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Does Marjorie Taylor Greene represent the future of the Republican Party?

New York Times political reporter Robert Draper says the Republican party's embrace of lies and conspiracy theories has opened the door to fringe actors, who have become among the party's most influential leaders. He points to Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene as a prime example of the party's extreme new direction.


Other segments from the episode on October 19, 2022

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 19, 2022: Interview with Robert Draper; Review of Bobby Watson CD.



This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Our guest, Robert Draper, is a veteran political reporter who's written about American conservatism for more than two decades. He writes in a new book that the 18-month period after the Donald Trump presidency ended, the Republican Party plunged deeper into the Trumpian cult of compulsive dissembling and conspiracy mongering. Politicians once regarded as fringe figures, like Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, he says, are now among the party's most influential leaders. And he says extreme positions that have taken hold go beyond denying the results of the 2020 election. Republicans are now more likely to call Democrats not just wrong, but evil or communists.

Draper's book is titled "Weapons Of Mass Delusion: When The Republican Party Lost Its Mind." In the book, he describes explaining the title to Marjorie Taylor Greene, telling her that it's delusional to claim that a vast conspiracy, yet to be revealed with any credible evidence, had stolen the 2020 presidential election, and that those who hold to that delusion have lost their minds. In a bit, we'll ask him what Taylor Greene had to say in response. And we'll hear more about his reporting on developments in the Republican Party. Robert Draper is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and National Geographic magazine. Among his previous books are "To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq," "When The Tea Party Came To Town" and "Dead Certain: The Presidency Of George W. Bush."

Robert Draper, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

ROBERT DRAPER: Thanks so much for having me on, Dave.

DAVIES: We'll talk about how you believe the party has gotten more committed to extreme views and why. And what you do in this book is you kind of focus on the Republican members of the House of Representatives as a way of looking at how all this reflected in influence, these trends within the party. And a major character here is Marjorie Taylor Greene, the congresswoman from Georgia. Let's start with her. She kind of came out of nowhere to win this seat in 2020. She had decided to run, I think, just the year before. Tell us a bit about her background. What made her want to run?

DRAPER: Sure. Marjorie Taylor Greene is a native of Georgia. She's lived in Georgia her entire life and was variously the co-owner with her husband of the family construction firm Taylor Commercial, a co-owner of a CrossFit gym and a homemaker, according to FEC disclosure donation forms that she sent, all the way up until May of 2019, when she decided to file for candidacy to run in the Sixth Congressional District of Georgia. She had not been any kind of participant on any level in the political process, really until around 2017, 2018. She became an adherent to the QAnon conspiracy theory, and after that, began to show up on Capitol Hill as a kind of confrontational journalist, as she would put it, basically harassing Democratic staff members, but was unknown by the Georgia political establishment. And indeed, she told me that Republicans in that state viewed her as, quote, "a three-headed monster," unquote, when she decided to file.

But she was a self-funder, and then ultimately moved to a more conservative district, the 14th District in northwest Georgia, when that became vacated in December of 2019, and kind of caught the party and the Georgia media unawares, suddenly won in the primary. Then opposition research files came out indicating that she had posted in the past all these offensive and conspiratorial theories online. That didn't stop her from winning. But she came to Washington in January 2021 with the expectation from most of us allegedly smart people that she would soon be kind of consigned to the "Star Wars" bar, given essentially that one-term, otherwise ignored by the Republican Party and would be out the door. That did not occur, in fact, that in many ways the opposite occurred is kind of a case study in the Republican Party in the post-Trump era and thus forms, you know, a central foundation of my book.

DAVIES: Yeah, you said the "Star Wars" bar. That is to say the true kind of outliers, the weirdos in the political world. She did get the support once she moved into the new district and then could mount a credible campaign. She got the support of some Freedom Caucus members of Congress. I gather a lot of mainstream Republicans didn't take her seriously. Seems to be one of the points you're making here is that her win, which was a substantial win - I mean, she really did well - said something about the state of the Republican primary electorate that a lot of Republicans didn't realize.

DRAPER: I think that's right, David. You know, and again, more broadly speaking, it goes to show you how establishment Republicans were and to some extent still remain clueless about the hold that Donald Trump continues to have over the party, and that someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene can come out of nowhere and essentially be a Trump mini-me in a particular congressional district and just show fidelity to Trump on issue after issue after issue, and if anything, sort of go to the right of Trump or become more outrageous in your rhetoric than Trump has been.

