Matt Morgan financial documents show series of debts, expenditures adjacent to Joel Greenberg payments

Public records show pattern of mortgages, financing, & spending around key payments that the pro wrestler turned Longwood, FL City Commissioner received from public funds via Joel Greenberg's office.

Further public records stemming from transactions that have to be on file with Florida’s Seminole County Clerk give additional insight to the news broken last week by the Orlando Sentinel about Longwood City Commissioner Matt Morgan. Last Tuesday, the former pro wrestler was linked by the Sentinel to disgraced Seminole County Tax Collector and accused child sex trafficker Joel Greenberg via payments that Greenberg’s office made to Morgan’s LLC, Blueprint Enterprises for an apparent no-show job. Those payments, from October 30, 2019 to July 6, 2020, totaled $40,500, with the Sentinel noting that they started exactly three weeks after Morgan was released from a $36.803.94 tax lien; he had formed his LLC two days before the release.

(As reported here on Thursday, Morgan deleted a tweet showing him meeting Gaetz a few days before the Sentinel reached out to him for comment on the impending story.)

There’s a lot more where that came from, though. Further examination of public records involving Morgan and his family shows a series of new debts and home repair spending in close proximity to key payments from Greenberg’s office.


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The Seminole County Tax Collector disbursement reports showing the $40,500 in payments to Matt Morgan from October 30, 2019 through July 6, 2020. (Screenshot: Public records via Seminole County Tax Collector)
The Seminole County Tax Collector disbursement reports showing the $40,500 in payments to Matt Morgan from October 30, 2019 through July 6, 2020. (Screenshot: Public records via Seminole County Tax Collector)

On September 27, 2019, just nine days before Morgan formed Blueprint Enterprises, he filed a Notice of Commencement with the county about replacing the windows in his home. That’s minor on its face, but it’s the start of a pattern of spending and/or new debts showing up in public filings adjacent to key payments from the Tax Collector. On October 28, 2019, just two days before the first payment from the county posted, Matt and Larissa Morgan took out a $100,000 mortgage on their home. Real estate aggregation websites like Zillow and RedFin show the house as last being sold for $197,000 on January 17, 2013, which is supported by a deed transfer (to Morgan’s wife and mother) filed on that date. (It would be transferred to Matt and his wife in early 2015.)

The county clerk website, though, has no mortgages on file for any of the Morgans at that address before the 2019 one, suggesting that their home was a cash purchase. The next public record hit came from July 7, 2020, just one day after the final payment from Joel Greenberg’s office, when the Morgans took out another mortgage on the same home, this time for $105,000. The previous $100,000 mortgage from the prior October, which they had 30 years to pay, would be fully satisfied just 10 days after that, on July 17. About a month after that, on August 19, the Morgans filed a Notice of Commencement for a solar panel installation at their home.

Partial screenshot of the public document showing Larissa Morgan, Matt’s wife, using their solar panels (which are less than a year old), as collateral to obtain financing of some kind a few weeks ago. (Screenshot: Seminole County Clerk)
Partial screenshot of the public document showing Larissa Morgan, Matt’s wife, using their solar panels (which are less than a year old), as collateral to obtain financing of some kind a few weeks ago. (Screenshot: Seminole County Clerk)

That was the last public filing available for the Morgans…until a few weeks ago. Larissa Morgan filed paperwork on March 26, 2021 for financing of some kind using the solar panels as collateral. That just happens to be four days before the New York Times first reported on federal investigators looking into Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and his ties to Joel Greenberg.

These records, taken together, are open to interpretation, Nonetheless, there is evidence of a pattern that suggests the possibility of a bleak financial situation for the Morgans, one where they may have relied on the series of Greenberg payments and similarly timed debts to cover home improvement expenses and other, existing debts.


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Matt Morgan deleted a tweet that showed him socializing with Matt Gaetz

Morgan deleted the tweet days before the Orlando Sentinel even contacted him about Rep. Gaetz and accused child sex trafficker/former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg in the first place.

Longwood, Florida City Commissioner Matt Morgan and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) at a February 28, 2019 fundraiser for Jason Brodeur’s Florida State Senate campaign. (Photo: @BPmattmorgan on Twitter.)
Longwood, Florida City Commissioner Matt Morgan and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) at a February 28, 2019 fundraiser for Jason Brodeur’s Florida State Senate campaign. (Photo: @BPmattmorgan on Twitter.)

On Tuesday afternoon, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Matt Morgan, the mostly-retired professional wrestler turned member of the City Commission in Longwood, Florida, was one of the latest politicians to be wrapped up in the scandal involving Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and former Seminole County, Florida Tax Collector Joel Greenberg. (That night, Morgan did not assume his usual spot on WrestlingInc.com’s WWE NXT review show.) Greenberg has faced a litany of federal charges since initially being indicted for stalking a political rival last June, including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, with at least one of the latter being underage. The New York Times first reported on March 30th that Gaetz was being investigated over his connections to Greenberg, specifically if Gaetz had a sexual relationship with an underage girl and had paid for her travel to enable said relationship. Since then, there had been a steady drip of further reporting on the story from numerous news organizations, citing a mix of government sources, public records, and copies of Gaetz and Greenberg’s previously public Venmo payment activity.


