forcing her out with the same mechanizations that forged the deep red district.
Before the headlines
During a floor speech last week, she described herself as a “very regular American.”
The 46-year-old, wealthy suburban Atlanta business woman spent her high school years in Forsyth County, Georgia and went to South Forsyth County high school.
Greene’s staff did not make her available for an interview for this story.
She attended the University of Georgia where she earned a degree in business administration, she met and married her college sweetheart, Perry Greene who worked as an accountant after graduating from UGA. The two have been married for 25 years.
In 2002, the pair took over a successful construction company from her father headquartered in Alpharetta and had three children — Lauren, Taylor and Derek.
Her eldest daughter, Lauren, is a Kennesaw State University student studying interactive design and computer science. Taylor, the youngest daughter, plays softball for the University of North Carolina. Derek is 17 and participates in competitive shooting sports.
The couple continued to build the construction business that specializes in renovating multi-family buildings while she cultivated other interests.
For years, Greene was deeply involved with the exercise and nutrition program CrossFit, and owned a gym. A 2015 business interview with Greene, that highlighted her gym, notes she played softball and water sports growing up. It describes her as having “an infectious positive energy.”
A 10-year-old video clip of Greene being re-baptized in a Christian megachurch in Alpharetta, Georgia, is one of the few and oldest internet glimpses of Greene before she entered politics.
Greene says in the video that after a “revolting scandal” at her previous church she set out to find a better relationship with her faith. Ten years before, she says, a neighbor invited her to North Point. Later, Greene and her husband joined a small discussion group at the church.
“For the first time I finally understood the Bible,” she says “... And then I feel like I went from being just a believer to having a relationship with Christ.”
The 3-minute peek provides little indication that in a decade, she’d transform into one of the most controversial political figures in the country.
Senior Pastor Andy Stanley declined comment for this article. It’s unclear how Greene transitioned from that single early clip to the world of unapologetic and extreme right-wing social media-driven politics.
Campaign finance records show, prior to the 2016 election, neither Greene, her husband nor her father, Robert Taylor, were particularly active in supporting political candidates. But since then, Greene became a frequent contributor to Trump’s election and GOP party and both donated to her campaign.
Her rise on social media played a crucial role in her ascension to office. Starting in 2017, Greene created ties to right-wing, online-based organizations. She wrote dozens of articles for Law Enforcement Today, a far-right police news website, and dozens more as a “correspondent” for a conspiracy news site American Truth Seekers.
The pro-Trump group, Family America Project — a page with 1,700 Facebook members that floods its feed with bigoted posts — named Greene its “national spokesperson” and has her listed as a moderator.
It’s unclear how she became connected to the group. In a post in May 2018, she introduced herself in the new position as a “loud and proud Patriot.”
Members of the page frequently promoted far-right fringe group the John Birch Society and also advertised transportation for Trump supporters to the Capitol for the rally which sparked the Jan. 6 insurrection in Congress.
Greene has often attributed her newfound interest in politics to Trump’s 2016 election — inspiration that put her on the path to becoming a new anti-establishment candidate.
It was also about that time Greene began to publicly embrace the conspiracy theory QAnon — a movement that gained traction in 2017 and contends the government is run by Satan-worshiping, cannibalistic pedophiles bent on ousting Trump from office.
“Q is a patriot — we know that for sure,” Greene said in a video from 2017. “But we do not know who Q is.”
Greene built her online presence through often lengthy videos analyzing far-right political ideas and documented advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C.
While there, she stalked the halls of Congress and met with staff of Georgia’s two former U.S. Senators — David Perdue and Johnny Isakson — after showing up at their offices while livestreaming on her phone, she said.
“Very quickly — because it was on live video — I got appointments,” she said in April 2019.
In Georgia’s 14th District, filled with Trump supports who often get their news from social media rather than traditional platforms, Greene was likely a “well-known commodity,” said Dr. Charles Bullock III, professor of political science at University of Georgia.
When former Congressman Tom Graves announced in December 2019 that he would not seek re-election, Greene eyed an easier path to Congress in the conservative-stronghold district than in the urban Sixth District, where she had already announced a bid.
Greene relocated her campaign to the 14th District and joined the group of nine GOP candidates in a contest that centered around hopefuls attempting to prove who was most pro-Trump, pro-guns and anti-abortion.
To questions of whether the people in the 14th District could trust the new resident during a primary debate, Greene calmly answered: “My values line up perfectly with the people in northwest Georgia.”
