On Thursday, 27/05/2021 Representatives Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene brought their “America First” rally to Dalton, Georgia, 1.5 hours north of Atlanta. At the rally, Gaetz and Greene utilized the standard playbook of the far-right wing of the GOP. The duo also latched onto the latest culture wars talking points, railing against critical race theory, the “woke military”, and Biden’s ATF nominee. While the man who gave Gaetz and Greene their national audience is out of the picture, the pair are doing their best to continue pushing the Republican Party to the right while espousing a dangerous form of Christian ethnonationalism.
This appearance in Georgia’s 14th congressional district served as Greene’s “hometown” leg of the tour, although Greene lives in Alpharetta, an Atlanta suburb. The “Put America First Joint Fundraising Committee” that paid for the rally is registered to a P.O. box in Roswell, another Atlanta suburb. The rally took place in the Dalton Convention Center, a high school pep rally setting that swapped teenagers for Boomers but kept the concession stand. Of course, there were no masks in sight.
Like all good Christian nationalist events, the event kicked off with a prayer as the audience continued to filter in. Ecstatic shouts of, “Oh Jesus how we love you!” elicited cheers from the crowd. The prayer thanked both Jesus and the Holy Spirit for providing Marjorie Taylor Greene. The speaker asked for protection, wisdom, and discernment for the Congresswoman. Another ghostly specter hung over the room as the speaker intoned, “Lord be with the one we’ve all been excited about, our number 45 President Donald J. Trump… be with him this night, wherever he may be… let him know that we are praying for him.” Naturally, the Pledge of Allegiance followed the prayer.
Jody Hice, the Representative for Georgia’s 10th congressional district, took the stage as the opening act for Gaetz and Greene. Hice, one of the self-proclaimed founding members of the Freedom Caucus, is running against fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger for Georgia Secretary of State and received a golden Trump endorsement.
Hice worked a tight 10-minute set, wasting no time in mentioning his bonafides and namedropping Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows. Hice quickly pivoted to attacks on Raffensperger, and the crowd enthusiastically jumped in with a chant of “Lock Him Up” directed at the current Secretary of State. Hice brought up the Georgia Republican battle cry of “irregularities” in Fulton County ballots and called for the prosecution of those involved in “fraudulent activities”. Hice took aim at the voting-rights bill HR 1, claiming it contained an impetus for “ballot harvesting”. Ironically, Hice mentioned that “we had some 300,000 fewer voters than Senate race than we did for the Presidential race, because people lost confidence that their votes mattered”. (Certainly comments eroding the validity of the electoral process cause people to lose confidence that votes matter.) Finally, Hice described the current struggle as a fundamentally “spiritual battle”.
For the GOP, it seems that not commiting election fraud is enough to transform former allies into enemies. Widespread voter disenfranchisement appears to be at the center of Republicans’ future plans for victory.
Gaetz took the stage before Greene, bizarrely walking onstage as the Golden Girls theme song played. Immediately, Gaetz distanced himself from Romney, the McCains, the Bush family, and Paul Ryan, triumphantly declaring that “This is Donald Trump’s party and I’m a Donald Trump Republican”. Gaetz’s early antagonism towards fellow Republicans ended with the claim that, “This is not a movement of cult of personality” as Gaetz pivoted straight into praises for Trump and a cheap imitation of his rallies.
Gaetz’s presence is notable, as he is currently in the midst of a scandal involving sex trafficking, pedophilia, and payments for sex. The New York Times reported in March 2021 that Gaetz is under investigation from the Department of Justice for violating federal sex traficking laws related to a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl. In late April, The Daily Beast uncovered more of the story through drafts of letters from Gaetz’s associate Joel Greenberg, former Seminole County tax collector and screenshots of Signal messages between Greenberg and Roger Stone. In the Signal messages, Greenberg refers to “MG” and “Matt”. Allegedly, Gaetz sent Greenberg payments over Venmo and Cash App intended to pay for sex workers. In one case, one of the sex workers was 17 at the time of Gaetz and Greenberg’s interaction with her. Things could go bad for Geatz, as Greenberg has entered a plea agreement.
The content of Gaetz’s speech ran the gamut of conservative beliefs, from ending US foreign intervention to repealing Obamacare to “abolishing and defunding” critical race theory, one of the current boogeymen of the Republican party. Silicon Valley stood among the many targets of Gaetz’s ire. Directly after his tirade against Silicon Valley, Gaetz proudly said, “We have a second amendment in this country and I think we have an obligation to use it!” Whether this was intended as a threat against Silicon Valley or a poorly delivered transition is unclear.