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What Sentinel reporters Jason Garcia and Annie Martin found was that Matt Morgan appeared to be a beneficiary of Greenberg’s efforts to gift vaguely defined government jobs and contracts to his friends. According to the article, Blueprint Enterprises LLC, a company owned by Morgan, started receiving payments of $4,500/month from the Seminole County Tax Collector in October 2019. This would go on for nine months, with Morgan receiving a total of $40,500. The Sentinel acquired the disbursement report for “Blueprint Enterprises/Matt Morgan” via a public record request under Florida’s Sunshine Law; though the document was not included in the article, Garcia shared a copy with me. It shows Morgan invoicing the Seminole County Tax Collector for all of October 2019 on October 30 before invoicing for $2,250 every two weeks thereafter through July 6, 2020. The Sentinel further contextualized this information with two documents that were already available to the public online: The Articles of Organization for Blueprint Enterprises, dated October 7, 2019, and the IRS’s release of Morgan from a $36,803.94 tax lien—in effect since April 2011—just two days later on October 9, 2019. “A spokesman for the Tax Collector’s Office said Monday they could find no contract with Morgan’s company,” reads the article. “Auditors hired by Seminole County after Greenberg was arrested last year wrote they could find ‘no evidence of work product,’ according to audit records.”

The Seminole County Tax Collector disbursement reports showing the $40,500 in payments to Matt Morgan from October 30, 2019 through July 6, 2020. (Screenshot: Public records via Seminole County Tax Collector)

Morgan did not respond to the Sentinel’s requests for comment, which, according to Garcia, they started sending last Friday, April 9th. A few days earlier, though, in the early hours of Wednesday, April 7th at 2:01 a.m. ET—over a week after the Gaetz story first broke—something appears to have spooked the city commissioner. That’s when Morgan deleted a tweet from February 28, 2019 that talked about attending a fundraiser for then-Florida State Senate candidate Jason Brodeur, where he and his wife, Larissa Morgan, met Gaetz in person for what he said was the first time. The deletion was detected because Gaetz retweeted it; ProPublica’s Politwoops database of deleted tweets then counts that as a deletion on Gaetz’s part.

“Larissa and I had a great time tonight supporting our bud @jasonbrodeur for #republican Florida State Senate,” begins the deleted tweet, which includes three separate photos of Matt Morgan with, respectively, Brodeur, Larissa Morgan, and Gaetz. “Was great to finally meet @mattgaetz in person. Thank you again so very much for the encouragement and for paying attention to what some of us small town city leaders do[.]”

As of this writing, Morgan, who has participated in fundraising for dubious “anti-child trafficking charity” Operation Underground Railroad, has not been linked to any further Greenberg improprieties. However, Tuesday evening, several hours after the Sentinel story went up, the New York Times reported that Greenberg has been giving information to prosecutors on “an array of topics, including Mr. Gaetz’s activities” for several months. If that doesn’t tell you that this is an ongoing story, then nothing will.


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Let's talk about WWE having anti-vaccine misinformation on their website

They've been made aware that it's there, but 3 months later, nothing's changed.

Jenny McCarthy is introduced so she can promote Generation Rescue during the final episode of WWE Saturday Night’s Main Event, which aired on NBC on August 2, 2008. (Screenshot Source: WWE Network)
Jenny McCarthy is introduced so she can promote Generation Rescue during the final episode of WWE Saturday Night’s Main Event, which aired on NBC on August 2, 2008. (Screenshot Source: WWE Network)

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WWE’s final Saturday Night’s Main Event special on NBC in the Summer of 2008 is best-known for being just that, the final episode of the series to date. Taped on July 28th of that year alongside a live Monday Night Raw and aired five days later, it was a complete throwaway as a wrestling show. But the point was not to be a wrestling show by any traditional metric. The wrestling was a sidelight to heavy promotion for an “autism awareness” charity that snuck anti-vaccine misinformation onto WWE.com that’s still there as of this writing in 2020. That’s the same 2020 where vaccine skepticism poses an immediate danger thanks to the disturbingly large percentage of the American population unwilling to take the vaccines that may be our greatest hope of ending the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s also the same 2020 where pushed WWE wrestler Nia Jax posted vaccine misinformation in her Instagram Story and WWE Hall of Famer/WWE über-legend Hulk Hogan chimed in as a vaccine skeptic in a conventional Instagram post (archived here and here).

“It appears the change came, in a sense, as a result of the fallout of Chris Benoit,” wrote Dave Meltzer in a cover story about WWE moving towards “PG”/”family-friendly” content in the August 25, 2008 issue of his Wrestling Observer Newsletter. “The company now wants to be cooperative with the media, and not only is increasing its charity work, but increasing the publicity associated with such work. Even though the cause was controversial, they sacrificed promoting matches for an NBC show to promote that they were working to help fight autism. The idea is to make wrestling and WWE more acceptable in society, with the goal of getting a higher class of advertisers.”

The “controversial” autism charity that this particular episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event was devoted to pushing was Generation Rescue, the organization run by actress/former Playboy Playmate of the Year/game show hostess/WrestleMania XI celebrity guest Jenny McCarthy. Though just a few years old at the time, it was not exactly a secret that the organization’s version of “autism awareness” was deeply rooted in debunked conspiracy theories about a link—again, already disproven by then—between vaccines and the rise in autism diagnoses.

“Generation Rescue blames the increase in autism on environmental issues, but also targets a preservative (thimerosal) put in children’s vaccines as a cause,” Meltzer wrote in the August 11, 2008 Observer. “That is a view at odds with the medical community which claims there is no significant scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism or their view that dieting and drugs can help cure it. I actually learned about this because in our area, there are parents who refuse to get their children vaccinated over the autism fear, while doctors insist the fear is unfounded. General Rescue also has a web site called ‘Put Children First’ which claims the Center for Disease Control is covering up that vaccines are a part in recent increases in autistic children.”

