Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz Photographed With Proud Boy in "Pepe the Frog" Shirt

@samplergal1 via Twitter
Pepe the Frog is an online meme character popular with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and online fascists. The Proud Boys, meanwhile, are a far-right, semi-fascist, pro-Trump group of men who keep getting caught beating people up and outed for their ties to white supremacists. Most politicians would either run screaming from anyone wearing a Pepe T-shirt, or, better yet, tell that person to be ashamed.

But not North Florida congressman Matt Gaetz. The lawmaker, frequent Fox News guest and former InfoWars fan, represents Florida's First Congressional District way up in the Florida Panhandle, which makes it all-the-more bizarre that Gaetz showed up at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office on Friday to videotape himself yelling at cops and investigating some random trucks outside the building. It was all part of what insiders have told Politico appears to be a coordinated Republican effort to, without evidence, accuse Democrats of election-rigging.

But along the way, Gaetz — who is on Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis' "transition team" — stopped for a selfie with a dude in a Pepe T-shirt and Proud Boy hat:
This isn't exactly a new phenomenon for Gaetz. After being elected to Congress in 2017, he's spent most of his career genuflecting to Donald Trump, making statements that clearly dog-whistle to white supremacists, and involving himself with corners of the internet popular with the alt-right. He appeared on InfoWars with Alex Jones before later claiming to regret the decision. One of his staffers was caught sourcing ideas for an anti-Hillary Clinton bill from r/The_Donald, arguably the most popular Reddit thread for online Pepe fans. Earlier this year, New Times pointed out that some of the rhetoric Gaetz uses is also popular among white nationalists, a comparison that upset Gaetz so much that he whined about it on Twitter. Perhaps most infamously, Gaetz has been caught, twice, hanging out with Holocaust-denier and assumed white-supremacist Charles Johnson.

Given DeSantis' long, documented history of racist and xenophobic views, it is perhaps not surprising that the gubernatorial candidate named Gaetz to his transition team. This also possibly explains why Gaetz traveled all the way down to Broward County last weekend — but doesn't excuse the fact that, as Orlando Weekly noted on Saturday, Gaetz spent his time screaming like a nut job at various Democratic counterprotesters. He also filmed himself yelling at various poll workers and truck drivers.

The Proud Boys, a violent group led by former Vice founder turned racist-guy Gavin McInnes, spent the last few years operating in relative obscurity. But earlier this year, the Manhattan Republicans invited McInnes to speak at an event — and a group of Proud Boys was filmed beating up protesters outside. Scholars of fascism warned that the moment represented a worrying sign for American democracy, and noted that fascist movements in the past have relied on groups like the Proud Boys to commit extrajudicial violence with winking approval. More than a few historians are concerned about what might happen if the Proud Boys ingratiate themselves with the mainstream Republican Party. In addition to Gaetz, Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was also photographed this year next to a man in a Proud-Boy T-shirt.

A spokesperson for Gaetz did not respond to a message from New Times asking why Gaetz snapped a selfie with a Pepe fan.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.