Gov. DeSantis Making Florida a Place of Intolerance (OPINION)

Jul 26, 2022
2:45 PM

A demonstrator holds a placard with a swastika while giving the Nazi salute at a right-wing rally outside a Turning Point USA event in Tampa, Florida, over the weekend. (Thomas Kennedy/Twitter)

MIAMI — Once again, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is failing to condemn neo-Nazis holding demonstrations in Florida.

The disgusting display of hate was seen outside of the Tampa Convention Center, where a Turning Point USA event took place featuring the usual cohort of right-wing lunatics gathered to continue indoctrinating youth into extremist right-wing views. Among the speakers were insurrection enthusiasts such as former President Donald Trump, Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and Gov. DeSantis himself.

What’s notable about the incident is that the Nazis were not just holding flags with swastikas, SS logos, and anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews, but were also proudly displaying DeSantis signs, including a flag that read “DESANTIS COUNTRY.”

It appears that the neo-Nazis belonged to a group called the Goyim Defense League, which has been known for distributing anti-Semitic leaflets and propaganda in Florida communities—“goyim” being a Hebrew word for a non-Jewish person. Taking inspiration from recent Republican rhetoric against reproductive freedoms, these Nazis were passing out bizarre literature detailing abortion as some sort of Jewish conspiracy.

The Florida Holocaust Museum condemned the Nazis in a statement by chairman Mike Igel, who said:

“Carrying the Nazi flag, or that of the SS, the organization responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the Holocaust, is an indefensible act of pure hatred. This isn’t about politics or religion. It’s about humanity. The Florida Holocaust Museum calls upon everyone, Jew and non-Jew, regardless of political affiliation, to condemn this blatant antisemitism in the strongest possible terms. This should matter to everyone.”

While the Florida Holocaust Museum is imploring everyone to condemn these hateful displays by genocidal maniacs, what is Ron DeSantis —arguably the most powerful person in Florida— doing?

Absolutely nothing.

It has been two days now with not a word from him about this incident or the fact that these Nazis were holding signs in support of him. I have tried reaching out to his communications team and his chief propagandist, otherwise known as his press secretary, Christina Pushaw, for comment, but only received radio silence.

This isn’t the first time that DeSantis has failed to condemn Nazi demonstrations in Florida.

Back in February, Nazis terrorized the otherwise friendly and liberal city of Orlando by staging violent rallies and displaying hateful messages on banners hung from an overpass. When faced with criticism over his failure to clearly repudiate these hateful incidents, Pushaw decided to question via Twitter whether the Nazi demonstrators were, in fact, secret Democratic operatives.

This absurd notion drew quick and massive backlash, including from a prominent South Florida rabbi who called Pushaw’s tweets “reprehensible.”

Pushaw was later forced to acknowledge that her suggestion that the Nazi demonstrators were Democrats was indeed insincere, but she kept a combative attitude when pressed as to why DeSantis was silent, even feuding with the Anti-Defamation League of Florida on Twitter.

DeSantis would eventually address the issue days later when asked about it by a reporter. Instead of just clearly saying that Nazis are bad and not welcome in Florida, DeSantis was his usual aggrieved self, saying the Nazis were “malcontents” but immediately went on a rant accusing Democrats of trying to “smear” him and saying he wouldn’t “play their game.”

To be clear, this wasn’t a smear job against DeSantis. People were rightfully upset that supporters of a political ideology that resulted in millions of people being murdered because of their race, sexual orientation, religion, and more, are feeling emboldened to stage rallies in open daylight in a city that is still reeling from the trauma of the horrific Pulse nightclub shooting.

DeSantis can pretend to be a victim all he wants, but he and his Republican colleagues are working overtime to make Florida a place of intolerance. They passed laws to ban the discussion of LGBTQ topics in schools and prohibit discussion regarding Florida’s racist past that causes “discomfort” for whites. They are creating an environment where hateful individuals and groups are emboldened.

DeSantis had already failed to clearly condemn Nazi demonstrators in the past. Unfortunately, he got a second opportunity—and he failed again.


Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. Twitter: @tomaskenn