How about these names, Marjorie Greene?

Regrettably, she’s one of far too many politicians of this moment who think and speak with no regard for truth or reasonable argument.

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Image Credit: Greg Nash/The Hill

“Say her name!” Marjorie Taylor Greene shouted from the House floor during President Biden’s State of the Union Address. The same slogan was on the T-shirt she wore under her red jacket, which had a pin with a picture of the person whose name she was referring to — a pin she’d also handed out to colleagues before that session as well as to the president as he passed her on his way to the rostrum.

The name was Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student murdered in Georgia, Greene’s home state, on Feb. 22. The man accused of killing her, Jose Antonio Ibarra, had been identified as an illegal immigrant from Venezuela. Greene’s theatrics that night were obviously meant to put a spotlight on Biden’s immigration policies and blame him for Riley’s death.

Looking back at that moment, a fantasy forms in my mind of someone calling out to Greene (maybe even interrupting a speech of hers) and urging her to say different names: Evelyn Dieckhaus, perhaps, or William Kinney, or Hallie Scruggs.

Those names belonged to three nine-year-olds killed in a Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 27, 2023. That day, the shooter carried an AR-15 assault-style rifle, a 9 mm carbine, and a handgun into the school where he fatally shot those three kids, as well as Mike Hill, Katherine Koonce, and Cynthia Peak (respectively a custodian, the head of the school, and a substitute teacher). Six names, then. And speaking of numbers, a question comes to mind: Is Marjorie Taylor Greene one of a kind — or not? Keep reading…

On the day those six people were shot in Nashville, Greene wasted no time turning the tragedy into fodder for a political message attacking President Biden and his record, not on immigration that time but on gun control. 

“Joe Biden’s gun free school zones have endangered children at schools leaving them as innocent targets of sick horrible disturbed people ever since he worked as a Senator to pass this foolish law,” she tweeted less than four hours after the shooting. (The apparent reference was to the Gun-Free Zones Act, passed by Congress in 1990. Biden was in the Senate then but wasn’t a sponsor of either that law or a subsequent version passed four years later.) A few sentences later, Greene mentioned the president again: “Gun grabbers like Joe Biden and Democrats should give up their Secret Service protection and put themselves on the same level as our unprotected innocent, precious children at school.”

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In other tweets that day Greene used the Nashville shooting as ammunition in the culture wars about gender identity. Citing accounts reporting that the shooter was a transgender male, Greene noted that “the female Nashville shooter identified as a man.” In separate tweets, she suggested a possible connection between the shooting and “Antifa’s plan for violence on the ‘Trans Day of Vengeance,’” while asking, “How much hormones like testosterone and medications for mental illness was the transgender Nashville school shooter taking?”

In fact, no evidence has ever surfaced indicating any connection between that shooting and Antifa or the “Day of Vengeance” organizers (who gave that name to a planned nonviolent demonstration in Washington, which was called off before it even happened). Nor has it been confirmed that the shooter was receiving hormone treatments.

Compassion or exploitation?

Greene’s colleague Mike Collins, another Republican congressman from Georgia whose politics are similar to hers, had invited Laken Riley’s parents to attend the State of the Union address as his guests, but they declined. It’s hard to know what her family members might have felt, had they been sitting in the gallery when Greene broke into Biden’s speech with that shout. Would they have welcomed it as a sympathetic recognition of their tragedy or been angered at being made into props for a play-acting politician’s stunt? (After the incident, Laken’s father, Jason Riley, expressed his feelings to a television interviewer this way: “I’d rather [my daughter] not be such a political, how you say — it started a storm in our country, and it’s incited a lot of people.” He added that her death was “being used politically to get those votes. It makes me angry. I feel like, you know, they’re just using my daughter’s name for that. And she was much better than that, and she should be raised up for the person that she is.”  A few days later, though, Jason Riley delivered his own political message in a speech at the Georgia State House, where he exhorted state legislators to enact tougher laws to counter an “illegal invasion” by undocumented immigrants.)

