How Marjorie Taylor Greene ascended from Atlanta suburbs to D.C. spotlight

By: - February 15, 2021 5:00 am

Marjorie Taylor Greene talks with attendees at a Dalton Tea Party meeting in 2020. Matt Hamilton/Daily Citizen-News

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s short career as a politician has not lacked for drama.

The woman known as the QAnon-supporting congresswoman has been a source of puzzlement for liberals and headaches for mainstream conservatives, but her supporters call her a champion.

Voters say they love her not only for her strong pro-gun and anti-abortion stances, but for pushing back against people in power.

Greene fans have been relatively sheepish about sharing their opinions with the media in recent months after news outlets unearthed social media posts supporting fringe theories and anti-Semitic tropes.

Posters on conservative and news forums across her Georgia district have mixed opinions of Greene. To some she is an incompetent carpetbagger.

Others say she is one of the few politicians willing to stand up for the people – but few agreed to be interviewed on the record.

“She has a ton of support all over the country,” said Brandon Banks, a Greene voter from Gordon County. “People are scared to go on the record in fear of cancel culture toward conservative views.”

Banks said he voted for Greene because of her positions on the Constitution including the First and Second Amendments, abortion, illegal immigration and corruption in Washington.

“She promised to push the will of the people in Washington, not the Washington establishment. She has also kept her promises and been true to herself and her constituents so far,” he said. “

Banks has heard arguments that her confrontational attitude and refusal to compromise will prevent her from getting much done, but he doesn’t buy them. Her voters wanted a fighter.

“All she can do is convey the will of her constituents,” he said. “You catch the most flack when you are directly over your target. If she sat down and shut up, no one would ever hear her name again, and I guarantee she would not get voted back in. People want their voices heard, not just the will of the super PACs and career politicians.”

Greene’s offices in Washington, Rome and Dalton did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

District shopping

Greene’s path to Congress began outside her northwest Georgia district.

She launched her campaign in June 2019 against Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th District, which includes parts of Cobb and DeKalb counties and part of north Fulton where Greene lived.

That affluent suburban district was once solidly Republican, but it has been moving leftward for years, and McBath defended her seat in November.

In December 2019, Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia’s 14th District announced he would not seek re-election, creating an opening in a district much more aligned with Greene’s unabashedly right-wing message. In 2016, the 6th District chose President Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton 48.3% to 46.8%, but in the 14th District, he won 75% to 22.1%.

Eight days after Graves’ announcement, Greene moved her campaign and her message north.

The largely rural northwest Georgia district consists of 11 entire counties and about half of another. The population of those counties is more than 87% white, according to census data.

Georgia is just under 58% white, and party preference in the state largely comes down to race, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.

“There is a substantial Hispanic population around Dalton, but it is not very politically active, so there’s not much of a Democratic base in much of North Georgia, including in her district,” he said.

Economic and demographic changes also played a major role in that region, said Randy Patton, a professor at Kennesaw State University who has taught classes on American conspiracy theories and researched the carpet industry, a major Dalton employer.

The north Georgia carpet industry escaped some of the worst losses of manufacturing jobs that plagued the rust belt, but it has not gone unscathed, he said. It can be harder to find good work, and people may blame trade agreements like NAFTA as well as immigration, Patton said.

“In the northern part of that district, Latino migration into particularly Whitfield County, but also some of the surrounding counties led to major, major demographic change up there, changing the carpet industry in that region to largely Hispanic migrants from Mexico and other places in the 90s and 2000s,” he said. “That has slowed down some, but there was definitely a backlash.”

The unemployment rate in northwest Georgia was 4.5% in December, according to the state labor department, lower than Georgia’s 5.6%. But the average rate of people under 65 without health insurance in the 12 counties of Greene’s district is 14.85%, compared with 9.5% for the state.

“It’s not that there are no jobs, but a lot of those older jobs, more secure jobs have gone away, and people have less secure jobs,” Patton said.

Angela West, who lives in Floyd County and works in quality control for a manufacturer, told the Georgia Recorder last month that she votes Republican because she feels like she’s not getting a fair cut from the work she does.

“Even with what I make, I can’t afford to go out and buy new things, new shiny things and all these ritzy things,” she said. “I work every damn day. And I don’t feel like I should pay for illegals to get a check. I don’t feel like I should pay for everyone else that’s out there with fake disabilities to get a check.”

The region has also been hard-hit by the opioid crisis. In the 12 counties that make up the district, doctors gave out nearly 120 opioid prescriptions per 100 residents in 2015, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Georgia, the rate was 79 prescriptions per 100 people.

“I am one of you. And they hate me for it.”

These factors can combine to make people feel like they’ve lost control of their lives, Patton said.

“And if you can’t actually control it, the next best thing to that is understanding and knowledge,” he said. “You can at least understand why you can’t control your life. Conspiracy theory is an effort to control.”

