The making of Anna Paulina Luna

Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna arrives as newly elected members of the 118th Congress.

Twelve years before she was elected as the first Mexican American woman to represent Florida in Congress, Anna Paulina Luna was serving at Whiteman Air Force Base in Warrensburg, Mo., where friends said she described herself as alternately Middle Eastern, Jewish or Eastern European. Known then by her given last name of Mayerhofer, Luna sported designer clothing and expressed support for then-President Barack Obama.

By the time she ran for Congress as a Republican, she had changed her last name to Luna in what she said was an homage to her mother’s family. A staunch advocate for gun rights, she cited on the campaign trail a harrowing childhood that left her “battle hardened.” She said she and her mother had little extended family as she grew up in “low-income” neighborhoods in Southern California with a father in and out of incarceration. She said she experienced a traumatizing “home invasion” when she was serving in the Air Force in Missouri.

Luna’s sharp turn to the right, her account of an isolated and impoverished childhood, and her embrace of her Hispanic heritage have come as a surprise to some friends and family who knew her before her ascent to the U.S. House this year. A cousin who grew up with Luna said she was regularly included in family gatherings. Her roommate in Missouri had no recollection of the “home invasion” Luna detailed, describing instead a break-in at their shared apartment when they were not home, an incident confirmed by police records.

“She would really change who she was based on what fit the situation best at the time,” said the roommate, Brittany Brooks, who lived with Luna for six months and was a close friend during her military service.

Luna’s congressional office did not provide answers to a detailed list of questions about her biography from The Washington Post. When approached in person on Capitol Hill last week, Luna claimed she had not received any inquiry from The Post and declined to comment further. On Friday, Luna’s communications director, Edie Heipel, emailed The Post calling the questions “bizarre” and stating “our office will not be responding to you any further.”

After the online publication of this story, Luna issued a statement through her attorney that said: “As I’ve said before, and as the Washington Post has clearly showcased, anyone who is a conservative minority is a threat to Leftist control. They can try to discredit me, but unfortunately for them the facts completely blow their story out of the water.”

Luna’s persona as a hard-line conservative who overcame steep personal odds helped her flip Florida’s newly redistricted 13th Congressional seat red last year, riding the support of former president Donald Trump to victory over Democratic candidate Eric Lynn. She is part of a new class of House Republicans that includes many elected to public office for the first time, including Rep. George Santos (N.Y.), whose fabrications about his biography emerged after his election.

During her first week in Congress, Luna was part of a small group of Republicans who refused to elect Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as House speaker, before earning major concessions and eventually switching her vote.

Central to Luna’s political identity is a dramatic life story laid out on her campaign website featuring disturbing experiences that left her with “an armor” that prepared her to fight for the American Dream, as she has described it. She says she survived an armed robbery by age 9 and that her grandmother “died of HIV/AIDS contracted from heroin use.” She has asserted at times that her grandmother’s husband and brothers died that way, too.

In text messages and emails to The Post, Luna’s mother, Monica Luna, affirmed her daughter’s accounts of those incidents.

“Anna’s story is layered and complex because my story is layered and complex because it took me a very long time to get stabilized after a difficult childhood of my own, and then naively getting involved in relationships that were not good for me,” Monica Luna wrote.

Luna was born Anna Paulina Mayerhofer in 1989 in Santa Ana, Calif. Her father, George Mayerhofer, was a drug addict, according to Luna and other family members, and he and Luna’s mother never married. In campaign literature and in speaking engagements, Luna has routinely said her mother single-handedly raised her with “no family to rely on.”

“That broken home mentality really did provide me with a lot of insight as to what things work and what other things don’t work, especially when it comes to policy,” Luna said on her podcast in 2021. She has also said she and her mother lacked “a strong extended network of people” that could help care for them.

“I remember those struggles growing up,” Luna said.

Luna lived as a child in various apartments and homes in the Orange County cities of Irvine, Aliso Viejo and Santa Ana as well as the city of Los Angeles, according to public records. Luna also spent time in Tustin and Victorville while visiting her father, Monica Luna said.

Monica Luna said she was the only source of meaningful financial support for the family and had to rely on welfare assistance for periods of time, especially as she was putting herself through college at the University of California at Irvine, and UCLA School of Law.