It would stand to reason that the CDC was a target of Generation Rescue because the government agency’s “Timeline: Thimerosal in Vaccines” page is one of the easiest resources to find to debunk thimerosal conspiracy theories. According to a time limited Google search, the timeline was first posted in February 2008, and it just scratches the surface of information available from the CDC website debunking thimerosal conspiracy theories. As noted in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) in 2000, for example, the mercury-based preservative was never in the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. More recent CDC resources explain this—and other vaccines that thimerosal was never in—even more clearly, but I don’t want to belabor this too much. The point is that this had all long been debunked by mid-2008, with the flash point for the conspiracy theory, Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 study in medical journal The Lancet, having been disowned by 10 of his 12 co-authors in March 2004.

It’s not entirely clear why WWE threw in with Generation Rescue of all charities for that SNME special, as it was already evident to anyone willing to look into it that the organization was built on unscientific, anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. I recall there being public speculation that no reputable charity was willing to hook up with WWE for the show given the company’s reputation just over a year removed from the Benoit murder/suicide and ensuing fallout, but that doesn’t feel like a realistic explanation. WWE has long had partnerships with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Special Olympics, for example, and both started long before 2008. Though I couldn’t find any news stories or press releases about WWE and the Special Olympics from that year, there are plenty about WWE and Make-A-Wish, which renewed its formal relationship with WWE months before the Generation Rescue team-up. It could be as simple as as desire to help a newer, less cash-rich charity; we just don’t know.

Look, as much as the decision to go with Generation Rescue was a black eye, even for a company that constantly walks into punches, there’s a reason that I’ve never bothered to write about this before: WWE seemingly learned from this and never dealt with Generation Rescue again. But when I was reporting out the story I did for VICE in September about Drake Wuertz, Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), and QAnon, it got me thinking about WWE’s past flirtations with extremism. SoI took to Google to search for the references to Generation Rescue on WWE.com. That’s when I discovered “More on Generation Rescue” (archived here, here, here, and here), which was more or less a republication of the organization’s mission statement from its own website. Unlike the other contemporaneous posts about Generation Rescue on WWE.com, this one contained anti-vaccine misinformation (emphasis mine):

Our children are experiencing epidemics of ADD/ADHD, Asperger's, PDD-NOS and Autism.

We believe these neurological disorders ("NDs") are environmental illnesses caused by an overload of heavy metals, live viruses and bacteria. Proper treatment of our children, known as "biomedical intervention," is leading to recovery for thousands.

The cause of this epidemic of NDs is extremely controversial. We believe the cause includes the tripling of vaccines given to children in the last 15 years (with unstudied ingredients like mercury, aluminum and live viruses); growing evidence also suggests that maternal toxic load and prenatal vaccines, heavy metals like mercury in our air, toxic ingredients in our water, pesticides; and the overuse of antibiotics are also implicated. Generation Rescue's mission is to support continued research on causative factors and treatment approaches for NDs.

Again, while WWE should have done further due diligence and partnered with one of a litany of other charities for the SNME special, this, while nonetheless egregious and concerning, is entirely forgivable. They weren’t alone here, with People, for example, publishing quotes from McCarthy about how she “undid vaccine damage” to her son among other things in a story hyping the show. Still, that’s the only mainstream media story promoting the event that I can find that mentions vaccines, though ScienceBlogs.com, which was already critical of Generation Rescue, did run a blog post about the problematic team-up. (Showing that there’s not exactly an excuse for how People handled it, though, is an ABC News story on McCarthy’s “Green Our Vaccines” march several weeks earlier, which made it clear where the science stood.)

But because the “More on Generation Rescue” page was still on WWE.com and because it dovetailed with the Wuertz/OUR/QAnon story thanks to the strong anti-vaccine sentiment among Q followers, I mentioned it in an early draft of the VICE article. Since I did that, I included a question about the page in my request for comment to WWE. (The line about Generation Rescue was, meanwhile, cut with various other flourishes because the story was better as a shorter, news-ier article.) Even though the initial email opened bu saying that I was writing an article for VICE about WWE talent pushing soft-QAnon content and all of the other questions were about QAnon and/or #SaveTheChildren, the WWE spokesperson who answered my inquiries acted as if I had dredged up the 2008 stuff to manufacture a story:

Don’t you think this is a ridiculous premise? Why are you grasping for straws by cobbling together a bunch of random items including something from 12 years ago unrelated to the company?

Again, this is in spite of my emails being clear that the focus of the story was the #SaveTheChildren stuff. I replied to remind him that the story was not about Generation Rescue as much as the Generation Rescue content (which I noted was the only previous link between WWE and that kind of extremism that I could recall) had relevance to the larger story and I erred on the side of caution by asking about it when I didn’t have to. There were no further responses from WWE.

Less than a year earlier, in November 2019, I wrote a very different story for VICE about how a fluky glitch had made the production feed for one of that weekend’s two NXT UK tapings, complete with rehearsals, visible in YouTube’s Roku app. (As an unlisted video, once my friend who stumbled upon it saved it to his favorites, he could easily grab the URL from his favorites list and share it with me.) When I reached out to WWE for comment, they never responded, but they did make the video private within a couple hours. Yet three months after the same public relations staffers were made aware that there’s dangerous anti-vaccine misinformation on their website, WWE has still not done anything to remove it.

