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What, exactly, lies behind Marjorie Taylor Greene's madness?

Republican smear tactics, like Marjorie Taylor Greene calling Democrats pedophiles, create a pretext for the right to resort to political violence.
Image: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., at the Capitol in 2021.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., at the Capitol in 2021.Sarah Silbiger / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., is going all in on an absurd and dishonorable disinformation campaign to frame the Democrats as a “party of pedophiles.”

There’s no question that it’s a morally reprehensible political tactic. But what makes it worse is that in the Republican Party, she’s not an extreme outlier in pushing the idea — merely its most brazen proponent. And the dehumanizing language Greene is using in her position in the vanguard of the right’s new disinformation campaign (calling Democrats evil for something they’re not doing) is the kind of rhetoric that political scientists worry could serve as a pretext for the right to resort to political violence.

On Tuesday, Greene revealed how central the fabricated pedophilia charge is to her messaging on Democrats. During an appearance on Real America’s Voice network, she said the following with a completely straight face:

The Democrats are the party of pedophiles. The Democrats are the party of princess predators from Disney. The Democrats are the party of teachers, elementary school teachers trying to transition their elementary school-age children and convince them they’re a different gender. This is the party of their identity, and their identity is the most disgusting, evil, horrible thing happening in our country.

She also said during the interview that she hopes Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney get called out for “being pro-pedophile and voting for Ketanji Brown Jackson” to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

What, exactly, lies behind this madness? First, Greene is attempting to say Jackson’s record on sentencing child pornography possession offenders — which some Republicans have claimed is disconcertingly lenient despite the reality that her sentencing record is actually mainstream — is tantamount to the party embracing pedophiles. Secondly, Greene is trying to tie critics of what's been referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida, which bans some teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity, to the idea of being pro-pedophilia.

Greene’s noxious disinformation is an extension of the legacy of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which held that former President Donald Trump’s purpose while in office was to uncover a cabal of satanic pedophiles among Democrats and liberal elites.

It’s hard to see this Republican strategy leading us anywhere that isn’t very, very dark.

But what gave her rhetoric more punch is that she’s not alone. As Jonathan Chait laid out in a sharp essay in New York magazine, the idea that there’s a divide between the parties on the question of child sexual exploitation is becoming the GOP’s “most energetic idea.”

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary has called critics of the so-called Don’t Say Gay law “groomers,” a term referring to how sexual abusers manipulate and coerce their victims.

And Republicans viewed Jackson's confirmation hearings as a prime opportunity to imply that Democrats are soft on pedophilia. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank found that in four days of hearings, the phrase “child porn,” or “pornography” or “pornographer,” was mentioned 165 times; “pedophile” was used 15 times; “predators” was used 13 times; and “prepubescent” was used 18 times. As Chait pointed out, Republicans also tried to use a rhetorical sleight of hand by falsely suggesting that Democratic objections to Republicans’ smear campaigns were a denial that pedophilia exists at all. “We’ve been told things like child pornography is actually all a conspiracy,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said during the hearings in a particularly surreal moment of propaganda.

This stuff is more than shameful; it’s outright dangerous. Mainstreaming conspiracy theories and persuading the Republican Party faithful that Democrats are in fact a bunch of predators who will prey on the most vulnerable people is the kind of thing that activates extremist sentiment and makes violent mobilization more likely. As Lilliana Mason, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University, told me in November, dehumanizing and vilifying opponents — thinking of them as “evil rather than just politically wrong” — is a lubricant for violence.

Greene and her colleagues know that painting Democrats as the “most disgusting, evil, horrible thing happening in our country” is the kind of thing that can fire up the base, exploit the trust crisis in our country and give Republican lawmakers license to obstruct the legislative process endlessly. But where is the off-ramp? How do you re-humanize an entire population that you’ve decided is demonic? It’s hard to see this Republican strategy leading us anywhere that isn’t very, very dark.