THE VILLAGES— Supporters of Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene descended on the Brownwood Hotel and Spa in The Villages, Florida, on Friday night to hear two of the most controversial Republican members of Congress speak—and to presumably find some solace in the fact that even though Donald Trump is out of the White House, his two most zealous disciples are still determined to spread the MAGA gospel.
Ahead of the event, some supporters were turned away after the venue reached capacity. Outside, near a side entrance to the hotel, a group of six people decked out in Make America Great Again regalia chanted “USA! USA!” and “All Lives Matter! All Lives Matter!” They followed up by shouting, “Stop the steal! Stop the steal!”
Inside, a trio of police officers turned away latecomers trying to enter a ballroom where a standing-room-only crowd of about 1,000 people arrived almost an hour earlier to hear Gaetz and Greene speak.
Nancy Formisano, a snow-haired 73-year-old wearing a tag that read “The Villages for Trump VIP member,” held a red placard with Greene’s name near the rear of the ballroom. “It only holds 400 people,” the maskless Trumper told The Daily Beast. “But they crammed in as many as they could. I’m just so glad so many people showed up.”
At a time when Gaetz and Greene are arguably the most controversial Republican members of Congress, who have picked up right where the former president left off, it made sense for the hard-right Dynamic Duo to kick off their America First tour in The Villages. Located in Sumter County, the 55-and-older community is a must-stop for Republican politicians during campaign season. The overwhelming majority of The Villages’ 132,000 residents are white, conservative voters. In recent years, they have become rabid supporters of the 45th President of the United States. Several cars flying Trump flags cruised through the hotel’s parking lot during the event Friday.
Formisano and other fellow Villagers who spoke to The Daily Beast believed Gaetz and Greene represent the future of the Grand Old Party even as both of them navigate scandals that would normally have derailed their aspirations for more political star power.
“If they had any kind of proof they would have arrested him already and he would be in jail,” Formisano said of Gaetz. “All Democrats do is throw mud at the wall and hope it sticks. They did it to Trump. They are doing it to Matt. They do it to everybody that comes against them.”
Formisano felt the same way about Greene, the QAnon-friendly congresswoman known for pushing bizarre conspiracy theories and harassing at least one high school shooting survivor.
“I hope she stays in [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s face,” Formisano said. “We are going to vote a whole lot more like her in the next election.”
Nearby, a heavyset, bald 58-year-old named Marty Krause echoed Formisano’s assessment of Gaetz and Greene. “Gaetz is a fighter,” Krause said. “He tells the truth. He tells it like it is. And he doesn’t back down. Allegations are just allegations. In this country, everybody is innocent until proven guilty. One day, I hope he runs for president.”
He said he also likes Greene a lot. “I think she is a force to be reckoned with as well,” Krause said. “She’s got a lot of guts. She has a lot of fight in her. To me, her and Gaetz want an even keel. They want to bring balance.”
Gaetz has been in full damage-control mode ever since news broke last month that he’s under scrutiny by federal investigators for his alleged involvement in a sex ring that involved a 17-year-old girl. The probe initially focused on Joel Greenberg, a disgraced former Seminole County tax official who was criminally charged in a 33-count indictment that includes stalking and sex trafficking. Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing and taken a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook, portraying the allegations against him as a “Deep State” smear campaign.
Greene, who won a congressional seat from Georgia by embracing the QAnon conspiracy theory, has made her presence known on Capitol Hill by parroting Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, hanging up a poster attacking transgendered individuals, and making plans for a brazenly nativist and xenophobic caucus to push Trump’s “America First” agenda and “Anglo-Saxon political traditions.”
In February, 230 Democratic house representatives and 11 Republicans voted to strip Greene of her two committee assignments following media reports detailing her abrasive social-media history, including condoning the execution of prominent Democrats such as liking a comment in January 2019 that suggested a “bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from office. A total of 199 Republican lawmakers still voted against the measure, however.
Inside the ballroom, Gaetz and Greene used the controversies swirling around them to gas up the MAGA base standing shoulder-to-shoulder, hanging on their every word. They hit all the notes known to rile up conservatives, from the biased liberal media to illegal immigration to the Deep State to Big Tech. The crowd cheered raucously throughout the rally.
“We need a culture of free speech in America,” Gaetz groused. “Can you believe the Facebook oversight board took President Trump off their platform? But the internet hall monitors out of Silicon Valley cannot cancel this rally or this movement or this tour or this congressman.”
Less than six months after the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot sent shockwaves through the country, the Florida lawmaker apparently saw nothing wrong with invoking the same incendiary rhetoric that resulted in the first insurrection, even going so far as to suggest another one might be the only way to keep America from falling victim to the so-called deep state. “We have the right to bear arms in this country and we better use it,” Gaetz snarled. “The Second Amendment is about maintaining with the citizenry the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against a tyrannical government, if necessary. People may not like that. People may think it is politically incorrect, but it is the truth.”
Greene, dressed in a sleeveless black dress and pearls, told the crowd that the establishment in Washington, D.C., and the mainstream media had tried to muzzle her. “They thought they could shame me,” Greene said. “The media, all they do is lie. They only take a little piece they want you to know and twist it. We want to protect freedom of the press. But the media does it to themselves. They don’t realize that y’all are sick of it.”
As the pair wrapped up their hard-right Sonny and Cher routine, rally goers leaving the hotel acted as if they had just attended a moral majority religious service where they were baptized in liberal tears.
Sheri Burns, a Villager with an American flag draped around her back and a cowboy hat emblazoned with the phrase “America First,” said the rally was everything she expected. “It was uplifting,” she said. “It gave me hope. Republicans are taking over in 2022.”