Who is George Santos, really?

Editorial Cartoon by Paul Berge

The story of George Santos has evolved more in the past month since it first exploded on the pages of the New York Times, more than anyone — including Santos himself — could have imagined. The 34-year-old made history as the first openly gay Republican candidate elected to the House and has fast become the most famous, or notorious. The fact of Santos’s historic election has been all but forgotten in the waves of other revelations about the new congressman, sworn-in January 7 after Kevin McCarthy was elected Speaker on the 15th ballot with Santos’s help.

The early reveal that Santos lied about having worked at two major Wall Street firms, Goldman Sachs and Citi Group, and had also lied about his college degrees (he has none) has been followed by questions about his sketchy finances.  

Yet McCarthy appointed Santos to two committees January 17. And while McCarthy has answered media questions about Santos by saying he always had apprehension about Santos’s resume, McCarthy has also said in America people are innocent until proven guilty, and the voters of Santos’s district in New York voted for him overwhelmingly. 

Two New York House members, Ritchie Torres, the first out Black Latinx member of Congress, and newly elected Daniel Goldman, who worked on the Trump impeachments, have asked for ethics investigations into Santos. And on January 17, Torres tweeted, “I am partnering with Rep. Dan Goldman to send a letter to Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Republican Leadership, asking who knew what when about the web of lies surrounding George Santos. The public has a right to know what House Republican leaders knew about Mr. Santos.” 

Torres posted a screenshot of the two-page letter. The duo had previously hand-delivered a letter of ethics intent to Santos’s office in front of media.

On January 17, Goldman said to MSNBC about McCarthy, “He has yet to address exactly what lies he knew. And the more he goes on refusing to address this, it leads any logical, rational person to infer that he knew a lot more than he is letting on, and that he may have absolutely been complicit in Santos’ web of deception.” 

Other news outlets, like the Hill Reporter, have alleged that Santos once posed as an aide to McCarthy to fund-raise. In another story, the New York Times reported last week that “Santos’s lies were known to some well-connected Republicans” and that “George Santos inspired no shortage of suspicion during his 2022 campaign, including in the upper echelons of his own party, yet many Republicans looked the other way.”

Part of the alleged deception by Santos includes his seeming to have used alternate identities in the past. Santos, whose mother, a Brazilian national, has the last name Devolder, has used that name for his finance company and as part of his own name. The New York Times revealed that Santos had also previously posed as “Anthony Devolder,” and under that name had, in 2019, the year before he first ran for Congress, urged transgender voters to join the GOP at an LGBTQ event. 

According to a clip posted on Twitter, Santos, using a version of his full name, George Anthony Devolder Santos, introduced himself: “My name is Anthony Devolder.” Santos then said he was a New Yorker who recently formed a group, United for Trump. The March 2019 event was held by the conservative Walk Away Foundation, which urges Democrats to leave their party and become Republicans.

In the clip, Santos asks conservative trans YouTube star, Blair White, how she, as a trans woman, “can help educate other trans people from not having to follow the narrative that the media and the Democrats put forward.”

Santos is compelling and convincing in the clip and gets cheers for both his group and his question. But why the seeming pseudonym?

The Times notes, “Former friends, roommates and colleagues of Mr. Santos have previously told The Times that Mr. 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 Mr. Santos said was his prime source of income, the Devolder Organization, that used combinations of his first, middle and last names.”

In the video, Santos also refers to Brandon Straka, a gay former hair stylist who was the organizer of the event and founder of the Walk Away Foundation, as “an idol,” which elicits cheers from the crowd. But on January 24, 2022, Straka was among the first people sentenced in the January 6 attack on the Capitol. 

At Straka’s sentencing, Washington District Court Judge and Trump-appointee Dabney Friedrich said, “The thing that’s hard to understand is that he started this movement, the Walk Away movement… with the mission to bring together all walks of life to have civil discourse and to listen to one another and to not be violent.” 

Friedrich said, “And his actions that day are so inconsistent with that,” adding that it was “deeply troubling” that Straka used his social media accounts to defend the January 6 attack.

Friedrich added, “[Straka] still persists in this idea that it is okay to storm the Capitol to contest an election, and that’s not what we do in this country. People who do that are not patriots.”

That Santos is increasingly aligned with far-right extremists in the party is not new. Santos has supported Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law and repeated GOP talking points about Democrats “grooming” children to be LGBTQ. In a Facebook post from April 2022, Santos says, “As a gay man, I stand proudly behind not teaching our children sex or sexual orientation.” 

Throughout the House vote for Speaker, Santos was seen sitting with and talking to Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the furthest right members of the GOP who is also outspokenly anti-LGBTQ. 

Santos has already signalled a move to the right, and last week appeared on disgraced former Trump aide Steve Bannon’s show. Santos has also been befriended by Matt Gaetz, another far-right member of the Freedom Caucus who has said Santos “will have to go through the congressional ethics process,” but shouldn’t be “subject to shunning” by his fellow members of Congress. 

“George Santos represents over 700,000 people in New York,” Gaetz told CNN’s Michael Smerconish. “And whether people like that or not, those people deserve to have members of Congress collaborating with the person who serves them.” 

Santos has said repeatedly that he will not resign and there is no recall procedure in New York.