That seemed to be, you know, beyond kind of the bounds of a polite discussion amongst Republicans that any candidate would be this way. But the base absolutely loved it. And her talking about Antifa and talking about Black Lives Matter being a domestic terrorist organization, and, you know, every other ad featured her with, you know, an AR-15 customized pistol. And again, this seemed outlandish to sort of run-of-the-mill Republicans, but the base wanted a MAGA warrior to send from their district to Washington, and that's what they got.

DAVIES: She would, of course, deal with Kevin McCarthy, who was the Republican leader of the House. And this unfolds in interesting ways. Just tell us a little bit about Kevin McCarthy's relationship with Donald Trump, which as you write, is - goes back farther than I think a lot of us realized.

DRAPER: Sure. Kevin McCarthy, I remember talking to him in 2017, when Donald Trump took office. And McCarthy said to me, look, you know, I've got my experience with celebrity politicians when I was serving in the California state legislature. Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor, and I knew how to massage his ego. I'll do the same with Trump. In fact, and you're alluding to this, Dave, even before he'd ever laid eyes on Donald Trump, even before Donald Trump had any kind of political notions, Kevin McCarthy in his 20s, according to a childhood friend who I interviewed back in Bakersfield, Calif., where McCarthy is from, was utterly obsessed with Trump, utterly obsessed with this author of "The Art Of The Deal."

And so he had long felt that Trump had a way of not only capturing what it was that he stood for and developing a brand, but negatively branding the other side. And so McCarthy, to me, is emblematic of the establishment wing of the Republican Party that has enabled not only the rise of Trump, but the sustaining of Trump as a powerful force that, far from criticizing him, as Liz Cheney has, for example, that they've largely felt that, no, we can use Trump. Trump will be sort of the tip of our spear to get conservative policies done. Or at minimum, we can't stop the guy, so we'll go to ground. And so that's essentially - the care and feeding of Donald Trump is something that McCarthy eagerly signed on to do from the moment that Trump took office.

DAVIES: We need to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We're speaking with Robert Draper. He's a veteran political reporter, also a staff writer for The New York Times and National Geographic. His new book is "Weapons of Mass Delusion: When The Republican Party Lost Its Mind." We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And our guest is Robert Draper. He's a veteran political reporter. His new book about how the Republican Party has changed since the end of the Trump administration is "Weapons Of Mass Delusion: When The Republican Party Lost Its Mind." So the Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, was going to pay a lot of attention to Donald Trump and stay in his good graces and very much in part because he hoped that in two years, in 2022, when he hoped the Republicans would take control of the House, he would become speaker of the House, long an ambition of his.

He has to manage this - you know, the Republican conference - that is to say, the members of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives. And he had this issue early on, which was that Liz Cheney of Wyoming had voted to impeach Donald Trump for his role in the assault on the Capitol on January 6 and was not apologetic about it. And there was a feeling among a lot of members she was kind of making their lives hard. And then they had this other issue of Marjorie Taylor Greene speaking her mind and making a lot of waves when she did it. Let's talk about Liz Cheney. There was a meeting to discuss whether they should remove her from her leadership position. How did that go? How did McCarthy handle it?

DRAPER: Sure. And it's, you know, worth underscoring that she was not merely Liz Cheney of Wyoming, she was Republican - House Republican conference chair. And so she occupied, as you're indicating, Dave, an important leadership position and indeed beyond the leadership position was viewed as one of the most ascendant Republicans, which is really something to kind of stick a pin in. As you're indicating, the purpose of this was to discuss whether Cheney should be allowed to remain on as conference chair after she had not only voted to impeach Trump, but had also continually denounced him and seemed to do so as - from the standpoint of being a leader of the Republican Party, thus implying to the MAGA base that this is where all House Republicans stood. So that was kind of an offending article.

Meanwhile, just as they were planning to have this special conference to discuss whether to remove Cheney, some old social media posts of Marjorie Taylor Greene's had surfaced that included the suggestion on Greene's part back in - I think 2018 was when this occurred - that the California wildfires had been started by some space laser in the sky controlled by the billionaire Jewish family the Rothschilds and other really, really outrageous things. So there was a movement amongst Democrats to strip Greene of her committee assignments. And so this particular special conference was meant to discuss these two things. And in a broader sense, what they were talking about, whether they intended to or not, was the future of the Republican Party. Which way is the Republican Party going to go? Are we going to stand behind Liz Cheney, even though she has stood against Donald Trump? Or are we going to stand with Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has said offensive things but who is very, very loyal to Donald Trump?