As for Generation Rescue? As the blog Science-Based Medicine would detail, the August 22, 2008 issue of the CDC’s MMWR newsletter—less than three weeks after the SNME special aired—laid out the startling rise in measles cases in the United States. “So, rejoice, Jenny McCarthy [...] and all the other antivaccine activists […] spreading misinformation, pseudoscience, and fear about vaccines!” wrote David Gorski in the blog post. “You’re winning. You’re succeeding in casting doubt on the safety of vaccines to the point that it’s causing real problems for our public health system.”

That wasn’t the only way they were winning: According to Generation Rescue’s publicly available tax filings using IRS Form 990, they first filed in 2005, reporting $530,495 in revenue. They would dip below that mark in both 2006 ($318,695) and 2007 ($425,317), only to rebound big in 2008, the year of the WWE special, with $1,185,255 in revenue. That’s a 2.79x increase over the prior year. Revenue would be cut almost in half in 2009 ($641,105) before rebounding to $1,094,384 in 2010. From there, they wouldn’t really look back until significant drops in 2017 ($1,056,706, down from $1,639,537 in 2016) and 2018 ($871,259), which is the most recent year available. This means that, as of this writing, there are no publicly available financials since Anna Merlan’s excellent March 2019 feature for Jezebel detailing the ways that the charity has enriched its board members.

It’s impossible for us to know how much being featured on a WWE special on NBC—albeit one that bombed in the Nielsen ratings—led to Generation Rescue’s 2008 surge in revenue, so any further discussion of the topic would be pure speculation. And look, nobody’s digging around in the bowels of WWE.com to research vaccines, so it’s unlikely for the page to do any real damage years after its initial publication. There’s still the more realistic possibility, though, that someone could watch the SNME special on WWE Network, which still has all of the Generation Rescue content, and find themselves in an internet wormhole of vaccine misinformation, though, a wormhole that could include the WWE.com page in question. During the SNME special, viewers were directed to WWE.com to donate to the charity. If you Google “WWE Generation Rescue” without quotes, “More on Generation Rescue” is the fourth result; it’s the top result if you put “WWE.com” in the query instead of “WWE.” (The searches were done in “incognito” mode to avoid tailored results.)

Regardless, when presented with the reality of there being anti-vaccine misinformation on their website, someone in WWE chose to treat that issue as a lesser concern, with far less urgency, than a barely embarrassing video leaking through no fault of the company.


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Here's a firsthand account of the 'hostage' incident after WWE Crown Jewel 2019

Since now is as good a time as any to publish this...

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About a year ago, I wrote an article about the fallout from the WWE charter flight delays after the Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia, where there was all sorts of back and forth about if the wrestlers were a pawn in some larger dispute. (It was to be published the following week, so use that as a guide for the tenses used in the text.) We ended up not being able to run it—not out of legal concerns, just budgetary ones—but I elected not to do anything else with it…even the article having a firsthand account of what unfolded as the passengers saw it.

Earlier today, though, in an SEC filing, WWE announced a $39 million settlement (paid for by insurance, WWE “expects”) to a securities fraud lawsuit that incorporated the plane issues into a larger case alleging WWE misled stockholders about its relationship with Saudi leaders. Though WWE says that settlement “will not contain any admission of liability or admission as to the validity or truth of any or all allegations or claims by any of the Defendants,” now feels like as good a time as any to run the unpublished article. So here it is, unchanged except to remove mentions of the name of the outlet it had been earmarked for and changing references to “the WWE” to just say “WWE.”

Though WWE continues to assert that the flight was simply delayed by normal mechanical issues, they have not publicly accounted for the discrepancies that caused the wrestlers and their families to become concerned, nor the Saudi television broadcast of Crown Jewel 2019 airing (on delay) an hour after the advertised start time. Whatever happened, it wasn’t communicated well to the passengers/talent. One wrestler, though, who cooperated with the plaintiffs in the securities fraud lawsuit, claimed that the story of a dispute with the Saudi royal family leading to the plane being grounded came directly from Mark Carrano, WWE’s Senior Executive Director of Talent Relations.


Last Thursday night, a little after midnight, I was winding down when I got a series of DMs from another reporter. “Have you heard anything about everyone coming back from Saudi?” the colleague messaged me, referring to the charter full of close to 200 World Wrestling Entertainment performers and support staff members who were in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for their second annual Crown Jewel event. “Keep alert. I’m getting it handed down (that) something’s up and they’re not making SmackDown,” the company’s live primetime series on the Fox broadcast network. I started sending out messages to get an idea of what the hell was going on and make sure everyone was OK.

“Big shit show,” a wrestler replied 15 minutes later. “We’re all pretty certain we’re being held hostage.”

What happened in Saudi Arabia has become the subject of much conjecture in and around the professional wrestling world this past week with some reports saying the delay was a response to a financial fight between the Kingdom and the wrestling promotion, while WWE and the charter company said mechanical problems were at fault. 

According to the statement from charter flight provider Atlas Air released by WWE on Friday, the flight was supposed to depart Riyadh at 3:00 a.m. local time, or 8:00 p.m. ET. That means that, as talk about the flight delays started to circulate privately—about an hour before I heard about it—the flight had only been delayed by about four hours. That’s not good, especially in a dictatorship, but most of the wrestlers fly over 100 times each year. They have a feel for this, and their instincts told them that something was wrong, and different from what they were being told.

“While sitting in the airport, initially, we were told to line up to get on the plane,” the same wrestler who sent me the initial “hostage” comment—granted anonymity out of concern for professional reprisals—told me after he got home. “Then we were told it would be 10 more minutes. Then about 30 minutes later, we were told it’s going to be another 30 minutes. After an hour goes by, we get ‘another 10 minutes.’  No one is telling us what’s going on or why we’re being held. Then finally, we are told it’s because they have to refuel the plane so it may take another hour.” 

