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Sarasota Residents Want MAGA Couple Bridget and Christian Ziegler Gone After Rape, Threesome Allegations

Last Sunday evening, contemporary worship music filled a Sarasota Baptist church while actors in shepherd robes led a llama, sheep, and donkey to a living Nativity scene. On stage, choir members sat on risers for the congregation’s annual “Singing Christmas Tree Spectacular,” forming a dazzling 25-foot-tall human conifer.

But one prominent couple caught the attention of some revelers that night, and it wasn’t the people playing Mary and Joseph.

“A few people were like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe they’re here,’” one patron at the event told The Daily Beast. “They duped everybody. They aren’t who they say they are.

“And if you’re going to be that bold, you better live it.”

The unexpected guests were Republican power couple Bridget and Christian Ziegler, who until last week enjoyed a life of MAGA celebrities as a co-founder of Moms for Liberty and the Florida GOP’s chairman, respectively—until a three-way sex scandal and Sarasota police probe mangled their image as the epitome of conservative family values.

Now the Zieglers, widely perceived by critics as right-wing anti-LGBTQ crusaders, have all but been run out of town.

Just days before the Christmas tree extravaganza, local and national media reported that Christian Ziegler was under investigation for allegedly raping a longtime female friend who’d once had a ménage à trois with him and his wife.

Neither husband nor wife has commented publicly on the accusations or the hypocrisy of Bridget Ziegler’s sleeping with a woman while fighting against policies that protect gay students and families. They did not return messages seeking comment for this story.

Amid the fallout, Bridget Ziegler resigned as the Leadership Institute’s director of school board programs, and calls for her to leave the Sarasota County School Board are only growing louder. Karen Rose, the board’s chairperson and a Bridget supporter, said she plans to introduce a resolution at Tuesday’s board meeting asking for her resignation. Even Moms for Liberty issued a statement pointing out Bridget resigned from their group three years ago.

Christian Ziegler is refusing to step down despite a GOP chorus that includes Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott pushing for his departure. (Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who survived his own sexual misconduct inquiry, urged people to reserve judgment.)

Still, one Republican operative in Southwest Florida told The Daily Beast that it speaks volumes so few colleagues have the Zieglers’ backs. “They have no friends, and the people who they think are their friends are not their friends,” the person said. “That’s why you have seen zero, zero people come to either of their defense.”

“I’ve never seen that in the world of politics,” they added. “In the world of fake news, and witch hunts, and hoaxes, this is the one instance where everybody is not surprised, and is ready to go in for the kill. And it is not just Democrats.”

The operative said that in the last decade, no one has been more involved in Sarasota’s GOP than Christian Ziegler, but fellow conservatives became detractors after a 911 call and search warrant affidavit became public. “In 24 hours, they threw him overboard,” the person said. “Sometimes that’s what happens when you don’t treat people right.”

Multiple officials and activists in Sarasota told The Daily Beast they have Ziegler horror stories of their own and described the couple’s predicament as “poetic justice.” The couple’s reputation over the years earned them a local bumper sticker that’s long been spotted around town: Save Sarasota, Deport the Zieglers.

When Christian Ziegler ran for Sarasota county commissioner in 2018, he touted his White House connections and shared photos on social media with Trump aide Kellyanne Conway and former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

“I have direct access to individuals who work in the West Wing,” Ziegler told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, adding that his rolodex could help pull in federal resources.

Before he snagged the primary, however, he allegedly leveled a warning to his libertarian challenger.

“He approached me and told me I didn’t want to run because ‘he goes after people’s children,’” said Alexandra Coe, an anthropologist and the chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Sarasota County. “I must say I learned a lot about his character at that moment.” (Coe says she told him good luck; her kids are adults and are trained in firearms.)

“I ran anyway,” she told The Daily Beast.

She said the Zieglers “are a big part” of Sarasota drawing negative media attention over the years. “I honestly think it’s time they pack up and they move,” she said.