DAVIES: And we should note that when Liz Cheney - she didn't just criticize Donald Trump, she said he is a threat to democracy - I mean, kind of along the lines of what the January 6 committee would later pursue. So how did this meeting go?

DRAPER: What happened was that these House conferences, they take place usually every week, every other week. They tend to be about an hour long. The same figures line up behind a microphone and blather into it for a minute or two and nothing of consequence occurs. This was, in contrast, a four-hour meeting, very, very emotionally fraught and one in which they not only discussed Liz Cheney and what a leader should or shouldn't do and how her reactions impacted her Republican colleagues, but also what to do about Marjorie Taylor Greene. And literally, at the midpoint of this four-hour discussion, Marjorie Taylor Greene walked up to the microphone and for about ten or 15 minutes explained herself to her Republican colleagues. And by explaining herself, what I really mean is how it was that then citizen Greene came to fall under the sway of QAnon. And her thumbnail sketch explanation was, well after the Russia collusion hoax perpetrated by mainstream media figures in The New York Times, CNN and others, I decided I couldn't trust the news anymore. I went on the internet to find alternative news. And lo and behold, there's QAnon. That was basically her explanation.

By the end of this meeting, a decision was reached largely through the persuasive efforts of Kevin McCarthy. But also I think that this is where the party was at this moment in time to kind of split the difference, to keep Liz Cheney on, to not act against Marjorie Taylor Greene and side with stripping her of committee assignments - basically to kind of keep the party together. But you could tell, in part because a third of the people stood up after Marjorie Taylor Greene gave her own defense and gave her a standing ovation, that already this first-term congresswoman, who in fact had only been in office for a month now, was developing sympathies within the Republican Party while people were continuing to be leery of Liz Cheney. And indeed, as the months would wear on, Cheney ultimately would lose her leadership position.

DAVIES: One of the things you write about this period is that when Marjorie Taylor Greene was there and making intemperate comments and taunting people at every opportunity, that some Democrats, progressive Democrats, specifically Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and some others, feared for their physical safety. Is this true?

DRAPER: Yes. I think it's a really important thing to point out that Democrats who like many other people who inhabit the Capitol - staff members and people who occupy administrative positions in the Capitol were truly traumatized by the events of January the 6. I say that sympathetically as someone who was inside the Capitol that day also. And as retraumatizing as it was to continue to work in the building where that had taken place, it was that much more so to then deal with their colleagues across the aisle who were either in a state of denial or in a state of revisionism, depending on when you ask them, about what occurred on January the 6.

But on top of that, as you're alluding to, Dave, there was a genuine fear of these gun-toting new members of Congress, like Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and people who are Democrats genuinely fearing for their safety to the point where a senior staffer on one of the committees circulated a memo saying that she wished to see occupational safety worker guidelines applied to the U.S. Capitol, suggesting that it was an unsafe work environment and in no other, say, private business would this kind of cavalier talk about bringing in weapons to the Capitol and demonizing the, you know, people who disagree with you be tolerated. So yes, the fear was not just the usual we disagree with them, we think they're wrong or even we're revolted by them. It was a real fear. And it was one of the driving factors in Speaker Pelosi insisting on putting magnetometers just outside the floor of the House.

DAVIES: So Marjorie Taylor Greene was stripped of her two committee assignments, which, you know, if you looked at Congress in the traditional way, would mean that she was someone with no clout in the institution. And it would diminish her influence. That was not the case with her, was it?

DRAPER: No, no. Not at all. In fact, two important things happened in the wake of her being stripped of her committee assignments. One was that she proceeded to be a fundraising dynamo and in, I think, the first quarter managed to raise $3.2 million, which is unheard of for a House freshman. It just simply had never happened before - and, indeed, by the end of 2021 would outraise all but three of her House Republican colleagues. And two of those three are Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, two members of leadership. So that a freshman would do this is kind of remarkable. But the other thing that I think got a lot less notice but still was significant was that she began to use all of these procedural means of slowing down the House proceedings and basically forcing people to do a roll call vote when they just wanted to do a voice vote. This just seemed to be a pain in the neck. And Republicans and Democrats alike were annoyed by it.