“Anna had a life that looked like one thing but in reality, there was a side that people didn’t know about,” Monica Luna wrote.

Other relatives have different recollections, saying Luna and her mother were supported by an extended family.

“The whole family kind of raised her – my dad was a part of her life when she was younger and we all kind of coddled her,” said Nicole Mayerhofer, a first cousin who is three years younger than Luna. She shared with The Post photos of the two girls growing up together and into early adulthood, including a snapshot from a family birthday party when they were young. “She was always a part of everything, all these family gatherings and activities.”

Luna’s paternal grandfather, Heinrich Mayerhofer, would pick her up from day care when Monica Luna was studying, according to Nicole Mayerhofer’s mother, Jolanta.

“She had everything. What she needed and more,” said Jolanta Mayerhofer. “And not only did Monica provide for her, but my father-in-law did, too.” Another family member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their privacy, also said relatives were involved in Luna’s life.

For her part, Monica Luna disputed the accounts of Luna’s cousin and aunt, saying Luna “barely spent any time with them in her entire life,” and called it a “complete fabrication” that Luna’s grandfather provided for her daughter.

Luna’s biography on her campaign website says that throughout her childhood and teenage years, her father “spent time in and out of incarceration,” and that her communication with him during this time was “through letters to jail and collect calls.”

The Post was not able to locate any public records of felony charges or prison sentences for George Mayerhofer in California, where Luna lived at the time. A spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections said they had no records that he served time in state facilities.

George Mayerhofer died in a car accident in Walton County, Fla., last year, according to a statement Luna posted on Twitter.

According to Monica Luna and Jolanta Mayerhofer, George Mayerhofer had several short stints in jail for not paying child support. Monica Luna said he also spent at least one year in jail for a drug-related charge. And she said he served time in Orange County. A spokesperson for the Orange County Corrections Department and the Santa Ana jail told The Post they had no records of incarceration for George Mayerhofer.

In 1997, when Luna was around 8, her mother married a man who was a sales manager, according to the Orange County Register. At the time, Monica Luna worked as an elementary school teacher in the Santa Ana school district, where she was employed from 1997 to 2000, according to her résumé.

During that marriage, Monica Luna served as vice president of the MOMS Club of Aliso Viejo North, an “international organization to support stay-at-home moms,” according to a 2004 Orange County Register article about a toy drive Monica Luna organized for children placed in foster homes.

The article noted that Monica Luna’s then-15-year-old daughter, Anna, helped pack boxes of donations for the drive at their home in Aliso Viejo.

“People should remember that we are fortunate and have so many blessings,” Anna Luna told the reporter. “Taking care of foster children, now that is so cool.”

Luna ultimately decided to leave Los Angeles in 2009 when she was 19 and enlist in the Air Force, according to an account she gave on a 2021 podcast.

“She saw how much I struggled and how much I worried about student loans that she joined the Air Force to try to build a life for herself,” Monica Luna told The Post in a text.

At Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force Base, where Luna served as an airfield operations manager, some of her peers thought she came from a well-off family – she wore designer clothing and mentioned at times having nannies as a child, according to two former friends. They recalled her talking about her aspiration of being a Maxim magazine model.

According to a biography of Luna on the website of Turning Point USA, the conservative nonprofit where she worked, she “modeled professionally as a means of paying for expenses that the GI bill did not cover.”

Luna – whose mother’s family is Mexican American and paternal grandmother was born in Hidalgo, Mexico – now describes herself as Hispanic and uses the Spanish pronunciation of her first name. But fellow service members say Luna did not publicly describe herself as Hispanic at the time and referred to herself using the English pronunciation.

“At Whiteman, we had different organizations for different groups and we did have an active Hispanic population on base – she wasn’t part of that,” said Katie West, who served at the same time as Luna at Whiteman Air Force Base. “I know that for sure because I had a lot of friends who were part of that. She’s kind of leaning into that now but that was news to me.”

Those who knew her at the time said Luna was largely apolitical, but they said she expressed support for Obama, who was president at the time. Brooks, her roommate, described her as “liberal.”

