Inside the transformation of George Santos from Anthony Devolder into a political figure


George Santos’ transformation began in 2019, the year he went from Anthony Devolder, just another New Yorker sharing political musings on social media, to a Republican congressional candidate with a compelling fictitious resume.

His unlikely rise to the House of Representatives began when he joined a group of pro-Donald Trump activists at a time when the GOP in the House had just been defeated by a blue wave in 2018. He was young, gay and Latino , and appeared on the conservative scene as activists from more diverse backgrounds were gaining more attention and becoming influencers in Republican social media circles.

The former apolitical Santos, who had mostly been posting on social media about celebrities, suddenly embraced conservative politics when he got to know grassroots Republicans at events in person and on Facebook. CNN’s KFile went through hundreds of his posts on half a dozen accounts to chronicle the pivotal transformation.

Until 2019, he did not post content with a conservative leaning and enthusiastically posted on Facebook about ordering a “One Nation, No God” T-shirt with LGBT colors in 2016. A photo shared in 2014 showing him posing with former ‘Real Housewives’ reality TV star Bethenny Frankel as an audience member on the set of her short-lived talk show. Video from the episode shows Santos looking under his chair to see if he’s won a $500 QVC gift card.

Starting in January 2019, Santos began tweeting about his political views. He has sent many who are against abortion. In others, he made negative comments about politicians, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from the Bronx, and then-Democratic Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo. Most of his posts received no likes or retweets, but that lack of engagement didn’t dissuade him from political activism and it finally paid off when he finally won political office.

That March, Santos was one of about 200 attendees at a pro-Trump rally held at Trump Tower. According to a photo from his Twitter account, Santos was holding a homemade “Gays for Trump” sign with rainbow flags. Video of the event Shows a lit Santos yelling at a lone troublemaker with a Confederate flag to “go home.”

A day later, Santos found himself mixing with local Queens Republicans at an event featuring a speech by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Also in attendance was Brandon Straka, a self-described former liberal who founded the “Walk Away” movement, a campaign Santos reportedly embraced to encourage minorities and women to leave the Democratic Party.

“We’ll have Brandon Straka in the house,” Santos said in a video blog ahead of the event. “Hashtags go away. Yes, you heard me, get out.

Pictures and videos show Santos with enthusiasm showing up to local activists. In one photo, Santos laid with Vickie Paladino, an outspoken conservative activist who would be elected to the New York City Council in 2021. Wearing a bright red tie with a “Gays for Trump” pin, Santos called Paladino – who would later support and promote his congressional campaigns – “my inspiration”.

Around the same time, Santos began promoting a pro-Trump Facebook group “Unite for Trump 2020,” saying he was launching the “largest grassroots pro-Trump movement.” The group, Santos said in a video, was spun off from Trump’s recent rally.

In an introductory video, “George Anthony” or “Anthony” as he said he is more commonly known, said he was recently “hired” as an administrator of the group and said he had been a longtime supporter of Trump.

“I’ve been on the Trump train, long before Trump became president, long before he announced, we’re talking, apprenticeship days,” Santos said, referring to Trump’s reality show. “The ‘you’re fired’ slogan to the birth certificate — issuing the, you know, shady Obama birth certificate, and so on.”

Santos said he was not in the group for personal or financial gain and said he would help the group form an LLC, hire an attorney to protect against libel, and issue monthly financial reports.

“There’s, like, you know, a little over $3,000 spent,” Santos said of the money they would need.

CNN found no evidence that the group formed an LLC or hired an attorney, and found no published monthly financial reports. Group members listed as directors or officers declined to speak to CNN.

Santos has been listed as the organizer of two events for the group, a GoFundMe that raised $645 for the group’s expenses and a pro-Trump protest in Buffalo, New York in July 2019 largely organized by other groups. It is unclear whether Santos attended the event and CNN was unable to identify him in photos or video from the event.

However, Santos was making connections and getting to know local republican activists, many of whom, like himself, were not part of groups traditionally considered part of the republican coalition.

That following week, she attended two more “Walk Away” movement events in New York City on March 28 and 29.

In the group’s videos, Santos is view asking questions of panelists and introducing himself as Anthony Devolder, a founder of United for Trump who took credit for the previous Saturday’s Trump Tower rally, largely organized by other activists.

In May, he traveled to Washington, D.C. for an event hosted by the group at the then-Trump International Hotel.

“Hi everyone, it’s me, Anthony,” Santos said. “We are on the one year anniversary of Walk Away in Washington DC at Trump International. We are here on the net spreading the word for United for Trump 2020 and our tour. A lot of interesting connections are being made.”

On the “United for Trump” Facebook page, Santos began posting regular live videos of his thoughts on politics, sometimes at home or while driving. Group members would sometimes tune in to watch as Santos streamed.

Calling himself “a social justice warrior fighting for the Republican agenda,” Santos complained that his Twitter account hadn’t yet attracted as much engagement as his Facebook.

By the end of the year, the group seemed to have largely faded away, and the members CNN spoke to could not recall any other events.

CNN has contacted Santos’ office and his attorney for comment.

In September 2019, Santos decided to take on a new challenge: run for Congress. He started crossing over to Long Island and Queens and attended Republican events. On October 3, Santos spoke at the Queens Village Republican Club’s Columbus Day dinner, where the activists who introduced him expressed surprise at Santos using a different name in his run for Congress.

“Guys, another keynote speaker, another congressional candidate, George Santos. George, who we know is a friend, and to me he is known as Anthony Devolder. So I don’t know where George Santos got into things, but that’s what he’s saying here,” one activist said.

“I’m a victim of circumstance,” Santos said. “My parents were Latino, so it’s George Anthony Devolder-Santos, commonly known as Anthony.”

In January 2020, he began hosting a local public access talk show called “Talking GOP” about politics with other activists under his new name – George Santos – where he pushed for an inclusive Republican Party.

At the same time, Santos was also promoting himself with his multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts under his various names; George Santos, Anthony Devolder, George Devolder and George Anthony Devolder-Santos, which he abbreviated to GADS. An official Facebook page he created as Anthony Devolder in late 2018 became George Santos for Congress in January 2020.

Santos lost that 2020 bid for the US House overwhelmingly to the Democratic incumbent, but he had entered the scene as a young, gay, successful Wall Street executive and unapologetic Trump supporter who was in the position to run again for Congress.

Santos soon announced he allegedly ran for Congress “again in 2022” on Twitter in December 2020 as he railed against spending related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Santos ran against Democrat Robert Zimmerman and, along with other New York Republicans, fared better than the GOP nationally, winning his House seat.

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