Greene poses with white balloon ahead of State of the Union address, just as conspiracy websites requested
The Georgia Republican has a long history with fringe movement.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., appeared to be the first legislator to try to bring a white balloon to the State of the Union address, an appeal made to Republican lawmakers on extremist and conspiracy websites in recent days.
Online forums associated with domestic violent extremist groups and conspiracy theories have been calling for Republicans to show up to Tuesday night’s event with a white balloon to register a protest against President Biden’s handling last week of a Chinese surveillance balloon that flew over the United States. By mid-afternoon, Greene posted a video of herself in the halls of Congress holding one.
It’s just an innocent balloon… #SOTU pic.twitter.com/Q6saJYqcp8
— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene🇺🇸 (@RepMTG) February 7, 2023
Yahoo News reported Tuesday that while U.S. law enforcement was closely monitoring online forums associated with known extremist groups and other platforms used to plan the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, there had not been many threats detected that might disrupt Biden’s address.
“We’re just not seeing much at all, really,” a senior law enforcement official told Yahoo News. “There’s no there there.”
Experts who track online extremist activity said they have not seen signs of an increased threat level but they did notice one trend.
“I haven’t been seeing a lot of threats,” said Katherine Keneally, senior research manager at the Institute of Strategic Dialogue. “I am seeing a lot of jokes, Chinese spy balloon jokes.”
Those messages included posts calling for Republicans to show up with balloons and jokes about whether Biden will address the controversy during his speech, she said. Online forums where QAnon and other groups push conspiracy theories have, in recent days, become flooded posts and memes related to the Chinese spy balloon.
“I’m going to be very disappointed if the Republicans Don’t show up tonight with a White Balloon tied to their middle finger in protest of the deranged moron who will be giving the state of the union,” a now-deleted post on one far-right platform associated with conspiracy theories stated Tuesday morning.
Other online posts also called on Republicans to bring white balloons, while still more said the balloons should be red.
“It’s just an innocent balloon,” Greene said in a caption that accompanied the video she posted to Twitter. Greene did not end up bringing the balloon into the chamber for Biden's speech.
Greene has a long history of associating with fringe groups and conspiracy theorists. When she ran for Congress in 2020 and won, she had one of the largest public profiles among QAnon supporters. She has also posted a series of Facebook videos espousing racist, Islamophobic and antisemitic views in addition to appearing to endorse the execution of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and promoting the idea that school shootings were false-flag events.
One of the biggest promoters of the baseless conspiracy that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, Greene was temporarily locked out of her Twitter account for spreading misinformation about COVID-19. Democrats in the House voted to strip Greene of her committee assignments shortly after she took office in January 2021, citing her threats to Pelosi and promotion of conspiracy theories.
Under new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Greene has emerged as a powerful figure in the Republican caucus during her second term. Unlike some of the most far-right Republicans in the House, Greene was an early backer of McCarthy and was rewarded with positions on the Oversight and Homeland Security Committees and briefly presided over the House floor this week.
While the Chinese balloon was floating over the continental United States last week, Greene repeatedly called on Biden to shoot it down, saying that’s what Trump would have done. While Biden had called for the balloon to be shot down on Wednesday, the military advised him that it posed no intelligence or physical threat while airborne and to wait until it was over the water.
On Saturday afternoon, the balloon was downed off the coast of South Carolina. Two days later, officials said they were concerned the balloon contained hazardous materials and explosives that could have harmed civilians on the ground.
In a telephone briefing with reporters, Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of the U.S. Northern Command and NORAD, said officials were worried that the balloon — which was up to 200 feet tall, with a payload the size of a jetliner — was potentially carrying explosives to “detonate and destroy” itself, complicating the U.S. response plan. John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council in the White House, said that the delay in shooting the balloon down also gave U.S. defense officials time to study it to “give us a lot more clarity not only on the capabilities that these balloons have, but with what China is trying to do with them.”