In January 2022 several Neo-Nazi protests took shape across Florida, including one in Orlando, where protestors gave white power salutes while waving anti-Biden banners.
At the time, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis slow-walked condemning the protests until national leaders from both major political parties did so. And even when he did, he still insisted that being asked to condemn the condemnable was just a ploy by “these Democrats who are trying to use this as some type of political issue to try to smear me as if I had something to do with that.” The governor added, “We’re not playing their game.”
This came just days after DeSantis’ then-press secretary (and current rapid response director for his presidential campaign) Christina Pushaw was criticized for a since-deleted tweet in which she said, “Do we even know they’re Nazis? Or is this a stunt like the ‘white nationalists’ who crashed the Youngkin rally in Charlottesville and turned out to be Dem staffers? I trust Florida law enforcement to investigate and am awaiting their conclusions.”
But despite Pushaw’s claims, those neo-Nazis protestors were not crisis actors well-placed by Democrats to make DeSantis look bad. They were white supremacists that believed wholeheartedly in advancing white power, eradicating minorities, and stoking fear. They also believed that DeSantis was a supporter of their intentions, if not an overt force for white power ideology, considering his legislative record in Florida.
And DeSantis essentially had to be shamed into denouncing them.
It’s now August 2023 and this past weekend a white gunman killed three Black people in an apparent white supremacist attack at a Jacksonville Dollar General store. (The gunman had been turned away by campus security as he attempted to enter a local HBCU campus moments earlier.)
The 21-year-old gunman had no criminal history and legally obtained the guns he used to kill three innocent victims. Before his rampage, he reportedly sent manifestos to his parents, local police, and news media outlining his hatred for “ni****s” and why he wanted to target them. The gunman also adorned his rifle with a swastika, perhaps the most commonly recognized symbol of hate and white power, the literal brand marker of the German Nazi Party.
On Monday DeSantis attended the vigil for the three victims of the hate crime and was roundly booed and told “you’re not welcome here.” His anti-Black policies lend themselves to that treatment.
In early 2021, DeSantis signed a law allowing drivers to hit protestors with their cars, without criminal penalty. This law was created to quell protests like the Black Lives Matter events sparked by the murder of George Floyd.
This year, DeSantis banned an African American studies course and rejected AP courses in African American history. If that wasn’t enough, Florida’s chief executive argued Blacks benefited from slavery. DeSantis is leading book bans and signed a bill to defund DEI, which also limits how race and gender can be taught, defunds college DEI programs and offices, and sent a chilling effect across the state.
And while DeSantis eventually got around to calling the neo-Nazis protesting in Florida in 2022 “some jackasses doing this on the street,” his wishy-washiness has given them cover. After a July 2022 Turning Point USA (TPUSA) gathering in Tampa, DeSantis again did not take the opportunity to unequivocally name, shame, and denounce the demonstrators outside of the convention center displaying flags that read “DeSantis Country” alongside the infamous Nazi symbol.
Then-gubernatorial candidate and current Florida Democratic Party Chair, Nikki Fried, said at the time, “We may disagree on policies, but if we as leaders don’t denounce neo-Nazis and white supremacists in our state, in our country, what are we doing here?” Fried added, “I am asking you, Ron DeSantis, to denounce the Nazis that were here, here to celebrate your speech inside this convention center. They were holding your pictures yesterday.”
Why wouldn’t racists support DeSantis? He’s normalized de facto and de jure racism in Florida policy, and expresses frightening indifference to the most odious racists among his base. Who could be surprised that, in 2023 Florida, a swastika-wearing mass murderer wouldn’t hunt Black people for sport?
Anyone acting shocked over this outcome is ignorant of America’s story, ignorant of Black America’s persistent fight to exist, and ignorant of the vigilance of white supremacy—which seems to always find a conservative leader to further its cause.
As long as Republicans like DeSantis—a contender for the White House and one of the most prominent members of his party—coddle white supremacists, Black lives are in grave danger.