With every pull-up, power snatch, and hotel-room burpee, Marjorie Taylor Greene used CrossFit to build her brand, from gym owner to the House of Representatives’ most visible far-right conspiracy theorist. Before and during her political rise, CrossFit’s headquarters ignored Greene’s existence and her praise of the company’s workout programs — until now.
CrossFit for the first time disavowed Greene after BuzzFeed News asked in February about her history of calling for violence against political enemies, support for QAnon, attempts to undermine the 2020 presidential election, and amplification of other dangerous and deceptive nonsense. “CrossFit supports respectful fact-based political dialogue to address our common challenges, and we strongly oppose the loathsome and dangerous lies attributed to Ms. Greene,” Andrew Weinstein, a CrossFit spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News.
It started with Greene using her time as an affiliate gym owner to build her credibility as a small business owner. Then she asked for campaign donations and invited at least one gym member to donor events when she launched her congressional bid. Now, in Washington, she points to her time as an athlete and CrossFit affiliate owner to push her political agenda — like her viral hotel room workout in Washington, DC.
Though Greene entwined herself with the brand at nearly every step of her controversial political growth, CrossFit is only speaking out as it struggles to publicly account for its own accusations of racism, bigotry, and ignoring science during a lethal pandemic in its community of affiliates.
“What is wrong with you? Seriously, do you not have anything better to do?” Greene’s communications director, Nick Dyer, said when asked for comment.
CrossFit has attempted to revamp its image — but without alienating a large swath of its supporters — after former CEO and owner Greg Glassman resigned in June 2020. That’s when BuzzFeed News published his leaked call with affiliate owners where he questioned why the company would mourn George Floyd’s killing and where he spread vicious racist and QAnon-adjacent conspiracies. In its wake, CrossFit athletes announced that they would boycott the brand’s marquee event, the CrossFit Games, unless new leadership were installed. Gym owners canceled their affiliations and changed their names.
Since CrossFit was founded, it has been a welcome space for conservatives, gaining early traction with law enforcement and military members. Under Glassman, the company’s brand was built on a “libertarian” and machismo philosophy and fostered a tough culture. CrossFit’s statement criticizing the views of a pro-military Republican member of Congress shocked long-term members.
“It ends up by saying we don’t support this lady, which is a pretty hard stance to take especially for CrossFit being as tied to it is to the military and generally the conservative movement,” a member of CrossFit’s new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council told BuzzFeed News after hearing the statement.
One current CrossFit affiliate owner, who asked to remain anonymous, told BuzzFeed News that the national brand’s strong association with conservative-leaning groups, including some who remain supportive of Glassman or align with Greene’s political beliefs such as QAnon, had made CrossFit headquarters reluctant to publicly criticize Greene.
“There’s a huge amount of people who are silently fine with how everything is. Marjorie Taylor Greene? Fine,” the owner said. “We’ll just ignore her and hold our nose.”
The affiliate owner BuzzFeed News spoke with thinks the national reluctance has to do with an awareness that there are like-minded customers who agree with Greene.
“I see all of the manipulations of indoctrination into something,” the owner said. The person pointed to a 2015 study from two former Harvard Divinity School students who compared CrossFit to religion and wrote that people were turning to the gym instead of churches for community. It’s an association that former CEO Glassman embraced in interviews.
“The large majority of CrossFit are disenfranchised people who are left out,” the current affiliate owner explained. “They meet friends and like-minded people, they work hard, suffer together, they party together, they likely drink together — there’s a huge hookup problem — that’s widespread, that’s the norm. That’s very much the ethos: You find something, you work hard, you learn the secret knowledge, and you’re accepted. That’s what I mean when they’re susceptible to QAnon.” CrossFit didn’t reply when asked for comment about this characterization.
To be clear, CrossFit has tens of thousands of members and, of course, not everyone shares the same opinions and belief systems. Weinstein, the CrossFit spokesperson, denied BuzzFeed News’ request to speak with new CEO Eric Roza or Trish Gerlitz, the new VP for culture and inclusion, about Greene’s association with the brand. “Ms. Greene sold her gym long before the current leadership team took over CrossFit, and the company has no relationship with her,” he said.
“That’s just such a weak statement,” said Alyssa Royse, a former affiliate owner who ended her gym’s CrossFit affiliation after questioning Glassman about why CrossFit wasn’t speaking out in support of the widespread anti–police brutality protests in the summer of 2020. CrossFit has given Greene “tacit approval,” Royse wrote in a blog posted to her gym’s website in mid-February. “Yes, they can and should distance themselves from her,” Royse wrote, “she’s still posting her workouts and talking about the gym she no longer owns.”
In many ways, CrossFit’s current dilemma of trying to shake off its association with an insurgent far-right and conspiracy-minded wing is reflective of the Republican Party at large.