The same year, Bridget Ziegler was reelected to the school board. By then, relations between Ziegler and conservative comrade Eric Robinson and the remaining three board members had become so contentious, local news covered their bickering and Twitter wars.

The superintendent, in emails, accused Ziegler of protecting her political connections and failing to reveal a relationship with a Sarasota resident who sent him a seemingly threatening email over the district’s transgender guidelines; the person and his relatives had donated to the Zieglers’ political campaigns, the Herald-Tribune reported.

“If Sarasota County Schools will not keep my daughter safe from mentally ill male students who want to use the same bathroom as my daughter then I will,” the Zieglers’ ally wrote to the superintendent. “Listen very clearly, if/when something happens to little girls at school by transgender males exposing themselves in bathrooms/locker rooms or worse, you will be held liable. See you around.”

For her part, Bridget Ziegler said the man had a right to share his opinions.

She held a similar position earlier this year, when a right-wing mom speaking before the board spewed homophobic commentary against Tom Edwards, an openly gay board member, claiming that he “appears to be a lawbreaker and an LGBTQ groomer.”

Edwards walked out after Bridget Ziegler refused to shut down the slurs, inspiring Christian to pick an online feud, calling him “Tommy Drama” and tweeting, “At what point does the media realize or get exhausted with Tommy Drama’s attempts to bait them into covering his theatrics?”

Opponents in and around Sarasota County argue the couple unleashed a toxic and divisive brand of local politics in the area—now known for being home to Trump Media, the parent company of Trump Social, former Trump national security advisor Mike Flynn, and right-wing event hall The Hollow 2A.

They’ve helped to create a Florida where, as the Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board pointed out, “teachers are afraid to acknowledge to their students that same-sex relationships exist” and “Books are being taken off library shelves because they tell the truth about the modern implications of slavery and racism.”

Ron Filipkowski, a local defense attorney and ex-Republican, told The Daily Beast that the Zieglers are “probably the most despised people in Sarasota County, easily.”

Filipkowski said he’s known Christian Ziegler since the digital marketing exec began showing up at Republican Club meetings a decade ago and described him as “a climber” who “glommed onto local political people” to boost his brand.

“I speak at Democratic Club events and the different names get bandied about—Trump, DeSantis, Michael Flynn, who also lives here—but nobody gets a stronger reaction than when you mention the Zieglers. They’re just reviled,” Filipkowski said.

From Filipkowski’s perspective, Christian was the driving force behind Bridget’s foray into politics. He recalled stories from school board pals about her showing up at meetings with notes and talking points provided by her husband. “I think Christian figured out that she is a much better front-facing person than he is,” Filipkowski said.

Peter Schorsch, the publisher of the website Florida Politics and INFLUENCE magazine, has for years interacted with the Zieglers and those in their social, business, and political circles. Schorsch said local Republicans feel “an overall sense of eye-roll” at not only Christian’s extreme views but his seemingly endless need for attention.

“You almost get the sense that he’s like one of these guys on Real Housewives of Sarasota,” he said. “And, like, everybody wants to watch Bridget, but Christian’s always in the fucking scene.”

Jane Goodwin, a Sarasota school board member from 2010 to 2022, told The Daily Beast that early on, Bridget Ziegler would read her comments at meetings from a piece of paper. “She would have this first line, bam, she’d come out with something and then there would be no rebuttal,” Goodwin said. “That was it. One trick pony.”

“He’s her Svengali,” Goodwin said of Christian Ziegler. “He is a puppeteer, and she’s the puppet is what I think.” Goodwin says Christian Ziegler would email fellow Republicans dirt about her and once accused her of embezzlement in one of those messages.

“I said something about it to Bridget at the board once,” Goodwin recalled, “and she said to me, ‘I have no idea what my husband does.’”

Former school board member Shirley Brown remembers facing an onslaught of nasty emails and calls after the Zieglers published her contact information on Facebook because she disagreed with always outing trans kids to their parents.

