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The Fall of the House of Ziegler: Moms for Liberty, a threesome, and a failed political dynasty

Bridget and Christian Ziegler
Facebook @bridgetziegler

Christian and Bridget Ziegler were the Florida Republican power couple. That is until a sex scandal and allegations of rape pushed the two out of the GOP hierarchy.

Christian Ziegler felt fortunate to grab the internet domain more than a decade ago.

He boasted back then about how perfect the web address was to the image he wanted to project. It bore his name, but more than that, it showcased the Christian values he wanted to represent within the Republican Party.

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Today, his brand stands in stark contrast to those values, that carefully cultivated reputation only serving as evidence of his hypocrisy. Years of holding his own family up as some idyllic version of 20th-century conservatism crashed down, with Ziegler now standing accused of rape while admitting to sex outside his marriage, sometimes with his wife Bridget, co-founder of the conservative Moms For Liberty, engaged in the act.

The Republican Party of Florida’s executive committee met in Tallahassee on January 8, where members fired Ziegler as state chairman in a 199-3 vote, less than a year after he secured control of the GOP in America’s largest swing state.

Over the past several months months, he confessed to a sexual encounter with a 20-year acquaintance, but maintains it was planned and consensual. Meanwhile, wife Bridget Ziegler, a local School Board member, admitted to police she participated in a ménage à trois in late 2022. In recently released audio of a conversation between Bridget and police, she told officers the accusation of sexual assault surprised her, though news her husband engaged in sex outside their bedroom did not.

“If there were any extramarital things, it wouldn't blow my mind of surprise,” she said.

The tawdry scandal marks a stunning fall from grace for a couple who built tremendous political capital on the promise of removing woke values and LGBTQ+ indoctrination from America’s classrooms. Thanks to Florida laws that Bridget Ziegler helped shape, most news articles mentioning the Zieglers today can’t be read in Florida schools. The level of duplicity stunned a political world increasingly numb to sex scandals.

“To proclaim they stand for family values while they have all this going on in their personal lives is just very hypocritical,” said Daniel Kuether, chairman of the Sarasota County Democratic Party. As a gay man, he’s watched the Zieglers ratchet up anti-LGBTQ language in political rhetoric in his hometown, which in recent years turned from a purple suburb to a haven for right-wing extremism.

So how did the Zieglers become the face of conservative values in Florida while scheduling three-ways before school board meetings and softball practices? Why did the couple seek a mantle of moral superiority, one that involved embracing anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and demonizing even of gay and trans children? And how could their behavior be tolerated for so long?

Regardless of what mechanisms the couple dispatched to climb the ladder of political power, it appears unlikely either Ziegler can remain on their pedestals any longer, as one-time allies witness their fall with indifference, schadenfreude, or outright zeal.

Christian Ziegler made politics a personal priority before arriving in the state of Florida. A graduate of Centennial High School in Roswell, Ga., he studied in the early 2000s at Florida State University, double-majoring in political science and criminology. Before graduating, he lined up an internship with the Florida House of Representatives analyzing legislation. From the beginning, he longed for positions of influence, according to political consultants long involved in GOP politics. The pursuit of power, according to those in Florida political circles, always loomed larger than any particular policy.

“Even when he went to FSU and was in Tallahassee, he was always looking to climb,” says Bill Helmich, a Republican consultant who works in Florida’s capital city. “I know a lady here in town who he used to ask to go on dates. He would sell it as, ‘We could become a power couple.’”

Soon after graduating in 2005, he became involved in political campaigning. When Vern Buchanan, a Florida Chamber of Commerce leader, announced a run for Congress as a Republican, Christian Ziegler joined the campaign in Sarasota, Florida. Buchanan in 2006, a difficult year for Republicans, won a battleground district by 369 votes, one of the closest congressional races that election cycle. Ziegler followed him to Washington D.C., becoming his body man in Congress, learning the ropes of the political process, and glad handling power brokers in the nation’s capital.

For Bridget Ziegler, interest in politics arose much later. She initially worked in the world of retail and fashion, and met Christian Ziegler while selling Gucci bags at a Miami mall. She studied business at Florida International University, though she never completed her degree. A one-time Democrat, she became active in politics only after she started dating Christian Ziegler around 2010.

