DALTON — Step into the Oakwood Café any weekday morning, hang a right and stride toward the soda fountain near the black-and-white photos of Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and you will find nearly a dozen men who regularly gather to sip coffee, swap jokes and chat about politics.
Asked recently about the freshman Republican congresswoman who represents this solidly conservative part of northwest Georgia — U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — and most of the loquacious group clammed up. She is just too controversial a subject. The few who did agree to talk about her sharply differed over whether she is the right person for the job, a reflection of how she has divided her constituents.
Democratic lawmakers stripped Greene of her committee assignments over the objection of the vast majority of House Republicans. Those moves follow reports about Greene’s past support for the convoluted and baseless QAnon conspriacy theories, her promotion of lies about school mass shootings and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and her speculation that a deadly California wildfire in 2018 was caused by wealthy Jewish bankers and others wielding space lasers.
Greene has also made statements in the past that were considered racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic or xenophobic.
Luther Goforth, a retired carpet industry worker from Resaca who voted for Greene, called her an “embarrassment,” citing how she introduced articles of impeachment against President Joe Biden just a day after he was sworn into office.
“She is too radical. She is an embarrassment to me,” Goforth said. “She won’t get anywhere in Congress because she won’t have the support.”
Nibbling on a chicken biscuit sandwich across from Goforth, Don Kittle said he supports Greene’s move to oust Biden. Kittle, a retired businessman who voted for Greene, agrees with her baseless allegations that Biden won the White House because of election fraud. He accused Biden of putting people out of work by canceling the Keystone XL oil pipeline and halting Donald Trump’s expansion of the southwest border wall.
“He has done backed this country up. I don’t like him,” Kittle said of Biden before turning back to Greene: “Who is perfect in this world? Who does things that everybody has agreed with?”
Don Pelfrey, a retiree from Dalton who ran a lawn management business, voted for Greene and stands by her. Referring to how Greene has reportedly endorsed executing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic politicians on social media, Pelfrey pointed to how Pelosi said recently that federal lawmakers face threats of violence from an “enemy” within Congress following the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“Marjorie Greene ain’t said much any different” than Pelosi, he said. “We have got the enemy within — Biden and Pelosi herself.”
Greene, who ran unopposed in the general election after her Democratic opponent dropped out of the race, won nearly 75% of the vote in the 14th Congressional District, which stretches across more than 11 counties and encompasses the cities of Calhoun, Cedartown, Dalton and Rome. A huge sign of the district’s enduring conservatism rises along I-75 southwest of Dalton: a billboard declaring “Every Tongue Will Confess Jesus Is Lord Even The Democrats.” “Democrats” is printed in red beside a pitchfork.
State Rep. Kasey Carpenter, a Republican whose family owns the Oakwood Café, said he is getting calls from reporters about Greene daily. The congresswoman, he said, has attracted a lot of support in her district because “we like people to stand up and fight for us — I think she does a good job of that.”
But Carpenter, who voted for Greene in the general election, said he would rather see her take on substantive issues, including fighting against increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“Once you have been elected, it is time to represent your people and it is time to kind of roll your sleeves up and get to work,” said the restaurateur. “Unfortunately, when you are dropping impeachment papers on the president and stuff like that, it just kind of creates a back-and-forth situation between you and the media that really at the end of the day is not good for our district and your ability to help us.”
Another lawmaker from the district, Rome state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, declined to say whether he voted for Greene. But he did say he is troubled that her controversies may have long-term impact on the district.
“Companies are telling us they’re not going to come there,” said Hufstetler, a Republican. “And besides the lies — the telling parents their children didn’t die and the outrageous statements — it’s having a devastating economic impact long term on our district, as well as the whole state.”
Hufstetler had hoped that Republicans in Congress would discipline Greene. Democrats stripped her of her committee assignments only after that didn’t happen.
John Bailey, the editor of The Rome News-Tribune newspaper, recently helped pen an editorial saying Greene’s controversial behavior has rendered her ineffective in Washington.
“Regardless of your political party affiliation: When the speaker, who leads the majority party in the House of Representatives, calls out a freshman representative in the minority party for ‘appalling’ behavior, that’s bad news for our district,” the essay said.
“Here’s the problem,” it continued. “That essentially means we not only lack representation in Congress but the district is now being vilified by association.”
Greene got an address in Rome to counteract criticism during the primary that the former Alpharetta resident was a carpetbagger without real ties to the district. Bailey said his newspaper and city officials have fielded calls from people across the country who are outraged that voters there sent Greene to Congress.
The district has more moderates and even liberal voters than what Greene’s politics suggest, Bailey said. He said the beauty of northwest Georgia is being overshadowed by her problematic behavior.
“It’s just not the extreme that is being represented at this point,” he said.
Even when Republicans had a choice, first during the primary and later when she faced a runoff against Rome neurosurgeon John Cowan, Greene was the top choice. Many voters interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution knew of her controversial statements and either weren’t troubled by them or agreed with her.
Lynn Laughter, a Republican and the former chair of the Whitfield County Commission, did not vote for Greene. Laughter disagrees with how Greene went on Twitter in November and ridiculed people wearing masks to stop the spread of COVID-19.
As of Wednesday, Whitfield had the second-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people among Georgia’s 159 counties. The county has tallied more than 13,500 cases and 169 confirmed deaths from COVID-19. Among the dead are one of Laughter’s beloved colleagues, Roger Crossen, a pillar of the community who served alongside her on the Whitfield commission.
Laughter doesn’t think Greene represents the majority of people in the district.
“I have been embarrassed by the things she has said, done and tweeted,” said Laughter, who operates a financial management company in Dalton.
In contrast, Dianne Putnam, a Dalton resident who leads the Whitfield County Republican Party, is among Greene’s ardent supporters. Putnam agrees with Greene’s opposition to abortion. And like Greene, Putnam supports the unsubstantiated allegation that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
Putnam said she has never heard Greene speak about QAnon ideology, which holds that Trump is confronting a secret cabal of Democratic pedophiles. Asked whether she believes the conspiracy theory is true, Putnam said: “The truth will come out.”
Putnam added that Greene “is doing what we elected her to do.”
“She is going to Washington to make a difference and to stand up for the Republicans and … the President Trump agenda.
“We finally have a candidate who has a spine, who is going take up for the Republicans, speak up and speak out against all these liberal nonsense agenda items,” Putnam said.
Like Putnam, Ron Thurman, a U.S. Army veteran and former Dalton policeman, appreciates Greene’s support for gun rights as well as her resistance to mandating masks amid the coronavirus outbreak. He believes the pandemic is overblown and refuses to shop at stores that require face coverings.
“What is happening to her in Congress is a travesty,” said Thurman, who voted for Greene. “The GOP leadership is starting to put pressure on her. And we know the Democrats are going to put pressure on her. But she is standing her ground, and she is doing exactly what we elected her to do.”
Chaka Johnson, a hotel manager from Rome, voted for Trump in 2016, believing his business experience would give him an edge. But she rejected his harsh rhetoric against immigrants and his administration’s efforts to split up families illegally crossing the southwest border, and she switched her vote to Biden in November. Johnson, who did not vote for Greene, said the congresswoman has “promoted violence — and that is something this country is trying to get under control.”
“She just needs to resign,” Johnson said. “I’m just ready for change, ready for something different. I want somebody to get into office and just think about the United States as a whole.”
Staff writer Maya T. Prabhu contributed to this article.