Brown, who was on the board from 2006 until last year, said the atmosphere became so antagonistic that protesters (one in a Proud Boys shirt) stood outside her home with signs reading “Dirty Shirley” and “Child Abuse” because she supported mask mandates—an event that caught the attention of Jimmy Kimmel Live!

“We never believed that it was about making schools better,” Brown told The Daily Beast. “And that’s the anger that a lot of people felt towards Bridget and the Moms for Liberty and the issues that they were bringing up. It was political, not for improving schools.”

One state Republican operative, speaking on condition of anonymity, described Christian Ziegler as a “ruthless assassin” on the digital front of politics. “To that, I give him credit,” the person said, but he’s “as arrogant as the sky is blue.”

“It’s the worst kept secret in town that Christian has made Bridget,” the operative added, “that by and large, he’s been the Wizard of Oz… In public circles, people just consistently refer to her as the Manchurian Candidate.”

Christian, the person said, has molded Bridget into one of the most influential school board members in the country and is believed to write or review her Twitter posts. (The Zieglers didn’t return messages seeking comment on this score.)

But when it comes to the Zieglers’ sex scandal, the person continued, “The talk in the town is all about Bridget.”

“It’s the utter and complete hypocrisy of someone who has built her entire campaign on an anti-LGBTQ platform and yet engaging in sexual actions” with a woman, they said. “That’s what people are talking about.”

According to police records, Christian Ziegler is accused of raping a female friend who’d previously had a threesome with him and his wife.

The 40-year-old Ziegler denies her accusations and hasn’t been charged criminally. In a recent message to state Republicans, he claimed someone was targeting him and his wife for being “such loud political voices.” He added, “We have a country to save and I am not going to let false allegations of a crime put that mission on the bench as I wait for this process to wrap up” and claimed, “My wife is behind me 150%.”

According to a search warrant affidavit, Christian messaged the victim on Oct. 2 and asked for her address, saying he and Bridget were driving around. The woman didn’t immediately reply, and when he later informed her Bridget couldn’t make it, she canceled the plan. “Sorry I was mostly in for her,” the woman said.

The victim told police she was off work and had “been drinking tequila all day,” and was too inebriated to consent to what happened next. Christian appeared at her apartment and raped her without a condom, she said. (Christian would later tell cops he recorded a video of this encounter and uploaded it to his Google Drive.)

Detectives interviewed Bridget on Nov. 1, and she “confirmed that she knew the victim through her husband” and “confirmed having a sexual encounter with the victim and Christian over a year ago and that it only happened one time,” the affidavit says.

This admission of a bisexual encounter stoked outrage from advocates, including former state lawmaker Carlos Guillermo Smith, who called on the Zieglers to “apologize to the countless LGBTQ families hurt by their extreme agenda.”

“The Zieglers,” Smith continued, “stepped on the backs of the LGBTQ community, disparaged us and hurt our families in their quest for political power.”

A friend of Bridget told The Daily Beast he believes that she is a “victim” in the situation and that she’s been unfairly excoriated in the press.

“I think the world of Bridget,” he said, admitting he wasn’t a big fan of her husband. “I wish Bridget would come out and tell her side of the story.”

The person believes Bridget isn’t a “hardcore right-wing person” and that “her views publicly are Christian’s views, not not her views.”

“I think Christian had her under a spell,” he said, adding that it would “ruin” their lives.

One education expert and business owner who’s debated Christian told The Daily Beast that he “brought an energy that was aggressive and intimidating and hostile.”

“Regardless of political ideology, no one that I’ve interacted with is surprised [by the sex scandal] because the Zieglers are thrill seekers, not ideologues,” the person said.

“They are beholden only to themselves.”

The Zieglers cut a picture of the perfect Republican family, an image they’d frequently broadcast with glowing tributes and photos on social media. Their daughters would sometimes join them at GOP committee meetings.

Bridget helped launch Moms for Liberty in 2021 to fight mask mandates in schools and this year was named to DeSantis’ Walt Disney oversight board, created to punish the company for its opposition to his “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. The law limits what schools can teach on gender identity and sexual orientation.