It’s difficult to know how many of Greene’s fellow Republicans in the House really felt about her actions that night. It’s possible that some privately didn’t agree with her use of Laken Riley’s murder to all-too-loudly score a political point. But if any colleagues on her side of the aisle felt that way, they’ve remained silent, just as GOP politicians who know that Donald Trump’s stolen-election claims are false won’t, with pitifully few exceptions, say that truth aloud. 

Nor, of course, can we read Greene’s own mind on this. She obviously knew that she was making a political gesture, but perhaps she thought she was also expressing genuine sympathy for a murder victim and her family. From outside, though, it’s hard to see her actions as anything but a callous effort to exploit a tragic event. And of course, it wasn’t an isolated action by one insensitive congresswoman but one of many similar incidents, as anti-immigrant activists across the country loudly pointed to Laken Riley’s death as evidence for their cause, while politicians seized on it as a way to get votes.

Another list of names

Here are some more names that someone might read out to Representative Greene:

Alyssa Alhadeff, Martin Duque Anguiano, Nicholas Dworet, Jamie Guttenberg, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup, Peter Wang.

Those were the names of the 14 students who were killed on February 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. They ranged in age from 14 to 18. The shooter in Parkland also used an AR-15 while slaughtering those 14 students, as well as three adult staffers: Chris Hixon, the wrestling coach and athletic director; Scott Beigel, 35, a geography teacher and cross-country coach; and Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach who, survivors said, was killed while attempting to shield students from the attacker’s bullets.

In the year after those deaths, a number of Parkland students who survived the shooting became activists promoting stricter gun laws. In March 2019, one of them, David Hogg, came to Washington to meet with lawmakers in advance of a Senate hearing on a proposed “red flag” gun-control bill.  Greene, not yet a member of Congress, saw Hogg, then 18 years old, walking on the grounds outside the Capitol building, where she had come to lobby against that very bill. A videotape, apparently filmed by someone accompanying Greene, shows her following Hogg and calling out angry questions and accusations: “Why are you supporting red flag gun laws that attack our Second Amendment rights? And why are you using kids as a barrier?… You are using your lobby and the money behind it and the kids to try to take away my Second Amendment rights!”

In the video, as Hogg keeps walking, Greene turns to face the camera and adds, “He has nothing to say because he’s paid to do this…. And he’s a coward. He can’t say one word because he can’t defend his stance.” On the tape, Greene refers to “George Soros funding” and “major liberal funding,” but she has never presented the slightest bit of evidence that Hogg was being paid by Soros or anyone else.

Nor was that the only time Greene responded unsympathetically to the Parkland murders. In 2018, on Facebook, Greene associated herself with the claim that it didn’t really happen, agreeing with a commenter who described the Parkland shooting as a planned “false flag” event. In a separate post, she implied that two nationally known Democrats might have been involved in staging a fake event: “I am told that Nancy Pelosi tells Hillary Clinton several times a month that ‘we need another school shooting’ in order to persuade the public to want strict gun control.”

And here’s one more list:

Makenna Lee Elrod, Layla Salazar, Maranda Mathis, Nevaeh Bravo, Jose Manuel Flores Jr., Xavier Lopez, Tess Marie Mata, Rojelio Torres, Eliahna “Ellie” Amyah Garcia, Eliahna A. Torres, Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, Jackie Cazares, Uziyah Garcia, Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, Jailah Nicole Silguero, Amerie Jo Garza, Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio, Alithia Ramirez, Irma Garcia, Eva Mireles.

The first 19 names on that list belonged to children ages 9, 10, and 11 who died in a shooting at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022. The 20th and 21st names were teachers who were also killed. Like the shooters in Nashville and Parkland, the Uvalde gunman carried out the attack with an AR-15 rifle. (A few facts here: the AR-15 is a semi-automatic, military-style rifle; about one of every 20 Americans owns an AR-15 and, at present, an estimated 20 million of them are in circulation in this country.)