CrossFit, the company, probably does not own the local CrossFit gym near you.
Instead, affiliate owners like Marjorie Taylor Greene operate their own locations far from the corporate leadership, making their gyms their own distinct brand within the larger one. The pandemic has split CrossFit and its affiliates politically. CrossFit released COVID guideline recommendations for affiliate gyms in late December, after BuzzFeed News published a story about its pandemic protocols, telling gyms “the stricter standard should apply” in discrepancies between CrossFit and local government recommendations.
Meanwhile, Greene has become associated with the national brand in a major way — a mix of her own history and positioning as a candidate. She’s made the mythology behind the business an integral part of her political image. Her first viral tweet after she won election was herself doing a WOD (“workout of the day”) in her DC hotel room, complaining gyms were shut down due to “Democrat tyrannical control” (they weren’t). She’s pointed back to her time as a competitive CrossFit athlete to justify signing on to a bill that would prevent transgender women from competing in women’s sports (CrossFit announced back in 2018 that trans athletes were welcome at the CrossFit Games). On Wednesday, she argued against new LGBTQ protections in the Equality Act by declaring on the House floor: “I have competed in sports and I am so thrilled that I was able to do that, that I competed against biological women.”
And at least some at CrossFit have embraced the surface-level connection. Morning Chalk Up — a popular newsletter focused on CrossFit — wrote about “the first CrossFit affiliate owner elected to Congress” and mentioned the gym, though it avoided discussing Greene’s politics. “This will do wonders for the CrossFit image,” one user on CrossFit’s Reddit forum wrote. “On a serious note, why the fuck didn’t they mention how she’s fucking crazy? It’s not politics to say she’s radioactive in DC and that she sure as shit isn’t getting anyone to think positively about CrossFit.”
In case you haven’t been following along: Greene no longer owns a CrossFit gym.
She followed a fairly traditional path. Her love for CrossFit began in 2007, when a friend suggested they try it together. “She asked me, ‘Do you want to do this crazy underground cult fitness thing called CrossFit?’ And I was like ‘Um, OK!’” Greene told an Atlanta business radio show back in 2015. “I fell in love. It was the hardest thing I ever did and the greatest thing I ever did.” For years, she did the WOD, which are occasionally dedicated to fallen military or police officers, at home by herself, before joining a gym in 2011 and quickly becoming a certified Level 1 instructor.
She coached at several CrossFit gyms before meeting Travis Mayer, a CrossFit Games athlete and gym manager, and the pair opened their own affiliate gym, CrossFit Passion, in a 6,000-square-foot warehouse in Alpharetta, Georgia, in mid- 2013. In 2015, Greene ranked 47th in the US Masters Women CrossFit Games. They upgraded to an 11,000-square -foot gym space with 135 members.
Two gym attendees, one whom Greene coached at CrossFit Passion, said that Greene had always been the type of conservative who supported mainstream ideals, like gun rights. They said she never talked openly about politics during her workouts.
She left the business a few years later, and the two gym attendees said that’s when she became more outspoken about hardline far-right politics. It’s also when she’d begun posting concerning things on her social media pages that gained her a massive following.
Mayer, who still owns the gym, did not respond to interview requests. Two people who BuzzFeed News spoke to said he told them that he does not want to speak to the media and does not want his gym associated with politics. He even changed the gym’s name, a move that he linked in a June 8, 2020, Instagram post to Glassman’s racist comments.
That timing also coincided with Greene hitting the national spotlight. A Politico article on June 18 revealed hours of Facebook videos of Greene — then one of the leading Republican candidates in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District — spouting racist, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic hate. Five days later Mayer announced the new gym name.
John Cowan, the local neurosurgeon who lost to Greene in the 14th District’s Republican primary, believes the name and website change is telling. “That is a place she helped cofound with this guy, and in theory is this great fighter businesswoman, and literally they are kicking it into reverse and flooring it,” Cowan said.
But Greene’s positioning of herself helped her in the district, he argued. That carefully constructed imagery — Cowan called it “a lot of puff and puffery” — made a difference in her electorate.
“A lot of people view the Congress as literally like a WWF cage match,” Cowan said. “It’s just anything goes and Jim Jordan is ripping his shirt off and tearing at whatever, and Nancy Pelosi is doing whatever off the dais. I think that’s really what a lot of people think: It’s utter mayhem up there.”
And her CrossFit workouts posted regularly to social media helped position her as that fighter. Cowan hates it, but it clearly worked. “It’s laughable. It’s fake masculinity, it’s fake strength,” he said. “It’s just like WWF, all bark and no dog.”
