Column: The Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene traveling circus
Let’s say you are a Republican congressman who is under federal investigation for sex trafficking because you are suspected of taking a minor across state lines for sex, and also for possible influence trading because you once wrote legislation paving the way for your buddies to obtain lucrative licenses to grow, process and sell medical cannabis.
Or perhaps you are a Republican congresswoman whose public pronouncements are so inflammatory, obnoxious and inane that even members of your own party vote to strip you of committee assignments, leaving you with nothing but time on your hands.
What would you do?
If you are shameless attention hounds like Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, there is only one thing you can do: Team up and take your show on the road, hoping to raise some cash along the way.
Judging from news reports, rallies for the pair’s America First tour, which have taken place mostly in red states for the past two months, seem like a parody of their party’s current obsessions.
Like that famous Gary Larson cartoon about what dogs hear when people speak — “Blah, blah, Ginger” — Greene and Gaetz spew a word salad composed of a lot of blah, blah, blahs with occasional bursts of “Trump,” and right-wing trigger words like “AOC,” “Adam Schiff,” and “Liz Cheney.”
Weirdly, they also have taken to warning about the menace of communism. Not Chinese communism, which they loathe, but a homegrown, entirely imaginary form.
But as much as I loathe the politics embraced by these two, I share one concern with them. “You and I cannot let these communists shut us down and take away our First Amendment rights,” Greene announced after three Southern California venues backed out of hosting rallies for the pair.
OK, that’s not how I would have phrased it, but like them, I am discomfited that public officials in Anaheim urged the operators of the Anaheim Convention Center to cancel the event.
I groaned when I read the statement put out by Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster: “As a city we respect free speech but also have a duty to call out speech that does not reflect our city and its values.”
(“This statement is almost like a law school exam,” tweeted conservative attorney and writer David French, in which students are asked to spot “First Amendment red flags.”)
Apart from being wrongheaded, this is the exactly the kind of fuel that fringe figures like Gaetz and Greene run on.
It helps them kindle their persecution fantasies all the way to the bank — or in this case to a scaled-back event outside Riverside City Hall to “protest against communism” and a meet-and-greet event for paying supporters on the sand in Huntington Beach.
A 43-year-old Brooklyn actor-comedian named Walter Masterson had a far better approach to the pair’s gatherings. Instead of trying to muzzle them, he trolled them.
Masterson, who has made it his mission to expose the extreme right with a Borat-style approach, told me he paid $250 for the opportunity to get his photo taken with Gaetz and Greene in Huntington Beach.
“There were a few hundred people in line,” he said late Monday night. “I was in the back. I kept trying to think of something creative to say.”
You may have seen Masterson, whose video mocking opponents of critical race theory by pretending to be one of them recently went viral. Last week, he appeared at the microphone during the public comments portion of the Yorktown Heights school board in New York’s Westchester County. “The best way to end racism,” he said, “is to stop talking about it. We never talked about it in the 1950s and I mean, how great were the 1950s?”
On Saturday, he donned a flag-themed shirt and shorts and approached Gaetz and Greene as if he were overwhelmed to be finally meeting them. Naturally, the encounter was recorded on his phone.
“Oh my God, I’m so excited!” Masterson said breathlessly as he positioned himself between the pair, who were grinning with both hands in a thumbs-up position.
“Everyone thinks you’re crazy, I don’t think you’re crazy!” he said to Greene, who didn’t seem to register the insult and kept smiling, thumbs still up.
“People think you’re a pedophile, I don’t think you’re a pedophile!” he said with his arm around Gaetz, who dropped his hands and looked toward his security guard for help. The guard gently pushed Masterson away.
It is unclear when the federal investigation into Gaetz’s behavior will conclude, and of course unclear whether any charges will be filed. However, the man long considered to be his “wingman” in various escapades, former Seminole County, Fla., tax collector Joel Greenberg, pleaded guilty in May to six federal charges, including child sex-trafficking and wire fraud. Earlier this month, a judge granted Greenberg’s request for a three-month delay in sentencing, according to reports, because he is still cooperating with prosecutors. He faces 12 years in prison.
Meanwhile, despite calls for Gaetz to be stripped of his committee assignments, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) has vowed to leave his assignments untouched unless Gaetz is charged with a crime. “Matt Gaetz is the same as any American, he’s innocent until proven guilty,” McCarthy said in April, two weeks after reports first surfaced that Gaetz was under investigation.
But that also means that Gaetz continues to sit on the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department, which is investigating … you guessed it, Matt Gaetz.
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