Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican under federal investigation for alleged sex trafficking, suggested Thursday that followers should use their Second Amendment rights directly after railing against social media companies that silence conservatives.
“We have a First Amendment right to speak and assemble, and we better use it. The internet’s hall monitors out in Silicon Valley, they think they can suppress us, discourage us,” he said at a rally in Dalton, Georgia, co-hosted by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). “Well, you know what? Silicon Valley can’t cancel this movement, or this rally, or this congressman.”
“We have a Second Amendment in this country, and I think we have an obligation to use it,” Gaetz continued, saying that the Second Amendment “is about maintaining within the citizenry the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government if that becomes necessary.”
Harlan Hill, a spokesperson for Gaetz from a Washington public relations firm, said in a statement that the congressman was discussing two separate topics when he brought up the Second Amendment after his criticism of Silicon Valley. Hill noted that before Gaetz’s claims about censorship, he had mentioned the right to free speech and assembly.
“The wildly irresponsible misframing of the congressman’s comments is designed to divide America and we demand it stops,” Hill said.
Gaetz, a Donald Trump disciple and leading mouthpiece for Trump’s stolen election lies ahead of the Jan. 6 insurrection, made the comment one day after a gunman killed nine people in San Jose, in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. That shooting continues a recent spate of mass shootings across the country.
Gaetz was speaking as part of an “America First” tour with Greene that’s been characterized as a Trump rally without Trump. Trump was banned from most mainstream social media platforms earlier this year after his rhetoric inspired the Capitol riot.
Cycling through the usual far-right talking points, the two have fixated on false claims about the 2020 presidential election and railed against Big Tech, antifa, the media and RINOs, or “Republicans in name only.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who’s often given that title for speaking out against Trump, slammed Gaetz’s comments Thursday.
“This is not speech protected by the First Amendment. This is beyond yelling fire in a theater,” Kinzinger tweeted.
California Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat, also weighed in, urging House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy to remove Gaetz from the House Judiciary Committee.
Greene was stripped of her committee assignments months after taking office after past social media activity showed she’d endorsed violence against Democrats and expressed support for conspiracy theories that mass shootings were staged.
The Justice Department is investigating whether Gaetz paid women and at least one underage teen to travel across state lines for sex.
This article was updated with additional context and a statement from Gaetz’s spokesperson.