This, in particular, set off mental alarms. “Why should we need to refuel the plane NOW when it’s been sitting in the exact same position it was when it dropped us off two days prior?” he asks. “The reason for charters is to get a group of people out on time and have everything ready to go.” (The most notable on the record account from Saudi Arabia, given by Allen “A.J. Styles” Jones, is vague in parts, but also backs up the assertion that the plane had, inexplicably, not been refueled.)  At that point, the wrestler I spoke to says, the wrestlers were told that the technician who could fill the fuel tank was incommunicado—only to be told three minutes later that they were good to board. WWE has not responded to an email requesting comment on the conflicting explanations given to the talent.

“We all get on the plane, we haven’t eaten a meal in 8 hours,” he continued. “I ask [one of] the flight attendants what was going on. He told me he had no idea why they were holding us (if it was mechanical, wouldn’t they let someone know?). He said all he knows is for some reason, these people don’t care to get you guys out of here.” 

The flight was running three hours late when the pilot’s voice came on the intercom, and said, as the wrestler recalled it, “Folks, I’m sorry, but we’re not sure what’s going on; It’s beyond our control and we’re not going to be able to leave right now. Please bare with us.” the wrestler said, He stressed, as others have since Wrestling Observer Newsletter editor Dave Meltzer first reported it early Sunday morning, that no one on board had the sense they were in physical danger, but that the prevailing belief on the plane was that they hadn’t really been delayed by mechanical issues. 

At about that point, a second, much smaller charter was booked to get about 20 key wrestlers out, although contrary to WWE’s statement, this wrestler says that the charter was booked and paid for by WWE, not the talent themselves. “With SmackDown emanating live from Buffalo, N.Y., several Superstars felt so strongly that they arranged for their own separate charter in order to make it back to the U.S. for the show,” read a key portion of the WWE statement, which rankled some of the talent enough for them to comment publicly. Wrestler Jonathan “Luke Harper” Huber, expressed his frustrations in an Instagram post (“I guess I didn't want it enough to pay for my own charter…”), while wrestler turned producer T.J. “Tyson Kidd” Wilson joined him in the comments (“Next time[,] we’ll pool our money together instead of being lazy”). Wrestler Joe “Curtis Axel” Hennig for his part, tweeted “We don’t leave each other behind. @WWE.” As of this writing, the promotion has not responded to an email requesting comment on who paid for that charter.

There ended up being a staggered set of several flights of WWE personnel out of the country. The company plane, which left before everything went south with the charter, reportedly housed CEO Vince McMahon along with legends Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Jimmy Hart, while WWE Champion Brock Lesnar and Monday Night Raw showrunner Paul Heyman left on Lesnar’s own personal plane. That was followed by an emergency charter of 20 top stars who couldn't make it to SmackDown in time, and the original, full sized charter. The indisposed wrestlers and support staff were sent off the large chartered plane after six hours seated on the tarmac, at which point they were put up in luxury hotels for about a day until the flight could leave about a day later.

The public speculation about what had happened to set off this chain of events began on early Friday morning, Eastern time, when journalist Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful.com tweeted “There were rumors among talent that Vince McMahon got in some kind of disagreement in Saudi Arabia, though I haven't been able to fully confirm that.” 

Friday night, former WWE announcer and international wrestling legend Hugo Savinovich, said in Spanish on a Facebook Live stream for Lucha Libre Online (and later reiterated in English in a voicemail message posted on the Hannibal TV YouTube channel) what two sources were telling him: This was that the plane had been held as revenge for McMahon telling producer Kevin Dunn to cut the Crown Jewel feed to Saudi broadcaster MBC Action to, basically, force the issue over a money dispute with the Saudi royal family. (The two sources were, according to Savinovich, a WWE executive and a longtime friend in Saudi Arabia.) 

WWE has not responded to a request for comment on Savinovich’s report, though they did continue to cite mechanical issues in a statement to Alfred Konuwa of Forbes.com.

There had been signs of a cash conflict between the Kingdom and the wrestling group buried in the WWE’s 10-Q filings with the Securities and Exchange Commision for the second and third quarters of 2019, which note that accounts receivable had balances way above the norm, in the high eight and low nine figures. Both reports attributed a drop in cash flow to reasons including “the timing of collections associated with our Super ShowDown event which was held in the second quarter of 2019.” Super ShowDown was held June 7 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. No past reports during the Saudi deal had such notes about late payments. (The Q3 investors’ call, held a couple hours before Crown Jewel, did include a note from WWE Co-President George Barrios that “subsequent to quarter end, we received a $60 million payment for an outstanding receivable.” WWE did not respond to an email asking if they could share the date that the payment was remitted.)

Meanwhile while the show was advertised as airing live in Saudi Arabia on the network MBC Action—with the correct start time for a live broadcast—tweets from both confused Saudi fans and MBC Action’s ownlivecoverage indicate that the event aired on about an hour delay, without explanation.

The WWE has yet to account for the feed delay, though Konuwa of Forbes.com paraphrased a statement he received saying “the feed issues were entirely unrelated to any issues with payment.” 

But whatever delayed the feed, its own talent hasn’t toed the company line here. Karl Anderson, one of the wrestlers on the tour, wrote on his Twitter account last weekend that he wouldn’t go back to Saudi Arabia unless he was paid enough to afford a second swimming pool. His wife replied, joking that it would have to be enough for a second house before getting serious. 

