Ron DeSantis Accused of Failing To Fully Condemn Nazi Rallies in Florida

Governor Ron DeSantis has been criticized for failing to fully denounce the Nazis who demonstrated in Florida recently and has instead complained that asking him to do so is a "smear" attempt.

The Florida governor was asked to respond to the protest on Sunday in which white supremacists unfurled swastika flags across a bridge over Interstate 4 between downtown Orlando and the Walt Disney World Resort, as well as banners with the conservative catchphrase "lets go Brandon," albeit spelled incorrectly.

The incident on the highway occurred a day after extremists from the white supremacist National Socialist Movement were seen yelling antisemitic slurs at passing vehicles and giving Nazi salutes in Orange County.

On Monday, DeSantis condemned the neo-Nazis as "jackasses" who will be dealt with by law enforcement, while saying he will not be drawn into further political fighting over the incidents.

"What I'm going to say is 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're not playing their game," DeSantis said.

"I'm not going to have people try to smear me who belong to a political party that has elevated antisemites to the halls of Congress," DeSantis said in reference to criticism aimed at Illinois congresswoman Illhan Omar.

Christina Pushaw, official spokeswoman for DeSantis, in a statement today about the criticism DeSantis has received over his response to the Nazi rallies, told Newsweek: "The Democrats criticizing him dishonestly while ignoring the substantive points he made are proving his point: Performative outrage is all they have, because the facts are on the Governor's side."

DeSantis' response was met with criticism from Jewish groups and public figures who feel the governor was not strong enough in his condemnation of the far-right extremists rallying in the state.

In a statement to Newsweek, Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti Defamation League, said it is "vitally important" that all leaders "forcefully and unequivocally condemn the type of vile antisemitism" on display in Florida.

"While we appreciate Governor Ron DeSantis referring the matter to law enforcement and vowing to hold the perpetrators responsible, dismissing violent neo-Nazis as just some 'jackasses' or attempting to use this as an opportunity to bash political opponents only serves to diminish the impact this hateful behavior has on the entire community," Greenblatt said.

"We must send an unambiguous message to neo-Nazis, antisemites and all bigots: hate and extremism have no place in the state of Florida."

Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, tweeted: "Blatant hypocrisy and gaslighting here from Ron DeSantis, who refuses to acknowledge the extremism tolerated, amplified, and even embraced by his party at the highest level.

"The neo-Nazis chanting in the Florida streets aren't there because of Democrats, and DeSantis knows it."

Andrew Weinstein, chair of the Democratic Lawyers Council, said: "Condemning should be the easiest thing to do for any American politician."

David Weissman, a U.S. Army veteran and former supporter of Donald Trump, commented: "As a Jew and as a resident of the great state of Florida, I really would love to know why Governor Ron DeSantis refuses to condemn Nazis?"

The Miami Herald ran an editorial that said DeSantis failed to condemned the Nazi demonstrators.

"On Monday, when DeSantis had his chance to condemn these demonstrators, when he could have simply said Nazis are bad people, when he could have made sure he didn't give cover to those who hate, well, he didn't," the article states. "And all the manufactured anger at Democrats can't cover up that telling silence."

While sharing a clip of DeSantis' comments about the protest, Fred Guttenberg, the gun control campaigner whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was killed in the Parkland school shooting, tweeted: "Ron DeSantis when you say 'they' you're talking to me.

"I am a Jewish citizen of Fl who is deeply offended by Christina Pushaw & her response & history of comments. Your press sec is the reason you are getting blow back. You just made it worse."

Others also mentioned DeSantis' press secretary in their criticism of the Florida Governor.

Pushaw had deleted a tweet in which she asked "how do we even know they're Nazis?" while swatting away any suggestion the far-right demonstration in Orlando could be linked to the governor.

Pushaw questioned if the rally could be "stunt" similar to that performed by members of The Lincoln Project during a gubernatorial campaign event for Glenn Youngkin in Charlottesville, Virginia, in October 2021.

Several members of the anti-Trump group dressed up as the white supremacists seen holding tiki torches prior to the deadly "Unite the Right" rally in August 2017, as part of a campaign stunt against the Republican candidate.

The Lincoln Project said posing as the extremists was a way of "reminding Virginians what happened in Charlottesville four years ago, the Republican party's embrace of those values, and Glenn Youngkin's failure to condemn it."

In a statement to Newsweek, Pushaw said she deleted the tweet after realizing the extremists were part of National Socialist Movement before also saying attempts to tie DeSantis to the protests are "disgusting political smears."

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Ron DeSantis speaks to the media about the cruise industry during a press conference at PortMiami on April 08, 2021 in Miami, Florida. The Florida governor been criticized for failing to fully denounce the Nazis who demonstrated in the state. Joe Raedle/Getty Images