At the time, the two women were living in an off-base apartment in Warrensburg. Pictures and social media posts reviewed by The Post show Brooks and Luna shimmering in gowns at a gala, taking sneaky photos of each other napping in the back of a car, and posting on Facebook about their inside jokes and best friend status.

In a 2019 clip from a speaking engagement posted to Luna’s YouTube channel, Luna said that when she was stationed at Whiteman she experienced a “home invasion” at 4 a.m., saying that her landlord broke in to the apartment.

“Had my friend Jeremy not been there to protect me, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be standing right here in front of you guys right now,” Luna added. “[My landlord] was not breaking into my house at 4 a.m. to see how I was doing.”

But Brooks said in an interview that she was not aware of such an early-morning incident taking place. Rather, she said, there was a daytime break-in that occurred when Luna wasn’t home.

A report from the Warrensburg Police Department obtained by The Post describes the July 2010 episode as a “burglary not in progress.”

The incident occurred after Brooks and Luna reported to their landlord that they kept “finding the rear door to the residence standing open,” according to the police report. In response, the landlord changed the locks on the apartment and had deadbolts and latches installed, the report said.

But the women continued to find the door standing open and unlocked, prompting them to temporarily stay elsewhere for several days, the report said. One day, Luna came by the apartment and sprinkled baby powder on the floor in front of the doors before leaving.

Brooks, who is the only person named as being interviewed by the police after the break-in, returned later to check on the apartment and then called the police to report that “someone had gained entry into her residence,” according to the report.

When the police arrived, Brooks showed them “what appeared to be a heavy tread left boot print in the powder exiting the premises,” according to the police report.

Brooks, who is now a lawyer working with veterans at a legal aid clinic in Florida, told police that while nothing was missing from the residence, “her desk drawers had been opened and gone through” and “there was also a used condom lying on the floor that Brooks advised was not from her.”

The landlord’s name was redacted from the police report, and no suspect was ever arrested or charged in the case, according to police records.

Luna has described how the “enduring trauma” of the break-in followed her when she moved to Florida.

“When I was stationed in Missouri, I had someone that broke into my house,” Luna told reporters at her victory party on election night. “I didn’t have a firearm. It wasn’t until I got stationed in Florida that I got my concealed carry. So I have lived in circumstances and in states where gun control was pushed.”

Brooks said that at the time of the break-in, both she and Luna had guns in the apartment that were given to them by Brooks’s father.

Luna spent six years in the military, where she met her husband, Andrew Gamberzky, an Air Force Special Operations veteran who was wounded during his second combat deployment. During her time in the military, she trained at Lackland and Keesler Air Force bases before she was assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base and then Hurlburt Field, according to a spokesperson for the Air Force.

She graduated from the University of West Florida in 2017 with a degree in biology. Throughout college and after leaving the Air Force, she worked at times as a model, a cocktail waitress at a gentleman’s club and an Instagram influencer, Luna has said. For a period of time, she owned property in Washington state, according to public records.

Luna’s rise to political prominence began in 2018 after online statements she made on human trafficking and the Second Amendment caught the attention of Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA.

Kirk brought Luna on as the group’s director of Hispanic engagement in August of that year, a position that served as a launchpad for her unsuccessful bid for Congress against Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) in 2020.

It was around that time Luna began to embrace her Hispanic heritage publicly.

Washington Post photo by Ricky Carioti
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna in the House Committee on Oversight and Reform during a hearing on Feb. 1.

When Luna first registered to vote in Okaloosa County, Fla., in 2015, she identified herself as “White, not of Hispanic origin.” But she marked her ethnicity as Hispanic when she updated her registration in 2019.

That same year, at age 29, she filed a petition in Washington state requesting to change her name to Luna. In the petition, which was reviewed by the Tampa Bay Times, Luna wrote that she wanted “to represent my Hispanic heritage and have the same last name as my mother.”

Monica Luna told The Post that Luna was her mother’s family name, and that she herself recently took steps to make Luna legally part of her name, as well. She disputed the idea that her daughter only recently started identifying with her Mexican ancestry.

“Anna has never not identified as being Hispanic as far as I know,” she wrote in an email, saying Luna’s father spoke Spanish around her when she was a child.

