As The Republican Party Dances Around Violence, Historians See Echoes Of The 19th Century

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 12: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) yells at journalists after setting off the metal detector outside the doors to the House of Representatives Chamber on January 12, 2021 in Washington, D... WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 12: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) yells at journalists after setting off the metal detector outside the doors to the House of Representatives Chamber on January 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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January 27, 2021 3:55 p.m.

Rep. Marjorie Greene’s (R-GA) newest social media activity, unearthed by CNN, is shocking, even for her. 

Greene liked posts about putting a bullet in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) head and executing FBI agents. In one comment, she encouraged patience to a commenter who eagerly asked if “we get to hang” former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton yet.

“Stage is being set. Players are being put in place. We must be patient,” she wrote. “This must be done perfectly or liberal judges would let them off.”

Perhaps such open bloodlust is unsurprising from someone who has long supported the violent fantasizing of the QAnon conspiracy theory. But the new reporting reveals just how deep the new member of Congress was in the online fever swamps that swelled during the Trump years.

Greene’s response to the reporting was on brand. She blasted out a statement calling CNN the “enemy of the American people” and providing the flimsy defense that her “teams” have often run her social media accounts in her stead. It’s an odd rationale, given that she was a private citizen at a time. 

It’s unclear how Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) plans to tackle the Greene problem. His spokesman told Axios that McCarthy would “have a conversation” with her. (He did not respond to TPM’s questions about whether certain punishments — like being barred from committee assignments, McCarthy’s response to former Rep. Steve King’s habitual coziness with white supremacists in 2019 — were being considered.)

Since McCarthy’s initial speech after the January 6 Capitol attack in which he admitted that President Donald Trump “bears responsibility” for the insurrection, the House minority leader has furiously backpedaled. In an interview that aired Sunday, he made the eyebrow-raising claim that “everybody across the country” deserves some of the blame for the events earlier this month. 

He also voted against certifying the electoral college results in Arizona and Pennsylvania as debris from the attack was still being swept up, and has since led the charge against Trump’s impeachment. 

His waffling is a sign of the stain that Trumpism has left on the party, and how heavily the specter of violence from the MAGA-loving fringe still hangs over the Capitol. There has been no reckoning or accountability. The few GOP demands for justice are drowned out in anodyne insistence on page-turning unity. 

“Weirdly, part of this is that with partisan gerrymandering, a lot of members of the House do not fear losing reelection — they’re afraid of losing primaries,” Eric Foner, professor emeritus of history at Columbia University and an expert in Reconstruction and the Civil War, told TPM. “With all these Republicans loaded into their districts, they figure they’ll always win so there’s no benefit to them to take a reasonable stance before primary season.” 

Those volatile, tense dynamics have historians like Foner feeling an uncomfortable familiarity.  

“The spectacle of an armed mob of white people basically storming public facilities to overturn a democratic election brings back memories of a list of atrocities during Reconstruction,” Foner said.

Foner pointed to the coup in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898 when a group of white supremacists successfully overthrew a democratically-elected biracial government. Or the 1873 Colfax massacre, where as many as 150 Black men were killed by white Southerners in the wake of the contested election for governor of Louisiana. 

Vestiges of the same violence that arrived in the Capitol on January 6 are hard to ignore; while Greene’s past submersion in violent conspiracy theories is the most explicit example, other members helped incite the mob by parroting Trump’s election fraud lies, and now refuse to temper their behavior. 

Recently, Republican representatives have erupted in anger at being forced to walk through metal detectors to access the House floor in the wake of the insurrection. Some, including Reps. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Rick Allen (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) have flouted the rules, exasperatedly going around the detectors or refusing to be wanded after setting them off. After setting off the machine because of a gun in his suit pocket, Biggs tried to hand it over to another lawmaker so he could go vote. 

“The 1850s are really the analogue to this time,” Jonathan Earle, dean of LSU’s honor college and expert in the Antebellum period, told TPM. “It was a really sectional, fractionalized country and there was a lot of violence around politics.”

While “we haven’t had fistfights on the floor of the House yet,” Earle said, the members’ insistence on being armed brings back memories of canings and duels

In today’s GOP, a bipartisan group could censure Greene — or other bad actors — or bar members from committees. They could fine the Republicans who refuse to respect the safety measures heavily, and address what happened on January 6 and how it came to pass honestly. 

A very few Republicans are trying:

But not many. And without accountability and with a continued embrace of politicians like Greene, historians suggested that the insurrection could be merely the prologue to a new chapter for the Republican party.

“There are historical echoes in terms of the threats of violence and actual violence being visited on Capitol,” Earle said. “And what we can learn from the past is that we must do something about it or it festers.”

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