Florida Republican Jason Mariner attributed his victory in a congressional primary earlier this month to voters wanting a true fighter in Washington, warning that if he were elected his colleagues were "not going to like me very much."
That part might be true.
Mariner has previously been convicted of felony theft, cocaine possession, and obstructing justice. He continues to question the legitimacy of the 2020 election, has praised the Jan. 6 rioters who attacked the Capitol, at least once had a Confederate flag tattoo on his right arm, and was accused by his ex-wife of threatening to kidnap and assault her. (She now fervently supports his candidacy.)
But the 36-year-old advertising executive won the GOP primary for Florida's 20th Congressional District on Nov. 4 with about 58 percent of the vote, even though he admitted to The Daily Beast that he's never actually lived in the district.
"I've always lived very close to district 20, whether it be in 18, or 21," Mariner said in response to a list of emailed questions from The Daily Beast after he refused to participate in a phone interview.
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Mariner is running in a special election to replace longtime Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), who died in April. And while Mariner is a certified long shot to win the Jan. 11 special election in a district Democrats currently possess a stranglehold over-a word Mariner said was an "appropriate categorization" for the grip they hold over the district-he thinks voters may finally want a change.
"Let's face it," Mariner wrote, "parts of district 20 look like Third World countries."
Mariner provided photos of acts of service to The Daily Beast, including providing pizzas to a police department and organizing rescue efforts during Hurricane Harvey. But for a candidate who's presenting himself as a changed man, photos, documents, videos, and interviews conducted by The Daily Beast show an individual who's firmly rooted in the trenches of the far right-and is still endorsed by some of Florida's most notable Republicans.
Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, the Democrat running in the Jan. 11 special election, called Mariner's ideals "alarming" and said she believed his candidacy would only suppress the district.
"Anyone that doesn't realize the Confederate Flag is a symbol of racism, violence, and a symbol of hatred is denying the truth of it," she told The Daily Beast. "Anyone that doesn't recognize that in a largely diverse district is dangerous."
Mariner filed for his candidacy for the predominantly Black district on Aug. 10, nine days before his driver's license was restored by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles following a crash that resulted in a careless driving citation. In the paperwork declaring his candidacy, Mariner listed his address as one within Palm Beach Gardens. The city is located in the state's 18th Congressional District, a move permissible by a state law that allows candidates to run in districts they don't live in but prohibits Mariner from voting for himself.
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In an Aug. 6 video where he announced his candidacy on his "Real Republican News" YouTube channel, Mariner told his subscribers-92, as of Friday-he was running to protect the U.S. from resorting to "socialism, or worse, communism," attributing his desire to run to God.
Before and since he announced his candidacy, Mariner has stuck close to the cultural messages propagated by former President Donald Trump and his acolytes. He promised to spend his own money on a lawsuit against "Big Tech" during a June 28 video. He has also made a point to include Black people in campaign videos, hoping to dispel any notion of a racial divide.
But neighbors who lived near Mariner recall him as a firebrand who exhibited racist views from the onset.
"That guy is a corrupt person," said Jorge Hernandez, a 71-year-old Jupiter, Florida, resident who lived next door to Mariner for years. "Now he's looking for that position because he wants to go there and start collecting money from people. He is a con artist."
Hernandez met Mariner when he moved next door to him in 2016. At first, the two were cordial. Mariner told The Daily Beast that Hernandez was someone he would have driven to the hospital at 5 a.m., while Hernandez said he tried to befriend Mariner because he feared for his safety.
Hernandez saw that his neighbor had a large Confederate flag plastered on the front of his Ram pick-up truck. That led Hernandez, who is Hispanic, to try and maintain an amicable relationship with Mariner. But things began to sour over the years, leading to a litany of calls to the police from both of them-and a battery charge against Hernandez that prosecutors later abandoned.
Some of Mariner's views online also gave Hernandez pause, including multiple photos posted on Facebook featuring Mariner associated with the Confederate flag. One photo, which has since been deleted but was obtained by The Daily Beast, depicted a shirtless Mariner with a tattoo on his right arm of a blonde woman wearing the Confederate flag on a pair of shorts.
"I don't regret it, it's taught me a valuable lesson," Mariner said of getting the tattoo. "Symbolism throughout history, like the swastika. Swastika is Sanskrit, meaning 'conducive to well-being.'"
Mariner included an image of the Swastika in his written response to The Daily Beast and noted the Hindu roots of the symbol. "The Nazis adopted that, making it now an internationally recognized symbol of hate," he said.
"I'd like to think that the people of district 20, including myself, are more offended by an intentional lack of representation, lack of school choice, neighborhoods without street signs and sidewalks, and rampant fraud committed by those sworn to represent them," he continued.
Another photo provided to The Daily Beast showed Mariner dressed in a "Florida Cracker" shirt with the Confederate flag draped over Florida's landscape. J.C. Western Wear, a Jupiter-based store that sold the "Florida Cracker" shirt, wrote on its blog that the shirt would help any individual "become the center of attraction and a member of the South's ruling class."
