Marjorie Taylor Greene had a story to tell, and a rapt audience hung on her every word.
One recent Saturday, between stops on her peripatetic America First Tour with Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, her wingman, the congresswoman nominally representing northern Georgia arrived here back home at the Dalton Convention Center to rally the faithful at the 14th District Republican convention. In an address punctuated by applause and even a standing ovation, Greene lamented Capitol Hill culture and the media as she recounted a recent run-in with her self-appointed nemesis, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Recently Greene chased Ocasio-Cortez down in the Capitol and demanded they debate over the merits of the Green New Deal. (Asked about Greene later, Ocasio-Cortez threw up her hands and replied, “I mean, this is who she is.”)
“She stopped, turned, and threw her hands in the air,” Greene, sharing the stage with a red miniature elephant figurine, told those present in remarks captured exclusively by Insider at the event. “And then she kept going. Well the press that was present said that I was screaming at her and that I had behavior that’s not becoming of a member of Congress. And I assured them, I said, ‘My district back at home definitely likes my behavior.'”
The crowd clapped and cheered.
The moment was a unique and unfiltered window into a singular figure on the American political stage. Perhaps no other politician in recent history has so quickly elevated herself as such a curiosity and provocateur after just five months in Congress. Each passing week, Greene’s frequently bizarre and unfounded remarks and actions spur a new, mouth-gaping round of coverage. Most recently, in an interview, she compared mask mandates in the House of Representatives to the Holocaust. The statement drew condemnation from inside her own party, with Rep. Liz Cheney calling it “evil lunacy” and fellow freshmen Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan on CNN said his colleague’s remark was “beyond reprehensible.”
One recent day at the Capitol, not long after Greene’s confrontation with AOC made national news, a half-dozen Hill photographers waited to snap a photo of her. They waited. And waited. And waited. It was no normal scene for a freshman member, who has also now become a character on “Saturday Night Live” played by Cecily Strong.
Far from the klieg lights of Capitol Hill, back in her own district, Greene portrayed herself as a victim who endures — rather than instigates — a pugilistic, take-no-prisoners national political culture. But the mercurial mischief-maker seemed at least somewhat self-aware.
“You see, they don’t like me very much up there,” Greene told the group.
“That’s all right,” someone in the audience said.
In February, the House stripped Greene of her committee assignments over past comments around conspiracy theories, plus remarks deemed racist and antisemitic. But back in Rome, Dalton, and the rural areas in between, where some 732,000 constituents lack representation on any congressional committee, Greene enjoys a well of support from Republicans here who like that she tells it like it is but are less clear about what it is. Here, in one of the nation’s most conservative congressional districts (Donald Trump in 2020 beat Joe Biden by nearly 50 percentage points here, a Daily Kos analysis shows), Republicans describe her as a fighter.
“A lot of what she’s doing right now, her approach, comes from that base of looking at the county, looking at the district, looking at the state, as opposed to the federal government,” said John Sottilare, a 58-year-old project manager, as he waited in line to attend the home opener of the Rome Braves, the local minor-league baseball team. “A lot of representatives, they go with the national agenda. Her agenda is more local. And that’s something we appreciate.”
Greene’s profile has earned her gangbusters fundraising numbers and also heat. From February to March, the Republican Accountability Project, an operation of the conservative pundit Bill Kristol, bought billboards in Rome and Dalton with Green’s face plastered over them, demanding that she resign. “You lied about the election,” they read. “The Capitol was attacked.”
Talk to Republicans in her district, and many will tell you that Greene’s antics are the point. She is, they say, something like the 14th District’s middle finger to Washington.
“The people in our district knew exactly what they were getting,” said John Cowan, the neurosurgeon and local football star who lost to Greene in a Republican runoff here last year. “They have such a low view of Congress that they said, ‘Y’all deserve her.’ We know what we’re sending to you, and it’s because we think so poorly of our US Congress that we’re going to send the worst up there.”
Insider traversed Greene’s congressional district over two weeks in May, including attending two GOP events in Dalton: a Patriots Unite Rally graced by the election conspiracist and lawyer Lin Wood, as well as the 14th District Republican convention in which Greene spoke. Back home, Marjorie Taylor Greene is more of a vibe than an espouser of a set of traditional GOP principles or ideologies. Her short, tumultuous tenure in Congress has riven the local GOP, leading several party leaders to step down from their positions over her comportment and as her political team has sought to consolidate power, according to interviews with more than 20 constituents, supporters, and political rivals in and around her district.