But where did she get this idea from? She told me she got it from Mark Meadows, Trump's former chief of staff, who had also been, previous to that, the chair of the House Freedom Caucus. And so what this indicates to you is that, far from being a marginalized person, here's Marjorie Taylor Greene in active contact with a crucial member of Trumpworld. And by the way, the day that she was stripped from her committee assignments, she got a sympathetic call from former President Trump. So there she was, still in the heart of the MAGA universe. And as she said the day after she was stripped of her assignment, the party is still Donald Trump's. He's not going away. It's nobody else's party. And that would prove to be true.

DAVIES: You have a chapter in the book called the Leviathan Lie. And you're making the case that the notion that the election was stolen - again, you know, something for which there is simply no credible evidence - seemed to grow in intensity and reach over time. And I know that you went to, you know, rallies and events in Arizona and in Georgia and other places. And I know you spoke to a lot of people who were deeply convinced that this election had been stolen. And I'm wondering, what evidence did they find persuasive? I just - I'm wondering because...

DRAPER: Well, I mean, that's shapeshifting. And most recently, the so-called evidence has come in the form of Dinesh D'Souza's supposed documentary, "2000 Mules," which seems to be suggesting that, using geolocation data, that you - that there's proof that all of these mail-in ballot boxes were stuffed. In fact, it's not proof at all. It's at best circumstantial. And in any event, neither D'Souza nor anyone else has been able to explain who this vast conspiracy consists of that managed to pull off this swindle of the century. But that's today's explanation. Earlier, it was, oh, the so-called America's audit taking place in Arizona with this outfit called Cyber Ninjas is coming up with all sorts of stuff indicating. And yet, ultimately, what that audit proved was, in fact, Trump lost by a wider margin in Arizona than had been earlier supposed. So it's - and a lot of these are, you know, they're old arguments that should have died with various federal judges tossing out of court these spurious lawsuits placed by Sidney Powell and other Trump attorneys.

But the other thing that I found, Dave, is that there is this whole, for lack of a better way of putting it, cottage industry of grifters who have figured that as long as they can pump more oxygen into the notion that Democrats are stealing elections left and right - and not just the 2020 presidential election, but will almost certainly do the same in 2022 - and are complicit with moderate Republicans, that I could see this cropping up. I saw it cropping up in New Hampshire. I saw it cropping up in Texas. So an industry now has helped - has monetized these conspiracy theories. And, look; you know, when you live in that ecosystem and everybody you trust - all of your news sources, your religious leaders, your political office holders - are all saying the same thing, it's very hard to pull away and ask yourself, is it possible that everyone I know is lying to me?

DAVIES: We're going to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We're speaking with Robert Draper. He is a veteran political reporter and a staff writer for The New York Times and National Geographic. His new book is "Weapons Of Mass Delusion: When The Republican Party Lost Its Mind." We'll talk more after this short break. I'm Dave Davies. And this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. We're speaking with Robert Draper. He's a staff writer for The New York Times and National Geographic who's written about the Republican Party and American conservatism for more than two decades. His new book about how the GOP has changed since the end of the Trump administration is "Weapons Of Mass Delusion: When The Republican Party Lost Its Mind."

You know, one thing that I noticed in Pennsylvania is that there are Republican leaders who know that the election wasn't stolen. And so they don't repeat or propagate, you know, the stolen-election thesis. But they say things that are in some way reportive, that, you know, well, we saw changes in this election, in regulations and patterns of voting that were troubling, and we need to secure the vote in the future. And then, of course, they don't criticize those who are spreading, you know, the stolen-election idea. And in a way, that kind of passive approach just provides cover - doesn't it? - for all this.

DRAPER: Of course it does. Yes. It's - I mean, it has now become statistically verified by The New York Times that the majority of Republican candidates for higher office have said outright that they believe that the election was stolen. And you're correct in saying that even those who have not been outright in such a factually untrue claim have nonetheless said, you know, well, there are lots of problems, and lots of people are worried. Well, lots of people are worried because lies were peddled to them in their media ecosystem, and their own political leaders fanned the flames of those. And this is, you know, a very, very corrosive thing.

I mean, is it - it does seem to matter that that our elections are secure, but also that our citizens feel that they're secure. And when a third of the electorate does not believe that our elections have that level of integrity because people continue telling them the election was stolen, then it certainly undermines our democratic institutions, and it certainly is the kind of war that Russia had been endeavoring to do in 2016. Russia has a compelling interest in the decline of America as a voice worldwide in its promulgation of democracy. And when we're having these kinds of troubles at home, every day that there's trouble like this is a good day for Russia.

DAVIES: So as the first congressional term after Trump left office, you know, continued on, Marjorie Taylor Greene continued to have national influence. She raised a lot of money nationally. She began to find that candidates in states everywhere were coming to her for endorsements. And you write that there was one point where her posts about vaccines and masks actually got her suspended from Twitter for a while but that her influence just continued to grow and that you say that at one point it was now Greene, and not Trump, who was leading on the Republican message that in a way, the pupil, meaning Greene, was the headmaster of misinformation. What do you mean?

DRAPER: Well, for example, vaccines - you know, Trump has always been all over the map when it comes to that because he's very proud of Operation Warp Speed, when the research and development of the COVID vaccines began and then accelerated under his administration. So he'd like to take credit for that on the one hand, but on the other hand, he recognizes that a very significant portion, if not an outright majority of the Republican Party is distrustful - of the Republican base - is distrustful of the COVID vaccines.

And Marjorie Greene has said everything from, they are, at best, ineffectual to, at most, that they are killers. And so after a while, you began to see Trump say nasty things about the vaccines of which he was a chief promulgator in 2020. And Trump also was - would often talk about radical socialists, but he seldom used the word communist to describe Democrats.

Marjorie Taylor Greene had no such timidity and, as early as June of 2021, was saying at a press conference that I attended that she believed that there were active members of the Communist Party in the Democratic House. And now that's become something that not only Trump has said, but that others have said, too. So Greene, in her effort to be relevant by mastering the so-called attention economy of the internet, has in a lot of ways been, you know, more outrageous than Donald Trump has. And Donald Trump in terms has - in turn, has kind of seen her as the apt pupil and followed suit.

DAVIES: Well, the race to extremes - I mean, the notion that members of - what? - the Communist Party are actually serving in the Democratic caucus of the House. Yeah. How has - how have the attacks on Democrats escalated? And I'm particularly wondering whether, you know, both parties have these big national organizations, like the National Republican Congressional Committee, which - I may have the name a little wrong - but which - you know, which runs ads for Republican congressional candidates across the country. There's one for the Senate also. Have they adopted some of this more extreme rhetoric about what Democrats are up to?

DRAPER: I received blast emails from both of those organizations, and the NRCC has sent out a blast email basically saying that under Speaker Nancy Pelosi - that there has been a coddling of communism and essentially implying that Pelosi herself is - has communist sympathies. Marjorie Taylor Greene outright said to me that that January 6 committee member and Democrat of Maryland Jamie Raskin is a communist because his father, Marcus Raskin, was a communist. You know, it's not true. But that hasn't stopped her from saying it.

And, yeah - I mean, this is - you know, these kinds of attacks are - have become commonplace. But I'd say, even more than specifically, say, calling a Democrat a liberal and then from there a socialist and from they're a communist, it's more - and Greene has been masterful at this, but now we see it creeping up and into a lot of Trump's speeches, too. You know, Trump always says that his enemies are sick and all that. But now he and Greene are saying that the Democrats are evil and that, essentially, they are trying to end America as we know it and casting things in really apocalyptic terms.

And I use that word advisedly because in those same speeches, Greene and Trump will unfailingly talk about God and imply that, essentially, their supporters are a kind of holy army. And Greene, who has very casually used the term Christian nationalist to describe herself, is, you know, of the view that that not just God, but a Christian God should be central in American life, both in our government and in our schools, and that Democrats don't just believe in a separation of church and state, but are basically anti-Christianity, anti-religious and - Greene uses the word over and over again - godless, which, by the way, is a term that we used to hear Joe McCarthy say when describing people that he claimed with - usually without evidence were communists.

