There are increasing signs that Matt Gaetz’s future prospects aren’t great.
The GOP congressman’s ex-girlfriend is cooperating with the feds, his former “wingman,” the one who accused him of sex trafficking a minor, is cooperating with the feds, and now there are stories about planes of young women in the Bahamas. Conspicuously, there’s no phalanx of top Republicans rushing to surround Gaetz. The only colleague seemingly stoked to be at his side is someone who is herself a pariah in the party who can’t go a week without doing a big racist.
Maybe the Damocles sword hanging over his head is starting to make him crack. Maybe he’s just always been dangerous. Either way, Gaetz has decided to go full-bore with the accelerationism, telling adoring fans in a speech about Silicon Valley boogeymen they should prepare for a violent confrontation with the government.
A video shared by Newsweek on Friday purported to exonerate Gaetz of calling on supporters to raise arms against Facebook and YouTube. A shorter clip had gone viral the night earlier, in which he’s heard railing against the tech industry, before seeming to suggest that an armed solution might be the ticket.
“Silicon Valley can’t cancel this movement, or this rally, or this congressman,” he said, followed immediately by: “We have a Second Amendment in this country, and I think we have an obligation to use it.”
But the Newsweek clip shows that, after pausing eight seconds for applause, Gaetz had other things to say:
“The Second Amendment—this is a little history lesson for all the fake news media—the Second Amendment is not about hunting, it’s not about sports shooting. The Second Amendment is about maintaining within the citizenry the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the tyrannical government if necessary.”
“I hope it never does,” he then says, as if reading a legal disclaimer, “but it sure is important to recognize the founding principles of this nation, and to make sure that they are fully understood.”
Newsweek, whose story was quoted and shared by Gaetz, accused a Twitter user of having “edited the speech to make it look like Gaetz was calling on people to shoot Silicon Valley employees,” calling the clip “misleading,” and arguing that Gaetz had only urged the crowd to utilize free speech. “We have a First Amendment right to speak and assemble and we better use it,” the longer video shows him saying, right before the clip picks up with “Silicon Valley” trying to cancel him and his “movement.” His remark about people being obligated to take up arms immediately follows.
The missing context here is that Gaetz has frequently accused Facebook, Twitter, and other tech giants of violating the First Amendment—namely to punish conservatives—by removing content and banning accounts they deem in violation of site policies. He rails against “the hall monitors of Silicon Valley,” whom he insists are suppressing the civil rights of his followers.
This is the “tyranny” on trial before Gaetz’s crowd and the pretext for giving “armed rebellion” a wink and nod to begin with.
The First Amendment does not guarantee universal free speech—only that the government, specifically, won’t pass laws to abridge it. Gaetz is happy to conflate the two on the internet, on the news, and before crowds of hollering people who, yes, might easily boil his messages down to “we might need guns to stop Facebook.”