Last Thursday, on the eve of testifying in a lawsuit that seeks to prevent her from running for re-election, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the legendary or notorious Georgia Republican, granted an hourlong interview in her home to an unlikely outlet: the far-right Catholic news organization Church Militant, which for years has positioned itself as one of the noisiest and most outlandish partisans in the Roman Catholic Church's ongoing fight with itself. Greene is an evangelical Protestant, not a Catholic, but Church Militant is making the most of this opportunity, and has featured segments of the interview all week, starting with its opening video on Monday, entitled "Marjorie for Pope."
In the interview, Greene rehashed old beefs, described herself as a victim of Jan. 6, said the United States is so sinful she doesn't understand "why God hasn't destroyed us" and — most exciting for Church Militant — suggested that Satan is controlling the Catholic Church.
That might sound like a claim that would offend most Catholics, but Church Militant is not most Catholics. Originally founded as Real Catholic TV by former CBS News producer Michael Voris in 2008 to offer a more orthodox depiction of Mother Church than is found in pop culture fare like "The Da Vinci Code," the organization grew increasingly strident and at odds with the formal church, until the Archdiocese of Detroit, where it's located, successfully blocked it from using the word "Catholic" in the outlet's name.
These days, Voris describes the website as an apostolate trying to preserve authentic Catholicism in the face of a church hierarchy he describes as an "international crime syndicate" run by a gay cabal. In his crusade against the church, Voris has launched two coalitions for what he calls "canceled" and "persecuted" priests as well as an anonymous network he calls "the New Catacombs," comprising clerics who denounce "the evil in the hierarchy."
In 2020, Church Militant pronounced itself the home of "the red-pilled laity" and became such a vitriolic supporter of Donald Trump's re-election campaign that Voris warned that a Biden presidency would result in faithful Catholics being declared "illegal" and "hunted down" and said that if any viewers considered Trump too "crass" to support, they'd better not complain when they were "herded onto the trains headed for the camps."
The Church Militant site calls itself the home of "red-pilled laity" and warned that a Biden presidency would end with Catholics "herded onto the trains headed for the camps."
After cheering on the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol, last summer Church Militant brought disgraced former "alt-lite" personality Milo Yiannopoulos into the fold. He had recently declared that returning to the Catholic faith had helped him become "ex-gay" — similar to Voris, who in 2016 publicly repented for having had same-sex relationships and committed to live a "chaste" life — and that he was planning on opening a Catholic conversion therapy clinic in Florida.
After starting as a columnist, by last fall Yiannopoulos was hawking Virgin Mary icons and CDs of himself reading from the books of Psalms and Proverbs on Church Militant's home shopping service. He even appeared on behalf of the group in a Baltimore court as Church Militant fought to hold a protest rally outside the annual gathering of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. When the protest took place last November, Yiannapoulos served as emcee, pairing jokes about gay culture with homophobic slurs as he egged on the audience to chant "Lock them up" at the bishops meeting next door.
This February, Yiannopoulos also facilitated Greene's appearance as the honored "surprise guest" at white nationalist Nick Fuentes' third America First Political Action Conference. At that gathering, Greene greeted the crowd of 1,200 white nationalists as fellow "canceled Americans," and told them they had been "handed the responsibility to fight for our Constitution and stand up for our freedoms and stop the Democrats who are the Communist Party of the United States of America." In the aftermath of that colorful event — which featured chants in support of Vladimir Putin, calls to hang political enemies, abundant "great replacement" theory and Fuentes praising Hitler — Greene defended her appearance as an effort "to break barriers and speak to a lost generation of young people" who had "gathered to declare that Christ is King."
In a tweet on Monday, Greene referenced Yiannopoulos again, seemingly in response to the news that Elon Musk had bought Twitter, calling on unseen forces to "bring back" her personal Twitter account as well as those of Trump, COVID skeptic Robert Malone, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Yiannopoulos and the entire "canceled nation." It's fair to speculate that Yiannopoulos helped facilitate Greene's interview with Church Militant as well, in which Voris praised her as "the lioness in the Congress, defender of traditional values, America, all of that," and suggested that she might become the next speaker of the House.
Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
In the interview, MTG did what MTG does. She insulted Joe Biden, claimed that Speaker Nancy Pelosi had forbidden members of Congress from using "pronouns and family names" such as "mother" and "grandparent," recounted confrontations with fellow lawmakers and Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg, and described efforts to address the student loan debt crisis as "Satanic." Here's the logic on that one: "When people think they don't have to be responsible with their money and they can just borrow as much as they want and not have to care about giving it back, that is Satan destroying rules."
