A group of about 40 democrats in the House of Representatives have recently called for the expulsion of Marjorie Taylor Greene in response to inflammatory comments she has made. Some of the comments in question include comparing mask mandates to Nazi Germany, conspiracy theories surrounding school shootings, and harassing democrats such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who she called the “little communist.” While some of her messages have targeted specific political actors and shown support for false conspiracy theories that serve as witch hunts, Marjorie Taylor Greene should not be punished or removed from office for her statements, whether or not they are inflammatory. Moreover, the Democrats’ concerns over potential violence as a result of her messages are not a legitimate reason to remove her from office.
First and foremost, free speech is needed in order to criticize and expose problems to the public. Those who have studied the First Amendment know that free speech in America is not entirely free, as it holds a few reserves on how it is used. The most easily identifiable of these reserves is a call to violence, which Greene has hinted at but never directly pushed for. Her statements involve ideas such as questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election, the Las Vegas shooting, and other prominent conspiracy theories targeting the “deep state” and Democrats. These statements are not inherently violent but could be taken too literally by radical supporters in a polarized world. Regardless of political affiliation people who see threats from those in power might take actions in stopping them. Greene explained in a Twitter post that, “Over the years, I’ve had teams of people manage my pages. Many posts have been liked. Many posts have been shared. Some did not represent my views. Especially the ones that CNN is about to spread across the internet.” She does not even suggest that it was her directly operating the accounts –due to this uncertainty, she is not solely responsible for those interactions. In addition to that, much of the activity in question was done before she ran for Congress. Her words, while divisive, have never included a direct call to violence against specific members of Congress.
Looking at past examples of similar behavior we are able to see precedent on how Greene’s speech should be handled. One of the closest examples to direct violence that Greene has made was when she said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was a traitor to the United States. In her words, “And it’s uh, a crime punishable by death is what treason is, Nancy Pelosi is guilty of treason.” At first, it’s easy to take this statement and infer it as a call to violence, as she is calling out a prominent political figure for alleged crimes to the country. However, this is not the first time statements like this have been made. When Sen. Bernie Sanders stated in a tweet in 2017 that, “Thousands of people will die if the Republican health care bill becomes law,” it sends an inflammatory message that is similar to the way Greene identified Pelosi. Neither are a direct call to violence and should not be treated as such as they both express direct dissatisfaction without addressing a means to carry it out. Bernie’s message unfortunately solidified itself in supporter James T. Hodgkinson, as he was motivated to shoot republican politicians at a baseball game in 2017. When people act on that political commentary, it is the people acting that should be held accountable, not the individual who said those things. Bernie is not responsible for that man’s actions just as Greene is not responsible for anyone who might do the same. Regardless of the chance that her words may be misinterpreted as a call to violence there is no way to prove that her words are directly responsible. If someone were to actually go and commit a crime of violence against one of these members of Congress, then she should still not be held accountable.
There were no direct calls to violence and therefore she should not be punished for speaking her mind. The only way she should be expelled from Congress is the same way she got in: through the democratic process. The real question in this matter is not how we punish people for speech but how we move forward in this new age of information and make the populace a more responsible interpreter of the news they are given.