As she would do again after the Nashville shooting, Greene associated the Uvalde massacre with gender identity — in this case, a much less plausible connection. Speaking on Facebook Live a few days after the event, she repeated an unsubstantiated rumor that the shooter, a former student at the school, was transgender and had been “groomed” by a former FBI agent. That claim, based on some cross-dresser photos falsely identified as showing the suspect, spread widely in right-wing circles but was never backed up by any factual evidence. (In those same circles, the shooter was also regularly described as an illegal immigrant. In fact, as no less an authority than Texas’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, confirmed, he was a U.S. citizen born in North Dakota.)

Returning to the subject a couple of months later, Greene tweeted that the Uvalde students “could have defended themselves” if they had been armed with JR-15 rifles. She was referring to a lightweight .22 caliber semi-automatic weapon designed for and explicitly marketed — hard to believe, but true! — to children. Beneath her written message Greene posted a composite photo showing a blown-up JR-15 marketing poster next to a picture of Nancy Pelosi, the context being a House debate where Pelosi denounced the sales campaign for that weapon, declaring: “It’s despicable and it reminds us that the crisis of gun violence requires action.”

I had never heard of the JR-15 rifle before reading about Greene’s tweet after the Uvalde shooting. What I found out about those weapons, and Wee1 Tactical, the Illinois company that sells them, were the most unexpected and chilling things I learned while researching this piece. As I discovered, the JR-15 is openly promoted as a weapon for children. “A perfect scaled-down replica of the AR platform with youth shooters in mind,” one gun blogger called it. Another pro-gun site praised it as “a great first rifle… the perfect rifle for training the little ones about the shooting sports and gun safety.”

“The enemy of the American people”

So… Marjorie Taylor Greene thinks it would be a good idea for third- and fourth-grade kids across the country to carry semiautomatic weapons and keep them in their classrooms in case they need to fire back if a shooter bursts in? And that would make those children and their teachers safer? There’s no chance that any of them might ever get into a fight with a classmate and shoot him or her (or them)? No child would fire a gun accidentally, killing or wounding someone else? No emotionally upset children would turn those weapons on themselves? Even for Greene, who has a long record of espousing nutty conspiracy theories, the idea that elementary-grade students could have access to guns at school should be considered an astoundingly delusional piece of thinking.

That and the record of Greene’s comments on school shootings, not to speak of so many other issues, are disturbing — and not just for what they tell us about one elected official. Far more troubling is what that record reflects about the broader state of this country’s political discourse at a time when one side in our ongoing arguments regularly promotes false reasoning, invented or distorted facts, and a lack of human sympathy except when it fits a partisan interest.

Greene is certainly an extreme example of that trend. However, she’s anything but one of a kind. Regrettably, she’s one of far too many politicians of this moment who think and speak with no regard for truth or reasonable argument. The real concern here shouldn’t be her personality or her flawed thinking, but what she shows us about the broader political landscape. We are, after all, in an era when her party’s dominant leader and presidential candidate and other Republican politicians are feeding voters a steady diet of untruths and twisted logic while repeatedly attacking the credibility of truth-tellers, as when Donald Trump labeled the news media “the enemy of the American people.”

Years of such false messaging, coinciding with the emergence of powerful new technologies for creating and spreading disinformation, have put us where we are now: Seven months from an election that could be the most crucial test between truth and lies, and of basic democratic principles and practice, since the post-Civil War era a century and a half ago.

To add it all up: 43 names, 22 of them belonging to children 11 years old or younger, all killed in three school shootings carried out with assault-style semi-automatic weapons. I have no way of knowing if Marjorie Taylor Greene has ever looked at any of those names or spoken them aloud. Nor do I know — though I’d make a pretty big bet against it! — whether she’s ever thought about what those 43 people might say to her if they hadn’t been silenced by death. But I do know this: By any tenable standard of moral decency, intellectual honesty, or logic, the name Marjorie Taylor Greene is covered with shame.

Read Tom Engelhardt’s response here.

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