This interview was recorded just before Greene's appearance in a lawsuit challenging her eligibility to run for Congress again on the grounds that she supported the Jan. 6 insurrection. So she protested, predictably enough, that she too was "a victim" of Jan. 6, since she'd been evacuated from the House chamber as well. The lawsuit, which is unlikely to be successful, is based on a provision of the 14th Amendment, written in the aftermath of the Civil War, which holds that people who have sworn an oath to protect the Constitution and subsequently support an insurrection are barred from holding any political office in the future.
But in the interview, Greene showed herself willing to be party to another civil war: the one within the Catholic Church, which for most of the last decade has pitted conservative American Catholics against a pope they consider too liberal to be legitimate, as well as against much of the rest of the global church.
After asking Greene how she gauged the "spiritual character of the United States right now" — the question that prompted her to wonder why God hadn't destroyed America yet for its failure to end abortion — Voris guided her into issues within Catholic World, taking specific aim at the church-affiliated aid organization Catholic Relief Services, which has recently been targeted by conservative Catholics for its work to help immigrants at the southern border.
"What it is, is Satan's controlling the church," Greene responded. Catholics and other Christians who cite biblical mandates to "love one another" by taking care of migrants, she continued, are "perverting" both the meaning of the Bible and the Constitution.
Greene argued that Christians who cite the biblical mandate to "love one another" by caring for migrants and refugees are "perverting" the Bible and the Constitution.
Instead, Greene argued, the U.S. government should cut off all aid to Central American countries until they repatriate any citizens who have immigrated to the U.S. "We should hold those countries accountable. 'Oh, I'm sorry, Guatemala, you're not getting a check this year because you've sent X number of thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands and millions of people to illegally invade our country as if they're an army,'" she said. "'We won't be able to send you your foreign aid until you bring your people back."
As for the Catholic Church, she continued, "The bishops of Catholic Relief charities and services, they should be all in support of that…. If the bishops were reading the Bible and truly preaching the word of God to their flock… and not covering up child sex abuse and pedophilia, that would be loving one another, would have the true meaning and not the perversion and the twisted lie that they're making it up to be."
Greene isn't the only political figure to have visited Church Militant, despite its marginal reputation. Onetime Trump adviser Steve Bannon has been a frequent guest. Former Newsmax host Michelle Malkin, who has openly associated with white nationalists, spoke at the group's November rally in Baltimore, charging that U.S. bishops' aid to immigrants was part of their larger agenda to "destroy the historical American nation." In the fall of 2020, just weeks before the election, Trump's Federal Election Commission chair Trey Trainor talked with Voris in a lengthy interview in which he described the election as a "spiritual war." This year, Church Militant has interviewed a number of right-wing Catholic candidates for higher office, including gubernatorial candidates Dan Cox of Maryland, Ryan Kelley of Michigan and Jim Renacci of Ohio, as well as Missouri Senate candidate Mark McCloskey, who became internet-famous for waving a gun at Black Lives Matter marchers in the summer of 2020.
"What I find interesting about Church Militant's increased focus on promoting far-right politicians and influencers is that, a year and a half after the 2020 election, the alliance between reactionary Catholic media and the Republican Party seems to have only grown stronger," said Mike Lewis, founder of the website Where Peter Is, which tracks the role of the far-right within the Catholic Church.
"In a lot of ways, a significant part of the U.S. Catholic Church resembles today's Republican Party," he continued. "I think that Greene and her advisers see in this group a small but motivated segment of her base." As for Church Militant, he continued, "the benefits are obvious. When [Voris] gives attention to politicians, especially well-known figures like Greene, he raises his own profile and gets attention in the mainstream press. He's trying to expand his audience, and he's going to do that more effectively if he interviews fewer Catholic figures and more national figures."
"There used to be a genuine 'ecumenism of the barricades' among culture-war believers, like the old First Things crowd in the Richard John Neuhaus days," said David Gibson, director of Fordham University's Center on Religion and Culture, referencing the ecumenical Christian right magazine that helped cement the partnership between conservative Catholics and evangelicals. "But they were believers." Greene and Voris, by contrast, he continued, "seem to be political performers following a script more than scripture. They are so alienated from their respective faith communities it is hard to see them as evangelical Protestant or Roman Catholic. They seem to be trying to pump each other up more than pursuing some actual goal."
Read more from Kathryn Joyce on religion and the far right: