Ron DeSantis Attacked by Parents After Video of Him 'Bullying' Students Goes Viral

Florida parents have expressed outrage after Governor Ron DeSantis was captured on camera telling masked teenagers to "stop with this COVID theater."

DeSantis, a vocal opponent of mask and vaccine mandates, admonished a group of high school students for wearing masks before delivering remarks on Wednesday at a press conference at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

After stepping on stage, DeSantis told the students, from Middleton High School in Tampa, who were standing behind him: "You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it's not doing anything and we've gotta stop with this COVID theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous."

Video of the incident went viral on social media, with one clip shared by a WFLA reporter amassing more than 10 million views on Twitter in less than a day.

Kevin Brown Sr., whose son was among the students standing on stage, told the station his message to the governor was to "stop bullying kids."

"His mother tells him to wear the mask," he told WFLA. "I tell him it's his choice, so he made that choice and the governor has no right to tell no kid or no one that they can or can't wear a mask. He doesn't have that right."

Kevin Brown Jr., a freshman, decided to keep his mask on. "I thought about it and it's my right to have my mask on," he said.

Dawn Marshall, whose son Eric did take off his face covering, told the station she was "very upset" about how the governor spoke to her son and the other students.

"It's just shocking that the governor told these kids, 'Take off your mask,'" she said, adding that she had told her son to wear a face covering in school. "He pretty much said, 'Take off your mask, it's stupid,' and 'Take off your mask, your parents don't matter.'"

Her son told WFLA that he had felt "a little" pressure to remove his face covering.

DeSantis' comments sparked mixed reactions on social media.

An epidemiologist, Eric Feigl-Ding, tweeted: "Can't believe @GovRonDeSantis would belittle & bully kids to take off their masks by calling them 'ridiculous.'"

He accused the governor of being "cold-hearted," adding: "More kids have died of #COVID in last 2 months than first 22 months."

Others defended DeSantis, with Fox host Laura Ingraham tweeting: "Someone needs to break through the brainwashing—@GovRonDeSantis did it."

DeSantis' press secretary Christina Pushaw defended the governor on Twitter, writing in one tweet: "I mean, someone had to say it, after 2 years of propaganda that terrified and manipulated young people. Breathe free, feel safe and be happy."

She also hit back at those accusing DeSantis of bullying and the parents who were upset by his comments.

"Why isn't she wearing a mask then," Pushaw wrote in response to Dawn Marshall's on-camera interview.

Newsweek has contacted Pushaw for additional comment.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando on February 24. He is a vocal opponent of vaccine and mask mandates. Joe Raedle/Getty Images