Greene has already won two longshot Democratic challengers just months into her term: Marcus Flowers, a Black Army veteran from Bremen (population 6,227) who debuted with a viral Twitter video featuring Greene’s greatest hits; and Holly McCormack, a small-business owner in Ringgold (population 3,580).
In an interview back in DC, hours before her hallway altercation with AOC earlier this month, Greene defended her ability to represent her congressional district despite not being on any committees.
“Republicans — their voices aren’t even heard on committees right now,” Greene told Insider as she left a news conference touting a bill that disparages critical race theory in public schools. “The Democrats have full control and don’t care about amendments Republicans are adding. Most of my Republican colleagues have told me they’re jealous that they didn’t get kicked off committees because they’re wasting time sitting on
Georgia voters sent her to DC to “own the libs,” and that’s exactly what she’s doing, supporters and detractors say.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with folks who didn’t vote for me who say, ‘Doc, we just wanted you to stay and be a doctor in this district.’ She’s perfect for them,” Cowan said.
“I wholeheartedly believe that she’s a mouthpiece for us,” Tyler Martin, a retail store manager and GOP delegate for Whitfield County, told Insider.
“Everybody needs to be following what she’s doing,” added Charles Stoker of Cleveland, Georgia. “She’s trying to do the right thing for the American people.”
Some GOPers here, though, describe her as an embarrassment to the district and fret that places such as Rome, the largest city in her district, are losing out on economic development because of her exploits.
To me, it’s an embarrassment to say she’s our congresswoman. People love her here. She totes her gun and she yells and screams. She knows how to play to her audience.A lifelong Rome Republican
“Her lack of seriousness, her tone, her approach — it’s not a very good representation of our community,” one longtime Rome Republican said.
“She will never get the respect that we need,” said another lifelong Rome Republican who requested anonymity to speak out against Greene in the relatively small world of northwest Georgia politics. “To me, it’s an embarrassment to say she’s our congresswoman. People love her here. She totes her gun and she yells and screams. She knows how to play to her audience.”
“She is who she said she would be,” Cowan said. “That’s the problem though.”
The 14th District is no stranger to the culture wars. Situated between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta, and bordered by Alabama to the west, the 12-county district was once represented by Larry McDonald (when it was considered the 7th District), a conservative Southern Democrat and second president of the John Birch Society, which opposed the civil rights movement as well as socialism, totalitarianism, and communism. He died on a Korean Airlines flight that careened into Soviet airspace and was promptly shot down in 1983.
The district’s biggest city of Rome — population 36,000 and situated off the Oostanaula River — is home to a statue known as the Capitoline Wolf, once thought to be a gift from the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. The statue, inspired by Roman mythology, features a wolf with eight swollen teats nursing Romulus and Remus, their genitals exposed. Beneath the tableau, a plaque reads: “This statue of the Capitoline Wolf, as a forecast of prosperity and glory, has been sent from Ancient Rome to New Rome, during the consulship of Benito Mussolini, in the year 1929.”
The town has been in turn ashamed and proud of the statue. At first, when the wolf statue arrived, locals did not want to display it. It sat in a New York warehouse for almost a year while the American investors and home office decided what to do with it. At one point, there was talk of a local artist replacing the statue with a Cherokee statue.
Selena Tilly, a local historian, told Insider that during big events, some townspeople in this conservative burg would cover up the wolf’s teats and put diapers on Romulus and Remus.
As it turns out, the statue actually was not a gift from Mussolini but the Tubize Chatillon Corporation, an Italian textile company that used it as a kind of branding. Still, Mussolini knew about “new Rome” in Georgia, Tilly said, and commissioned Italian artists to send a gift to the textile factory’s Rome outpost in Georgia: a cornerstone cut from the Roman Colosseum. (Local lore later conflated the cornerstone and statue as the Mussolini gift).
Then, inexplicably, Mussolini ghosted the Southern town.
“The gift never arrived,” Tilly said. “We are still waiting on the stone.”