Gaetz wandered into militia territory with his comments on the second amendment. “The second amendment is not about hunting, it’s not about recreation, it’s not about sports. The second amendment is about maintaining within the citizenry the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government if that becomes necessary.” Gaetz continued with an attack on Biden’s nominee to lead the ATF and wandered further into conspiracy territory with attacks on Comey, claims that COVID-19 came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, calls for Fauci to be fired, and, bizarrely, allegations that the Post Office is an essential part of the Deep State. The belief that the Deep State, a shadow government within the US government, is working against Donald Trump, is a key QAnon belief. Gaetz earned his loudest applause with the statement, “I think Donald Trump is coming back in 2024!”
Greene emerged in a flurry of bravado, riding a humvee into the convention center while “Thunderstruck” blared. As she began her opening remarks, the crowd burst out singing “Happy Birthday” to the Congresswoman. Naturally, her first target was the media in the back of the room. Ironically, as the tough-guy boomers stared down the media and took pictures of anyone they saw with a camera, they were mostly doing so towards right-wing media sources and wannabe-OANN online news sites. In her best condescending voice, Greene reminded her enraptured audience, “Let’s be kind to the media”, mentioning that Republicans, unlike Democrats, aren’t the party that “funded antifa and BLM riots all year long”. Similar to Gaetz, Greene attacked Biden’s ATF nominee and mentioned the need for “Constitutional carry” in Georgia. Greene then calmly asked her audience, “Who won the Presidential race on November 3rd for Georgia?” and received back an enthusiastic series of “Trump” chants.
Greene spoke for 40 minutes, winding through far-right conspiracies and attacks on both Democrats and Republicans alike. She claimed Biden was helping the cartels, that the Presidential election was fraudulant, that Biden was responsible for the high gas prices, that China is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, that the economy was ruined by Biden “paying people to stay home”, that masks were unnecesary, that mandatory vaccinations are evil, that abortion is murder, that there are only two genders, that Maxine Waters incited BLM riots and should be kicked out of Congress, and emphasized that the Nazis were the “national SOCIALISTS” and the the Democrats are now a “national socialist” party.
At one point, Greene targeted the “woke military” and Biden’s plan to “purge the extremists out of the military”, claiming that “Islamic terrorist sympathizers” were taking “patriots” out of the military. Greene was in the spotlight most recently because of her comparison of vaccine cards to the Nazi’s policy of forcing Jews to wear yellow Star of David badges. To rebut this criticism, Greene relied on classic projection, claiming the “Jihad Squad” of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Presley, and Rishad Tilab are the [real] antisemitic ones due to their criticism of Israel, which Greene falsely equated with them supporting Hamas. Greene, of course, indicated that she couldn’t be antisemitic because of her pro-Israel stance. Evangelical conservatives commonly use their pro-Isreal beliefs to shield themselves from allegations of antisemitism. Of course, this pro-Israel stance is because of Israel’s importance in Christian end-times beliefs. According to evangelical interpretations of the Bible, the Armageddon will come, the Christians will be raptured, and the majority of Jews will do so Christians can inherit Israel.
Finally, Gaetz and Greene took the stage together for a 20-minute encore. During this session came the only mentions of Gaetz’s sex trafficking scandal, first when Gaetz delivered a well-practiced joke that Jim Jordan is the Congressman know for a “weird false sex scandal”. Greene turned the allegations around, mentioning the allegations of sexual misconduct against Chris Cuomo. Gaetz and Greene rounded out the rally with more criticism of critical race theory, anti-trans sentiments, and fear mongering about vaccine mandates.
Trumpism is alive and screaming, even in the absence of Trump. The “America First” rally saw Gaetz and Greene, both of whom gained national prominence largely due to their proximity to Trump, taking up the mantle and declaring war on the Democrats and ‘moderate’ Republicans alike. Gaetz, 39, and Greene, 47, are both relatively young Representatives; the average of the House is 59. The duo generated a surprising amount of enthusiasm and filled a rural convention center. Although this wasn’t a stadium-sized Presidential rally, the young Representatives generated a large crowd for an election off-year. Whether Trump runs again or not, Gaetz and Greene plan to be here for a while.
Just as the Founding Fathers intended.