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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Armed members of the Georgia III% Martyrs surround Marjorie Taylor Greene as she meets with supporters during a second amendment rally at the Northwest Georgia Amphitheatre on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020 in Ringgold, Ga.

When Marjorie Taylor Greene showed up around 2:45 p.m. Saturday to a pro-Second Amendment rally in Ringgold, the candidate to represent Georgia's 14th Congressional District was quickly surrounded by men in combat uniforms holding semi-automatic rifles.

They had not been hired to provide security for the event, they said, they were just exercising their Second Amendment rights. About 30 of them walked around the Northwest Georgia Amphitheater during the rally as she interacted with attendees.

Greene's path to becoming the next member of Congress from the 14th District became a lot easier when her Democratic challenger — Kevin Van Ausdal — suddenly dropped out of the race, citing personal reasons.

Greene had been the heavy favorite in November's election after easily defeating John Cowan in an August runoff to seal the Republican nomination. But with that victory came a surge of attention to Van Ausdal's bid. Greene moved to the district weeks after U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, announced he wouldn't stand for another term. She won the GOP nod despite a history of racist and xenophobic remarks and voicing support for the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Graves announced on the same day Van Ausdal bowed out of the race that he would be ending his tenure four months earlier than expected.

Greene has since distanced herself from some of the conspiracies that QAnon followers hold dear — including most recently a belief that the attacks on 9/11 were perpetrated by Americans and no airplane ever crashed into the Pentagon that day.

On Saturday afternoon, Greene struck a particularly even-keeled tone, a departure from her social media presence and what some followers have been accustomed to in her many viral videos and campaign commercials.

"We've got a lot of members of the press here, and I'm glad they're here," Greene said. "They're asking me for interviews and so guys, here's your interview. You're going to hear everything I have to think and say and feel. These are the same things I've said the entire time on the campaign trail, and you're going to find out why people here in Northwest Georgia have voted for me, not once, but twice."

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Marjorie Taylor Greene in Catoosa County

Chris and Donna Alexander, from Ringgold, told the Times Free Press that they voted for Greene because she is strong-willed, not a seasoned politician and is an outsider, much like Donald Trump.

"It's hard to buy someone when they've already got money," Chris said. "That's why you see them running things like a business."

"She's stood up for herself," Donna said. "It's easy to see that she means what she says."

Connie Holmes and her son-in-law Chris Hyde both support Greene because she seems honest, believe she will do things she says she's going to do and is a political newcomer who doesn't come with baggage as a candidate.

The rally was organized in part by Bill Buoni, a Walker County Second Amendment activist who supports constitutional carry. Buoni said he knew the region had a winner with Greene when he met her for the first time earlier this year in Rome.

Greene said she would always protect gun owners' rights and reiterated she would not vote for any laws that would make it more difficult for people to have and own guns.

Patrick Parsons, executive director of Georgia Gun Owners, spent his 20 minutes on stage berating and ridiculing CNN reporter Drew Griffin, who was in attendance to cover the rally. Parsons called Griffin a "paid Democrat activist" as the crowd laughed, hollered and clapped at Griffin as he sat on the left side of the crowd.

Greene's campaign told media members she would not take any questions but did say freedom of the press is a vital part of the country's democracy and called for fair and unbiased coverage. Parsons, for his part, called all the media gathered in the first two rows "fake news."

Greene is running on the slogan, "Save America, Stop Socialism," and talked a lot about how progressive Democratic policies are socialist.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., made a quick appearance following Greene's. Loeffler faces a tight race in November in a special election to fill the Senate seat of Johnny Isakson, who resigned last year. She faces competition from Republican Doug Collins and Democrats Matt Lieberman and Raphael Warnock.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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