Listening to Tilly, one could almost hear Greene railing against the somewhat ribald statue as an example of the kind of future liberals want.
Rome is a city of contradictions. Across the street from this local culture-war flashpoint, you can find a hipster coffee shop called “Swift & Finch.” There, Christina Bucher typed on a Macbook bedecked in “Biden for President,” “Stacey Abrams for Governor,” “I Read BANNED BOOKS,” and “Safe Space” stickers. A local English professor, she said she is embarrassed by Greene’s performance in DC so far. She cited the AOC altercation specifically. She said the county typically splits the vote 70-30 in favor of Republicans.
“She seems more interested in picking fights and, quite frankly, acting childishly, than really working,” Bucher said, adding that she was the communications director for the local Democratic party.
Bucher said that in the 2020 general election, Greene, a carpetbagger to the district, was essentially unopposed. Initially, Floyd County party leaders were resistant. “We think Ms. Greene is a good candidate,” Luke Martin, chair of the Floyd County GOP, told the Rome News-Tribune. “We just prefer someone from Floyd County, or at least the 14th District.” Her campaign motto was “Save America, Stop Socialism.”
Greene won the endorsement of the House Freedom Fund PAC early in the race thanks to help from two of Trump’s biggest loyalists: Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan and then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. She ran as “100% Pro-Life, Pro-Gun, Pro-Trump,” as her Twitter bio once read. After winning a nine-way primary and runoff, she squared off against Democrat Kevin Van Ausdal, who would later drop out of the race after a divorce. The secretary of state said it was too late to replace him on the ballot.
Greene was on a glide path to Congress.
It wasn’t even suppertime yet, and Lin Wood had already floated the idea of executing two fellow Republicans. It was an overcast day in Dalton, the district’s second-largest city and the self-proclaimed Carpet Capital of the World — it boasts more than 150 carpet plants — and 300 Republicans had gathered in the Dalton Convention Center.
The event was a fundraiser for Kandiss Taylor, a former candidate for Senate in the 2020 special runoff election where she failed to secure more than 0.8 percent of the vote in the race where Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, unseated the Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler in a close election. But the big draw for this Q-curious crowd, though, was Wood, who held a meet-and-greet before launching into an unhinged address about election integrity and the conspiracy theory QAnon, which posits that some of the most powerful people in the world, many of them Democrats, are involved in a child-sex-trafficking cabal, and that Donald Trump will put an end to it.
Wood grew up in Atlanta and made his name by filing libel and defamation suits on behalf of Richard Jewell, the security guard wrongly accused in Atlanta’s 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing. In February, the fierce Trump supporter moved to South Carolina and promptly launched a bid for state GOP chair. (A few weeks after the event, Trump would repay Wood’s loyalty by endorsing his rival, Drew McKissick.)
On this morning, Wood was focused on both Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who refused to play ball when Trump was seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. “Put them in front of a firing squad, and send them straight to hell,” the election conspiracist and attorney told the crowd, many from neighboring congressional districts and even states.
The crowd laughed and clapped.
Attendees, largely white and older, wore T-shirts with Greene’s campaign slogan emblazoned on them: God, Guns, Babies. Their MAGA hats and QAnon shirts and the cars they pulled into the parking lot sported Trump 2020 bumper stickers.
“Q is real,” Wood said in his speech. Jean Russell, a 65-year-old marketing professional from nearby Calhoun, told Insider she came to the rally for one reason: “To experience the Great Awakening,” a QAnon reference.
Greene herself wasn’t at the event. The night before, at a raucous gathering in The Villages, a notorious Florida retirement community, she had kicked off her America First Tour with Gaetz, the subject of a Justice Department sex-trafficking investigation (Gaetz denies wrongdoing). But Greene’s supporters were out in force. Russell, of Calhoun, said she was a “big fan” of Greene.
“She just speaks the truth,” Russell said. “I just think it was divine intervention that she was taken off committees. So she has more time to get out and speak. You know, she’s just a very good speaker. She connects with people. And she listens to people. It’s obvious that it was the wrong thing to do to take her off those committees. It was just wrong. But it just displays for the world to see what some of the establishment leaders are doing. They’re trying to rule by fiat. Cancel people. Who knew canceling people would be a thing? But as it has turned out, she has more time to go to things. … She can go anywhere she wants. She’s not dedicated to a single committee.”
