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NPR Podcast 'No Compromise' Spotlights America's 'QAnon Candidate'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Both of Georgia's U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs this year. In one race, election laws are forcing a three-way contest that includes two Republican candidates. The incumbent is welcoming support from a conspiracy theorist, a House candidate from north Georgia who some call America's QAnon candidate. Lisa Hagen and Chris Haxel, co-hosts of NPR's investigative podcast No Compromise, have been watching her.

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LISA HAGEN, BYLINE: Marjorie Taylor Greene rolls up in her tan Humvee, a big American flag flapping. United States Senator Kelly Loeffler's riding shotgun.

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE: Hey, everybody.

HAGEN: Greene is a short, blonde, CrossFit-loving businesswoman who's running unopposed for Georgia's 14th Congressional District. Loeffler is trying to survive her first Senate campaign. Georgia's governor appointed her to fill an open U.S. Senate seat. She started serving earlier this year. Georgia's Senate races are little weird, and right now, Loeffler is running against both a Republican and a Democrat. That's meant Loeffler's current strategy is to present herself as the most pro-Trump conservative in the race.

CHRIS HAXEL, BYLINE: And to do that, she's sought out help from this very particular rising star in Georgia politics, Marjorie Taylor Greene.

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GREENE: They've destroyed the NFL. They're destroying NASCAR. They're burning our cities and destroying our history.

HAXEL: She's a true newcomer to electoral politics. Greene has, however, built a large social media audience in conservative online spaces.

HAGEN: As part of our reporting on a growing radical kind of American gun rights activism, we've watched Greene's rise from obscure livestreamer to the doorstep of Congress. First time I met her was a year and a half ago, spring of 2019.

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GREENE: Like, I'm live right now. People are just watching.

HAGEN: It was at a tiny anti-abortion and pro-gun rally outside the Georgia state Capitol. A few dozen people gathered to listen to a well-known local militia figure. He threatened violence against abortion providers that day. At the time, I had no idea Greene, this chipper woman in aviator sunglasses, would be headed to Congress by 2021.

HAXEL: The key to her rise - exactly what she was doing at that rally, livestreaming a lot, often about her opposition to gun control and also about elaborate claims of evil global plots.

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GREENE: I don't know how much you guys know about Q. It's an anonymous person. All right. So Q is a patriot.

HAXEL: How to explain QAnon. It is a constantly evolving tangle of conspiracy theories involving a satanic deep-state pedophile ring.

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GREENE: Going down the rabbit hole. All right.

HAXEL: And the deeper you go, the more anti-Semitic it gets.

HAGEN: Greene's written about QAnon since its beginnings in 2017, made long, meandering videos about it.

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GREENE: There's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cable of Satan-worshipping pedophiles out. And I think we have the president to do it.

HAXEL: Greene has tried to distance herself from these beliefs lately, and Senator Loeffler had her back when they appeared together last week.

KELLY LOEFFLER: No one in Georgia cares about this QAnon business. This is something that the fake news is going to continue to bring up and ignore antifa and the violence promoted across this country.

HAXEL: It's a good strategy according to Georgia political consultant Brian Robinson. He agrees Republican voters won't pay much attention to this conspiracy theory stuff.

BRIAN ROBINSON: They want to see somebody who's a warrior. They want to see somebody who's going to go and fight Pelosi and AOC and the squad. And that's what she's going to give them.

HAGEN: Robinson has seen Greene's social media skills upclose. He helped run a campaign for a Republican neurosurgeon who lost to Greene in a primary. Robinson says actually making laws may not be all that relevant to her success. It's more about how well Greene channels outrage.

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GREENE: The left, the Democrats, have become so radical. This is the party that cheers on riots and calls them peaceful protesters. This is the party that wants a - basically a revolution in our country because they want to radically transform America. And they want lawlessness because they want to defund the police.

HAXEL: This is language we've seen help mobilize a shift in the world of gun rights activism. Our investigation for NPR explores a growing movement of Second Amendment supporters who see the National Rifle Association as too weak on gun rights. Marjorie Taylor Greene is a rising champion of this movement.

HAGEN: In Georgia, she's maintained close ties to a state gun rights group run by a man named Patrick Parsons.

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PATRICK PARSONS: Rioting, looting, destruction, violence - all being pushed across the country by radical left-wing hate America socialists.

HAGEN: For months, he's campaigned loudly for Greene in his pro-gun Facebook livestreams.

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PARSONS: Are you voting for Marjorie Taylor Greene, a friend of mine and a life member of Georgia Gun Owners out there in Paulding County? If you're not, you should think about it. Check her out.

HAGEN: Parsons has partnered with gun rights activists in other states to create a Facebook following of millions. This network of pro-gun websites has not only helped Greene's rise to elected office, it may provide a guide for what to expect next. The no compromise gun rights movement that Greenee is so closely tied to relies on a specific political model called confrontational politics. Developed in the 1970s, it's essentially a blueprint for leveraging small groups of dedicated supporters to seize power in statehouses.

HAXEL: Social media, like Facebook livestreams, have helped reenergize the confrontational politics model, so much so that we now see U.S. senators vying for the endorsement of characters like Greene. As for the future House member herself, Brian Robinson doesn't think Greene is likely to mellow when she gets to Congress in January.

ROBINSON: I think the chances of her becoming a traditional legislator are, you know, somewhere close to the ballpark of zero. That's not going to happen.

HAXEL: He says he'll be watching for how Republican leadership reacts to Greene's political style. For NPR News, I'm Chris Haxel in Kansas City.

HAGEN: And I'm Lisa Hagen in Atlanta.

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INSKEEP: Lisa Hagen and Chris Haxel host the new NPR investigative podcast No Compromise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.