The defiant chair of the Florida Republican Party has denied allegations of rape made against him by a woman he and his wife were having a consensual affair with, as disturbing new details have emerged about the alleged attack.
Christian Ziegler, 40, told members of the state GOP that he and wife Bridget Ziegler, co-founder of the far-right Moms for Liberty parent’s rights group, were being unfairly targeted because they are “such loud political voices”.
According to a search warrant affidavit filed with the Sarasota County court, the accuser told detectives she agreed to a sexual encounter with Mr Ziegler and his wife Bridget on 2 October.
When the woman learned that Ms Ziegler was unable to make it, she cancelled, according to the affidavit which was provided to The Independent by the Florida Center for Government Accountability, who were first to report on the allegations.
She told detectives from the Sarasota Police Department that when she opened her door to take her dog for a walk, she found Mr Ziegler waiting in the hallway. He then forced his way into her apartment and sexually assaulted her, the affidavit states.
The woman told detectives she was not in a position to consent as she had been drinking tequila on a day off from work, and that Mr Ziegler did not use a condom.
He then reportedly told her: “I’m leaving the same way I came in.” Mr Ziegler was seen arriving at the apartment complex on surveillance cameras, police said.
During a police interview with his lawyer present, Mr Ziegler told detectives the sexual encounter was consensual and that he had filmed it, according to the affidavit.
He said he had deleted the footage before uploading it to a Google Drive after the allegations of rape and sexual battery were made. Police have not been able to recover the video, according to the affidavit.
The accuser later told Mr Ziegler over Instagram messages that she was “terrified” of him and had been left too traumatised to work, according to the affidavit.
In a separate interview, Ms Ziegler told police that she and her husband had a consensual three-way sexual encounter with the accuser about a year before the October incident.
A heavily-redacted police report provided to The Independent by the Sarasota Police Department shows that the woman filed a complaint of sexual battery and rape on 30 October.
In an email to state Republican Party members at the weekend, Mr Ziegler did not address the group sex claims he admitted to in his police interview but said he was innocent of the rape allegations.
“My family is rock solid. My wife is behind me 150 per cent and we have methods in place to protect our (three) children, just as we have with all previous attacks that we have faced,” he wrote, according to the Associated Press.
“I don’t see how he can continue with that investigation ongoing given the gravity of those situations,” Mr DeSantis said in comments after his debate with California governor Gavin Newsom.
“He’s innocent till proven guilty, but we just can’t have a party chair that is under that type of scrutiny.”
Evidence that the Zieglers, both power players in Florida politics, were having group sex with a woman have led to accusations of hypocrisy from Democrats and LGBTQ groups.
“As leaders in the Florida GOP and Moms for Liberty, the Zieglers have made a habit out of attacking anything they perceive as going against ‘family values’ — be it reproductive rights or the existence of LGBTQ+ Floridians,” Florida Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried said in a statement.
“The level of hypocrisy in this situation is stunning.”
The Zieglers have both touted their commitment to “family values” while running for public office. Mr Ziegler is a long-term GOP official and former Sarasota County commissioner who was elected chair of the state party in February.
Bridget Ziegler is a former school board official who co-founded the “parent’s rights” group Moms For Liberty in 2021.
The right-wing activists initially focused on anti-Covid lockdown measures but have since expanded nationwide on a platform of trying to combat “gender ideology” and “critical race theory” in schools.
Moms for Liberty was at the forefront of efforts to pass Florida’s “don’t say gay bill”, and was named an “anti-government extremist” organisation by the Southern Poverty Law Center in June.
Ms Ziegler received Mr DeSantis’ personal endorsement for her Sarasota school board seat earlier this year. She was also appointed by the governor to the newly-formed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, after he rescinded Disney’s special district status after a political fight with the Magic Kingdom.
The Zieglers have not responded to several requests for comment by The Independent.
Mr Ziegler’s attorney Derek Byrd told The Independent last week that he was confident his client would be fully exonerated.