History Reveals the Danger of Republicans Indulging Marjorie Taylor GreeneRoundup
tags: conspiracy theories, conservatism, extremism, Marjorie Taylor Greene
Austin Nicholson is a Ph.D. candidate in American religious history at the University of Mississippi studying postwar evangelicalism in Texas.
Only a month into her congressional career, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) continues to make national headlines for her remarks, past and present, promoting QAnon falsehoods that the 9/11 terrorist attacks and school shootings were staged and suggesting support for violence against political opponents. Her affinity for dangerous rhetoric and outlandish theories was public knowledge throughout her campaign, as was her disdain for recommended covid-19 public health measures such as mask-wearing. On Friday, standing outside the Capitol, she declared the U.S. government to be “tyrannically controlled” and warned of policies “you could call communism.”
The remarks came in response to the House voting to strip Greene of her committee assignments. But while this was an unprecedented act of discipline against a member, only 11 Republicans supported it. By contrast, 199 of them voted against the move, with many ignoring Greene’s rhetoric and focusing instead on the dangers of the precedent being set by the majority party dictating the committee assignments of a member of the minority party. This reveals that Greene is far from a pariah and that procedural concerns trouble her peers more than her rhetoric. Some of her fellow Republicans supported her candidacy, and she won Georgia’s 14th Congressional District with 75 percent of the vote.
While commentators have painted Greene’s radicalism as shocking and unprecedented in the hallowed halls of Congress, history provides at least one clear antecedent for Greene — and a warning to her Republican colleagues on the dangers of excusing her rhetoric or treating it lightly.
A century ago in 1920, another unabashed conspiracist was elected to the House from the Deep South — John E. Rankin of Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District. Taking office at the apex of Jim Crow disfranchisement, Rankin was far from the only dedicated White supremacist in Congress. But his outspoken extremism on a range of issues was unmatched. Casting himself as a “real, red-blooded American” and a lonely defender of “American institutions,” Rankin combined his hatred for Black Americans, Japanese Americans and Jews into an explosive cocktail of bigotry. His worldview was defined by vast international conspiracies and suspicion of pervasive internal subversion, and he often connected his various targets to the perceived threats of socialism or communism.
During the 1930s, Rankin focused on keeping the United States out of foreign wars and alliances, including opposing efforts to aid Britain in its fight against Nazi Germany. On the floor of the House, Rankin blasted efforts to drag the United States into World War II as the work of an international communist cadre that included munitions makers, Wall Street executives, East Coast journalists and Hollywood elites, all “in collusion with Moscow to overthrow the American republic.” He blamed the same group for racial intermarriage, integration efforts and immigration, tying them all to a grand scheme that threatened to “destroy the last vestige of our Christian civilization.”
Yet Rankin’s impact went beyond his rhetoric. Throughout Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, Democrats relied on the Southern segregationist wing of their party in Congress to codify key elements of the New Deal. Since the South was one-party territory, the segregationists accrued seniority, which let them chair committees and subcommittees. To protect Roosevelt’s agenda and the party’s majority, therefore, Democrats accommodated outspoken racists such as Rankin and his fellow Mississippian, Sen. Theodore Bilbo.
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