After The Daily Beast contacted the store over whether the shirt was still being sold, the shirt's blog post was taken down.
Mariner defended his embrace of the flag by referring to its origin as "the battle flag of Virginia" and claimed it was adopted by racist groups-while also claiming that the Civil War was more about states' rights than its true basis in slavery.
He also said he had his tattoo covered up and added the word "Change" next to it, though he did not respond to a request for a photo of the covered-up tattoo by The Daily Beast.
Either way, Mariner's political views seem largely unchanged. He has continued to peddle far-right views throughout his run for Congress, and in the first of two videos posted on Jan. 6 to his YouTube channel, Mariner praised those who stormed the Capitol as patriots who were justly trying to keep Trump in office.
"What you're seeing happening is patriots doing things like breaking down the police barricades and storming the Capitol building because we the people demand the right thing be done," he said.
Mariner later posted a second video calling for those to stand down, though he said the next day that those who attacked the Capitol were a mix of "angry leftists and extreme righters" who did stupid things-while discussing whether secession may be necessary along the Mason-Dixon Line.
"I think secession is the most reasonable direction to go at this point," he said. The FBI has said that antifa was not responsible for the attack at the Capitol.
Mariner wrote in his email that he could not initially determine who was responsible for the attacks at the Capitol, though he said the attack was equally as bad as the riots in Portland that followed George Floyd's death.
"I make no distinction between the people at the capital [sic] on January 6 and the people that burnt down businesses during the riots in Portland," he wrote. He did not comment on the urge for secession.
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Running for Congress has not seemed to temper Mariner's rhetoric. His campaign website includes a photo of Mariner's Confederate flag tattoo over a section describing his various policy positions, many of which hew closer to conservative buzzwords than actual ideologies. He is "tough on crime," eager to "build the wall," and wants to protect the Second Amendment "the way it was written by our founding fathers."
Mariner also continues to dispute the legitimacy of Joe Biden's victory. In an interview with local network WBTV shortly after his primary win, Mariner said he didn't believe Biden got more votes than Barack Obama.
In his emailed statement, Mariner said he believed Donald Trump truly won the 2020 election and upstart conservative movements seeking to audit certain states-some of which have concluded Biden won even more votes than Trump, such as Arizona-would prove that.
"Once the momentum builds, more states will commit to forensic audits and it's my belief that Trump will prevail," he wrote.
But Mariner's current insinuation of illegalities masks his own record, including accusations of violence within the last year.
Charlene Mariner, Mariner's ex-wife, filed a police report against him on Nov. 6, 2020, in which she alleged she feared for her safety. According to the report, Charlene was told by a friend of hers that Mariner was "losing it" and wanted to take it out on his wife.
"I'm just gonna tie her up, kidnap her and take her to the mountains to get her straight," Mariner said, according to the report.
When Charlene confronted him about it, Mariner brushed it off as a joke. But after Charlene brought it up in a couples therapy session, Mariner allegedly threatened her directly. "Watch yourself," he said, according to the report.
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Mariner divorced Charlene earlier this year after almost six years together, according to court records. The couple were married in 2015, just over two years after Mariner was released from prison for his felony charges. Mariner regained his right to vote upon Florida's passage of Amendment 4, but questions remain over whether he can hold federal office under state rules. (Mariner disputes the notion, and the Florida secretary of state's office has not responded to multiple phone calls and emails.)
Charlene Mariner said in a phone interview that she felt safe around Mariner and that the incident was the result of emotions running high. She declined to go into further detail, and she said Mariner was one of her best friends. Despite the divorce, she said she supported his candidacy.
"I hope and I pray that he will become District 20's congressman," she said. "At the end of the day, he is the best person for the job."
Mariner also attributed the threat as a moment taken out of context where emotions ran hot, writing that he and his ex-wife are still friends for the sake of their two children.
"That's a lesson over 50% of America could learn from," he wrote.
Despite his extreme views and checkered past, Mariner has garnered the support of some of the state's largest newspapers-including the Miami Herald and the South Florida Sun Sentinel-and several prominent Republicans, such as Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), who represents the state's 18th Congressional District, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Roger Stone.
"It is clear he loves America, and he has learned well that freedom is something we should never take for granted," Mast wrote on Twitter last month. His office did not respond to a detailed list of questions in multiple emails. Calls to his Washington and Port St. Lucie offices also were not answered.
Still, Mariner's call for ending government handouts doesn't seem to apply to himself. Mariner was granted a Paycheck Protection Program loan of $24,700 in May 2020 for one of his companies, Adskinz, according to data from the Small Business Administration compiled by ProPublica.
His loan was forgiven as of April 30 this year, according to the data, just over three months before Mariner began his quest for Congress.
In his written response to questions, Mariner said The Daily Beast should report the fullest picture of himself.
"If you look at the ratings of most main stream [sic] news outlets, they are in the toilet, and they will stay that way as long as we have hit pieces done on good people as it appears you are doing with me," he said. "I hope you'll take this second chance in writing about me, and create an accurate description of who I am."
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