In remarks to an “America First” rally in Georgia, Florida, Republican congressman Matt Gaetz told a cheering crowd “we have an obligation” to take up arms against Silicon Valley companies that he believes are “suppressing” right-wing voices on their platforms.
He went on to define the Second Amendment of the US Constitution as ensuring citizens have “the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government of the United States, if that becomes necessary”.
The GOP lawmaker’s remarks on Thursday night follow a mass shooting in San Jose, California, where a gunman fatally shot nine of his coworkers.
He delivered his speech while the US Senate convened for a potential vote on the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the assault on the Capitol on 6 January. Mr Gaetz voted against the measure in the House of Representatives.
“The Internet’s hall monitors out in Silicon Valley, they think they can suppress us, discourage us. Maybe if you’re just a little less patriotic. Maybe if you just conform to their way of thinking a little more, then you’ll be allowed to participate in the digital world,” Mr Gaetz told the crowd.
“Well you know what? Silicon Valley can’t cancel this movement, or this rally, or this congressman,” he said. “We have a Second Amendment in this country, and I think we have an obligation to use it.”
Right-wing lawmakers and commentators have exploited the term “cancel culture” to define policies from social media companies that bar mis- and disinformation, hateful rhetoric and abuse on their platforms, which have suspended high-profile GOP accounts or barred figures like former President Donald Trump from using them.
Mr Gaetz said that the Second Amendment “is not about hunting, it’s not about recreation, it’s not about sports”.
“The Second Amendment is about maintaining within the citizenry the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government of the United States, if that becomes necessary,” he said.
He added: “I hope it never does, but it sure is important to recognise the founding principles of this nation and make sure they’re fully understood.”
Democratic US Rep Ted Lieu, who also serves with Mr Gaetz on the House Judiciary Committee, called on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to remove him from his post.
Mr Gaetz, who also is facing a federal investigation linked to a former Florida politician who pleaded guilty to trafficking a 17-year-old girl, among other crimes, is also facing calls to step down from Congress. The House Ethics Committee is also investigating allegations against him.
He has adamantly denied any wrongdoing, and has not been charged with any crimes.
“It’s a conflict of interest for Gaetz to have oversight over the DOJ that is investigating him for sex crimes,” Mr Lieu said. “Also, Gaetz is urging people to shoot Silicon Valley employees.”
Republican US Rep Adam Kinzinger, who has been critical of his party’s far-right pro-Trump faction, argued that Mr Gaetz’s remarks do not constitute First Amendment-protected speech.
“This is beyond yelling fire in a theatre,” he said.