ROME, Ga. — Marjorie Taylor Greene doesn't do social distancing.
On a muggy Saturday morning in August, Greene swapped hugs and handshakes with dozens of people at Rome's Coosa Valley Fairgrounds: elderly women in Trump 2020 T-shirts, little girls who peered down the scope of Greene's AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, self-proclaimed Bikers for Trump who rumbled in on their Harleys.
Greene, the Republican nominee for Congress from Georgia's 14th District, disregarded reminders, posted throughout the fairgrounds pavilion, of a local ordinance requiring face masks at public gatherings. She was concerned with matters bigger than what she calls the "Chinese virus."
She came to this GOP rally to warn her supporters about socialism. About the Black Lives Matter movement, which she called Marxist. About Antifa. About the inexorable degradation of the United States if voters don't re-elect President Donald Trump — and send her to Washington to help him.
"I haven't even won the general election yet," Greene said, "and the media is already very upset about who I am."
She pointed to a larger-than-life-size poster of Trump on the stage behind her.
"And they're going to continue to be upset because I'm going to support this guy."
Greene's candidacy, however, is rooted in some of the darkest corners of American politics, places the FBI has described as potential breeding grounds for domestic terrorism, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found.
For the past three years, Greene has used a network of far-right websites and social media accounts to spread baseless, often absurd conspiracy theories that demonize Trump's political enemies while raising her profile among extremist groups.
The Journal-Constitution viewed more than 10 hours of Greene's videos and examined dozens of her articles and blog posts. Since late 2017, Greene's claims have closely tracked the conspiracy theories of QAnon, the right-wing movement organized around the false narrative that Trump is battling a "deep state" of politicians, Hollywood actors and corporate executives who are involved in a satanic cult that runs a cannibalistic international child sex-trafficking ring.
Federal law enforcement authorities attribute several violent crimes to QAnon adherents, including a homicide in Staten Island, New York, and a threat against former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee.
No one has accused Greene of inciting violence, although she has expressed support for a 17-year-old charged with killing two protesters during racial unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, calling his case the "first phase" of a new civil war. But Greene has repeatedly echoed QAnon doctrine, hurling wild accusations at "elites" who stand in Trump's way.
She alleged that former President Barack Obama used "henchmen" from the MS-13 street gang to murder a Democratic National Committee staff member who supposedly provided damning emails to WikiLeaks ahead of the 2016 election. ("Yes," Greene said of Obama in one video, "I do believe he is a Muslim.")
She suggested that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other prominent Democrats would be jailed for participating in pedophilia and human sacrifice.
She accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of treason — a crime that, as Greene noted, may be punished by death.
She also questioned whether an airplane actually crashed into the Pentagon during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, described prominent Jews as "puppet masters" who finance "global evil" and spoke about preserving Confederate monuments and "our nation's purity."
Republicans in the 14th District gravitate to her pro-Trump, pro-gun, anti-abortion message. She finished first in a nine-candidate primary, then won a runoff with 57% of the vote. The 14th district in 12 counties of Northwest Georgia traditionally produces some of the highest Republican vote totals in the nation, so Greene is heavily favored in the November general election. Nominally, she will face Democrat Kevin Van Ausdal in the battle to replace U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, a more moderate Republican who chose not to seek reelection.
If she wins, "you would have somebody entering the government having a completely perverted idea of what the government's role in a civil society should be," said Jared Holt, an analyst for Right Wing Watch, a progressive group that monitors conservative political and media organizations.
Greene's candidacy is "a major token of reassurance to the people who believe in the QAnon conspiracy theory," Holt said. "It definitely made a lot of them vocalize that their movement was inevitable."
Greene declined the Journal-Constitution's request for an interview. After her appearance at the rally in Rome, she complained that other stories about her have been "defamatory" and said her past statements are irrelevant to her congressional race.
"Never once in my campaign," she told a reporter, "have I mentioned QAnon."
Greene is a 46-year-old construction executive from Alpharetta who had never before sought political office. She established a residence in the 14th District to run for the area's open seat in the House of Representatives.
Greene describes herself as a lifelong conservative. As a T-shirt designed by one of her daughters puts it, she is "pro-life, pro-gun, pro-God."
But it wasn't until after Trump's victory in 2016 that Greene began transforming herself into a prominent figure on the political fringe.
She posted videos of her political commentary on her Facebook page and then on the websites of far-right organizations. There, even her most incendiary claims — for instance, that Democrats favor abortion up to the moment of birth and, perhaps, after — took on the patina of accepted fact.
Greene became a national director of an organization called Family America Project, founded by an anti-immigrant activist from California. Family America has recently promoted false claims that U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president, isn't eligible for the office because her parents were born outside the United States.
Greene also became a "correspondent" for American Truth Seekers, which publishes racist and sexist material on its social media accounts. It recently posted memes suggesting Harris became Biden's running mate because she is skilled at performing oral sex. A May 2019 post consisted of a picture of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, above a caption that read, "That bitch needs laid." Three days later, another tweet demanded of Ocasio-Cortez, "Resign, bitch."