“Don’t ever go back AGAIN,” she added. “We don’t need our daddy […] being held hostage while we’re at home and worried to death.” Anderson “liked” the reply from his wife, as well as another from a fan who quipped that it sounded like the wrestlers “were held hostage,” not delayed by “plane issues.”

Two days later, the WWE announced that its 10-year deal with Saudi Arabia had been expanded to officially include a second show each year. That may have been damage control, as there have been two shows each year since the deal started in spring 2018, but WWE had been open to investors about the contract only stipulating one show a year. Based on how these events have been spaced out so far, the next contracted show is in six months.


Enjoy? Want to support this work and get exclusive content, like source materials and notes from the Babyface v. Heel podcast that’s finally debuting in the coming weeks? Then please subscribe for just $5/month or $50/year. Even if you’re not able to pay right now, please at least consider signing up for the free version, which will deliver all of the free posts directly to your email inbox, as well free preview excerpts of the paid subscriber-exclusive articles.

WWE appears to have a Drake Wuertz problem

After multiple email gaffes, the discovery of what purports to be his Parler account gives further cause for concern.

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I had been considering writing something like this for a while, but this past Friday night, it became clear that now is the time. In the last few months, I’ve reported on WWE referee and talent liaison Drake Wuertz’s curious use of his work email account:

  • First writing for VICE about his use of it in his work as a volunteer for Operation Underground Railroad (or OUR), a QAnon-adjacent “anti-child trafficking” charity (the founder of which had tried to legitimize the Wayfair child trafficking conspiracy theory), complete with offers to help get WWE stars to appear at a fundraising event.

  • Then reporting here that he somehow thought it was a good idea to put in an email to Samantha “Candy Cartwright” Tavel that he was cancelling her NXT extra bookings because “there were some past issues I wasn’t aware of with you and one of our talent that would not make for an ideal work environment.” (Even if you go with the assumption that he was buying into Matt Riddle’s claims that she was a violent stalker and not that he was helping Riddle retaliate over her rape allegation against the former UFC fighter, putting that in an official email is not exactly a good idea.)

In the meantime, as more and more people became aware of Wuertz’s ties to OUR, others started whispering about the increasing distaste for him within NXT thanks to his views, but there was never really anything reportable. Occasionally, he would, on Instagram, go slightly further than the “#SaveTheChildren”-heavy, plausibly deniable soft-QAnon material that he usually posted, like the time his Instagram story included this screenshot:

Drake Wuertz shares disinformation from “Eddie Penney” about the California law that ended discrimination in statutory rape cases by not distinguishing between types of sex acts when determining severity of sentencing. (Image: Instagram screenshot)
Drake Wuertz shares misinformation from “Eddie Penney” about the California law that ended discrimination in statutory rape cases by not distinguishing between types of sex acts when determining severity of sentencing. (Image: Instagram screenshot)

First of all, unlike Drake’s usual Instagram posts, the bulk of the content here was outright misinformation. All that SB-145 (the bill in question) did was make it so that sex acts other than vaginal penetration are not treated different in statutory rape cases. (The older laws, with harsher sentencing for other sex acts, unfairly discriminated against anyone who would be highly unlikely to engage in vaginal intercourse, i.e. much of the LGBTQ community.) The law has nothing to do with “lower[ing] penalties for adults who have sex with children,” just bringing sentencing parity across different sex acts. On top of that, though, the use of the “#satanic” hashtag can easily be read as an oblique nod to QAnon, as a core tenet of the underlying conspiracy theory is that a group of Satanic Democrats is molesting and killing children.

Other than that, though? It seemed like Drake, if he was a QAnon believer, or perhaps even more than that, knew enough to not being completely obvious about it in public forums. That feeling changed on Friday night, when the Twitter account for the Virtual Pros podcast tweeted that there was a Drake Wuertz account on Parler, the “free speech” alternative to Twitter that has become a hotbed of right wing extremist activity. There, the account in question, @DrakeWuertzFLA, was following the official account of “western chauvinist” collective The Proud Boys:

Given The Proud Boys’ reported ties to white supremacists, I wanted to dig in further and quickly registered a burner account on Parler. After all, Drake Wuertz isn’t just a referee; he’s now part of WWE’s Talent Relations department as the official liaison for booking extras onto WWE’s NXT-branded shows. If someone in that position were to express support for baseless conspiracy theories while crossing paths with extremist figures like The Proud Boys, it would very much be a problem. So I took to Parler, and my first stop, @DrakeWuertzFLA’s “following” list, featured more red flags. Before we get into those, a note: As of Sunday, November 15th, this account, @DrakeWuertzFLA, was gone, with @TheDrakeWuertz appearing in its place. I didn’t save anything during the second account’s brief existence, though you can still see a trace of it in this screenshot of when I sent the link to a friend in a direct message on Twitter:

The only record I have at the moment of the @TheDrakeWuertz account on Parler, which disappeared within a day of being created. (Image: Twitter DM screenshot.)
The only record I have at the moment of the @TheDrakeWuertz account on Parler, which disappeared within a day of being created. (Image: Twitter DM screenshot.)

Unlike @DrakeWuertzFLA, @TheDrakeWuertz’s bio did specify that an account @DrakeWuertzFLA had interacted with, @WuertzFamily, was his wife. As you’ll see later in this article, @DrakeWuertzFLA has engaged with posts from @WuertzFamily, which has less than 30 followers and would likely be seeing all of the engagement on her posts. Meanwhile, as of Monday, the original @DrakeWuertzFLA account is back, albeit set to private and seemingly with its followers purged (@WuertzFamily isn’t following it now, for example.) @WuertzFamily, it should be noted, also follows and shares content from the official Proud Boys account:

Anyway, back to the activity on the first account, which has hallmarks of a legitimate account:

  • It was set up in late June, just before he started posting about Operation Underground Railroad on Instagram.

