Marjorie Taylor Greene's "space lasers" show how the GOP gets away with escalating violence

From Kari Lake's "strap on a Glock" to the Supreme Court coddling Capitol rioters, GOP threat levels are growing

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published April 22, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) puts on her Make America Great Again hat (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) puts on her Make America Great Again hat (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene sure knows how to get the attention she craves by saying something incredibly stupid.

"I’ve previously voted to fund space lasers for Israel’s defense," she tweeted Wednesday, demanding that the U.S. put this imaginary tech up for "defense for our border."

As every remaining liberal on Twitter and multiple journalistic outlets dutifully pointed out, there are no "space lasers." The tech that Israel is developing is ground-based. The recent Iranian attack on Israel was thwarted by a multinational alliance that mainly used old-fashioned fighter pilots to shoot down drones and missiles. But it's almost certain that Greene knows all this. "Space lasers" was a reference to one of her most famous idiotic comments, commonly called the "Jewish space lasers" conspiracy theory, involving false accusations that a wealthy Jewish family is secretly causing wildfires from space. 

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Greene can be touchy when mocked about "Jewish space lasers." But she also knows that the best way to get her message out is to frame it in the dumbest terms possible. That ensures that the press covers it and liberals re-post it, while also engaging the MAGA audience that rushes forward to defend her from liberal "elites" making fun of her. (I call this the "stupid-victim cycle.") Most of the time, this is a win-win situation. Her followers get to feel victimized, news websites get some easy traffic, and liberals get more evidence to build the case that the GOP is beyond redemption. But in this case, what got overlooked was deeply troubling: Greene is encouraging the cold-blooded killing of asylum seekers, many of whom are children. 

It's this violent rhetoric that is causing a decline in media coverage.

In case that's not obvious, let me spell it out: Setting aside the factual errors, what Greene is saying is that tech used to shoot down drones and missiles should now be aimed at refugees who are entering the United States, to make use of their legal right to seek asylum. Now, the U.S. government will not do this, at least under President Joe Biden. It's both evil and violates all sorts of international law. But Greene's rhetoric is still dangerous. She's normalizing the idea of mass murdering unarmed civilians, and encouraging her supporters to enact the violence if the government won't. 

Perhaps one reason the grotesque violence of Greene's tweet went largely unmentioned is that we're just not shocked by this sort of thing anymore. Republicans have grown quite comfortable with advocating for terrorism and political violence, and the press has started to become dangerously indifferent to it. The number of examples from only the past week is frankly staggering.

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Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., appeared to encourage people to murder anti-war protesters. If protesters stop traffic, he tweeted, "take matters into your own hands to get them out of the way." This echoes not just many years of far-right rhetoric applauding vehicular homicide, but the 2017 murder of anti-racism protester Heather Heyer at the hands of a white supremacist. Cotton tried to clean up his statement by later claiming he just meant dragging protesters out of the way, which is still assault.

Conservative Supreme Court justices repeatedly made excuses for or downplayed the actions of the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol, attacking police officers and threatening to kill Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress for certifying President Joe Biden's 2020 electoral win. During arguments over a January 6-related case last week, Samuel Alito compared the Capitol riot to heckling a judge and Neil Gorsuch compared it to a peaceful sit-in. 

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., oddly declared, "I regard myself as a wartime speaker." This is strange because Biden pulled the U.S. out of Afghanistan, making this the first time the U.S. has not been at war since 2001. As Steve Benen of MSNBC pointed out, Johnson — a far-right Christian nationalist who apparently believes dinosaurs rode Noah's ark — appears to be thinking in terms of a civil war. He not only brought up the actual Civil War but argued this is an "existential moment" and "Republicans want to save the country." This is the same rhetoric used to justify January 6. 

Jesse Watters used his Fox News show to blast enough information about a juror in Donald Trump's criminal trial that MAGA terrorists could identify her. He also falsely accused jurors of being plants, which Trump amplified by posting the video on Truth Social. The threat was heard loud and clear by the juror, who complained to the judge. He dismissed her to protect her from Trump loyalists. 

Finally, failed gubernatorial candidate and current Republican candidate for the Arizona Senate seat Kari Lake recently told a crowd, "We are going to put on the armor of God. And maybe strap on a Glock on the side of us just in case." She framed this violent threat, as fascists often do, as self-defense, claiming, "They’re going to come after us with everything." As counterterrorism expert Elizabeth Neumann explained on Greg Sargent's podcast, she's functionally telling MAGA crowds that it's okay to lash out violently if they lose electorally. 

This is hardly the first time Lake has made joking-but-not-really threats of violence. Last June, she told a crowd she had a "message tonight for Merrick Garland, and Jack Smith, and Joe Biden" and went on to warn: "Most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA. That's not a threat, that's a public service announcement."

But of course, it is a threat. It's not even a subtle one. Whether it's the due process of the justice system or the ballot-counting process of elections, Lake is consistent: If MAGA gets an outcome they don't like, they should try to force their will through violence. As these above examples show, she's not an outlier in the Republican Party. It's become routine in the GOP to speak positively of violence against innocent and unarmed people, for the "crime" of simply not bending to their will. 

The most immediate threat is that this daily pattern of violent rhetoric will cause real problems for the Manhattan courtroom where Trump is being tried for over two dozen felony indictments regarding fraud and campaign finance violations. Safety concerns have already led the judge to deny the defense access to the list of witnesses the prosecution hopes to call to the stand next week. There's also been a rise in domestic terrorism incidents in the past few years, due mostly to post-January 6 MAGA types acting out. As the election draws nearer and the threat of Biden getting re-elected looms, there are very real fears that Trump supporters will lash out violently against election workers, Democratic Party officials, liberal activists and people Trump doesn't want voting. 

Perversely, it's this violent rhetoric that is causing a decline in media coverage. When Republicans excuse or promote violence on a daily basis, it stops being "news," making it harder for news organizations to cover it. But it's this very process that makes it likelier that people will act on the violence. As we saw in the aftermath of the insurrection, many of the people who stormed the Capitol didn't even think they'd face legal consequences, because the Republican normalization of political violence made them think their actions were just fine and dandy. If the memory of the January 6 prosecutions fades, there's a very real chance that more people start feeling emboldened to act on violent talk like Greene and Lake's again. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Commentary January 6 Jesse Watters Kari Lake Marjorie Taylor Greene Mike Johnson Tom Cotton