A fiercely divided House tossed Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene off both her committees Thursday, an unprecedented punishment that Democrats, joined by a handful of Republicans, said she’d earned by spreading hateful and violent conspiracy theories.
Underscoring the political vise her inflammatory commentary has clamped her party into, nearly all Republicans voted against the Democratic move but none defended her lengthy history of outrageous social media posts.
Yet in a riveting moment, the freshman Republican from a deep-red corner of Georgia took to the House floor on her own behalf. She offered a mixture of backpedaling and finger-pointing as she wore a dark mask emblazoned with the words “FREE SPEECH.”
The chamber’s near party-line 230-199 vote was the latest instance of conspiracy theories becoming pitched political battlefields, an increasingly familiar occurrence during Donald Trump’s presidency. He faces a Senate trial next week for his House impeachment for inciting insurrection after a mob he fueled with his false narrative of a stolen election attacked the Capitol.
Thursday’s fight also underscored the uproar and political complexities that Greene — a master of provoking Democrats, promoting herself and raising campaign money — has prompted since becoming a House candidate last year.
Eleven Republicans joined 219 Democrats in backing Greene’s ejection from her committees, while 199 GOP lawmakers voted no.
Addressing her colleagues, Greene tried to dissociate herself from her “words of the past.” Contradicting past social media posts, she said she believes the 9/11 attacks and mass school shootings were real and no longer believes QAnon conspiracy theories, which include lies about Democratic-run pedophile rings.
But she didn’t explicitly apologize for supportive online remarks she’s made on other subjects, as when she mulled about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi being assassinated or the possibility of Jewish-controlled space lasers causing wildfires. And she portrayed herself as the victim of unscrupulous “big media companies.”
News organizations “can take teeny, tiny pieces of words that I’ve said, that you have said, any of us, and can portray us as someone that we’re not,” she said. She added that “we’re in a real big problem” if the House punished her but tolerated “members that condone riots that have hurt American people” — a clear reference to last summer’s social justice protests that in some instances became violent.
Greene was on the Education and Labor committee and the Budget committee. Democrats were especially aghast about her assignment to the education panel, considering the past doubt she cast on school shootings in Florida and Connecticut.
The political imperative for Democrats was clear: Greene’s support for violence and fictions were dangerous and merited punishment. Democrats and researchers said there was no apparent precedent for the full House removing a lawmaker from a committee, a step usually taken by their party leaders.
The calculation was more complicated for Republicans.
Though Trump left the White House two week ago, his devoted followers are numerous among the party’s voters, and he and Greene are allies. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., hopes GOP victories in the 2022 elections will make him speaker. Republicans could undermine that scenario by alienating Trump’s and Greene’s passionate supporters, and McCarthy took no action to punish her.
“If any of our members threatened the safety of other members, we’d be the first ones to take them off a committee,” Pelosi angrily told reporters. She said she was “profoundly concerned” about GOP leaders’ acceptance of an “extreme conspiracy theorist.”
At one point, No. 2 Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland strode to the GOP side of the chamber carrying a poster of a Greene Facebook post from last year. “Squad’s Worst Nightmare,” Greene had written in the post, which showed her holding an AR-15 assault rifle next to pictures of three of the four Democratic lawmakers, all young women of color, who’ve been nicknamed “The Squad.”
“They are people. They are our colleagues,” Hoyer said. He mimicked Greene’s pose holding the weapon and said, “I have never, ever seen that before.”
Republicans tread carefully but found rallying points.
McCarthy said Greene’s past opinions “do not represent the views of my party.” But without naming the offenders, he said Pelosi hadn’t stripped committee memberships from Democrats who became embroiled in controversy. Among those he implicated was Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who made anti-Israel insults for which she later apologized.
“If that’s the new standard,” he said of Democrats’ move against Greene, “we have a long list.”
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said Democrats were setting a precedent by punishing lawmakers for statements made before they were even candidates for Congress. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, warned, “You engage in wrong-speak, you’re in the Thunderdome,” a term for an enclosed wrestling arena.
Committee assignments are crucial for lawmakers for shaping legislation affecting their districts, creating a national reputation and raising campaign contributions. Even social media stars like Greene could find it harder to define themselves without the spotlights that committees provide.