Greene's work for American Truth Seekers was provocative in its own right. One video documented her unsuccessful effort to meet with Pelosi in Washington to present a petition calling for her impeachment. Another showed her attempt to force two Muslim members of Congress to retake the oath of office on a Bible; Greene falsely claimed their use of a Koran had been illegal.
In a video from March 2019, Greene accosted David Hogg, a gun-control activist who survived the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Hogg, then 19, was in Washington promoting a "red-flag" bill that would let law enforcement officers obtain court orders to confiscate firearms from people deemed mentally unstable.
"David, why are you supporting red-flag laws that attack our Second Amendment rights?" Greene called out as she trailed Hogg and two companions along a street near the Capitol. "If the resource officer at Parkland had done his job, then Nikolas Cruz wouldn't have killed anybody in your school."
Hogg kept walking, not acknowledging Greene.
"How did you get over 30 appointments with senators?" Greene asked. "How'd you do that?"
The person shooting Greene's video ran in front of Hogg to get a close-up of his face.
"Why do you use kids?" Greene continued. "Why kids?"
Finally, Greene stopped and looked into the camera.
"He's a coward," she said.
'Q is a patriot'
Q, the purported U.S. intelligence officer behind the conspiracy theories that fueled the QAnon movement, began posting cryptic messages on the online bulletin board 4chan in October 2017.
For Greene, the timing was providential.
She already was attracting attention for her pro-Trump videos and blog posts. Aligning herself with QAnon helped build a wider following. Just a month after Q's first posts, Greene released a video detailing and amplifying Q's claims.
"Q is a patriot," Greene said. "We know that for sure. But we do not know who Q is. People believe that Q is someone very close to President Trump."
As proof, she said Q had ended a post on 4chan with three plus signs that looked like crosses: +++. Just seven minutes later, Greene said, Trump used the same symbols on Twitter.
"It was more than just a coincidence," she said. (It was later determined that Trump used the symbols first, an hour before Q's post.)
Greene repeated Q's contention that the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election was merely a cover story. She said Special Counsel Robert Mueller actually was targeting Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, along with other top Democrats. She said 4,289 indictments would soon be unsealed, revealing the extent of the deep state's reach.
Those charges, she added, would trigger an "awakening" that would cause Americans to unite behind Trump.
"I really, truly pray that this is true," Greene said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles out."
She smiled into the camera.
"I think we have the president to do it," she said, "and I'm very excited about that."
Greene soon began appearing at rallies around the country, sharing a stage with other QAnon believers, some of them linked to armed militias and white nationalist groups.
In the winter of 2019, Greene organized a rally outside the White House with an organization called the American Defense Force, which described itself on Facebook as "a well-organized militia, made possible by the Second Amendment." Greene told an interviewer that the organization was founded by former military and law enforcement officers, but "I really can't say their names because they're that important."
Photos and videos of the rally showed a crowd of no more than 200 people. But it received coverage from the ultra-conservative website Breitbart News, which quoted Greene prominently.
"I'm nobody special," she said. "I'm just an American and I'm a business owner, and I just decided it's time to stand up and speak out for ... our nation's purity."
The deep state
Greene arrived early for the Republican rally at Rome's fairgrounds, shadowed by a campaign aide who packed a small pistol on his right hip. A khaki-colored Humvee featured in one of Greene's campaign ads was parked at the entrance to the pavilion. Supporters could check out — and register to win — the AR-15 that Greene used in the same ad to mow down signs that represented gun control, open borders and socialism.
"She's not a typical politician," supporter Bill Burke said. "She's not politically correct. I like that about her."
Few people spoke about QAnon or the deep state or other conspiracy theories without prompting. Ed Painter, a former GOP district chairman in Northwest Georgia, said that among Republicans who follow politics only casually, "nobody knew what QAnon was," or especially cared.
"When they're hammering her on QAnon, they're speaking to deaf ears," Painter said. "If you asked me what it really was, I'd say it's a bunch of right-wing nuts."
Neil Wolin, who described himself as a "Jewish Marjorie supporter," said Greene's connections to QAnon are merely "a media story."
But he said Greene was right to link investigations of Trump, including his impeachment, to people like former FBI Director James Comey, the Clintons and billionaires "that all go to the meetings together."
"The deep state," Wolin said, "is real."
Greene worked the crowd through more than two hours of speeches by state legislative candidates, party officials, Trump surrogates and others. The audience dwindled to no more than 100, and many seemed restless and tired. But when Greene finally strode onto the pavilion stage, she commanded their full attention.
Greene hit her campaign talking points: she supports the Second Amendment; opposes abortion, "radical Islam," and sharia law; and thinks Democrats are leading the United States into socialism.
"Some of them," she said, "are communists."
And she warned her supporters that she was attracting an unusual amount of attention to their corner of Georgia.
"They've put a big spotlight on me," Greene said. "They've written a lot of articles. I've received a lot of hate. I've already received a lot of nasty messages from Democrats, from the radical left, from Antifa, and from many people that don't support the things I believe in."
"You will hear me a lot in the news," she added. "And it's because I will not back down."
Chattanooga's Tennessee Whiskey Festival goes online, tipping hat to slave who taught Jack Daniel to distill