  • The account followed locals that he’s interacted with elsewhere (like Willie J. Montague).

  • @DrakeWuertzFLA interacted with genuine-seeming family member accounts.

  • The page went undetected for months because of the minimal wrestling community presence on Parler, with nobody really drawing attention to it until the hosts of Virtual Pros were tipped off last week.

  • A fake troll account designed to get Drake in trouble would likely go a lot further than @DrakeWuertzFLA did; the page feels like a logical extension of his other social media pages and not an aberration.

So let’s take a deeper look. First up among some of the account’s notable “following” entries, albeit maybe the least least surprising one, was Jack Posobiec:

This one is pretty simple: Posobiec played a role in helping spread the baseless “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which claimed that John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chair, was abusing children in a basement underneath a Washington, DC pizzeria. Pizzagate would more or less morph into QAnon, which is rooted in the belief that Clinton and her circle of Democratic Party elites are Satanists ritually torturing children so they can harvest a magical blood drug, “adrenochrome,” from said children’s corposes. (If this sounds like the centuries-old anti-Semitic “blood libel” conspiracies to you, then you’re far from the only one.) Though Posobiec is vocally anti-QAnon, his Pizzagate activism makes it arguable that his allegiances are a distinction without a difference, plus he has reported ties to white supremacists.

Going back to The Proud Boys for a moment, @DrakeWuertzFLA has both echoed and voted a post claiming, without any explanation, that they’re not a white supremacist group:

@DrakeWuertzFLA “echoes” a Parler post claiming, without support or any other kind of explanation, that The Proud Boys are not a white supremacist group. (Image: Parler screenshot)
@DrakeWuertzFLA “echoes” a Parler post claiming, without support or any other kind of explanation, that The Proud Boys are not a white supremacist group. (Image: Parler screenshot)
@DrakeWuertzFLA “votes” a Parler post claiming, without support or any other kind of explanation, that The Proud Boys are not a white supremacist group. (Image: Parler screenshot)
@DrakeWuertzFLA “votes” a Parler post claiming, without support or any other kind of explanation, that The Proud Boys are not a white supremacist group. (Image: Parler screenshot)

@DrakeWuertzFLA also “voted” a Proud Boys post promoting this weekend’s “Million MAGA March”:

There were other concerning follows on @DrakeWuertzFLA’s account, as well, like Dr. Simone Gold.

As best as I can tell, Dr. Simone Gold is a hydroxychloroquine truther who recently self-published a book about fighting “medical cancel culture.” The medical misinformation spread by her is such that two different hospitals she used to work at went as far as issuing press releases for the sole purpose of disowning her. Next!

This one was something of a surprise: You have to be pretty hardcore to be an American who even knows who Stephen “Tommy Robinson” Yaxley-Lennon is. Either you listen to a bunch of podcasts that cover extremism or you share views with the noted anti-Islam activist, who was previously a member of the British National Party (BNP), England’s fascist political party before founding his “English Defense League.” And to be completely clear, @DrakeWuertzFLA isn’t just following Robinson to keep track of the guy; he’s sharing Robinson’s posts, as well (an “echo” on Parler is like a “retweet” on Twitter):

@DrakeWuertzFLA’s first “echo” of Tommy Robinson, sharing a September 19, 2020 post about a video of an anti-mask rally in London. (Image: Parler screenshot)
@DrakeWuertzFLA’s first “echo” of Tommy Robinson, sharing a September 19, 2020 post about a video of an anti-mask rally in London. (Image: Parler screenshot)
@DrakeWuertzFLA’s second “echo” of Tommy Robinson, sharing an October 12, 2020 post about a video of the line to get into a Donald Trump campaign rally in Sanford, Florida. (Image: Parler screenshot)
@DrakeWuertzFLA’s second “echo” of Tommy Robinson, sharing an October 12, 2020 post about a video of the line to get into a Donald Trump campaign rally in Sanford, Florida. (Image: Parler screenshot)

As of the writing of this section of this article (early Saturday evening eastern time), Robinson has been posting anti-Muslim attacks on Parler as recently as 10 hours ago:

With @DrakeWuertzFLA’s more notable/infamous follows out of the way, it’s time to look at the account’s actual activity on Parler. What jumped out at me first was that, on Parler, which requires an account to view the vast majority of the content and isn’t exactly the most popular social media app in the world, @DrakeWuertzFLA is open about being a QAnon believer.

@DrakeWuertzFLA “echoes” (retweets/reblogs, more or less) QAnon John’s Parler post about the discovery of a tunnel at the U.S./Mexico border. (Image: Parler screenshot.)
@DrakeWuertzFLA “echoes” (retweets/reblogs, more or less) QAnon John’s Parler post about the discovery of a tunnel at the U.S./Mexico border. (Image: Parler screenshot.)

