Design: DF/Public Seminar
Kandiss Taylor, the Republican primary candidate for governor of Georgia that you have never heard of, has the best campaign slogan ever: “Jesus, Guns, Babies.” Talk about clarity on where she stands! She checks all the boxes. And although her central plank is the 2020 election conspiracy theory, she also has a plank that is defiantly local: “Demolish the Satanic Georgia Guidestones.”
OK, I’ll get back to that.
In February 2022, Sergio Olmos at The Guardian wrote a story about the over 100 far-right candidates who had pledged to run in a Republican primary this year. From a list compiled by the Anti-Defamation League (which has been outing extremists since the 1950s), Olmos listed a dozen people on the ballot who are formally and openly affiliated with extremist, militia, or white supremacist movements.
Some, like Wendy Rogers of Arizona, are already sitting members of state legislatures. Rogers is a Trump-endorsed member of the Oath Keepers being investigated by the legislature’s ethics commission for a tweet last week in which she implied that the racist massacre in Buffalo massacre could be a false flag. Others, like Ammon Bundy, have participated in armed clashes with law enforcement. Bundy was also recently arrested for trespassing at an Idaho hospital which he targeted for protests after they turned an abused child over to the Department of Protective Services.
Donald Trump did not create these people: they adhered to him, welcomed them, and saw them as a source of power that the GOP had left untapped for decades. But he didn’t invent them. He copied them.
It is a GOP tradition to coddle such folks while distancing from them. In the old days, while conservatives like William F. Buckley sought to purge far-right activists like those in the John Birch Society from the ranks of the GOP, others, like Arizona Senator and 1964 presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, knew that they were essential to his success. “Every other person in Phoenix is a member of the John Birch Society,” Goldwater is said to have told Buckley: “I’m talking about the highest cast[e] of men of affairs.”
Ronald Reagan also equivocated about the John Birch Society in 1966, when he was launching his campaign for governor of California because, unlike the Klan and the Communist Party, they had not been investigated by the FBI as a subversive group. And it worked: Reagan kept his support on the right and avoided being tarred as an extremist, as Goldwater had been. As biographer Lou Cannon wrote: “Reagan said that if members of the John Birch Society supported him, they were buying his philosophy rather than the other way around.”
And anti-feminist organizer Phyllis Schlafly, who was entangled in Republican politics for decades, denied that she had any affiliation with the John Birch Society for years. But it wasn’t true. Founder Robert Welch proudly claimed her in 1960, and, although Schlafly formally resigned in 1964 before the publication of her book, A Choice, Not an Echo, the Society bought and distributed 300,000 copies of the book.
What is different today, however, is that the GOP is not just claiming extremists. They are running in Republican primaries around the nation as extremists. And sometimes, they win—as the success of Lauren Boebert (CO-3), Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA-14), and Paul Gosar (AZ-04) demonstrate (coincidentally, Gosar promotes the lie that water fluoridation is a federal conspiracy, which was a central issue for the John Birch Society.)
However, far-right candidates are mostly under the radar because higher profile candidates get all the media attention. For example, Pennsylvania Senate primary candidate Kathy Bernette’s extremism, which fueled a last-minute surge when she published a video about having been conceived in rape, took a national audience by surprise. But it shouldn’t have: she has been a well-known right-wing media figure and conspiracy theorist since 2015 and ran unsuccessfully for Congress in PA-04 in 2020 on the Republican line.
And thanks to pundit Ron Filipowski, a former Republican turned Democrat, there’s another extremist on my radar today: Kandiss (pronounced “Candace”) Taylor, who is currently pulling 4% of the vote in the GOP primary for Governor of Georgia. Of course, it’s a race that Brian Kemp will win by high double digits against the Trump-picked David Perdue, so unlike Barnette, Taylor is not in a spoiler role. But in the video Filipowski tweeted out, Taylor is telling her audience that sheriffs who do not do the will of the people should be….(wait for it)….
Why? Because to refuse to do what the people demand is “treason,” Taylor said to the crowd, and “The Constitution says when you commit treason, it’s death by firing squad. I didn’t write it—it’s in there.” (This is not in the Constitution.)
Navigating to Taylor’s campaign website, you will see two important facts about her. One is that she is an educator—she has spent 19 years working in Georgia schools in various capacities. The other is that, along with a bunch of Christian right podcasters, she is endorsed by Mike Lindell, Lin Wood, and Roger Stone, who were all involved in the effort to overturn a legal election.
But you might miss the third, up on the nav bar as “ExecutiveOrder10,” a reference to the first thing she plans to do when Governor, which is to demolish the so-called Georgia Guidestones. Originally built to serve as a natural compass and clock that could withstand a civilization-ending catastrophe, the Guidestones are inscribed with principles (in eight languages) for re-establishing the human community.
Sometimes known as the “American Stonehenge,” this odd monument has the distinction of having been designed by conspiracists who then seem to have lost control of the narrative. Now a new generation of conspiracists believes that the Guidestones are, in reality, a guide to the New World Order, otherwise known as “the Global Luciferian Regime,” which, according to Taylor, “has seeped its way into our Government” for decades. The evidence of this regime is everywhere. Taylor explains: “They demoralized us with humiliation rituals as they tore down our historical monuments, persecuted our children, locked us down in our homes, and forced us into becoming walking science experiments through a global vaccination program.”
“On my first day as Governor of Georgia,” Taylor pledges, “I will move to DEMOLISH the Demonic plans of our enemy. The Satanic agenda is NOT welcome in our state.”
Good to hear. But more importantly, what does Kandiss Taylor’s candidacy teach us about the relationship between the GOP and an extremist Right that, until 2016, was effectively marginalized and suppressed by party leaders? Perhaps the most important thing is that the far-right is no longer willing to play a mistress role in the party: ready to continue placidly voting while conservatives, and even MAGA conservatives, play the respectability card. But the second thing is that this movement has been around for much longer than Trump: he didn’t make it, and he didn’t even lead it—he just became its standard-bearer and symbol.
And this means that, while all eyes are on Trump endorsements as if winning candidates will help us gauge the strength of his grip on the party, we need to remember something else. The three or four candidates nobody is paying attention to—the Kathy Barnettes and Kandiss Taylors—didn’t come from nowhere. They—and their constituencies—may play a far more critical role in splintering the GOP in general elections than any of us has yet imagined.
Claire Bond Potter is Professor of Historical Studies at The New School for Social Research and co-Executive Editor of Public Seminar. Her most recent book is Political Junkies: From Talk Radio to Twitter, How Alternative Media Hooked Us on Politics and Broke Our Democracy (Basic Books, 2020). This essay first appeared on her Substack, Political Junkie.