At about the same time, Sarasota County became a hotbed of political activity. A long-time Republican stronghold, the Buchanan race proved the community was moving in a decidedly purple direction where Democrats could compete. Barack Obama in 2008 came within 250 votes of winning Sarasota County on his way to becoming the first Democrat to take Florida’s electoral votes in the 21st century. Around the same time, the city of Sarasota elected its first openly gay city commissioner and considered a transgender candidate for city manager.

But a political team assembled by Buchanan worked to turn that tide. The congressman’s campaign treasurer, Joe Gruters, won the election as chairman of the Sarasota County Republican Party a month after the 2008 election season wrapped. Christian Ziegler had become friends with Gruters during the campaign, and would eventually be elected as the Republican Party of Sarasota’s state committeeman a couple of years later.

Gruters in 2010 ingratiated himself early with Rick Scott, a Naples businessman running a longshot campaign for Governor. Sarasota’s Republican Party was among the first to invite the candidate to official party functions. Christian Ziegler concurrently became close to Scott, who would go on to win two terms in the Governor’s mansion and later a seat in the U.S. Senate. Meanwhile, Christian has also encouraged Bridget Ziegler, a photogenic and well-spoken woman who knew the language of business and retail, to explore politics as well.

The couple purchased a home in Sarasota in 2014, the same year she became pregnant with their first child. Around that time, Bridget Ziegler filed for a local school board seat at Christian’s urging. When a retiring incumbent resigned early, then-Gov. Scott appointed Ziegler to the job. That November, she narrowly won a four-year term on the School Board and won two re-election campaigns since.

A long-time Southwest Florida political consultant, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the connection to Gruters proved to be the ticket to power Christian Ziegler had sought for years. (Gruters declined to comment for this story). The two were close initially, raising young kids at the same time while building the local party back into the dominating machine locally.

“Ziegler kind of attached himself to Gruters and tried to ride the Gruters wave,” the consultant said. “Clearly, Gruters was prescient in endorsing Rick Scott early. He was Buchanan’s first political operative. And ultimately, he was an early endorser of Donald Trump.”

Gruters went on to win a seat in the Florida Legislature, and in 2018 rose to state chair for the Republican Party of Florida. Ziegler won the election as vice chair the same year. Yet the two represented decidedly different wings of the Republican Party. Gruters, a state senator heading the Commerce Committee as he led the state party, focused on business issues, including trying to attract companies to the state. He supported workforce protections for LGBTQ+ workers, and was an early supporter of legalizing marriage equality. He did not comment on this story and has declined to discuss Ziegler’s sex scandal.

But Christian Ziegler became a culture war enthusiast. A devout supporter of gun rights and abortion limits, he developed a reputation as a conservative firebrand. He regularly appeared on local political roundtables, where many Democrats declined to share a stage with him thanks to his confrontational nature on camera. Keith Fitzgerald, a former Democratic state lawmaker, recalls appearing on a local ABC-7 panel with Ziegler on a few occasions.

“I always have had a lot of frenemies on the Republican side,” Fitzgerald said, “people where I could go on TV or on the House floor and fight, but then socialize just fine. But from my first interaction with Christian Ziegler, I could tell that was not the way it was going to be. He was a completely different animal. He’s not unique, there’s plenty of guys like him around, but he was playing by his own set of rules.”

Fitzgerald, a New College of Florida professor who researched immigration, recalls Ziegler bringing a printout of talking points from the Trump campaign during one segment,, then going on mangle data and misstate facts.

“Christian was just spouting lines of what seemed to me unadulterated xenophobia, advocating banning all immigrants, including legal ones— it was just insane,” Fitzgerald said.

The segment ended with Fitzgerald asking Ziegler if his parents were watching and if they were proud of someone who could so easily lie on TV. Immediately, he felt bad about a personal attack, and Ziegler would later put the spot on his website with the headline “Liberal Gone Wild.” But soon after the show ended, Fitzgerald said he received a number of texts, including from local Republican friends, cheering that someone finally shut Ziegler up.

Meanwhile, Bridget Ziegler was busy turning a nonpartisan local office into a national platform for a right-wing makeover of American education. That started at the state level, where she refused to be a member of the Florida School Boards Association, a long-time group advocating for general education interests at the state level. Instead, she founded the conservative Florida Coalition of School Board Members, which advocated for school vouchers and the expansion of charter schools.

By 2021, she had become a semi-regular cable news guest, appearing on Fox News to complain about critical race theory infecting grade school classrooms around the country. She would rail about how discussions of “white privilege” made children “feel guilty” and served to divide Americans. All the while, she rode divisive language to national fame.

At the beginning of 2021, she and other conservative school board members around the state founded Moms For Liberty, a so-called parents' rights group that quickly gained prominence fighting mask mandates in Florida schools. The same group later agitated for controversial legislation like Florida’s “don’t say gay” law, which outlaws instruction in Florida classrooms about gender identity or sexual orientation. The Southern Law Poverty Center would go on to classify the organization as an “extremist group,” but the organization rapidly went national, hosting presidential candidates for a Washington conference last year.

For many in the world of Florida politics, the rise of the Zieglers accompanied a radical shift in GOP messaging under Gov. Ron DeSantis. The Republican governor came into office in 2018 in a recount-close election, narrowly defeating Democrat Andrew Gillum, a Tallahassee mayor dogged by corruption investigations and who would later have his political career ended after being found naked in a Miami hotel room with a male escort suffering a drug overdose.

While DeSantis came into office focused on bipartisan issues like Everglades protection, his political trajectory shifted dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Republican initially followed the lead of many states in ordering shutdowns, DeSantis re-opened earlier than most populous states and began to openly question health experts, even challenging the virtue of slowing the spread of the virus rather than seeking herd immunity. He sidelined Surgeon General Scott Rivkees and replaced him with Joseph Ladapo, a vaccine skeptic who recently asserted all mRNA COVID-19 vaccines should be recalled.

The pandemic skepticism accompanied a hard-right shift in DeSantis’ social agenda. He hardly mentioned LGBTQ+ issues in his first two years as governor, even telling queer leaders at a Pulse memorial in Orlando they had nothing to fear from him. But as his star rose in GOP politics, DeSantis championed restrictions on transgender athlete participation in youth sports. He developed a political friendship with Chris Rufo, a conservative education activist leading a charge against critical race theory. And naturally, he gravitated toward Ziegler and the Moms for Liberty. In 2021, DeSantis spoke at a Sarasota Statesman of the Year dinner as the honored guest, and shouted out Bridget Ziegler from stage, saying every School Board in Florida needed a member like her.

“I frankly think DeSantis is a major reason why the Zieglers have joined the rank of power,” the Southwest Florida consultant said. “Everything they saw with the Governor, whether it was his absurd fight with Disney or book bannings, was catnip for the Zieglers. They took what he was doing statewide, while they were planting their own eggs in Sarasota, and were able to really take it to the next level.”

Christian Ziegler served one term on the Sarasota County Commission, pushing for policies like making the community a Second Amendment sanctuary. He also cheered the relocation of Rumble, a conservative competitor to YouTube, to the region, and welcomed Donald Trump’s Truth Social platform to open its original headquarters in the county.

Bridget Ziegler, meanwhile, became a regular attendee of DeSantis press conferences, including for the signing of Florida’s notorious “don’t say gay” bill, which forbids teaching from any instruction involving sexual orientation or gender identity. When DeSantis unraveled a decades-old self-governing district at Walt Disney World, after the company promised to fund a legal challenge to the parental rights legislation, he appointed Bridget Ziegler to the board.

Christian Ziegler opted not to seek a second term on the county commission and turned his attention to state party politics. Meanwhile, Bridget Ziegler, after winning her first two terms on close votes, recruited a conservative slate of candidates who rode DeSantis’ endorsement to a right-wing majority on her local school board. A local chapter of Proud Boys started actively campaigning for the slate, though the Zieglers distanced themselves from the controversial group.

Bridget Ziegler became director of school board programs for the Leadership Institute, a think tank in Washington, and started offering training sessions in Sarasota on how social conservatives could shape education policy nationwide by running for local office.

The Zieglers happily spoke to national media about a sudden growth in right-wing extremism in Southwest Florida. Michael Flynn, a former Trump national security advisor who more recently has become synonymous with QAnon gatherings and the January 6 Insurrection, moved to Sarasota and has built a following around The Hollow. The Zieglers defended the shift in the region in a front page article in The Washington Post, which called Sarasota a “playground for the far right.” Meanwhile, the couple also enjoyed the revels of fame.

Around the same time Bridget Ziegler won a third term on the school board, the couple had a threesome with a long-time friend of the family. Many in local political circles suspect that’s a small part of the story. People started to see Bridget flirting with women at parties. Rumors arose the couple had an open marriage. That’s if people believed the couple was sharing a bed together with frequency at all. The rumors also coincided with whispers the two may get divorced, though on social media, the couple still promoted the image of a happy family.

