Never one to hold his tongue or shy from controversy, Fort Walton Beach resident and U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz has found himself once again awash in a sea of criticism.


This week as the state remembers the one-year anniversary of the deaths of 17 people killed in a shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School, Gaetz remains under fire for trying to have a parent of one of the victims tossed out of a recent House Judiciary Committee meeting.

The congressman on Monday remained unapologetic and said he has no plans to speak to Manuel Oliver, father of Parkland victim Joaquin Oliver.

Oliver was in the audience for the Feb. 6 Judicial Committee meeting and leapt to his feet and shouted when Gaetz introduced illegal immigration and construction of a border wall into a discussion about gun violence.

“I wanted to highlight the fact that there are victims of gun violence who would be in a better position today if we did not have illegal immigrants using guns to kill people,” he explained to committee members.

Oliver became visibly upset when Gaetz commented that HR 8, a bill designed to strengthen background checks on firearm purchases, would not protect people subjected to violent crime by illegal immigrants as well as a wall would.

After an initial interruption, Gaetz asked U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, if there was a procedure by which disruptive visitors could be removed.

Oliver continued being disruptive, then spoke out again during a lengthy discussion of protocol for removing guests.

“That’s three interruptions of my time by the same individual and the chairman is not using his discretion to remove that person,” Gaetz said at one point, before finally being allowed to finish his three-minute dissertation.

Oliver would later tell a reporter for a South Florida television station that he believed Gaetz to be out of line by dragging talk of a border wall and criminal immigrants into a discussion about gun violence.

He said his son had been shot “by an American dude” who had legal access to an assault weapon and decided to go to a school and shoot people randomly.

“That should be the main thing we’re talking about,” Oliver was quoted as saying. “This guy is pretending to sell his project in a totally out of context conversation.”

Gaetz said he did not know Oliver before the Judiciary Committee meeting or know that he was the parent of a victim of the Parkland shooting.

“My reaction wasn’t based on who he was, it was based on what he was doing,” he said.

Gaetz said he called out Oliver’s behavior because he saw 24-year-old woman who had just shared the story of her violent rape being frightened by the frequent outbursts.

“This guy was very large, and he was less than 10 feet behind her and he was standing up screaming three times, and I could tell from her body language each time she was becoming frightened,” he said.

“I understand the sympathy for Parkland parents, but many, many people come to Congress having experienced tragedy and loss, and even the loss of loved ones, and we don’t really just let people stand up in the audience and begin screaming three different times over the backs of rape survivors without having some sense of decorum,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz’s explanation, versions of which have been widely circulated, seemed to have bought him little sympathy. Hundreds have taken to social media to criticize him and question the wisdom of the Florida voters who elected him.

“Shame on him! And on all the people who elected him. Get him out!” one person tweeted.

“Yes, anyone that elected him should be ashamed,” another responded.

Oliver himself took to social media with a “grassroots fundraiser” at the website that as of Tuesday had raised more than $42,000 to provide to a Gaetz opponent in 2020.

“You know what, you’re gonna leave the room, and you’re gonna leave the seat,” Oliver said on a Twitter video in which he discusses his campaign to oust Gaetz.

Gaetz shrugged off the latest round of insults.

“Thousands of things are said about me everyday on Twitter. I certainly have seen a high volume of both positive and negative things said about me. I’ve been criticized on social media one way or another for eight years, so it really doesn’t phase me any more,” he said.

Florida’s First District congressman has been called out before for comments or actions that were viewed as insensitive.

In 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges brought for his shooting and killing Trayvon Martin, and calls came for tweaks to the Stand Your Ground law, Gaetz garnered negative publicity for saying he didn’t want to change “one damn comma” of the law.

In 2015, some labeled Gaetz a rascist when, in a Twitter comment on a lawsuit Democrats in the Florida Senate filed against the state House, he offered a critique of two African American senators' grammar skills.

“The lawsuit reads like it was researched and drafted by Sen Joyner ... and spell checked by Sen Bullard,” Gaetz tweeted.

In 2016, he created a local uproar when he sided with Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley in calling the group Black Lives Matters a terrorist organization. County Democrats and the local chapter of the NAACP both denounced the statements.

Democratic State Committeeman John Whitley said Gaetz had joined Ashley in “missing the point of BLM.”

“The vast percentage of (Black Lives Matter) protesters are peaceful, crying out to people of all races that they are hurting and want help,” Whitley said.

In 2018, Gaetz again came under fire when he invited Charles Johnson, who is described as a neo-Nazi sympathizer and Holocaust denier, to be his guest at the State of the Union address.

“It is an insult to the memories of those killed in the Holocaust, their families, and the Jewish community to bring to the State of the Union a Holocaust denier,” Sheri Zvi, the Florida regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a guest column that appeared in a Pensacola publication after the event.

And in October 2018, Gaetz again made himself a social media target when he tweeted out a photo of what he proposed to be immigrant caravan organizers paying people to migrate to the United States.

“Footage in Honduras giving cash 2 women & children 2 join the caravan & storm the US border @ election time. Soros? US-backed NGOs? Time to investigate the source!,” the tweet said.

When the observation was made in a recent interview that he’d made some controversial statements in the past, Gaetz chuckled and said “that’s an understatement.”

He said he’s not really contemplating reining himself in either.

“I’m open Gaetz. I am who I am,” he said. “Whenever folks point to the high volume of criticism I receive on social media, I tend to redirect them to the high volume of votes I get from my constituents at election time.

"Getting two-thirds of the vote the last three times my name has been on the ballot seems to validate the quality of the representation I provide the district.”


“These are senseless acts, and we are all on the same page to try to make them less likely. There are disagreements as to how to make gun violence less likely.”

— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz)February 8, 2019