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In a timely release that coincides with the tumultuous political climate surrounding disgraced and expelled former New York U.S. Rep. George Santos, Mark Chiusano’s new book The Fabulist: The Lying, Hustling, Grifting, Stealing, and Very American Legend of George Santos delves into the life of one of America’s most controversial political figures. In an interview with The Advocate, Chiusano shares insights into his motivations and discoveries while penning this revealing biography.
Chiusano’s journey with Santos began in 2019, well before The New York Times exposed Santos’s lies, when he encountered a candidate and was “clued into [Santos] being a strange guy from the very beginning.”
However, this year, the full scope of Santos’s deceit prompted Chiusano to explore his story in book form.
Throughout his research, Chiusano was struck by Santos’s “real commitment to the hustle,” finding tales of deception that started early in his life, including stealing from his own family, a fact made even more poignant by those family members later securing the bond under which he is currently free ahead of his criminal trial next year.
Chiusano faced the challenge of discerning truth from Santos’s web of lies, adopting a triangulation strategy, he says.
“Something that a friend said, I’d try to get some sort of corroboration with some other source,” Chiusano explains, underscoring the meticulous care he took to ensure accuracy in his story.
The author’s research took him from the familiar streets of Queens, N.Y., to the vibrant locales of Brazil. Chiusano immersed himself in Santos’s past, seeking out those who knew him and retracing the politician's steps in a quest for understanding.
“One of my favorite pieces of that was going to a club where his drag mentor was performing,” he says, vividly picturing Santos’s earlier life and his penchant for performance and transformation.
Chiusano delves deeply into Santos’s relationship with his mother, a dynamic he believes is central to understanding the now-expelled congressman.
“He built this persona for her that was totally made up,” said Chiusano, reflecting on the psychological underpinnings of Santos’ fabrications.
When asked to compare Santos to infamous contemporary con artists like Elizabeth Holmes and Anna Sorokin, who went by Anna Delvey, Chiusano sees similarities with Delvey’s frantic hustle.
Holmes misled investors into believing that she had developed a revolutionary new medical technology that didn’t exist. Meanwhile, Sorokin’s Delvey famously fooled New York City’s social and financial elite into extending extraordinary lines of credit to the fake socialite.
Yet Chiusano marks a distinction in the timing of their respective rises, noting that Santos is “a creature of this hyper-political moment and Delvey was a creature of the pre-COVID New York party scene.”
As for Santos’s belief in his fabrications, Chiusano is certain.
“He believes his own lies,” he says.
The author remarks on the importance of performance to Santos before and during his time in Congress. That conversation with Santos’s staff further illuminated the culture of bravado and deception that surrounded him, Chiusano says.
Focusing on his book’s concurrent release and the House Ethics Committee’s report, Chiusano finds vindication.
As revealed in the Ethics Committee’s report, the revelations of Santos’s alleged misuse of campaign funds for personal luxuries mirror Chiusano’s findings of Santos boasting about cosmetic procedures and luxury items he had claimed to have spent piles of money on in the past.
“It’s been really vindicating to see kind of what I’d been reporting get matched by these other investigators,” Chiusano shares.
Chiusano’s The Fabulist is an essential read for those seeking to understand the complex tapestry of truth and fabrication that defines the American political landscape in the age of George Santos.
As the curtain fell on Santos’s political career in Congress after the expulsion vote, Chiusano’s examination of his subject’s character becomes even more pertinent. The book’s detailed anecdotes and personal histories construct a narrative that is as much about the American political climate as it is about Santos himself.
Chiusano also touches on the cultural aspects of Santos’s life, particularly his time in Brazil, which shaped his propensity for dramatic self-reinvention.
Drag queen Kitara Rivache was only one of the many characters that Santos has inhabited throughout his life, Chiusano documents in the book, visiting clubs at which Santos was said to have spent time as a young man in Brazil.
The portrayal of Santos’s early life in the vibrant streets of Rio and the subdued suburbs of Queens paints a picture of a man continually crafting and recrafting his identity.
“Understanding where he came from sheds light on the kind of person he’s become,” Chiusano says.
Moreover, Chiusano’s work goes beyond the spectacle of Santos’s alleged misdeeds, and his insights into Santos’s psyche and the implications of his actions extend beyond mere political critique. They are a cautionary tale about the seductive nature of ambition unchecked by ethical boundaries. Through his interactions with those entangled in Santos’s web, Chiusano uncovers a pattern of behavior that consistently prioritizes personal advancement over communal responsibility.
Santos views life as a series of roles to play, with Congress being the latest stage on which to perform, Chiusano says.
The book, which HBO Films has optioned, arrives amid the crescendo of Santos’s political drama and captures the fascination and horror of witnessing a public figure whose career is marked by perpetual performance. Chiusano’s portrayal of Santos, from his early life to the halls of power, reveals a complex character whose truth is as elusive as the persona he projects to the world.
In documenting Santos’s life, Chiusano wrote about the lives Santos affected, the trust he broke, and the reality he bent.
Looking ahead, Chiusano speculates on Santos’s future, suggesting that the politician's love for the limelight may lead him to a new stage, perhaps even reality television.
“He’s open to the universe’s possibilities,” Chiusano muses.
The environment that made Santos possible should be a warning to all, the author warns.
“It’s more than just a funny story about a grifter," he says. "These people are really degrading our democracy."