The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Reps. Greene, Gaetz push Trump’s grievances, ‘America First’ message at Florida rally

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) held a rally in the Villages, a retirement community in Florida, on May 7. (Video: AP)
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Two Republican members of Congress who have been among the most outspoken supporters of former president Donald Trump sought to carry the torch for his “America First” movement, holding a rally in central Florida on Friday night where they mocked Democrats — and some fellow Republicans — and vowed that Trump’s influence on the GOP is here to stay.

“ ‘America First’ isn’t going away. We’re going on tour!” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) declared, promising the event would be the first of similar rallies across the country. He teased appearances by Trump at those future events, describing the former president as the “undisputed leader” of the Republican Party.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) co-headlined the rally at the Villages, a retirement community northwest of Orlando for adults 55 and older where Trump enjoyed strong support and where heated golf cart parades and protests have periodically broken out.

Greene opened the rally by perpetuating Trump’s baseless claim that the presidential election was stolen — and found a willing audience.

“Tell me who’s your president?!” Greene called to the crowd upon taking the stage.

“Donald Trump!” they shouted back without hesitation.

For Republicans, fealty to Trump’s election falsehood becomes defining loyalty test

Much like Trump had done, Greene and Gaetz cast themselves as Washington outsiders who could better relate to “proud American patriots” like the ones assembled in the audience. They accused the media of being “fake news” and mocked Democrats’ “wokeness” — but also blasted “Republicans in Name Only” who dared to go against Trump and his agenda.

“If Liz Cheney could even find Wyoming on a map and get there, she would find a lot of very angry cowboys,” Gaetz said, referring to the Wyoming congresswoman who voted to impeach Trump and is now at risk of being overthrown from her No. 3 leadership spot in the GOP.

“It’s the establishment against the rest of us,” Gaetz added.

Greene said she had never wanted to be a member of Congress — “a dirty rotten job, I’ll tell you that much” — until she saw Trump run for president “and I liked what he had to say.” She suggested she had the time to launch “America First” rallies because she had been stripped of her House committee assignments for her past extremist remarks and support of the QAnon ideology that has radicalized its followers.

“They decided they didn’t like me over a few things they didn’t like on Facebook some years back,” Greene said dismissively Friday, referring to past social media activity in which she had suggested some mass shootings were staged and supported assassinating some Democrats.

Greene boasted of tactics she had used to obstruct Democratic legislation and decried the fencing and other security measures surrounding the U.S. Capitol, falsely describing them as a sign Democrats didn’t want the public to access the building to observe the bills they were passing. She made no mention of the real reason for the extra security and fencing, which went up after a pro-Trump mob overran the Capitol on Jan. 6 in a violent short-lived insurrection that left five people dead.

Greene also called for President Biden to be impeached, but did not specify why beyond alluding to false claims about Biden’s son Hunter, and name-dropped other Democratic members of Congress with whom she has clashed, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Reps. Cori Bush (Mo.), Marie Newman (Ill.) and Maxine Waters (Calif.).

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) first got involved in politics a decade ago. It didn't take him long to find stardom in the Republican Party. (Video: Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

At one point in the rally, Gaetz, who is under federal investigation for sex-trafficking and other allegations, tried to make light of the accusations by saying the media would probably bill the rally in Florida as: “Matt Gaetz has wild party surrounded by beautiful women in the Villages.” (Gaetz has not been charged with any crimes and has denied the accusations against him.)

Gaetz also derided Twitter and Facebook as “Internet hall monitors out in Silicon Valley,” condemning the Facebook Oversight Board’s decision this week to keep Trump banned from the platform. Separately, he rallied the crowd around their support for the Second Amendment, saying it was not about hunting or sport.

“We have a right to bear arms in this country and we will use it!” Gaetz declared. “The Second Amendment … is about maintaining within the citizenry the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the tyrannical government. People may not like that. It might not be politically correct. But that is the truth.”

The hour-long rally ended with a call for those who supported Trump to “not wave the flag of surrender,” even though Trump had lost the White House and Republicans had lost control of the House and Senate.

“This is not a movement for the timid or the tired. This is a movement about winning — winning so much that we get tired of it,” Gaetz shouted. “After all, isn’t that what we were promised?”

This story has been updated to include Green’s allusions to false claims about Biden’s son Hunter.

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