WASHINGTON — After a private meeting Wednesday night of the House Republican conference meant to hold together an increasingly divided party, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., defended controversial freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. But as he lauded Greene’s apology to Republicans for her history of outrageous rhetoric on social media, McCarthy also claimed that the extremist ideology she supports was foreign to him.

“I think it would be helpful if you could hear exactly what she told all of us — denouncing Q-on, I don’t know if I say it right, I don’t even know what it is,” said McCarthy, referring to QAnon, a radicalized movement based on false claims that the FBI has deemed a domestic terrorism threat.

McCarthy’s comment set off immediate backlash, with critics pointing out that the minority leader has addressed QAnon before in TV interviews and at news conferences.

“He has said QAnon before. He knows full well what QAnon is,” MSNBC’s Brian Williams said Wednesday night.

On CNN, Chris Cuomo noted that QAnon played a major role in the attempted insurrection in the Capitol last month.

“You should just remind him next time you see him: Remember all those signs that the people were holding up as they savagely attacked our Capitol? Remember it said QAnon? That’s QAnon,” said Cuomo Wednesday night after showing a clip of McCarthy’s comments

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A spokeswoman for McCarthy did not immediately respond to a message from The Washington Post early on Thursday.

McCarthy’s response came after he chose not to revoke Greene’s committee roles as a rebuke for her comments online that encouraged political violence and pushed anti-Semitic falsehoods. Greene has falsely claimed the California wildfires were caused by lasers in space owned by a coterie of Jewish bankers and that both the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand and the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., were examples of a “false flag” operation.

Greene has not publicly denounced QAnon. She has also not publicly apologized for her posts on social media and recently maintained on Twitter that she “will never apologize.”

Democrats plan to hold a House vote on Thursday to remove the representative from her committee assignments.

Despite McCarthy claiming ignorance of QAnon, he has referenced it in past interviews. In an Aug. 20 interview with Fox News’s Shannon Bream, McCarthy condemned the extremist ideology.

“Let me be very clear, there is no place for QAnon in the Republican Party. I do not support it,” he said.

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During a news conference in November, a reporter asked McCarthy if he had concerns about new members like Greene and Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., who have supported QAnon, potentially creating controversy for the House GOP. The House minority leader responded that both representatives “denounced Q-on,” mispronouncing QAnon.

QAnon played a central role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by radicalizing many of the rioters, The Post reported. Many of the people who stormed the Capitol had clothing and flags promoting QAnon.

In response to McCarthy’s comments and his decision not to censure Greene, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the minority leader a “coward” for ignoring calls from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other prominent party members to sideline the Georgia representative.

“As No 2. Senate Republican John Thune warned Tuesday, McCarthy has chosen to make House Republicans ‘the party of conspiracy theories and QAnon’ and Rep. Greene is in the driver’s seat,” Pelosi said in a statement.