Marjorie Taylor Greene’s genocide rhetoric creates a structure of permission for the right — but permission to do what?
Even for her, it was a chilling statement. “We are all targets now, for daring to push back against the regime,” Marjorie Taylor Greene claimed at a Trump rally in Michigan last Saturday. This isn’t the first time she and other right-wing Republicans and media personalities have spoken out against what they call “the system of government– the democratically elected US government. But, while this is familiar territory for Greene, this time she stepped up her rhetoric. The Georgia Republican, who calls those convicted for their role in the insurgency “political prisoners,” said:
“I’m not going to mince words with you all. The Democrats want the Republicans dead. And they have already started the killings.
It’s a startling escalation, even for Marjorie Taylor Greene. It’s also a barefaced lie: the example she later gave of a teenager killed, ‘because he was a Republican’, referred to a hit-and-run that had – like the local police department and even FoxNews report—nothing to do with politics. Greene also claims that “even last week an 83-year-old woman was shot in the back for defending the unborn child.”
The implication here seems to be that the woman was killed. Again, however, Greene blatantly misrepresents the facts: a 84 year old woman had a heated argument while campaigning against abortion with the wife of the man who, by his own account, accidentally shot him as he tried to move his notepad with the butt of his musket. She was shot in the shoulder and went to hospital where she was treated. The man faces charges criminal assault. Greene — whether out of ignorance or lack of interest in the facts — misinterpreted both incidents as “murders” of Republicans, ordered by Democratic officials.
Many articles have been written about the amount of Republican warnings of an authoritarian state that seem like a projection. But Greene’s claims go even further only that. What she employs here is referred to by genocide scholars as “indictment in a mirror” – a tactic that has been used by genocidal movements or parties for decades to prepare the commission of unspeakable atrocities.
The term was first introduced in an article written by a French psychologist Roger Mucchielli in 1970, as a method by those contemplating genocide to build a basis of justification against their enemy. By a cruel twist of fate, after the Rwandan genocide, scholars found a note in which a Hutu propagandist cited the work of Mucchielli-in which he had warned versus these rhetorical tactics – and used it as a tool to prepare Hutus for the genocide against the Tutsi. The propagandist Explain“In this way, the party that uses terror will accuse the enemy of using terror.”
According to the historian of the genocide Alison DesForges:
“The unknown author of the memo claims that with methods like ‘mirror accusation’, propagandists could persuade ‘honest people’ that they faced an existential threat from the enemy and that they were therefore had to commit atrocious acts of violence ‘for legitimate [self-] defense.'”
In Rwanda, and in other genocides, this strategy worked as intended, she says:
“both in specific cases such as the Bugesera massacre in March 1992…and in the wider campaign to convince Hutu that the Tutsi planned to exterminate them. There is no evidence that the officials and propagandists who “created” events and made “charges in a mirror” knew about this particular document, but they regularly used the techniques it described.
The “accusation in a mirror” strategy has a long and bloody genocidal history. Scientist and lawyer Kenneth L. Marcus writing :
“In its genocidal form, AiM (Accusation in a mirror) was used and refined by Nazi, Serbian and Hutu propagandists. Adolf Hitler, for example, warned that the Jews intended to engage in mass murder while he devised his own plans for Aryan domination. Similarly, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has observed this phenomenon in Serbia: “In articles, announcements, television programs and public proclamations, Serbs have been informed that they must protect themselves from fundamentalist Muslim threat. . . that the Croats and the Muslims were preparing a plan of genocide against them. Indeed, this form of propaganda has been so widely used as a means of inciting genocide that it can rightly be classified with demonization and dehumanization as the basic form of genocidal rhetoric.
It’s a bad sign when an elected official – any elected official – engages in what genocide scholars describe as “genocidal rhetoric.” What makes matters worse is that Marjorie Taylor Greene is no exception in her party. Although she has long been portrayed as the fringe of the GOP, she and others, like Lauren Boebert, have found their place in the mainstream.
How can we tell? Well, for starters: she hasn’t and won’t receive any meaningful backlash from her fellow Republicans over her inflammatory and genocidal rhetoric — at least not from anyone who still has political aspirations in the party. Sure, a Marjorie Taylor Greene or a Lauren Boebert might choose their words more crudely than a Lindsey Graham, but they’re united behind a belief, like the Georgetown history teacher Thomas Zimmer writing :
“(…) what Greene says has been fully normalized to the right, perhaps not in the exact wording she uses, but certainly in substance. This is true for its extremist Christian nationalism in general as well as its embrace of political violence more specifically. The reason so many Republicans are willing to embrace Greene’s extremism is that his core message is fully consistent with what has become right-wing dogma: Democrats are widely viewed as a radical, dangerous, and “un-American” threat. which must be stopped. by any means.
It’s far from the only instance of Greene using outright lies to stir up violence as a form of imaginary “self-defense” against “the left.” It was formerly called the Democratic Party “Party of pedophiles” and even called his three Republican colleagues who voted to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson “pro-pedophile”.
Greene might have seemed like an outlier in the Republican Party just a few years ago (former Congressman Steve King was withdrew committee assignments for white nationalist statements in 2019 that are commonplace for Greene today), but is firmly entrenched in its mainstream these days. We need to recognize this for what it is: not just rhetoric, not just mere words, but one of the hallmark warning signs of genocidal ideation. And while it’s all too easy to become numb to the ongoing radicalization, Zimmer proposes to continue to ask oneself a question:
“What are they allowing themselves to do? This is the key question, analytically as well as politically, when dealing with the right. And an honest assessment should leave no doubt that democracy and the rule of law are currently in an extremely perilous situation.
Statements like Greene’s are about creating a permission structure for the right, about unleashing violence – genocidal violenceeven – against their political opponents or anyone else whose existence endangers what they consider to be the God-given world order –like LGBTQ people, and especially trans people.
Months earlier, Lauren Boebert was pray at a political rally for the death of Biden. But she wasn’t even the first in the GOP to use Psalm 109:8 against a political opponent – Senator David Perdue did the same in 2016 against Obama.
Political and religious violence appears as a central theme of Republican politics in 2022 – a pervasive theme on the country trail– and one that is neither disguised nor disavowed by the party, but rather celebrated and revered. What are they giving themselves permission to do, indeed.