As this was happening, members of the LGBTQ+ community in the region saw the Zieglers’ antics compromising their own way of life. A local high school valedictorian, Zander Moricz, was told that thanks to Florida’s “don’t say gay” law, he couldn’t discuss his own gay identity during his graduation. Flynn and local Proud Boys started a social media campaign against local Pride celebrations after photos emerged of a booth promoting safe sex had dildos on display.

Kuether, the Sarasota County Democratic Party chair, moved to Sarasota because it initially appeared a welcoming environment to LGBTQ+ families. The real estate agent in 2022 ran for Sarasota County Commission himself. But he saw increasing intolerance in the last three years, he said.

“There is certainly an atmosphere here now that makes it difficult to be an out, gay individual in this part of Florida,” Kuether said.

Tom Edwards, a gay member of the School Board, knows that too well. He has sat through hours of angry public comment at meetings, including being called an “LGBTQ groomer.” At a meeting Bridget Ziegler chaired last March, Edwards walked out after an anti-LGBTQ activist attacked Edwards for “what he wants to do to our children.” He considers the right-wing ideology from the Zieglers to be purely about political utility.

“The LGBTQ+ community in its entirety was attacked because of the Zieglers, the DeSantises, and those policies,” Edwards says. “As political climbers, I don’t even think they buy it or espouse to it. It was just political gold.”

As LGBTQ families started to flee the state under DeSantis’ policies, the Zieglers slammed diversity and tolerance efforts as evil, and continued to correlate their policies with so-called “parents rights”— and apparently engaging in three-way sex on the side.

“When Christian and Bridget veered into anti-LGBTQ stuff, it was not shocking at all,” Fitzgerald said. “But my base instinct is, it was just opportunism. It’s not like they have some religious convictions against it. They just had an opportunity and took it.”

The year 2023 had been shaping up to be of a zenith in influence for the Zieglers. In February, Christian Ziegler succeeded Gruters as state chair, a position he had effectively campaigned for more than 10 years.

“The second he was elected as state committeeman, he saw it as a springboard,” Helmich recalls. Ziegler first formally ran for state Chair in 2014 against incumbent Blaise Ingoglia. He had geared up for another run in 2018, but stepped aside as Gruters took the reins. He seemed content to be Gruters right-hand man in the party, but joked he was just lying in wait for a scandal to undo his political mentor.

That almost happened in mid-2021, when news broke of a sexual harassment investigation whether Gruters propositioned a male staffer. Ziegler surprised many when news broke by issuing a cold statement many viewed as betraying his mentor. He told the media the party “takes all allegations of harassment of any kind seriously and do full investigations.” But no one else came after Gruters, even on the left. An internal investigation ultimately cleared Gruters, with no accuser or victim ever coming forward. The cloud of scandal evaporated quickly, but the relationship with Gruters and Ziegler seemed suddenly strained.

Still, by 2023, the entire party moved past that. Gruters decided not to seek a third term as state GOP chair, and Ziegler in February was elected to the job. His private marketing company, Microtargeted Media, provided work for Trump’s Make America Great Again PAC, and he consulted on Jeff Landry’s successful (and anti-LGBTQ) run for Governor of Louisiana. Ziegler provided services for members of Congress including Buchanan and U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida.

But his glory days came to an end within a matter of months.

A Sarasota woman who had known Christian Ziegler for 20 years communicated with him in the fall, scheduling a threesome with the couple in her Sarasota apartment. Digital records show she and Christian spoke about the tryst on October 2 while he was on his way over. The woman asked if both he and Bridget were coming.

“Prob just me this time,” Ziegler wrote back.

“Sorry,” the woman responded. “I was mostly in for her.”

Five minutes later, he showed up anyway. The woman and Ziegler have given Sarasota police different accounts of what happened next. She said he confronted her at the door, then forced her to have sex over a barstool before telling her, “I’m leaving the way I came in.” Shortly after, she told her sister she had been raped, which prompted a trip to the hospital, the collection of a rape kit, and a discussion with investigators. In police-recorded conversations, the woman told Ziegler his actions were “not okay” and that he sexually assaulted her, something he denied while also asking if she needed financial help.

Police spoke with the Zieglers about the accusation in November. Christian provided a two-and-a-half-minute video of the sex, which contradicted portions of her account. Along with the apartment surveillance video, it appeared the woman allowed Ziegler through the front door. He has only spoken to the media through his attorney since the accusations first surfaced.