Greene was originally running for Congress in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. She had long lived in Alpharetta, part of suburban Atlanta which was flipped blue in 2018 by Rep. Lucy McBath, a gun control activist whose son, Jordan Davis, was killed in “stand your ground” shooting. Greene rented a townhouse in Rome, Georgia, in 2019 to launch her congressional bid in the 14th Congressional District after Republican Rep. Tom Graves announced that he wouldn’t seek reelection. The 14th District, which is 85% white and far more conservative, offered Greene a much higher chance of winning. The constituents there were already accustomed to Republican fighters — Graves was an early tea party member who often bucked Republican House leadership.
Since Greene and her family weren’t based full time in the Rome townhouse, she started driving her Hummer, complete with either a Trump flag or an American one, to work out at CrossFit Rome, a popular affiliate gym in northwest Georgia’s largest city — 60 miles away from her then-home.
“She does use CrossFit as a prop, and she’s tried to use CrossFit Rome in that way,” said Andy Calvert, a 29-year-old photographer from Rome who works out at the same CrossFit gym as Greene. “But I can say I don’t think a lot of people at our gym would stand up for her or take up for her.”
Calvert, who voted for Cowan, has attended CrossFit Rome at least five times a week for years. Greene started attending the gym about two months before her election last year, he said. She usually turned up for the 6:30 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. classes, he said, and they worked out alongside each other and made polite conversation — but never discussed politics. CrossFit Rome did not respond to a request for comment.
CrossFit Rome mainly attracts an older crowd, he said, lots of people with families who are not super obsessed with fitness but come for a workout and the community.
“I don’t really like her, but she’s impressive,” Calvert said of Greene, explaining that she lifts more and goes harder than most “She is an anomaly at our gym.”
But Greene’s image as a hardcore, tough CrossFit competitor helped her with voters, he said. Once she won, her appearances at CrossFit Rome became less regular, Calvert said. “She was trying to use things like CrossFit Rome to say she is around, but over the past couple of months… she just wasn’t showing up that much,” Calvert said. “We all predicted it: She’s just going to disappear.”
Since last summer, corporate CrossFit has distanced itself quietly from a series of affiliate owners.
Dave Castro, the director of the CrossFit Games who worked closely with Glassman and briefly led the company last summer, reposted a Fox News interview with a Buffalo, New York, gym owner who defied coronavirus social distancing orders and then ripped up the $15,000 fine his gym had received for a protest he held there.
“They picked a fight with a Marine and a whole bunch of patriots,” the gym owner said in an interview with WBEN, a local radio station. CrossFit ended the gym owner’s affiliation after he called a customer a “filthy, foreign, third-world piece of shit.”
“I absolutely wrote that email and sent it to what I thought was a scammer,” he later told WBEN.
Castro quietly deleted his post of the interview and offered no public explanation for his prior support of the gym owner.
The company also moved quickly against Dawn Bancroft, a former Pennsylvania affiliate owner and Capitol insurrectionist. Bancroft posted videos of herself storming into the Capitol and saying she planned to assassinate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Her affiliation with CrossFit was terminated after she was arrested for violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
One Crossfit affiliate owner said they did not receive any communications from headquarters about Castro, the Buffalo gym owner, or Bancroft. The owner said they were frustrated that they had to learn about Bancroft’s involvement in the insurrection and her termination from the Morning Chalk Up.
“It’s ridiculous that it took them this long to say something,” Royse, the former affiliate gym owner, told BuzzFeed News, pointing to the contrast between the gym’s responses to Greene and Bancroft. “It’s like we won’t stand by you and we’ll separate from you if you get caught, but if you keep it on the down-low, we’ve got your back.”
After the racist scandal involving its former CEO, CrossFit announced a series of corrective measures, including naming the first members of its Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Council in early February.
One diversity council member and affiliate gym owner, Athena Perez, posted a video at the Million MAGA March on Nov. 14 on Facebook and said the results declaring President Biden the winner were “contested.” Perez told BuzzFeed News that she was grateful for “the ability to assemble peaceably to voice an opinion no matter what side of the house you’re on.”
In another Facebook post on Feb. 19, CrossFit Games announced that it was implementing an inclusive, all-gender leaderboard that was created by the OUT Foundation in 2018 for the CrossFit Open competition. The comment section on the post contains several anti-trans and anti-gay comments.
“This thread is totally proof as to why the new DEI Council will be SO important,” Dillon King, another diversity council member, wrote on Facebook in reply. King did not respond for comment.
One DEI council member who spoke with BuzzFeed News and asked to remain anonymous said they have been frustrated by Greene’s spouting of racist and bigoted comments as the most high-profile unofficial CrossFit supporter. “It’s unfortunate to have a representative of CrossFit at the highest level of government that maybe doesn’t promote those specific values,” they said. “We come here to have an escape from this bullshit.” ●
Correction: The OUT Foundation created the all-gender leader board for the CrossFit Open. An earlier version of this post misattributed its creation.