Georgia GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene—a dabbler in QAnon and white identity politics who has argued Muslims do not belong in government, endorsed violence against Democrats, and accused Nancy Pelosi of treason—has been one of the most controversial Republicans on the national stage since before she ever took public office. So when she took the Conservative Political Action Conference stage in Orlando Saturday as part of a panel titled “They Can’t Shut Us Up,” it wasn’t a surprise that she quickly steered into calls for summary incarceration for prominent Democrats.
“We’ve got to hold Democrats accountable, everybody, right?” she told the crowd. “Fire Fauci! We’ve got to investigate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Lock her up! Lock ’em all up!”
What was a surprise was that this was not the most controversial thing Greene had done in the last 24 hours. On the evening prior to her CPAC talk, Greene made an unexpected appearance at another, far fringier conference also going on this weekend in Orlando: the America First Political Action Conference, the brainchild of white nationalist livestreamer Nick Fuentes and his acolytes who call themselves “Groypers.”
In her Friday remarks at AFPAC, Greene praised the Groyper crowd as “canceled Americans,” and told them, “You’ve been handed the responsibility to fight for our Constitution and stand for our freedoms, and stop the Democrats who are the communist party of the United States of America.”
Greene’s remarks were bookended by Fuentes, who spoke in his usual stream of half-ironic transgressions: “Now they’re going on about Vladimir Putin and Russia, and Vladimir Putin is Hitler—and they say that’s not a good thing.” At another point he solicited a round of applause for Russia, leading to a brief crowd chant of “PUTIN, PUTIN!”
Greene’s double-dip at AFPAC and CPAC was particularly surprising given that CPAC, for all its platforming of kooks and charlatans (speakers this year included Alex Berenson, Candace Owens, Jack Posobiec, and James O’Keefe), has taken pains in recent years to keep the Groypers at arm’s length. Fuentes himself has been banned from the event for years and has made something of a hobby of crashing the event in an attempt to get himself thrown out.
Following her CPAC speech, Greene made a weak effort to distance herself from Fuentes, telling CBS News that “I do not know Nick Fuentes. I’ve never heard him speak. I’ve never seen a video. I don’t know what his views are. So I’m not aligned with anything that may be controversial.”
“I’m also not going to turn down the opportunity to speak to 1,200 young America First patriots because of a few off-color remarks by another speaker, even if I find those remarks unsavory,” she added in a tweet. “I want to embrace the young, boisterous and energetic conservatives in our movement—not cancel them like the establishment does.”
A Republican congresswoman brazenly appearing at a white nationalist event and then doubling down on making the appearance afterward—from the floor at CPAC, no less—is the sort of thing that even Republican party officials can’t just ignore completely. After initially dodging questions about it at CPAC herself, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a Saturday statement that “White supremacy, neo-Nazism, hate speech and bigotry are disgusting and do not have a home in the Republican party.” She did not mention Greene.
Others remained silent about the event. Texts to Matt Schlapp, who chairs CPAC parent organization the American Conservative Union, went unanswered. So, too, did emails to Matt Sparks, communications director for House Minority Leader and Republican Kevin McCarthy. J.D. Vance, the Ohio senate candidate who weeks ago said he was proud to receive Greene’s endorsement, also did not respond to a request for comment.
From one point of view, this sort of collective shrug is surprising. When it comes to policing its own right flank, isn’t isolating out-and-out white nationalists the absolute least Republicans and conservatives can do?
But for many CPAC attendees and many in the MAGA base at large, that’s not how the thinking works. It’s not that they endorse white nationalism themselves—it’s just that they’ve accumulated so much animosity toward the mainstream media that when they hear about stories like this, their first instinct is just to assume the subject of the controversy has been unjustly accused.
“Well, everyone’s a white supremacist now—it doesn’t matter what you do,” Jonathan Hecko, a CPAC attendee, told The Dispatch Saturday. “You know, have you voted for Trump? You’re a white supremacist. It doesn’t really matter. I’m not familiar with the event she attended, but they throw that word around very lightly—white supremacist, insurrectionist, domestic terrorist. It’s crazy.”
Okay—but how about that Hitler and Putin stuff?
“On the face, it seems like it’s not a good convention to go to if they’re praising, you know, leaders like that,” Hecko said. “However, I don’t know the full story.”
Another attendee, Donna Caiafa, said she had enjoyed Greene’s CPAC speech—“I think she’s really good”—but was unsettled to hear about AFPAC’s praise for the Russian autocrat: “I thought she was very good when she was speaking here. So I didn’t think there was anything wrong. So I will look into it, though, and see what it was about, and then make another decision.”
Whatever turbulence Greene’s dalliance with AFPAC may have caused at CPAC Saturday morning, it was all smoothed over by Saturday night. As former President Donald Trump delivered his keynote address to a packed house, he shouted out a number of Republicans by name, including “a person who’s very shy, she doesn’t like speaking her mind, but she does it anyway—Marjorie Taylor Greene.”
The crowd roared its approval.
—With reporting from Khaya Himmelman