Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) kicked off the first meeting of the House Judiciary Committee last week by cordially inviting an accused murderer to lead the Pledge of Allegiance.
Under its new Republican leadership, the 118th Congress’ judiciary committee may choose to start each hearing with the pledge ― an amendment to the rules put forth by Gaetz, who said it allowed members to invite “inspirational constituents” to lead it.
The first honor went to Corey Beekman, a retired National Guard member accused of killing a man in 2019 whose case has not gone to trial.
Gaetz did not mention this aspect of his guest’s backstory. Beekman led the pledge in his military dress uniform on Feb. 1.
“It is my pleasure and distinct honor to introduce to the committee Staff Sgt. Corey Ryan Beekman, an American hero and a constituent of mine residing in Pensacola, Florida,” Gaetz said in the video still available on C-SPAN. He rolled through Beekman’s life story. Born in Holland, Michigan, Gaetz said Beekman enlisted in the Michigan Army National Guard while still in high school before serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, finally moving to Florida to be closer to family.
Beekman also allegedly shot and killed 32-year-old William Buchanan at a home in northern Michigan in April 2019, between his military service and his move down to Florida.
A 32-year-old woman, Katlin Buck, was injured in the attack, local news reported. However, UpNorthLive noted that Buck’s two children were left unharmed.
The pandemic disrupted the initially scheduled date for Beekman’s trial, and charges were subsequently dropped after Buck refused to testify against him, the Mason County Press reported.
Beekman was released in September 2020 from Mason County Jail, where he had been held since 2019, the outlet said.
Buchanan’s mother, Denita, told the Mason County Press that she believed her son went to Beekman’s house to help Buck move out, leading to the shooting and then a 90-minute standoff with police.
The Buchanan family told multiple news outlets that they were horrified to hear about Gaetz honoring Beekman.
“It was like getting a dagger stuck in our heart again,” Denita Buchanan told The Daily Beast.
But Gaetz’s office has tried to make things right. The Buchanans said they received a U.S. flag that had flown over the Capitol from Gaetz’s office, alongside a signed letter from the congressman with his condolences and an apology, which the family appreciated, The Daily Beast reported.
Gaetz told the outlet that Beekman had reached out to his office for assistance and that no one in his office thought to conduct a thorough background check on a veteran in need.
Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole felt it wasn’t too much to expect a quick internet search.
“There are certainly people much more deserving to represent our military veterans at the U.S. Capitol than Corey Beekman, a murderer,” Cole told the Mason County Press. “I am disappointed in Rep. Gaetz’s office. A simple Google search would have shown that Mr. Beekman killed a man in rural Mason County.”
The Daily Beast noted that clips of Beekman leading the Pledge of Allegiance previously posted to YouTube and Twitter by government accounts had since been taken down.