Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks to members of the media on Capitol Hill, Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
For more than three years, QAnon followers have been waiting for the Storm, the moment when high-profile lawmakers and other elites would be made to answer for their crimes of child sex trafficking.On Tuesday it sure seemed like the Storm had arrived, when the New York Times broke a bombshell story that Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, 38, was being investigated by the Department of Justice for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him.
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But in the hours after the news broke, QAnon followers didn’t celebrate. Instead, they frantically scrambled to explain why he couldn’t possibly have done what he’s accused of doing.“Gaetz is working WITH FBI to catch an extortion racket,” a member of one prominent QAnon Telegram channel wrote. “The deep state media is using Matt Gaetz to distract us from the recent Ghislaine Maxwell drops and information,” a member of a different Telegram QAnon channel wrote.Another user said the story was a smear campaign designed to undermine Gaetz’s ambitions for a possible 2024 presidential ticket with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: “Gaetz and DeSantis are 2024 President material. Might be why DOJ is trynna target him.”For three and a half years, QAnon followers have been waiting for a child sex-trafficking scandal involving high-profile lawmakers to be uncovered, and the alleged existence of a vast ring of elite child abusers lies at the center of the QAnon belief system. But QAnon’s unhinged fantasies were based on Democratic and liberal Hollywood elites orchestrating a global child sex trafficking ring—not on allegations that an ultra-conservative MAGA Republican and staunch ally of QAnon messiah Donald Trump was having sex with a teenager and paying for her travels.Gaetz, a regular commentator on Fox News, defended Trump in the wake of his election loss last November and was one of the loudest voices on Capitol Hill claiming the election was stolen—a conspiracy that first gained traction among QAnon devotees.
But even then, Gaetz was being investigated for his relationship with the teenager, according to the New York Times, which reported the investigation was opened by the DOJ in the dying days of the Trump presidency under former Attorney General Bill Barr.Details of the alleged relationship between Gaetz and the 17-year-old are limited, but the Times reported that it happened about two years ago and during that time the couple traveled across state lines, which could breach sex trafficking laws.The Times reports that the allegations against Gaetz stem from an investigation of a close political ally in Florida, Joel Greenberg, a former Seminole County tax collector who’s been charged with—among other things—“recruiting” and “soliciting” a teenage girl between 14 and 17 for sex for multiple months in 2017 in exchange for favors. Greenberg’s also been accused of creating fake IDs and making up child sex trafficking allegations against a political opponent.Gaetz has strenuously denied the allegations, first on Twitter and then in an interview on Fox News that host Tucker Carlson said was one of the “weirdest interviews” he’d ever done.
Gaetz is claiming the whole thing is an attempted extortion operation conducted by a former DOJ official named David McGee. Gaetz said his father was contacted via text on March 16 by McGee, who was seeking $25 million to keep quiet about the sex trafficking allegations.
McGee denied the allegations in an interview Tuesday night with the Daily Beast, saying Gaetz’s claim is “a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that Matt Gaetz is apparently about to be indicted for sex trafficking underage girls.”But for QAnon, Gaetz’s explanation made perfect sense. “This kind of setup or smear campaign is consistent with evil,” wrote one member of the QAnon message board GreatAwakening.win. “The [deep state] will try to destroy all their opponents in any way possible. See ALL the FALSE accusations levied against the GOAT — DJT. Evil accuses good of what they themselves do.”When a poster on the same thread asked why Gaetz was being accused of this crime, another wrote: “He’s white and a male and supported Trump, duh.”