On August 8, 2020, @DrakeWuertzFLA “echoed” (Parler’s version of retweeting or reblogging someone else’s post) a note from “QAnon John,” who wrote that “All the tunnels are being EXPOSED!” while linking to a One America News network story about a tunnel that was found at the U.S./Mexico border. Curiously, the article, though archived elsewhere, has been deleted by OANN, possibly because it was a vague aggregation of a story from KYMA-TV in Yuma, Arizona about drug smuggling tunnels. The vagueness appears to have been a cause in what piqued QAnon John’s interest, as there is a QAnon-connected conspiracy theory about severely abused “mole children” being found in secret tunnels. Sharing this post appears to paint a clearer picture of where @DrakeWuertzFLA stands on QAnon, as does the account “voting” (“liking” in Twitter and Facebook parlance) these QAnon-related posts:

@DrakeWuertzFLA “votes” a Parler post from Brittany Walker displaying a (backwards) QAnon flag, which also includes the hashtags “#qanon” and “#wweg1wga,” the latter standing for QAnon catchphrase “Where We Go One, We Go All.” (Image: Parler screenshot.)
@DrakeWuertzFLA “votes” a Parler post from Brittany Walker displaying a (backwards) QAnon flag, which also includes the hashtags “#qanon” and “#wweg1wga,” the latter standing for QAnon catchphrase “Where We Go One, We Go All.” (Image: Parler screenshot.)
@DrakeWuertzFLA “votes” a Parler post from “QAnon Babe” that boosts the baselss conspiracy theory that alleges Hillary Clinton trafficked children in Haiti. (Image: Parler screenshot.)
@DrakeWuertzFLA “votes” a Parler post from “QAnon Babe” that boosts the baselss conspiracy theory that alleges Hillary Clinton trafficked children in Haiti. (Image: Parler screenshot.)

The first post, with the QAnon flag, should be pretty self-explanatory. The second deals with a baseless conspiracy theory alleging that Hillary Clinton used The Clinton Foundation to traffic children in Haiti, a favorite in QAnon circles. Wuertz also “voted” a post from “Conservative Lover” that shared a screenshot of a tweet from Wayne Allen Root pushing a baseless story about Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, being caught on video abusing Chinese children:

In addition, while rooted in something factual—that Bill Clinton flew on Jeffrey Epstein’s private jet, creepily dubbed “The Lolita Express,” on multiple occasions—@DrakeWuertzFLA also “voted” two memes calling him a child molester, which is a popular topic in QAnon circles:

@DrakeWuertzFLA also voted a thread from “Texas Patriot” and “Military Minnie” about “Democrat child traffickers,” further showing a commitment to more overt QAnon affiliation than the posts seen on the Drake Wuertz Instagram account:

@DrakeWuertzFLA also “voted” a post from Brittany Walker, the woman in the photo with the QAnon flag embedded earlier in this article, lamenting a suspension from Facebook, which recently cracked down on QAnon content:

If the account’s “Q-pilled”ness wasn’t already obvious, @DrakeWuertzFLA also “voted” posts about “left[ist]” and “lib[eral]” child molesters and child traffickers, one of which was from the “@WuertzFamily” account:

@DrakeWuertzFLA “voting” a Parler post from a relative of his that falls in line with QAnon-related conspiracy thepries about “leftist pedophiles.” (Image: Parler screenshot.)
@DrakeWuertzFLA “voting” a Parler post from a relative of his that falls in line with QAnon-related conspiracy thepries about “leftist pedophiles.” (Image: Parler screenshot.)
@DrakeWuertzFLA “votes” a Parler post attempting to connect baseless election fraud conspiracy theories with baseless “liberal pedophile” conspiracy theories. (Image: Parler screenshot.)
@DrakeWuertzFLA “votes” a Parler post attempting to connect baseless election fraud conspiracy theories with baseless “liberal pedophile” conspiracy theories. (Image: Parler screenshot.)

There’s also one new twist that had not been on my radar before: @DrakeWuertzFLA, on Friday, “Echoed”/shared a post from Roger Stone which baselessly claimed that Joe Biden has promised a presidential pardon to convicted sex trafficker and child molester Keith Raniere, the leader of the “NXIVM” (pronounced “nexium,” like the antacid medication):

@DrakeWuertzFLA “echoes”/shares a Roger Stone post spouting a baseless conspiracy theory claiming that Joe Biden has promised “NEXIUM [sic] Sex cult Guru Keith Ranieri [sic]” a presidential pardon. (Image: Parler screenshot.)
@DrakeWuertzFLA “echoes”/shares a Roger Stone post spouting a baseless conspiracy theory claiming that Joe Biden has promised “NEXIUM [sic] Sex cult Guru Keith Ranieri [sic]” a presidential pardon. (Image: Parler screenshot.)

It’s not all weird human trafficking conspiracies, though. One of @DrakeWuertzFLA’s “votes” gives a thumbs up to a post from “WinstonCovfefe” that, in arguing against voting for Joe Biden in the U.S. Presidential race, listed various groups who “want Biden.” In a list that also included “China,” “Iran,” “Abortionists,” “Felons,” and “Illegals,” what kicked it off? “Muslims want Biden.”

In a company that, at least publicly, is trying to improve its handling of LGBTQ+ talent while battling a rival promotion with wrestlers who openly live outside of a strict binary for gender and/or sexual orientation, an account purporting to be that of a Talent Relations staffer “voted” this Candace Owens post about “drag queen story time” that suggested such events were an “abomination”:

There’s more, but this is getting long and messing with some email length limits, so I’ll stop here for now. I’ve emailed WWE spokespeople to ask for comment on the activity of the @DrakeWuertzFLA Parler account and if the views shown therein have caused problems for Drake Wuertz at work, but they have not responded as of this writing.


Enjoy? Want to support this work and get exclusive content, like source materials and notes from the Babyface v. Heel podcast that finally debuts in the next week or so? Then please subscribe for just $5/month or $50/year. Even if you’re not able to pay right now, please at least consider signing up for the free version, which will deliver all of the free posts directly to your email inbox, as well free preview excerpts of the paid subscriber-exclusive articles.

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