Taylor put it more succinctly: “She’s raising money without even trying. People are rallying it behind her because she is a voice of truth in the darkness.”
“She’s trying to do the right thing for the American people,” Stoker, a lifetime member of the Georgia Republican Assembly, said.
The next Saturday, Greene graced the same Dalton Convention Center. Across the state on this day, GOP county delegates and guests gathered in droves in 13 of the 14 congressional districts to elect new leadership and pass resolutions — many of which aimed to censure individuals and organizations alike for their lack of support in the fight to overturn the 2020 election in favor of Trump.
Inside the convention center, about 300 delegates gathered from places such as Gordon, Paulding, Catoosa, and Whitfield counties to make their voices heard. Many were wearing the iconic MAGA hats, some were decked out in full Trump regalia. The delegate’s folders, which held items like the agenda and copies of the resolutions to be voted on, also included stickers emblazoned with “I Love MGT,” and a picture of the controversial congresswoman, which many donned proudly.
In her remarks, which lasted about 20 minutes, Greene sounded somewhat more on message and subdued than normal. There was, for example, no talk of Jewish space lasers that caused, she once posited, California’s wildfires.
She got a laugh from the crowd for calling AOC “Alexandria Ocrazyo-Cortez.” She called for folks to “get involved,” and “not just sit there and post on Facebook,” with the ultimate goal of shifting the tides in 2022. She announced an America First Tour stop coming to her own backyard on May 27 with Gaetz. “I’m requesting every single one of you and all your friends and neighbors,” she said. “We are going to have a good time.”
“You see it’s Washington, DC, the bubble up there, the Beltway, the politicians, their consultants and the press, that’s disconnected from Americans,” Greene said. “They’re the ones that are cheering AOC on and socialism and the Jihad Squad, the rest of her friends, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and the rest of the communists that are trying to destroy our country. They don’t understand how you feel and I feel, people that work hard every day, pay taxes, love our freedom, love our veterans, and don’t want Washington, DC, and the Democrats to take it away from us.
“I know it looks crazy in DC, and it really is,” she said. “But they are being exposed.”
After Greene’s speech, Kemp, whose execution was floated in this same space a week earlier, didn’t want to talk about Greene.
“Well, it’s not really for me to decide,” he told Insider when asked for an assessment of the congresswoman’s work in DC. “You know, she was duly elected. She’s fighting hard up there. And you know, she knows her constituents. Yeah, so look, I know she’s fighting harder there.”
Greene also briefly spoke with Insider in an interview.
She defended her time in Congress and cited legislative priorities such as immigration and the Fire Fauci Act, which would defund Dr. Anthony Fauci’s position as National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director. She also talked about the party’s internecine conflict.
“They call it like the GOP civil war. They talk about differences, but it’s really a small percentage of people that are trying to steer away from America First, steer away from President Trump, or steer away from that type of brand or like the MAGA movement,” she said. “And that’s a very small percent like Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, that crowd.”
She continued: “There’s only 10 people that voted to impeach him. But in the base, over 70 percent of Republican voters all over the country still support President Trump. They support America First values and policies. That’s putting our tax dollars on our country first, stopping things like foreign wars, stopping sending all these foreign countries our money. And, you know, most people really, really support that. That’s the future of the Republican Party.
“It’s for the workers. It’s for small businesses. It’s for every single person. It doesn’t matter about your race. It doesn’t matter about your religion. It doesn’t matter about your sexuality. That’s really what the Republican Party is all about. But then you have the tiny, tiny group that is trying to, I guess, what they say, take back the Republican Party. But they’re just a small minority.”
John Cowan is one of the people who could have stopped Marjorie Taylor Greene from coming to Congress.
On a recent afternoon in Rome, the neurosurgeon and ex-college football star ducked into the City Creamery, one of the many quaint shops and watering holes off Broad Street here. The former defensive lineman and offensive tackle at Davidson College in North Carolina wore scrubs and was fresh off three spine surgeries that morning. He had an hour to spare before picking up one of his four kids from school.
Over coffee, Cowan recounted the nine-way primary with Greene and then the runoff that saw him lose by 10,000 votes. “We did the best we could,” he said.
