After the four Justice Democrats who came to be called ‘the Squad’ won their seats in the 2018 U.S. midterms, they became national political figures, especially, if for very different reasons, among progressives and the American right. Despite being women of color during this time of #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez have never seemed as aggrieved as their critics or the two Republican women who in some ways have followed in their footsteps.
Part of the success that Pressley and Ocasio Cortez had was in taking on incumbents who seemed to be more interested in wielding power in their party and Washington, DC than looking out for the people in their districts. This year the Squad’s numbers grew when Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman used similar strategies to win seats in the lower house of the country’s Congress.
Considering this, it was probably only a matter of time before there would be candidates on the Republican side trying to achieve similar insurgent electoral success. Unlike the progressives who came into the body before them, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert stoke the worst part of their party’s base by raging against and scapegoating some of their country’s most marginalized communities.
This was what Taylor Greene, who is not known for either empathy or intellectual curiosity, wrote on Facebook about transgender people in 2019, “Trans does not mean gender change, just means a gender refusal and gender pretending! Truth is truth, it is not a choice!!!”
Prior to winning her seat in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, Taylor Greene, a millionaire heiress and former contributor to the web-site Law Enforcement Today also speculated on social media that at least some of the terrible wildfires in California in 2020 were not the result of the negligence of PG&E, the private energy company that has also been blamed for earlier fires made worse by the conditions created by climate change, but rather by ‘lasers’ created by solar panels orbiting the earth as part of a renewable energy project. Further, she claimed these lasers (actually radio frequency transmissions that are beamed down to a receiving station and then converted into electricity) were being used to clear the land for a high speed rail project.
The post, like much of her writing, reads as if Taylor Greene has just discovered sarcasm and feels the need to employ it at all times. As if to put a bow on this nonsense, the Georgia Congressperson also indulged in a little casual anti-Semitism, claiming a ‘Rothschild’ connection to the convoluted plot she described.
While the reaction of much of the American press to this has been to treat this more seriously than it has other examples of rightwing anti-Semitism in recent years, Taylor Greene has faced nothing like the widespread condemnation faced by Representative Omar for her criticisms of Israel’s far right government and the obvious influence of AIPAC on American foreign policy, the former long before she ever ran for national office.
On discovering that she had unwittingly indulged an anti-Semitic trope when she accused Israel’s government of “hypnotizing the world” in 2012 (with the terrible assault on the Gaza strip still in progress at that time), the Minnesota representative apologized, writing, “It’s now apparent to me that I spent lots of energy putting my 2012 tweet in context and little energy is disavowing the anti-Semitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive.”
In terms of consequences, despite her apology, to this day, almost every mention of Omar in the mainstream press includes a reference to these accusations of anti-Semitism.
Speaking to Chris Hayes of MSNBC about how Republicans have been trying to create equivalency between her and Taylor Greene in recent weeks, Omar explained the absurdity of this is in her usual straight forward style, “Sadly this is the Republican playbook. We saw it with Donald Trump that any time they are faced with consequences for their actions to undermine our democracy they blame Muslims, they blame immigrants, they blame black people, they blame women and I just happen to embody all of these identities and I just want to make sure, Chris, that we are clear on this: this is not about me and it should not be about me, it’s about a member of the Republican caucus who has repeatedly incited violence and Republicans can’t just wave a magic wand and attack the black congresswoman.”
Taylor Greene has, among so many other disturbing things, also claimed that several school shootings, including the horrifying 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 28 innocents were slaughtered, were staged events.
Like many people, I remember where I was when I heard the terrible news about Sandy Hook that December. The place where I spent some of the happiest years of my life, Dawson College here in Montreal, was also the site of a mass shooting, though some years after I attended. The idea that someone would deny these tragedies for political purposes is hard to understand.
Ashley, a survivor of Sandy Hook, who was 7 years old at the time, told Now This News in a very moving interview about how she feels about those like Taylor Greene who build such ‘false flag’ narratives in the wake of school shootings, “For them to say, like, that this just didn’t happen… for it to be a hoax, for them to be paid actors or something… It’s so invalidating. It’s incredibly invalidating to everything our community has gone through. To everything, other communities have gone through. I can’t give you proof except for my trauma, except for like, the letters that people wrote to us, except for the fact that I actually went to that school, you know?”
Rather than trying to make amends for spreading this kind of disinformation, Taylor Greene is already fundraising off of the publicity surrounding it and the multiplying controversies around her use of social media, claiming that she’s being “cancelled”.
Despite losing committee assignments that she claimed she doesn’t care about, Taylor Greene reportedly received a standing ovation from many of her Republican colleagues in a closed door meeting on February 3rd.
The other controversial Republican congresswoman, Lauren Boebert, is the owner of Shooters Grill in the town of Rifle, Colorado. She followed in the footsteps of Ocasio Cortez and other progressives in primarying an incumbent, Scott Tipton, but seems to have been overshadowed by Taylor Greene’s willingness to indulge just about any absurd conspiracy on the right. Still, the representative of her state’s 3rd District has proven herself to be even more dangerously reckless in other ways.
While campaigning, Boebert made a point of aligning herself with so-called 3%er militias (whose name is derived from the myth that only this percentage of Americans actually participated in the American Revolution) in her home state, with these groups providing security at her rallies. After the siege at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, in which some of these militias participated, it was reported that she had tweeted that the House Speaker had “been removed from the chambers”.
Like Taylor Greene, Boebert has tried to scrub her social media accounts of references to these militias (as well as Qanon conspiracies that both women indulged), who were not only present at the capitol but also the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August of 2017 that resulted in the death of a 32 year old paralegal, Heather Heyer.
Establishing her 2nd Amendment credentials, the restaurant and bar that Boebert owns encourage staff to carry sidearms, because guns and alcohol are never a dangerous combination. Her businesses have also become infamous for allegedly poor practices that have made people sick.
The worst, but not only case of this, occurred at the Rifle Rodeo in 2017 when pork sliders prepared by Boebart’s employees at another location she owned made dozens of people sick, with some reportedly suffering from “bloody diarrhea”, as explained by the Daily Dot, “…health officials found they kept no temperature logs, meat was exposed to insects, and there was no handwashing station,” in the location where the tainted sliders were prepared.
Although we will be told by Republican leaders that this isn’t so, these two women likely represent the future of their party rather than a correctable aberration within it. Just as Barry Goldwater leads to Ronald Reagan and the Tea Party leads to Trump, the last Republican president leads to Taylor Greene and Boebert. In the past, Democrats almost always adjusted to their opponents rightward drift with one of their own, a desperate search for whatever the ‘new middle’ was supposed to be.
With a still small but growing number of progressive voices within the Democratic party, there is for the first time in decades an opportunity to truly move that party to the left and counter the threat represented by radicals like Boebert and Taylor Greene.