Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene are suing two Southern California cities and several advocacy groups alleging they conspired to infringe on their free speech rights by pressuring venues to cancel a rally in 2021.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court on Thursday, alleges the venues caved to pressure from the cities of Anaheim and Riverside and canceled contracts for their America First rally because they disagreed with Greene and Gaetz politics. The two lawmakers are known for their strong support of former President Trump.
The lawsuit contends the 1st Amendment gives the lawmakers the freedom to use the venues "on the same basis as other organizations and political figures without regard to their viewpoint or the viewpoint of speakers at their event."
A spokesman for the city of Riverside declined to comment on the lawsuit on Friday. Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said the city has "not formally received the claim but are aware of it and will be reviewing."
The lawsuit also names 10 advocacy or political organizations who allegedly pressured city officials and the venues to not host the rally.
Gaetz, Greene and their fundraising committees are seeking a declaration saying each of the defendants violated their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association as part of the lawsuit.
They are also asking for an injunction prohibiting the cities from denying or "coercing private venues from entering into facilities use contracts with Plaintiffs for future political rallies" and unspecified damages for emotional distress.
Alexander Haberbush, an attorney representing Greene and Gaetz in the lawsuit, declined to comment.
Greene, a Georgia congresswoman, and Gaetz, who represents much of the Florida Panhandle, tried to host their rally at two locations in Orange County and one in Riverside in July 2021, but the venues kept backing out.
The first location to fall through was the Pacific Hills Banquet & Event Center in Laguna Hills. The venue's general manager told the Orange County Register at the time it opted to cancel after learning Gaetz and Greene would be speaking.
The rally was moved to the Riverside Convention Center, but the city quickly started receiving complaints. Councilwoman Gaby Plascencia said at the time that the lawmakers "are the antithesis of everything Riverside stands for."
Raincross Hospitality Management, which operates the convention center, asserted it was canceling the event because of the discrepancy on the certificate of insurance it had been provided, according to the lawsuit.
With less than 24 hours until the rally, the group moved the event to the Grand Theater, a private venue in Anaheim, but controversy followed it. Dozens of people contacted the city to decry the event.
The lawsuit alleges a city code enforcement officer called the Grand Theater and told the owner and manager the venue's conditional use permit would be "in jeopardy if they did not cancel the event."
Without a venue, the lawmakers instead held a "peaceful protest against communism" outside Riverside City Hall.
"These folks they tried to cancel our venues but they can never cancel our patriotism or our American spirit," Gaetz said in a video filmed outside Riverside City Hall. "They'll hear us all throughout Southern California."