NEW YORK — Months before beginning his first, and unsuccessful, bid for Congress, George Santos appeared at an event that urged members of the LGBTQ community to leave the Democratic Party and embrace Republicans and Donald Trump, who was president at the time.
“My name is Anthony Devolder,” he said, using a version of his full name, George Anthony Devolder Santos. Santos, who is gay, described himself as a New Yorker who recently formed a group, United for Trump, according to a newly surfaced video clip of the March 2019 event held by the conservative Walk Away foundation.
He then addressed a conservative transgender YouTube star, asking her how she “can help educate other trans people from not having to follow the narrative that the media and the Democrats put forward.”
The clip, posted on Twitter on Friday, offers new insight into Santos’ early embrace of Trump and the right-wing movement that the former president spawned, as Santos made his first ventures into public political life.
Santos has attracted the attention of federal, state and local investigators after The New York Times reported last month that he had omitted key details about his business on required candidate financial disclosures, and based his successful run for Congress in New York on a web of fabrications about his real estate holdings, academic degrees and a successful Wall Street career.
Santos ultimately acknowledged having misled voters about his education and work history, maintaining that, at worst, he was guilty of embellishing his résumé. He was sworn in last weekend, even as colleagues in Congress, including several Republican House members, have called for his resignation.
Former friends, roommates and colleagues of Santos have previously told the Times that Santos often used variations of his full name in different contexts. The Times located social media profiles, GoFundMe efforts and business forays, including the company that Santos said was his prime source of income, the Devolder Organization, that used combinations of his first, middle and last names.
At the time of the Walk Away event, Santos was apparently using the name George Devolder in professional capacities. He was then working as a vice president at LinkBridge Investors, a company that held conferences to connect potential investors and funds. A solicitation for one such conference, made on March 4, 2019, uses the name George Devolder.
Yet at Republican events, Santos had been identifying differently. In late March, around the time of the Walk Away event, Santos attended a dinner held by the Queens Village Republican Club, where a photo that includes him is captioned with “Anthony Devolder.” That dinner was also attended by Vickie Paladino, now an outspoken far-right Republican on the New York City Council.
Paladino, who has attracted attention for staunchly opposing vaccine mandates and for accusing fellow City Council members of supporting “child grooming and sexualization,” has repeatedly called Santos a friend. But in a statement last month, she expressed disappointment with “the lies he told his constituents and his friends.”
The keynote speaker at the Queens Village dinner was Corey Lewandowski, a former campaign manager and political adviser to Trump. But another guest speaker was Brandon Straka, a former hair stylist who created the Walk Away Foundation, a group that seeks to persuade Democratic voters to leave the party.
In the video of the Walk Away event, Santos calls Straka — who would later plead guilty to charges related to his being at the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack and admitted to urging a crowd to take a riot shield away from a police officer — “an idol.”
The Walk Away event had prompted an outcry before Santos attended. It was initially scheduled to be held at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in Manhattan, but after an uproar and threats of protest, the center canceled. The event was later held elsewhere.
Santos boasted on the campaign trail of being an openly gay Republican, but he has embraced right-wing policies that many LGBTQ activists have decried as discriminatory.
In a video posted to Facebook in April 2022, Santos voiced support for a Florida law that prohibited teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in some elementary school grades, a law that opponents have called the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Santos, in a caption for the video, accused Democrats of wanting to “groom our kids,” repeating a conservative talking point that associates any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity with children to sexual abuse.
“Hey, everyone,” Santos said at the beginning of the video. “George Santos here.”
“As a gay man, I stand proudly behind not teaching our children sex or sexual orientation,” Santos said.
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