DAVIES: Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Robert Draper. He's a veteran political reporter. His new book is "Weapons Of Mass Delusion: When The Republican Party Lost Its Mind." We'll continue our conversation after this break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with Robert Draper. He's a staff writer for The New York Times and the National Geographic, who's written about the Republican Party and American conservatism for more than 20 years. His new book about the Republican Party since the end of the Trump administration is "Weapons Of Mass Delusion: When The Republican Party Lost Its Mind."

You know, for a long time, Marjorie Taylor Greene wouldn't talk to the mainstream media. Her staff were good at keeping reporters away from her. You eventually managed to have several conversations with her. How did that happen? What changed?

DRAPER: Yeah, heavy emphasis on the word eventually, Dave, because I got the contract to do this book in December of 2020. The first time I laid eyes on Greene was on the morning of January the 6, 2021. The first time I actually was able to speak to her one on one was off the record in Rome, Georgia, in February of 2022. So in that 13-month span of time, I did what I could first to just report on her, to go to her district, to get to know her staff members and to take her on her own terms, you know, not just, you know, send out tweets talking about how outrageous and ridiculous she was but to try to really understand her. And so staff members of hers were impressed with the work that I'd done, were surprised at the depth of the work that I'd done.

And then I had this off-the-record chat with Greene that went pretty well. As a result of which, I then went in, I believe, May of this year to some campaign events when she had a primary challenge from a fellow Republican, spent a day with her doing that and spent a little over an hour with her one on one. And then she and I had a succession of dinners, just the two of us, or getting together for coffee. And we'd talk for hours, always on the record.

And I think that principally what Marjorie Taylor Greene was trying to do was to convince me that she was, you know, not crazy, was reasonable, that her policies were not extreme, that they were - they, in fact, had many sympathizers all across the political spectrum and that she, in any event, honestly wanted to get things done. And I have to say that that latter notion, that she really wanted to get things done, was something I had never believed. I mean, she seemed like such a performance artist and her chasing AOC down, you know, the corridors of the Capitol screaming at her saying, why won't you debate me, and saying outrageous things on social media seemed to me to be, you know, an indicator that she was more like, you know, her colleague from Florida, Matt Gaetz, who just was trying to get attention all the time.

But I learned, you know, fairly recently, a few months ago, that she had hired as her chief of staff the old chief of staff to Tom DeLay, who, as whip and then majority leader of the Republican-controlled House, was arguably one of the most effective legislators in modern times. And she did this very deliberately, hiring this guy Ed Buckham, who's, you know, nobody's idea of a social media influencer or anything like that, because she wants to influence legislation. That's when it occurred to me that Marjorie Taylor Greene had not only survived, not only had gained influence in her party, but had intentions of doing something with that influence should the Republicans take power.

DAVIES: What did she say about QAnon?

DRAPER: There was - you know, she spoke, you know, somewhat reluctantly - it's not her favorite subject - but ultimately openly about her days as a QAnon adherent. She said, first of all, that she knew a lot of people who are into QAnon, including successful people, affluent people and that it was, you know, this community that she kind of enjoyed being a part of. She, you know, continued to stand by her assertion that she went the way of QAnon because mainstream media outlets had spread so many lies about Trump that she could no longer trust them. I'm not utterly convinced that she had been an assiduous reader of The New York Times and watcher of CNN before QAnon and before what she calls the Russia collusion hoax. But in any event, that's her story, and she's sticking to it.

She got into QAnon and she had developed a big Facebook following through CrossFit and - the exercise regimen that she's a part of and met this guy who is a counselor in the public education system in New York who had a conspiracy online publication called American Truth Seekers. And she began to write for it under the pseudonym of her great-grandmother's name, Elizabeth Camp, and then later, a few months later, just went ahead and put her name out there.

She says she ultimately lost faith in QAnon, came to realize that some of the stuff, you know, wasn't true. But to be honest, you know, there were precepts that she adhered to before QAnon came along and since QAnon has ceased to at least been - be important to her life. And those are that, you know, the Democrats are incorrigibly evil and that the stakes are quasi-apocalyptic, that children in particular are at risk, that Donald Trump is, you know, this heroic defender of ordinary Americans. I mean, all of these are key pieces of QAnon that she has not let go of.