A Taylor made district
Georgia’s 14th Congressional District was developed nearly a decade ago during the last GOP-controlled redistricting cycle.
The area — which spans the northwest corner of the Peach State and borders both Tennessee and Alabama — is made up of nearly 85 percent white residents and backed Trump with 75 percent of votes cast in 2016.
When population growth granted Georgia a new seat in Congress, Bullock said, former Gov. Nathan Deal pushed for a Gainesville-based district which forced Graves further west.
The Cook Political Report — an independent, nonpartisan newsletter that analyzes elections — ranks the district among the most conservative nationwide.
“It's hard for you to go too far right in those kinds of districts,” Bullock said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Map'' tracked 29 hate groups in the Peach State in 2020 — all but a handful were located between Atlanta and the state’s northern border.
Yurij Rudensky, a redistricting lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice — a nonpartisan law and policy institute — said extreme partisan gerrymandering often has unintended consequences.
“It changes the public's relationship with the government and whether representatives are really out there looking out for the best interest of the population,” he said. “It can also lead to the type of distrust that generates either apathy or conspiratorial thinking.”
Local Republicans soured on Graves during his later years in office when, they said, he became what they consider an establishment politician.
"He got up there and forgot about us," said Putnam, with the Whitfield County GOP. "We never saw him; he rarely came back."
"We wanted someone who would fight for conservative principles," Putnam said. "We wanted someone who would fight for this district and would not forget about us, and a lot of people thought Marjorie was that person."
‘Couldn’t land a punch’
Conspiracy theories were absent from Greene’s north Georgia ground game, but her bid was ripe with theatrics and conservative ideals that appealed to her base.
In a “gun giveaway” she raffled off an AR-15 she used to “blow up Socialism” in an ad campaign.
While campaigning in north Georgia counties with some of the state’s highest rates of COVID-19 infection, Greene said children should not wear masks.
“Especially boys,” she told a crowd in September. “Forcing boys to wear masks is emasculating.”
At events, Greene — who stands 5-feet, 3-inches tall according to a CrossFit profile — was often surrounded by armed supporters.
At a Second Amendment rally in September, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported, members of paramilitary group Georgia III Percent Martyrs encircled the congressional-hopeful, clutching semi-automatic rifles and wearing body armor.
The Martyrs’ leader, Justin ‘Slayer’ Thayer, told CNHI in an email that the group supports Greene and “exercised our 2nd amendment rights at many of her rallies during her campaign.”
As a candidate, Greene was further boosted by the president himself. Trump congratulated her on Twitter after her primary win and called her a “future Republican star.”
John Cowan, a Republican neurosurgeon from Rome who ran against Greene, said her close ties to Trump gave her a level of “protection” against attacks from GOP opponents.
She could deflect any criticism of her as an attack on Trump himself, he said.
“We couldn't land a punch, because every time we did it was as if we were punching Donald Trump,” Cowan told CNHI.
Greene also ensured her campaign was well funded. She was her own biggest donor throughout her campaign, contributing $1.4 million of her own money.
The strongest criticism of Greene during the primary was related to her last-minute swap to run for office in the 14th District from the Sixth District where she lived for at least the past two decades.
In Milton, where Greene lists her address, the median household income in 2019 was $128,599 — more than three times the median household income in Rome, where she planted herself in the district she now represents. Rome has more than seven times the poverty rate than that in Greene’s suburb.
About a month before Election Day, Greene bought a home in Rome, although her Milton address still is listed on campaign finance filings.
The Constitution does not require House candidates to live within the district they seek to represent. Georgia’s election provisions for qualifications and disqualifications don’t address the issue.
Greene continued to send cash to her campaign coffers even after the couple’s construction company, Taylor Commercial – at which Greene has held multiple positions over the years — received $182,000 from the federal paycheck protection program designed to help companies stay afloat during the pandemic.
Two nurses sharing a meal at a Rome diner one recent Tuesday chatted about Greene’s emergence in the race. Lynn Harris said she voted for Cowan in the primary and runoff.
"He's from this area,” Harris said. "I believe she moved here just to run for Congress, so I'm not sure how much she really knows. I hope she has gotten to know the district.”
Terry West, voted for Greene in the general because she typically votes Republican. West said she has heard “vaguely” of QAnon.
"All I knew was that there was supposed to be some sort of Deep State of people in government who were trying to keep President Trump from doing anything," she said. "That seemed likely to me. It's only over the last few weeks that I've heard about cannibalism and the Satanism and things like that."
"I hope that wasn't something she believed," West added. "I hope it isn't something she believes now.”
During her speech on the House floor ahead of the vote to remove her from committee assignments, Greene downplayed her eyebrow-raising relationship with QAnon and blamed her “distrust” of the government for putting her on that path.
She said she “stumbled” across the fringe belief system at the end of 2017 and, during the speech, deflected responsibility for her rhetoric and conspiracy theories.
“The problem with that is though is I was allowed to believe things that weren't true,” she said. “... 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.”
In the spotlight
“In just a few short weeks, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has become one of the most talked about Republicans on Capitol Hill,” a press release from her office sent out on Tuesday began.
The first piece of legislation Greene sponsored was her own “article of impeachment” against President Joe Biden who was inaugurated the day before she filed the resolution.
She signed onto about a dozen other bills that include regulations to bar transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports and others that would reduce federal tax breaks for “sanctuary cities.”
None of the bills are likely to gain ground in the Democrat-controlled House.
Videos she had once used to help build her political brand by embracing conspiracy theories and violent rhetoric resurfaced.
One came from a March 2019 trip to Washington, D.C., during which Greene confronted teenage Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg as he walked down the street.
The video shows Greene following Hogg down a street and asking why he is “supporting red flag laws?”
“Why are you supporting red flag gun laws that attack our Second Amendment right?” she challenges him. “And why are you using kids as a barrier?”
In an April 2019 video interview with Georgia Gun Owners discussing the confrontation, Greene said she confronted Hogg multiple times on that trip to the U.S. Capitol — not just in the video that sparked outrage.
In that interview, Greene said she wasn’t sure about his age when she chased him down the street, “that’s something you have to be smart about ... that’s why I wasn’t too overly confrontational.”
She goes on to call him an “idiot” and that he’s “trained like a dog.”
A few steps back
On the floor of the House before the vote to remove her from committees, Greene retracted her comments and revealed when she was 16 years old, she, too, faced the threat of a gunman in school.
“School shootings are absolutely real and every child that is lost, those families mourn it,” she said at the podium. “I understand how terrible it is because when I was 16 years old in 11th grade, my school was a gun-free school zone and one of my school mates brought guns to school and took our entire school hostage.”
Greene appeared to reference an incident that occurred in 1990 at South Forsyth County High School where a student smuggled multiple guns and other weapons onto school grounds in a duffle bag and held dozens of students hostage for hours.
Greene’s removal has been a disappointment for her constituents who said they were in the dark about her previous fringe assertions.
Ed Painter, former 14th Congressional District Republican Party chairman, doesn’t think Greene’s past remarks represent the people in north Georgia and accepts that Greene no longer believes in the conspiracy theories.
"I don't think most people knew about her support for QAnon until pretty late in the campaign and especially during the runoff," he said. "And even after they heard about it, I don't think most people knew what QAnon was. I didn't, not for a long time.”
Greene appears to have no intention of extracting herself from the fringe voter base she’s cultivated.
In between the general election and when the website was shut down, Greene spent more than $314,000 on “digital advertising for fundraising” on the ultra-conservative online forum Parler. The social media website was popular among Trump supporters and attendees of the Capitol attack.
While her constituents worry that they’ve lost representation in Washington, D.C., the day after the vote, Greene declared she’d been “freed” and argued that Congressional committee assignments are just another arm of the Democrats “tyrannically-controlled government.”
“I’m fine with being kicked off of my committees because it’d be a waste of my time,” she said.
Republicans have been left to grapple with a rowdy freshman party-member of their own making.
Among the 11 Republicans who voted to have her pulled from her committee assignments, three were from Florida — home to the Parkland shooting that Greene previously argued was staged. Another group of three Republicans who voted to oust her were from New York. Greene has also called 9/11 a hoax.
Republican State Rep. Kasey Carpenter told CNHI that north Georgia Republicans are deeply divided.
“Whether we want to admit it or not, we have a fractured party right now and we have got to figure out a way to get in the same boat,” he said.
Some have suggested Republicans may utilize a small window of opportunity they have this year to redistrict Greene out of the Republican stronghold, but it’s a risky and unlikely maneuver, Bullock said.
“While some (Republicans) may be turned off by her, they're not going to risk that seat by making it a Democratic seat,” he said.
Dalton Daily Citizen-News reporter Charles Oliver contributed to this report.