Not all Republicans were in forgiving moods, especially in the Senate. There, fringe GOP candidates have lost winnable races in recent years and leaders worry a continued linkage with Trump and conspiracists will inflict more damage.
That chamber’s minority leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., this week called Greene’s words a “cancer” on the GOP and country. On Thursday, No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota amplified that thinking.
Thune said House Republicans needed to issue a “really strong” rebuke of Greene’s conspiratorial formulations. Republicans must “get away from members dabbling in conspiracy theories,” Thune said. “I don’t think that’s a productive course of action or one that’s going to lead to much prosperity politically in the future.”
The fight came a day after Republicans resolved another battle and voted to keep Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., in their leadership. Pro-Trump conservatives tried removing her because she supported Trump’s impeachment.
The House resolution punishing Greene was barely over a page. It said House rules require lawmakers’ behavior to “reflect credibly” on the chamber and said Greene should be removed “in light of conduct she has exhibited.”
News organizations have unearthed countless social media videos and “likes” in which Greene embraced absurd theories like suspicions that Hillary Clinton was behind the 1999 death of John F. Kennedy Jr. Greene responded, “Stage is being set,” when someone posted a question about hanging Clinton and former President Barack Obama.
Greene, 46, is a newcomer to politics, and previously worked for her family’s construction business in Georgia. She was labeled a “future Republican Star” by former Trump, whose political style she emulates.
Here’s a look at some of Greene’s past statements and social media posts, many of which were deleted after the liberal group Media Matters unearthed them online.
Las Vegas mass shooting: In 2017, Stephen Paddock opened fire from a hotel room window overlooking an outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 people. Afterward, Greene suggested that the shooting might have been staged.
“How do you get avid gun owners and people that support the Second Amendment to give up their guns and go along with anti-gun legislation?” Greene asked in an online video. “You make them scared, you make them victims and you change their mindset and then possibly you can pass anti-gun legislation. Is that what happened in Las Vegas?”
“I don’t believe (Paddock) pulled this off all by himself, and I know most of you don’t either,” Greene said.
Space lasers: In 2018, a poorly maintained electrical grid sparked a California wildfire that killed 84 people. In a Facebook post in November of that year, Greene falsely speculated that darker forces were at work.
Connecting a series of scattershot points, Greene suggested a bank controlled by the Rothschild family, who are Jewish, a utility company responsible for the fire and then-Gov. Jerry Brown had a compelling motive to spark the blaze: clearing the path for a high speed rail project Brown wanted. She also floated the possibility that the fires could have been started by “lasers or blue beams of light” shot down from space by allies of Brown who were said to be in the solar energy industry.
“There are too many coincidences to ignore,” she wrote.
Muslim women in Congress: In February 2019, Greene appeared in an online video filmed at the U.S. Capitol, arguing that Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan weren’t “really official” members of Congress because they didn’t take the oath of office on the Bible. Both women are Muslim.
“I really want to go talk to these ladies and ask them what they are thinking, and why they are serving in our American government,” Greene said. “They really should go back to the Middle East.”
Tlaib was born in Detroit. Omar was born in Somalia and came to the U.S. when she was 12, becoming a U.S. citizen five years later.
Hillary Clinton: In May 2018, a Facebook user purporting to be the mother of a New York police officer falsely claimed that the officer had seen a video taken from the laptop of disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner that showed Hillary Clinton and a top aide cutting off a child’s face. Greene “liked” the comment and replied, “Most people honestly don’t know so much. The (mainstream media) disinformation warfare has won for too long!”
Nancy Pelosi: Greene once suggested in an online video that the speaker of the House could be executed for treason. “She’s a traitor to our country, she’s guilty of treason,” Greene says in the video, which CNN first reported. “And it’s, uh, it’s a crime punishable by death is what treason is. Nancy Pelosi is guilty of treason. She also “liked” a January 2019 Facebook post that called for “a bullet to the head” of Pelosi.
Sept. 11 attacks: In November 2018, Greene shot a video in which she talked about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, referring to a “so-called” plane that crashed into the Pentagon. She added, “It’s odd, there’s never any evidence shown for a plane in the Pentagon.” She also “liked” a comment posted by a Facebook user in 2018 who falsely argued that 9/11 was “done by our own Gov.” Greene responded: “That is all true.”