Greene, who lived outside the district in the northern Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta until running for Congress here last year, put down $1 million of her family’s money for the seat after bailing out of a planned run for the 6th District. Cowan and his wife, also a doctor, were willing to put up only $300,000 of their own money. (The 14th District opened up in December of 2019, when Rep. Tom Graves announced he would not seek a sixth term in 2020, telling supporters he was “entering a new season of life.” Graves did not respond to Insider’s requests for an interview for this story).
Cowan said he’s mulling a primary challenge against Greene in 2022 but is first waiting to see how the 14th comes out as state lawmakers spend the next couple of months redrawing Georgia’s congressional-district borders.
“I definitely think we need a good candidate to go against her,” he said. He paused. “Provided she’s still in the race. I think that either by her own choice or by some external force, she won’t be running again.”
And what might that external force be? “I got to think she may get into some trouble. She doesn’t shy away from that. And she certainly chooses to hang out with somebody who is probably going to get in big trouble.”
When informed that Gaetz, to whom he was alluding, would be in the district very soon for a rally with Greene, Cowan said: “That’s absolutely amazing — said in a sarcastic sort of way.”
Talking to Cowan and his Republican acolytes across the district, though, none of them seemed to actually take issue with any of Greene’s votes in Congress so far. “I would say that’s probably right,” Cowan said.
She’s not up there working for us. She’s working for herself.Kevin Jones, former Murray County GOP chairman
“Any Republican from the 14th District would vote the same way she’s voted,” one lifelong Rome Republican from the district said. The problem, this person said, is the messenger. “I don’t know what else she could do that could cause people to turn on her. She’s already done it all.”
Privately, three Republicans from the district here who were once party leaders say Greene’s team has slowly pushed her detractors out of the organization. “There was pressure from the local Republican Party to come behind her,” one longtime local GOP member said. “My conscience would not let me do that.”
As a result, this person says, traditional donors have stopped donating. “Donors have been shunned by her and her people,” this person said. “They’re putting their money elsewhere. I would say their traditional pipeline is drying up. (Luke Martin, the chair of the Floyd County GOP, did not return Insider messages seeking comment). That hasn’t stopped Greene from minting money: She raised more than $3 million in the first quarter of the year, ranking her second in the House for that period behind only Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Ninety percent of the money came from outside her Georgia district.
At least three GOP county officials have stepped down since Greene came onto the political stage. Among them: Andy Garner, of Floyd County, a county GOP chair who backed Cowan but then resigned from his leadership position rather than endorse Greene. Ex-Dade County GOP Chairman Tom Pounds resigned earlier this year after telling a local news station asking about Greene that “this lady needs to go.” Kevin Jones, of Murray County, also backed Cowan and stepped down from his position.
In an interview, Jones said Greene wasn’t in step with where he wanted to see the GOP go in the future, including advocating for small government. “She’s not up there working for us,” Jones said of Greene. “She’s working for herself.”
Greene has won over some early detractors. At the Dalton GOP event, Colt Chambers, a nonprofit-sector worker who is the 25-year-old state chairman of the Georgia Young Republicans, said he was cool to her campaign during the primary. “I had some strong reservations about her specifically, just not knowing who she was and her not living in the district,” he said. “And her approach honestly was a bit concerning. But she’s really speaking on the issues that I think a lot of people care about in this district. And she’s not afraid to speak out. She’s gone to Congress, and while she’s been a good bit unconventional and her approach, you know, she’s fighting every single day for the people of the 14th District and conservatives across the country. And as a young Republican, I’m very supportive of what she’s doing to prevent the onset of socialism in our nation.”
Given Greene’s exploits, and how even some in her own party responded so quickly by booting her from her committee posts, some locals nonetheless say that Georgia’s 14th is now a district without a representative. “We might not as well have a congressperson,” said one of the lifelong Rome Republicans who also marveled at how she won her seat in November.
Back at the City Creamery, though, Cowan seemed to know exactly why Greene is in Congress and he’s still in Rome.
“It’s not that she’s some great leader or ideologue or she’s going to be able to reform our healthcare system,” Cowan said. “They’re like, ‘No, she’s going to go burn it to the ground. We want you to come in when it’s in the ashes and come back up, and I’m kind of like, ‘Well, I’d like not to see it get burned to the ground.'”
This story first published on May 22, 2021
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