Greene has championed unfounded and sometimes outlandish theories since before her candidacy. Among the most well-known is QAnon, an alternate reality in which a high-ranking official in the Trump administration known as Q would release cryptic clues about a behind-the-scenes battle between Trump and a cabal of elite child-sacrificing devil worshippers embedded in the government.

Greene recently told her fellow House members she stopped believing in QAnon in 2018 shortly before they voted to strip her of her committee assignments early this month, though she did not denounce the fringe theory during her campaign.

About 20% of the people in the counties that make up Greene’s district did not complete high school, compared with about 12% statewide, and the median household income is about $25,000 compared with $45,000 for Georgia.

But education level and income are not correlated with belief in conspiracy theories, and it would be incorrect to assume that all of Greene’s followers also follow QAnon, Patton said. Many of those who say they do are only loosely knowledgeable about the more bizarre details of the theory.

“It’s more the case that the general sort of tropes that the conspiracy theories push seem to rhyme with their experience,” he said. “I don’t know how many people actually believe Democrats are running a sex ring out of a pizzeria in DC, but that sort of capsulizes their world in a lot of ways, these sort of cultural elites that look down on us, that despise us because we’re not as well-educated as they are.”

Recent media reports about Greene’s controversial social media posts from before her campaign only serve to deepen the anger of her supporters, said marketing consultant Elliot Pierce of Walker County, a conservative Republican who voted for Greene’s primary opponent, neurosurgeon John Cowan.

“They just don’t want to be condescended to, and that’s what’s been happening when they’re bringing out a lot of the QAnon stuff,” he said. “They’re condescending to her voters at the same time. They’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s crazy, but you’re treating us like we’re crazy too when we didn’t even know about it.’”

“The DC Swamp and the Fake News Media are attacking me because I am not one of them,” Greene tweeted Feb. 1. “I am one of you. And they hate me for it.”

That kind of message can be powerful among voters who feel ignored and disrespected, said Brian Robinson, a Republican consultant who worked on Cowan’s campaign.

“What she is saying is ‘I do appreciate your worldview. I say things that the media and the elites tell you you’re not allowed to say, even though you believe it, even though you agree with it, and they’re going to try to silence us, they’re going to try to destroy our jobs, get me kicked off of committees. They want to destroy people who think like us,’” Robinson said. “And that’s a powerful message.”

Outside influencer

Greene’s pivot from the affluent Atlanta suburbs to the rural northwest corner of the state meant she was marching into battle with a full-fledged campaign infrastructure while other would-be candidates still had to line up their ducks.

Cowan announced his candidacy more than a month after Greene did. She also had a financial advantage.

In 2002, she bought Taylor Construction, a successful construction company founded by her father. She has said the company has done more than a quarter billion dollars worth of projects. 

She put $953,000 of her own money into her nearly $2.6 million campaign, but she also received $945,000 in donations of less than $200.

Cowan raised $1.4 million, with $277,000 coming from his own pocket.

Greene went into the race with a good deal of social capital as a known entity in conservative social media circles. 

On June 3, 2019, the day before she announced her run for the 6th District, Greene had more than 40,000 likes and 54,000 followers on Facebook, according to the Internet Archive.

Greene did not let that audience go to waste. Throughout the campaign, she posted video after video, ranging from sign-waving events to rants about Democratic politicians to videos of her workout routine, with many getting thousands of views.

Greene was a known entity with a history of conservative activism on social media, something Cowan could not hope to match.

“I think people viewed Cowan as more likely to be swayed by political influences in Washington,” Banks said. “They didn’t have faith he would stand up to the establishment and corrupt money influences. He is a neurosurgeon, and I don’t think as many people could relate to him. He was viewed more of an elite. MTG owned a construction company she spent years building into a successful business, which is much more relatable to everyday people.”

Greene’s wealth and name recognition combined with her early start made her a tough foe to topple, Robinson said.

“She was already out there, and little could we have known then, had already built a lead amongst the primary electorate that would be unbeatable,” he said. “She had already kind of locked it down very early. Only in hindsight did you see that.”

The future

Some moderate conservatives are whispering about ways to defeat Greene in a district where primary voters almost always prefer the most conservative candidate.

One option would be to bypass the primary and have a traditional conservative run as an independent in the general election, which has a less extreme pool of voters.

That would cost a lot of money and require an excellent candidate, Robinson said, and the chances of it working would still be low.

“That would be something to consider, but I would almost never recommend that, I would almost never say that would work,” he said. “I’ve never seen it work, but this may be that one in a million. But even then, she still would have a strong base of support.”

Taylor will be up for re-election in two years, and she will have a significant war chest in case anyone tries to challenge her from the right. Late last month, she said she raised $1.6 million dollars, capitalizing on media coverage of the loss of her committee assignments.

“If she gets a serious challenge, she’s going to be very well-funded,” Bulloch said. “And if she doesn’t get a serious challenge, she can do like other secure members of Congress do with their excess money, that is funding the campaigns of like-minded individuals so that way, in 2023, 2025, she may have a number of colleagues who believe as she does.”

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Ross Williams
Ross Williams

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting.