George Santos Is the Internet’s Final Form
An Essay Partially Fact-checked Whilst Written
If you’re in America, you’ve probably heard of George Santos. Because I’m discussing the history of the Internet (true), and my first hard drive crashed back in 2006 (also true, although it might’ve been in 2007) taking all of my Web 1.0 data with it (a bit of a lie; I wasn’t meticulously documenting the rise of Social Media and the decline of Geocities, but that is a much better excuse than, “I honestly didn’t think any my life before age 15 was worth meticulously documenting, because we all thought this Internet thing was a fun novelty that was being so rapidly remade and replaced that it would be of no real historic importance”)(also, for everyone fact-checking me as furiously as we are G. Santos, I was about 15 when we entered Web 2.0 and we realized it was a bigger deal than annoying .jpeg images of Kirk killing Picard). If you haven’t heard of George Santos, he is, essentially, an anonymous poster on an AOL Message Board in 1997, brought to life. I’m honestly not exaggerating that as much as anyone would like.
So, for the full, factual run-down of my Life on the Internet; I first went online in either 1994 or 1995, with one of the earliest versions of Netscape Navigator (this is true, and forgive my inability to pinpoint the exact year), and, just a few years later, graduated to posting on Star Wars message boards about the upcoming prequels. A major attraction to Internet usage has always been the element of anonymity. Which is why I go to extreme lengths to keep my identity completely anonymous by exclusively using the public library’s computers (that’s a lie). What’s important for the sake of conversation is that, for us elder Millennials, there’s an obvious inspiration for G. Santos’s lies. For my unAmerican friends, imagine a relatively obscure MP who lied so compulsively about every aspect of their life that nobody was certain of that person’s name. This is where America is with a Freshman Congressman from Long Island (this is true, but, if we’re being brutally honest, for some reason, locals pronounce it “Lawn Guyland”), who has lied about his background to the point where there’s some substantial reporting from Reuters that the individual in question is actually a drag queen from Brazil (source: https://www.reuters.com/world/us/embattled-us-rep-santos-was-drag-queen-brazil-pageants-say-associates-2023-01-19/). In the popular press, commentators are drawn to the absurdity and specificity of his lies, which are so bizarrely nuanced and qualified that they don’t particularly help him in any way.
I would argue that “Santos’s” lies stem from either discovering the Internet six months ago, or he’s simply been on the Internet for far too long, because the texture and nature of his lies are identical to ones we told about Phantom Menace in 1998. Way back when, after you got that sweet, sweet modem connection sound, you could then go to any number of unmoderated sites and argue about whether Kirk could beat Picard in a lightsaber duel. The key aspect is, because those sites were unmoderated, and everyone thought they had utter anonymity, fact-checking only disproved the most-absurd lies, curating smaller, weirder ones. In 1995, if one wished to be taken seriously in Kirk v Picard debates, you could claim to be Bill Shatner. The problem is, that was a readily fact-checked and challenged by the question, “What’s Leonard Nimoy really like?” (we all later discovered Nimoy is a goddamned delight). So, you had to take it down a notch. You couldn’t lie about being directly and overtly involved, because credits list the writers and directors, so, you could claim to be a gaffer or contributing editor. And, bam, instant credibility, of a thin, ineffectual sort. The point was, early Internet lies had to be specific and obscure enough to avoid easy fact-checking, but big enough to lend the poster credibility to state, “Picard sucked.”
Similarly, George Santos, AKA George Devolder, “Man on the Street” has no real credibility on any subject. George Santos, failed drag queen, has even less — not to go after drag queens, who’ve had a rough go of it, but being a failed member of an already-persecuted minority is somehow even less credible than, “George Santos, Schlubby Mediocre Guy from Staten Island” (that may or may not be true). “George Santos, Baruch College Alum” at least has a shred more dignity than “George Santos, Failed Drag Queen and Man on the Street Wondering Why His Car is Being Towed.” He did not go to Baruch, and I don’t know where George’s car is (this is true — I have absolutely no knowledge of his car, and the individual in question did not attend Baruch College), but, you can begin to see the impervious, Net 1.0 nature of his choice of lies. If one were going to lie, why would they lie about attending an obscure college and playing a sport most Americans don’t care about? Simple. It lends a very thin level of respectability to his opinions on Division 3 volleyball, but, more critically, it’s so specific and obscure that nobody would think to fact-check them. It’s like me claiming to have survived glioblastoma (which is true, so far, assuming something didn’t go wrong in the OR and this isn’t some sort of fever-dream as I bleed out) — it’s so specific and off-putting, why would anyone lie about it?
As I mentioned, these are all the sort of starter-Internet lies we learned to tell at age AOL — designed to confuse the opposition long enough for the message board to return to speculation on Britney Spears’s 72 hour marriage, and specific enough to discourage fact-checkers.
Complete honesty and total truth: I don’t know what the planned end-game for the person claiming to be George Santos is. I honestly don’t. I think that, like early Internet posters, the thought process is that, if you go far enough, long enough without anyone adequately challenging your meager, bullshit claims to authority, you get to be that authority. I doubt Santos wants to be CNN’s on-air reporter for Collegiate Volleyball, but, at this point, absolutely anything is possible. I suspect that Santos either has some sort of nefarious criminal plans for his Congressional seat, or he just arrived from 1997 via DeLorean (although that could be fact-checked by asking him about his views on pod racing), and he somehow got his wires crossed with Donald Trump’s (not my insight, Jonathan Lemire alluded to it, first). To an America Online user, rising to the position Donald Trump inhabited 2017–2018 is the ultimate end-goal. “Make any ludicrous, preposterous claim, and don’t get immediately shouted down by any passing grown-ups” is the absolute dream for anyone wishing to spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, theocratic models of governance, or the insidious belief that Kirk could kill Picard (yes, all of those propositions are weighted equally, in moral terms). That’s one possibility — Santos is a vile narcissist (we all were in the 90’s) who hopes to arrive at a place in society where his opinions will never be subjected to the same level of scrutiny we apply to grade school teachers who tell gay kids it gets better, and he will then leverage that position of influence to drive society closer to a fascist kleptocracy in which he somehow benefits. I have no idea how we go from “I destroyed both my knees playing NCAA volleyball” to, “The DoD just awarded my company a multibillion dollar contract,” but that’s the business model Marjory Taylor Greene and Drumpf both pioneered, and I have no doubt the other failed businessmen of the world pay closed attention. By the way, we know that Santos did not work for Citigroup or Goldman Sachs, but he may have ties to a corporate ponzi scheme in Florida (in case anyone’s keeping score, I have no formal ties to any of those groups, although I had a Bank of America checking account in 2008, so, it’s possible I accidentally lent them money in the Recession), so, he very well could be a failed businessman.
There is, of course, an alternate, somewhat more-benign interpretation of “George Santos” and their bizarre actions: He’s Florida Man. I don’t mean he’s some crazy, methed-up guy from Florida who got caught shaving his ex-wife’s genitals while driving (true story), I mean George Anthony Devolder Santos is the font of all Floridian madness. He is the mythic fountain of youth/madness that Ponce de Leon sought — fact check: Smithsonian Magazine article claims that’s an ahistoric myth (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ponce-de-leon-never-searched-for-the-fountain-of-youth-72629888/), so, Florida’s innate creeping insanity started before it was actually formally colonized, which, to my mind, is the perfect encapsulation of Florida. Even before it was documented, it was spreading lunacy and falsehoods. As a proud son of Florida, Anthony George Devolder Santos Zabrovsky (yes, he’s used some variation of those aliases over the years) would not feel constrained by social conventions like “objective reality,” let alone social norms like telling people your real name. If you are the biggest freak in Orlando, you’re kind of at a loss in career opportunities. If you’re too insane for conventional employment, but too cautious to move to Miami to get into smuggling, Congress really is the last resort. I mean, even shouting, “I’m the biggest, weirdest moron here” south of Georgia leads to a duel in a Waffle House parking lot. Fact check: I have no actual data about that statement, but, you have to admit, Devolder/Santos seems like the kind of guy who’s been in a shoot-out behind a Waffle House, and I’m far too terrified to drive a few hundred miles to the nearest Waffle House to see if the regulars would kill me for ludicrous statements (there are Waffle Houses in Arizona, now, which chips away at the conventional political wisdom that the state is shifting to blue). If you are a Florida man looking to make a quick buck without stabbing other Florida men, what do you do? Move to New York, where the rubes have never, ever bought a kilo of cocaine that turned out to be baking soda, and ̶s̶e̶l̶l̶ ̶b̶a̶k̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶s̶o̶d̶a̶ run for Congress.
TLDR: America just sort of elected a con man who lies about literally everything in his past, to the point where we don’t actually know his real name (this is true, although I haven’t checked since lunch, so, it’s possible that’s changed). Most commentators are puzzled about the specificity and nature of his lies, which don’t actually help him in any financial, legal, or even procrastination (that’s the classic, “Oh, I already did that chore, honey”) way; however, to me, they have the same sort of almost-truth feel of early Internet lies designed to marginally increase a poster’s credibility. And, the increasing levels of utter nonsense and insantiy emanating from this individual make me suspect that there’s a solid Florida Man connection (this is what Dave Barry originally termed, “The DeSillers Effect,” when a national news story becomes far stranger and more upsetting upon further investigation). Also, and this harrowing truth can not be overstated; there is now somebody in Congress with no confirmed name, birth certificate, or even a confirmed social security number, and they now have a vote in the debt ceiling debate, federal emissions regulations, and whether K. McCarthy is Speaker — don’t get me wrong; I despise McCarthy, but America does need something like a functioning government, and that doesn’t happen if con-men can negotiate directly with the Speaker at a moment’s notice.