Republican Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida has dubbed Daniel Penny a “subway Superman” after the U.S. Marines veteran was criminally charged in the choking death of Jordan Neely.
Penny, a 24-year-old white man, was arraigned on Friday in Manhattan on a charge of second-degree manslaughter in the death of Neely, a 30-year-old Black street performer with a history of mental illness and homelessness. Penny placed Neely in what turned out to be a fatal chokehold during a New York City subway ride on May 1.
Neely’s death has taken on political and racial overtones, sparking outrage from those who have suggested that it resembles the 2020 police murder of George Floyd. Others, largely those on the right wing of the political spectrum, have eagerly offered support for Penny, claiming that he took action due to a threat from Neely.
Gaetz praised Penny as a “hero” during an episode of his Firebrand podcast on Friday, arguing that he put “himself in harm’s way” to protect himself and the other subway passengers from the supposed threat by Neely.
The Florida Republican also vowed to personally donate to a legal defense fund that Penny’s attorneys recently posted on self-described “Christian fundraising site” GiveSendGo. At the time of publication, the fund had ballooned to over $600,000 in roughly 24 hours.
“‘Subway Superman’ Daniel Penny is a HERO,” Gaetz tweeted while sharing a video clip from the podcast. “Today, I will personally be donating to his legal defense fund on GiveSendGo.”
On the podcast, Gaetz praised Penny as a “U.S. patriot” for deciding “to act” against Neely, suggesting that the Marines veteran had acted “in self defense.” He argued that placing Neely in a fatal chokehold was an example of “the behavior that all great societies must encourage.”
“When the dangerously insane Jordan Neely walked into Daniel’s subway car, when he was making violent threats, Daniel bravely put himself in harm’s way to subdue Jordan and to put him in a hold until police arrive,” Gaetz said.
“When good men sit silently watching as criminals and deviants take over our streets, evil gains ground,” he added. “Its not only permissible, but its right and just to act in self-defense and in the defense of others … we must do our part to save Daniel Penny from the leftist lynch mob.”
Gaetz also argued that Neely posed a threat because “Soros prosecutors” want Americans to “fear for your life”—referencing a popular right-wing conspiracy theory centered on Jewish philanthropist and Democratic megadonor George Soros.
It is not clear whether Neely posed a threat before being choked by Penny. Witnesses have said that he was acting erratically and shouting about being tired, hungry and “ready to die” before the incident, without physically attacking anyone.
Penny’s attorneys Steven Raiser and Thomas Kenniff, who are receiving and managing the money for the legal fund, have argued that Neely was “aggressively threatening Daniel Penny and the other passengers.”
Donte Mills and Lennon Edwards, attorneys for the Neely family, said in a statement last week that Penny “needs to be in prison.” During a press conference on Friday, Mills said that Neely had been unjustly killed because he was “in a bad place” mentally.
“There was no attack. Mr. Neely did not attack anyone, he did not touch anyone, he did not hit anyone,” said Mills. “But he was choked to death. And that can’t stand. That can’t be what we represent.”
“Should Daniel Penny be charged with manslaughter?” he continued. “Absolutely. Because he acted with indifference. He didn’t care about Jordan, he cared about himself. And we can’t let that stand.”
Edwards called Penny’s arrest on Friday a “step in the right direction,” while also arguing that New York City prosecutors should have charged him with murder.
“When I talked to the [district attorney], I suggested murder two,” Edwards said. “They suggested manslaughter two. And now we’re hearing that that’s going to be the charge.”
“The consequences of manslaughter two is five to 15 years. Ask yourself, is that enough?” he added. “We need a full cup of justice here. And we’re asking for us to continue to press forward until that happens.”
Newsweek has reached out via email to the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for comment.