DAVIES: You describe a moment in one of these lunches or dinners with Marjorie Taylor Greene that there was a moment when the galley version of your book had come out and that you expected her to ask you about the fact that it showed her image along with the title "Weapons Of Mass Delusion: When The Republican Party Lost Its Mind." She didn't. So you brought it up. And I mentioned this introduction, that you say that you said to her that it's delusional to claim that a vast conspiracy yet to be revealed with any credible evidence had stolen the 2020 presidential election, and that those who held to that illusion, its adherents, had lost their minds. What did she say when you said this?

DRAPER: Yeah, just to back into that, I mean, it's - one of her top staffers had seen on the Penguin Random House website that this was going to be the title of the book. We actually were still tweaking the title, but it was basically that. And he sent me, you know, a text basically saying, what the hell, man? You know, we've sat for all these interviews with you. And now, you know, there's a picture of our boss on the cover under the words "Weapons Of Mass Delusion." And I said, yeah, you know, I can defend it. And I will defend it.

So when I sat down with Marjorie Taylor Greene and she hadn't brought it up yet, but I knew she was aware of it, I just, you know, introduced that idea that - just as you've described it. And when I said that the Republicans who follow this delusional notion that the election had been stolen, metastasizing in this, you know, awful riot at the Capitol was proof that they had lost their minds. And I said, you know, I don't know that you and I are going to be able to have, like, a conversation on the subject, but I'd welcome it. And she said, well, sure, I'll talk to you about it. And one thing I'll say is that, you know, for the riot, you know, we now know that the FBI was aware that there was a great likelihood that there would be violence at the Capitol. If only, you know, the FBI had shared that intelligence with me, then I, with my social media following, might have been able to prevent it. I might have been able to go online saying, please, you know, be peaceful. Please do not get involved in violence. She actually started crying a little bit as she was telling me this.

The problem with Greene's, you know, argument to me there was twofold. First of all, the Trump White House had been aware, we now know through the January 6 hearings, for days, Secret Service had been receiving reports of violence at the Capitol. And Trump himself was utterly unmoved by that. And indeed, if we're to believe, you know, what Cassidy Hutchinson had overheard, had basically said, I want all of my people to come to the rally, even the ones who are carrying weapons and can't go through a magnetometer. The other problem was Marjorie Greene saying that to me is that during the riot, Marjorie Greene was not tweeting out, saying, please, people, go home. Please, people, don't engage in violence. A lot of the sort of hard core right wingers in the Republican Party went conspicuously silent at that point because they knew that that was their base. Those were their people. And indeed, as I mention in the book, when another person who's a central character in the book, the far-right Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar, his chief of staff assured someone that he wasn't worried - Gosar and Gosar's people - about the rioters because, as this chief of staff put it, these are our people. And so Greene didn't go against her people at a time when it might have, at least according to her, made something of a difference.

DAVIES: Well, I just note that that response doesn't really address the point you were making, that it's delusional to think that this - the election had been stolen and that people who hold that delusion had lost their mind.

DRAPER: So Greene is - yeah - so Greene has since talked to me about this. And she's, you know, on the stolen election thing. And she said, you tell me, Robert. Do you really think 81 million people voted for Joe Biden? And I said, yes. You know, what's the - I mean, absolutely. You know, you guys are, you know, embraced the notion that the most anomalous character in American politics was Donald Trump, who all these people took a bet on in 2016 in a way that polls didn't capture. Would it be so surprising to you then that these people, you know, who punched their ticket - a lot of independents and suburbanites in 2016 - would ultimately come to be revolted by him and wouldn't fall in love with Joe Biden, but would desperately want Trump out of office? And she didn't really have an answer for that, you know.

And in any event, you know, as I said before, Dave, I - you know, I've, you know, I've - there are hours of my life that I can't get - that I'll never get back talking to people who embrace this conspiracy theory that the election was stolen. But not one of them has given me any kind of coherent explanation as to who did the stealing. You know, who, you know, was it was it Biden, Kamala Harris, the CIA, Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state of Georgia, a Republican, Katie Hobbs, the secretary of state in Arizona, a Democrat? I mean, this is quite a cabal here, you know, but no one's gotten to the bottom of it. No one can explain it.

DAVIES: Well, Robert Draper, thanks so much for speaking with us again.

DRAPER: My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me, Dave.

DAVIES: Robert Draper is a veteran political reporter and a staff writer for The New York Times and National Geographic. His new book is "Weapons Of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind." Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead tells us about the new album from alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, in which he returns to his Kansas City roots. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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