“I hope she feels a little bit of the pain that she has put some of these people through,” said Brown, the former school board member. “But I do have concerns for [Bridget] and her family, because their whole lifestyle is tied to her being on the school board and advising people on how to win school board seats and push your political agenda.”

“I think they’re gonna have to reinvent themselves,” she added. “Because I don’t see them in politics anymore.”

Bridget was presumably making six figures in her former director role with the Leadership Institute. According to the Herald-Tribune, Bridget reported her 2022 salary with the think-tank as $64,101. (She started the gig in August of that year.)

Her husband’s political marketing company, Microtargeted Media, has pulled in hundreds of thousands of dollars from political action committees tied to Trump. The newspaper also reported that Christian listed his net worth as more than $1 million in state records.

Before the pair married in September 2013, she was a Gucci handbag-selling registered Democrat in Miami, and he was a Republican activist who’d worked for Congressman Vern Buchanan in D.C. Nine months after their nuptials, Gov. Scott appointed Bridget to fill a vacant seat on Sarasota’s school board ahead of the 2014 election.

Critics raised questions about Bridget’s qualifications and political ties; her husband was a Republican Party committeeman and former director of the Sarasota Republican Party. A 31-year-old mother of an infant, Ziegler didn’t have experience in the education field and attended two community colleges and Florida International University without earning degrees. Her work history included Gucci and selling insurance.

“Rather than bringing experience to the job, Bridget Ziegler is bringing her connections,” one Democrat told a local news outlet at the time. “And I feel very strongly that our local schools shouldn’t be about party politics.”

Bridget, whose campaigns were funded by pro-school voucher groups, argued: “My biggest thing is making sure to be a voice, and I’m working on ways to reach out to the community.”

She would go on to push for parental consent before students can identify as transgender at school and oppose the board’s gender diversity guidelines, make a name for herself in Fox News appearances, and help DeSantis craft the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

She advocated for these changes while sending her children to a private school: the Classical Academy, which is affiliated with the conservative Christian Hillsdale College.

Despite railing against “gender ideology” on social media, she denies targeting anyone LGBTQ. “I cannot underscore enough it is not about the LGBTQ population,” she said last year. “That has never been my focus. It always has been about parental rights.”

Meanwhile, Christian’s track record includes serving as a media surrogate for Trump’s 2016 campaign and a delegate at the Republican National Convention. Two years later, he won a seat on the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners and became the Florida GOP’s vice chair in 2019 after an endorsement from his friend Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager.

Ziegler, who attended the president’s Jan. 6 rally before violence erupted, became GOP party chair early in 2023.

“The reason [local government] is appealing to me, and the reason I love it, is you can take local action and literally shape the community that you live in,” Ziegler told the Washington Post last year. “And for me, that is a very appealing opportunity.”

One political scientist who faced off against Christian Ziegler on local TV said he was skilled at riding the wave of anger and resentment among conservative voters but likened him to a high school debater: saying something not for truth, but because it sounds good.

The academic remembers a greenroom conversation with the firebrand that led them to question his motives. “The truth is what you want it to be, and it’s about who’s stronger at getting their point of view out there,” they remember Ziegler saying.

“I haven’t seen anybody jump in front of the bullets trying to save Christian,” they said. “I think it’s because he was a genuinely despicable person.”

Over the Fourth of July weekend, the Zieglers provided workshops for attendees at the second annual Moms for Liberty summit in Philadelphia, which was a magnet for protests. Hundreds of people showed up to speak out against the group’s promotion of book bans and demonization of transgender people.

“Never apologize,” Christian Ziegler said during his seminar “Mastering the Spin: Effective Messaging Strategies.” He continued, “I think apologizing makes you look weak. And even if you’re wrong, you have an opportunity to correct it by bringing more information in and wording something differently.”

In face of scandal, Ziegler appears to be taking some of his own advice.

— With additional reporting by Justin Rohrlich




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