“Well, you know what?” he said to the crowd. “Silicon Valley can’t cancel this movement, or this rally, or this congressman.”
Seconds later, Gaetz, a prominent ally of former president Donald Trump, abruptly shifted into a defense of the Second Amendment — what some interpreted as a suggestion of what conservatives should do in response to Silicon Valley.
“We have a Second Amendment in this country, and I think we have an obligation to use it!” he said to the roars of an audience giving him a standing ovation, according to a clip of the rally.
Video posted to Twitter went viral and resulted in lawmakers slamming Gaetz’s language for inciting violence, with one again calling on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to remove the Florida congressman from the House Judiciary Committee.
But Gaetz and critics pushed back about how the clip, which had been viewed more than 2 million times as of Friday afternoon, cut short additional context that they say shows his Second Amendment comments were not directed at Silicon Valley. Gaetz allies have also pointed to how the congressman said nearly the same comments at a Florida rally earlier this month.
Harlan Hill, a spokesman for Gaetz, denounced what he called the “willful lies” stemming from the clip’s lack of context, saying in a statement to The Washington Post, “The wildly irresponsible mis-framing of the Congressman’s comments is designed to divide America and we demand it stops.” Gaetz on Friday tweeted out a Newsweek article that, he noted, “points out how some have selectively edited video to misrepresent what I said.”
The response to Gaetz’s speech comes amid allegations concerning the Florida congressman, who has positioned himself as one of the most vocal Trump Republicans in Washington. Last week, Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector for Seminole County, Fla., who is considered a key figure in the investigation of Gaetz, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of a minor and a host of other crimes. Greenberg agreeing to cooperate fully with prosecutors and testify in court in hopes of leniency for himself presents a potentially ominous development for Gaetz, as it signals prosecutors have lined up a crucial witness while continuing to investigate the Republican firebrand.
Gaetz has attracted additional headlines this year, such as when he baselessly suggested that the far-left movement antifa was to blame for the pro-Trump mob that rioted at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. When details surrounding the alleged sexual relationship became public in March, he went on Fox News in what host Tucker Carlson described as “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”
Gaetz and Greene (Ga.), another outspoken Republican, this month have sought to carry the torch for Trump’s “America First” movement with rallies in hope of assuring conservatives that the former president’s influence was not going anywhere.
But it was his comments on the Second Amendment that caught the most attention.
Beyond saying Americans "have an obligation to use it!” Gaetz said: “The Second Amendment is about maintaining, within the citizenry, the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government, if that becomes necessary.
“I hope it never does," he said, "but it sure is important to recognize the founding principles of this nation, and to make sure that they are fully understood.”
The comments surrounding Silicon Valley and the Second Amendment on Thursday were nearly identical to the ones he made at a May 7 rally with Greene at The Villages, a retirement community northwest of Orlando for adults 55 and older that overwhelmingly supported Trump. After denouncing Silicon Valley earlier this month, he was enthusiastic in talking about gun rights seconds later.
“We have a right to bear arms in this country, and we better use it!” Gaetz said earlier this month to a similarly raucous ovation.
The clip posted by actor Kevin T. Williams was shared widely and resulted in “Silicon Valley” trending into Friday. In an interview with The Post, Williams, who has appeared in shows such as “The Librarians” and “Grimm” defended posting the clip, which he said was not doctored.
“If I’m interpreting it this way, and thousands of people, millions of people on Twitter are interpreting it this way, then what are his Second Amendment followers interpreting?” Williams said Friday. “There are people out there, his followers, who will interpret this as, ‘We are going to rise up against Silicon Valley.’ ”
The clip got the attention of Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who said McCarthy needs to strip Gaetz of his post on the Judiciary Committee because of the ongoing federal investigation.
“Also, Gaetz is urging people to shoot Silicon Valley employees,” Lieu tweeted.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), a vocal GOP critic of Trump and his allies, claimed that the First Amendment rights Gaetz had talked about did not apply to the comments in the clip.
“This is not speech protected by the First Amendment,” Kinzinger tweeted. “This is beyond yelling fire in a theater.”