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February 1, 2022 3:49 pm

Florida Gov. DeSantis Rejects Criticism Over Response to Neo-Nazi Rallies, Calls Demonstrators ‘Jackasses’

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a crowd at the US Embassy in Israel on May 28, 2019. Photo: Governor’s Press Office.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday dismissed claims that he was too slow to criticize recent neo-Nazi demonstrations in his state, calling the protestors “jackasses” and touting his support for the Jewish community.

The neo-Nazi incidents occurred this past weekend in Orlando, and featured violent antisemitic rhetoric, swastika flags, and cries of “Heil Hitler.” At least one incident of violence against a bystander was reported, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Florida branch said the demonstrations included members of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement and the Goyim Defense League, which has been actively spreading antisemitic literature nationwide in recent months.

Controversy sparked after DeSantis was accused of failing to immediately condemn the demonstrations and his press secretary, Christina Pushaw, questioned whether the demonstrations were a political stunt. Pushaw pointed to an October incident, when a group of protestors who oppose former President Donald Trump posed as white supremacists while appearing at a campaign stop for Glenn Youngkin, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia.

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“Do we even know they’re Nazis?” she wrote in a now-deleted tweet. “Or is this a stunt like the ‘white nationalists’ who crashed the Youngkin rally in Charlottesville and turned out to be Dem staffers?”

In a Monday press conference, DeSantis accused his Democratic opponents of exploiting the demonstrations in order to “smear” him, and defended his record on issues affecting the Jewish community.

“These people, 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 it — we are not playing their game,” he said.

He referred to the neo-Nazis as “jackasses” that would be held accountable by law enforcement, and pointed to his “record” on issues affecting the Jewish community, including signing a bill combating antisemitism in schools and championing bilateral ties between Florida and Israel.

“Why would [the Democrats] do that?” DeSantis asked. “Why would they want to elevate a half-dozen malcontents and try to make this an issue for political gain? Well, because they want to distract from the failure that we’ve seen with Biden.”

“Florida is probably — God, maybe other than Israel — the number one destination for Orthodox Jews to move to, because we do it right,” DeSantis asserted. “We have provided tremendous support and that is just what we are going to continue to do in the state of Florida.”

Also on Monday, ADL Florida criticized Pushaw for her earlier tweet on the protests, saying, “We are alarmed that Christina Pushaw would first give cover to antisemites rather than immediately and forcefully condemning their revolting, hate-filled rally and assault.”

“We expect any public official, especially a voice for @GovRonDeSantis, to address the fears of the Jewish community thoughtfully — not with this troubling and careless approach,” they said.

Pushaw objected to this framing, expressing regret for using “a flippant tone” in her original tweet but standing by claims the incident was being weaponized against DeSantis.

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