Blood from Jacksonville is partially on Ron DeSantis’ hands

He should not speak, but rather listen to members of marginalized populations, who he has directly harmed with his policies and rhetoric.

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SOURCEOccupy.com

n the eve of the 60th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s march on Washington, a 21-year-old gunman using a rifle emblazoned with swastikas opened fire at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida, targeting Black people with an AR-15-style rifle he purchased legally. 

The shooter, who initially tried to attack the campus of a historically Black college before being turned away by security, yelled racial slurs during the attack and wrote a racist manifesto before carrying out the shooting. While addressing Jacksonville residents, Governor Ron DeSantis—a top contender in the 2024 Republican presidential primary—called the shooter a “scumbag,” though the crowd booed him during his remarks. 

To his credit, DeSantis is right to describe the gunman—who ended his own life before police could apprehend him—in this way. But before attempting to speak on the tragedy, both DeSantis and Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature should instead listen to people of color and reflect on how their prior actions and rhetoric as public officials have emboldened and encouraged people like the Jacksonville shooter to act on their hate.

NAACP: DeSantis’ Florida is ‘openly hostile’ to African Americans

Now in his fifth year and second term as Florida governor, DeSantis has made Florida a place “where woke goes to die,” as he declared in his victory speech after his 2022 reelection. Florida Republicans increased their majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in 2020 and 2022, and have used their power to enact sweeping new laws regulating public education in the Sunshine State, particularly as it relates to discussions of systemic racism and slavery. The “Stop WOKE Act,” signed into law in 2022, essentially halted discussions of race in public schools, and threw discussions about the contributions of African Americans to society and culture into question.

That same year, DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education law, which is also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. This bill prevented discussions about LGBTQ+ issues between kindergarten and third grade, though that has since been expanded all the way to eighth grade. That law, compounded with the “Stop WOKE Act” and House Bill 1467—which dictates that all books be subject to review before being available to students—led to widespread book bans that effectively emptied library shelves across Florida. And in May, DeSantis signed another bill defunding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programming at the state’s public universities, arguing that DEI education distracts from “the core mission” of universities. 

These actions, among others, led the NAACP to issue a very rare travel advisory, in which the organization warned that Florida has become “openly hostile” to African Americans, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ population. 

“Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, the state of Florida has become hostile to Black Americans and in direct conflict with the democratic ideals that our union was founded upon,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in the travel advisory.

“Once again, hate-inspired state leaders have chosen to put politics over people. Governor Ron DeSantis and the state of Florida have engaged in a blatant war against principles of diversity and inclusion and rejected our shared identities to appeal to a dangerous, extremist minority,” Leon Russell, chair of the NAACP board of directors, stated.

Even after that travel advisory, DeSantis doubled down. In July, the Florida governor defended changes to the state’s middle school curriculum, which now requires history teachers to tell students that slavery taught enslaved people skills “that could be applied for their personal benefit.” Vice President Kamala Harris accused Gov. DeSantis of “wanting to replace history with lies.”

“How is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities that there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?” Harris said.

Ron DeSantis’ overtures to violent right-wing extremists

Russell’s description of DeSantis as appealing to a dangerous, extremist minority is accurate: The Florida governor’s actions have consistently attracted support from neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and fascist-adjacent elements within the GOP. In June, Florida state representative Anna Eskamani (D) tweeted photos and videos of a group of neo-Nazi demonstrators waving swastika flags and pro-DeSantis signs that read “Make America Florida” outside of Disney World in Orlando. The targeting of Disney World is likely due to DeSantis’ attacks on Disney in response to the company’s criticism of his “Don’t Say Gay” law.

It should be easy for DeSantis to publicly distance himself from supporters who harbor hateful ideologies. However, he’s done the opposite: In late July, DeSantis fired communications staffer Nate Hochman for posting a video that showed the Florida governor’s face imposed on the Florida flag and the sonnenrad—a neo-Nazi symbol often used in conjunction with the swastika—while soldiers marched. The video contrasted Donald Trump’s statements in support of LGBTQ+ individuals with DeSantis’ draconian record targeting that population. Republican operative Rick Wilson of the Lincoln Project told the Guardian that DeSantis only fired Hochman because “he got caught.”

Hochman wasn’t simply a fringe extremist, but a rising star with the GOP. He was a staff writer for the National Review, wrote a guest essay for the New York Times, and was an occasional guest on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program. His LinkedIn profile shows he worked at multiple prominent conservative think tanks and policy shops, and he has past involvement in the influential Claremont Institute and Federalist Society. Hochman referred to Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes as “a good influence,” and he even once tweeted favorably about fascism, saying it was comparable to “mainstream conservatism.” It could even be argued that DeSantis and the institutional right hired and elevated Hochman not in spite of his warmth toward fascism, but because of it. And as of this writing, DeSantis still employs Christina Pushaw as his press secretary, an alt-right social media personality who openly cheered a study about LGBTQ+ Florida residents fleeing the state for fear of harassment and bullying.

It’s important to note that DeSantis’ enabling of far-right extremism goes far beyond his attacks on DEI programming and LGBTQ+ rights. In April of this year, Gov. DeSantis signed a bill allowing gun owners to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, and without having to undergo training classes or pass a background check. The Jacksonville gunman bought his weapons just prior to that law taking effect, but had no issues buying either the handgun or the AR-15, despite being involuntarily committed to a mental institution under Florida’s Baker Act in 2017. And as Occupy.com previously reported, DeSantis signed a bill in 2021 allowing drivers to run over protesters without facing any legal consequences. The Florida governor has given numerous winks and nods to those who wish to carry out right-wing political violence, so he shouldn’t be surprised when his words and actions are followed by bloodshed.

Violent right-wing extremism remains a national and global issue

The escalation of right-wing political violence isn’t exclusive to just Florida: In May of this year, a 33-year-old Texas man used an AR-15-style rifle—one of eight legally purchased firearms—to kill eight people at a Dallas-area outlet mall before he was shot dead by police. Investigators later found that aside from the man’s neo-Nazi tattoos and insignia, he was also active on white supremacist websites like the Daily Stormer and VDare, and had roughly 10 years of racist and anti-Semitic diary entries. And like Ron DeSantis, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has enabled violent outbursts like these with his relentless antagonization of marginalized communities and lackadaisical attitude toward firearm regulations.

It’s incumbent on political leaders to denounce and discourage political violence at every opportunity, especially when considering that right-wing extremism is the biggest domestic terrorism threat, according to a 2022 memo from the Department of Homeland Security. But this problem has lingered for years: In 2019, the New York Times analyzed some of the most notorious mass shootings of the decade, and found that nearly all of the perpetrators were affiliated with white supremacist and neo-Nazi causes. Mass shooters in Charleston, South Carolina; El Paso, Texas; Roseburg, Oregon; Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere were all white men who targeted ethnic minorities. This is also a global problem, with right-wing extremist mass shooters killing 77 in Norway in 2011, and 51 in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019.

If Gov. DeSantis is truly wishing to stop attacks like the Jacksonville shooting from happening again, he should not speak, but rather listen to members of marginalized populations, who he has directly harmed with his policies and rhetoric. If not, the problem will only worsen.

FALL FUNDRAISER

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