“Mr. Ziegler is relieved to be completely cleared of the false allegations and any criminal wrongdoing,” Ziegler attorney Derek Byrd said in a statement after prosecutors announced they wouldn’t pursue charges.

“We cooperated at every stage of investigation and as difficult as it was, we remained quiet out of respect for the investigation. On day one, we said that Mr. Ziegler was completely innocent. We asked everyone not to rush to judgement, and reminded everyone to presume Mr. Ziegler innocent — as the Constitution instructs. Unfortunately, many did not award that courtesy to Mr. Ziegler, damaging his family, career, and reputation throughout this process.”

Legally, authorities ran into concerns about the criminal accusations fairly early in the investigation. Ziegler gave investigators personal cell phone video he took of the sexual encounter. That hasn’t been released to media to date, but police told the Florida Center for Government Accountability, which fought for the release of records, that the footage muddied questions of consent, with the woman apparently telling Christian Ziegler to climax in her mouth and then leaving the apartment the same time he did. Even weighed against evidence the woman told Ziegler not to come to her apartment without Bridget, police ultimately elected not to pursue a rape charge and to deem the encounter “likely consensual.”

But it’s unclear Ziegler had permission to video the encounter; the woman notably said she had been drinking all day before the incident. The question of whether he had permission to film has prompted police to investigate Ziegler for video voyeurism and obtain a search warrant for his phone and all video content he may have shared, including over social media with Bridget.

Still, inconsistencies in the video and the woman’s account — she for example said the sex occurred at her breakfast bar, but footage shows her and Ziegler moving into her bedroom — created problems on that charge as well. Prosecutors in March released a memo making clear that investigators found no “financial, political, or malicious personal motivation to report this incident and initiate a police investigation” but also said they could not bring a case with the accuser as the only eyewitness.

“The Victim's expressed inability to recall whether she consented to recording the sexual activity along with her inconsistencies pertaining to key details of the event leave the State unable to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the video in question was filmed without her knowledge or consent,” the memo states. “Accordingly, no charges will be filed.”

But politically, the police investigation only mattered as a means to expose confessions. Ziegler admitted to the sex while claiming it was consensual. Bridget Ziegler admitted to police that the couple had engaged in a threesome.

In a contrast between the personal turmoil and political high point in Christian Ziegler’s life, two days after being interviewed by police, he emceed the state party’s Sunshine Summit in Orlando. He posed with then-presidential candidates like Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Christie as they submitted qualifying paperwork for the Florida primary. Notably, he did not appear with DeSantis for a similar photo. But when Trumpsigned his candidate paperwork, the Zieglers’ children surrounded the former president while Christian Ziegler shared the table and Bridget Ziegler stood over Trump’s shoulder.

Within weeks of that, every statewide official in Florida called for Christian Ziegler’s resignation as party chair, starting with DeSantis. Bridget Ziegler attended a school board meeting where her conservative peers joined Edwards in calling for her to step down, but she rebuffed the request. The Leadership Institute, meanwhile, has cut ties with her, as the Republican Party of Florida has done with him.

Christian Ziegler didn’t attend the meeting where Republicans voted to cut him loose. He did go to an executive board meeting in October, where he argued the party had no right to vote on his employment at least until a quarterly meeting in February. He brought a legal opinion arguing as much, signaling a potential lawsuit. But it’s clear that in the short term, if not forever, if any political capital the couple once enjoyed has been spent. Even in Sarasota, where Ziegler still holds a position as state committeeman, the local party issued a statement praising his removal as chair. When accusations surfaced, the party put out a statement about the need for a “full investigation” that closely mirrored the words Ziegler put out when Gruters faced accusations.

In the minds of some consultants, this could be good riddance to a social agenda they think has set the Republican Party in Florida back 10 years. Republicans in DeSantis’s first year as governor considered nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ employees, long before entertaining bathroom bills.

But even those who see some virtue in the so-called parental rights movement — Helmich said Moms for Liberty has wrongly been criticized for putting brakes on what he deems indoctrination in schools — the sheer mendacity of the Zieglers makes the far-right message hard to stomach. While the GOP has overlooked the sexual antics of Trump and Gaetz, many note neither ever held their own lives up as a model for conservative family values. The Zieglers did just that, even while slashing at enemies inside and outside the party.

“When you climb the ladder with knives in your hands,” Helmich said, “nobody is going to reach out with a helping hand when you are on your way down.”

This article has been updated to include statement from Ziegler's attorney.

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