“Anna can check both boxes,” she added. “She’s bicultural and biracial. It’s not easy to figure out what box to choose.”

“I am extremely proud of Anna for not only remembering, but embracing and identifying with her cultural heritage. I hope she encourages others to do the same,” Monica Luna added. “It would have been a lot easier for her to deny it; she certainly has been attacked again, and again because of it.”

Luna also stated on the campaign trail and in an interview with Jewish Insider in November that while she identifies as Christian, she was “raised as a Messianic Jew by her father.” Messianic Jews identify as Jewish and say they believe that Jesus is the Messiah. “I am also a small fraction Ashkenazi,” she added, referring to Jews whose ancestors lived in Central or Eastern Europe.

Luna’s mother said her father was a “Christian that embraced the Messianic faith.”

“He eventually got clean and started attending a messianic Jewish church in Orange County. He brought Anna to services and she buried him to Jewish customs,” Monica Luna wrote in a text.

However, three members of Luna’s extended family said that her father was Catholic, and that they were not aware of him practicing any form of Judaism while Luna was growing up.

George Mayerhofer’s father, Heinrich Mayerhofer, immigrated to Canada from Germany in 1954 and identified as Roman Catholic, according to an immigration record reviewed by The Post.

According to several family members, Heinrich Mayerhofer, who died in 2003, served in the armed forces of Nazi Germany when he was a teenager in the 1940s.

One of his sons, Edward Mayerhofer – Luna’s uncle – provided The Post what he said was a portrait of Heinrich Mayerhofer dressed in a uniform as a young soldier in Germany. Experts from the Simon Wiesenthal Center who reviewed the photo confirmed the uniform was consistent with that of a member of the Wehrmacht, which was the armed forces of Nazi Germany.

Jolanta Mayerhofer, Edward’s wife, said Heinrich Mayerhofer – who went by Henry – told her he had no choice but to serve the Nazi regime during the war.

“It hurt for him to talk about it,” she said. “He said, ‘You getting the letter, you need to show up, otherwise your life is over. … He did not like it, but that’s what life was.”

Monica Luna said she had never heard that Luna’s grandfather had Nazi ties. She noted that Luna is estranged from Edward Mayerhofer, who is the brother of Luna’s father and publicly raised inconsistencies in Luna’s biography on social media during her first bid for Congress. In response, Luna filed a request for a stalking injunction against him in 2020.

Luna has not publicly discussed Heinrich Mayerhofer, although she has noted her maternal great-grandfather Antonio Luna’s service in World War II on social media, tweeting in 2020 that he “was at D-Day.” Another great-grandfather, William Todd – the son of an American adventurer and a native of Colima, Mexico – also served during World War II with Arizona’s 158th Infantry Regiment team, according to a 1952 article in the Arizona Daily Star.

Nicole Mayerhofer, Luna’s cousin, and other family members said it was well known in the family that Heinrich Mayerhofer served in the German army in World War II. She said her grandfather at times spoke of his experiences in the war.

“Yes, [my grandfather] did grow up that way but when he decided to come to America and live here, even though he tried to remember where he came from, he was accepting of people of different races and religions – he was not antisemitic,” Nicole Mayerhofer said.

The relationship between the cousins deteriorated in 2020 after Luna filed the stalking injunction against Nicole Mayerhofer’s father, according to Nicole.

Since her election to Congress, Luna has drawn attention for declining to attend a White House reception for new House members because of the event’s covid-19 protocols, arguing in favor of allowing House members to carry firearms to committee meetings and accusing a reporter of sexually harassing her after he asked her questions while she left her office in the U.S. Capitol in January.

The new House Freedom Caucus member has compared Democrats’ approach to human trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border to human rights abuses in China, called on the United States to stop sending tanks to Ukraine and suggested criminalizing taxation.

Luna has also promised to tackle the issue of censorship, balance the budget and launch a veterans coalition, while sharing motivational messages about her journey to Washington along the way.

“I always tell people that you have two options in life: you can either choose to be the victor or the victim,” Luna said in an interview last year, shortly before Election Day. “I chose to be a victor.”