Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) can’t seem to say or do a thing that doesn’t remind us all that he is currently under investigation for sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl. As recently as last month, Gaetz was among a handful of Republicans to vote against an anti-human trafficking bill. In July, Gaetz made crude comments about a teenage abortion rights activist’s body that inadvertently allowed her to fundraise over $1.5 million for abortion funds.
And as of this week, someone at Niceville High School in East Florida, notably in Gaetz’s district, thought it was a good idea for Gaetz to host an “Academy Night.” On Tuesday, Gaetz led the informational meeting and recruitment session to get high school students to enlist in military academies, which requires a nomination from a Congress member like Gaetz. The event has rightfully sparked heated backlash, particularly from the Women Against Matt Gaetz Facebook group and its 10,000 members.
In a Facebook Live video ahead of the event, Cara Marion—a mom running for Oklahoosa school board and member of the group—pointed out how “when an administrator, or anybody in the school district, is under investigation for a crime against children,” they’re “not allowed in the schools.”
“They get put on administrative leave,” Marion said. “Why would we allow Matt Gaetz, who is under federal investigation for sex trafficking of a minor, into our school district?” She added, “To put kids in a position where they are going to have to ask this person for a favor, if you will, ‘hey, can you pick me?’—what message are we sending our kids?”
Marion also told Vanity Fair that Gaetz’s in-person attendance was “very odd,” because most Congress members handle military service recruitment and interviews for Congressional nominations through their staff. “My son went through the process in Colorado in the Denver area. Never once did he meet with his congressman or senator that he interviewed with.” It sure sounds like someone was desperate to pal around with local teens!
Per Gaetz’s House website, unless the investigation ends early and he isn’t behind bars by then, he’s scheduled to host at least one other Academy Night in the coming months. The Justice Department is currently investigating Gaetz for three alleged offenses: a sexual relationship with a minor, violating federal sex trafficking laws by paying to transport the minor across state lines, and paying for sex with multiple women. There’s no shame in hiring companionship, but it’s certainly odd for Gaetz to routinely attack feminist women’s appearances—including claiming abortion rights protesters are too ugly to get pregnant and need abortions—when evidence suggests he needs to pay women to have sex with him. His “wingman” (Matt Gaetz is 40 years old) Joel Greenberg has already admitted to the trafficking allegation and is currently cooperating with investigators.
Outrage against the Gaetz-hosted event and the local school district also spread to Reddit, where one user shared an email they’d pre-written and sent to Okaloosa Schools Superintendent Marcus Chambers. “Any information he needs to give out can easily be done via email or even a Zoom call with interested students and their parents. … It seems to me that the school system should not allow someone under investigation for sex with minors anywhere near a school, if for no other reason than out of an abundance of caution.”
Democratic state Rep. Fentrice Driskell raised the question of the year regarding Gaetz’s presence at the school on Tuesday: “Would [Gaetz] even pass a background check to volunteer with the school based on the county’s own or the school district’s own criteria?” she asked Vanity Fair. To her point, the county’s school volunteer application form asks whether the applicant has any “current criminal charges now pending against” them. If Gaetz isn’t eligible to help sell cookies for a school bake sale, he probably shouldn’t be meeting with a room full of high school kids about joining military academies—which have recently reported record-high rates of sexual assault—either!
“There’s no good reason to allow this man near kids,” Driskell said. “If you would not allow even a parent of a student who had these allegations to come and volunteer at the school, there should not be a special exception made for the likes of Matt Gaetz, especially with the particular allegations that he’s being scrutinized for.”
A spokesperson for Gaetz, who’s represented by a lawyer who formerly represented sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, has since responded only as you might expect a MAGA standard-bearer to respond: “Congressman Gaetz has been met by supportive crowds in the hundreds this past week. Not a single person has accused Congressman Gaetz of wrongdoing.”
Okaloosa County Superintendent Marcus Chambers did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the controversy the event has sparked, or whether it was the school district that invited Gaetz to speak.