6 min read

Week of March 5-11, 2023

Week of March 5-11, 2023

Ron DeSantis says we "ain't seen nothing yet" in his war on "wokeism"

This week’s post ran a little long. If you want to just watch something funny, better written and more informative about Ron DeSantis please, please, please watch this segment of HBO’s Last Week Tonight from this past Sunday.

When I started this blog, I certainly had the machinations of DeSantis in mind, but I really didn’t expect him to simply dominate every week. Yet, like Trump in 2016 and throughout Trump’s presidency, DeSantis is trying to control the narrative by flooding the media with his shenanigans. There are two crucially important differences between what Trump did and what DeSantis is doing. 1) Trump was President of the United States and DeSantis is Governor of a state, albeit the third most populous state and one of the largest economies in the world. 2) Trump never enjoyed super majorities in the House and Senate, something DeSantis has in Florida. The latter is important because this means that when insane sounding bills, such as the one to ban the Democratic Party in Florida (SB 1248), are proposed, they have a very real chance of passing. Even if the Supreme Court overturned such a law the damage would be done in time for 2024 as this law eliminates the Democrat Party and registers the now party-less voters as GOP voters.

DeSantis isn’t done either. In his opening remarks to Florida’s legislative session he promised that “you ain’t seen nothing yet,” when it comes to the culture wars he is waging. And speaking of war, DeSantis is trying to form his own military on taxpayer dollars, $98 million of them. To be fair, Florida has one of the smallest allotments of National Guard troops in the country—including US territories such as Guam and Puerto Rico, and most states supplement their National Guard with units such as this. Still, it is alarming that a man who created the first in the nation election police is now likely to add an actual army to his growing collection of potentially anti-democratic tools. Oh, and he’s pushing for a law this session that would give more power to his election police. Remember, Florida is the state that has functionally made protesting illegal—the same way it was during Jim Crow, this time, only sanitized for the Supreme Court to approve it. That anti-protesting law has been blocked until courts can rule on it but Tallahassee Republicans implemented measures to prevent people protesting lawmakers, which has happened during the last two legislative sessions, in the interim.

And a quick word about the election police in Florida. The article I linked above says the election police largely flopped. They did not. Though all of their cases against Black voters have been tossed out, the point of their actions was to suppress the Black vote, not to actually get convictions. And it worked.

Even some GOP stalwarts such as Newt Gingrich think DeSantis is going to far, calling the blogger registration bill I talked about last week, “insane.” Other GOP old schoolers, such as Mike Pence and Chris Christie, are taking aim at DeSantis as a real threat to win the White House who is too extreme for America. Both men are particularly concerned with DeSantis’s waffling on another autocrat, Vladimir Putin.

Parents of LBTQIA+ students are seriously considering fleeing Florida, if they haven’t done so already, according to a report in the Washington Post this week. This isn’t anecdotal either, I personally know parents considering moving from Florida to protect their children. Other parents, as the report notes, are fighting back, but nevertheless overwhelmed and dismayed by the current speed and ruthlessness of the Republican controlled government in Florida. Unsatisfied with their gains and eager to exact revenge on the state teacher’s unions, who they see as opposed to the Republican Party, the Florida legislature is considering a bill that they hope will destroy educators’ ability to unionize. “Local teacher union leaders took a dim view of the package of bills, which they saw as the Legislature’s latest attempt to stifle collective bargaining that’s guaranteed in Article I, Section 6 of the Florida Constitution,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. As award winning historian Heather Cox Richardson notes this week attacks on LGBTQIA+ rights and teachers are not only hallmarks of what dictators do, but exactly what Viktor Orbán of Hungary has done while turning the once healthy democracy there into an “illiberal democracy.” Orbán is a man many of the leaders of the GOP’s largest conference, CPAC, which was held in the DC Area this week, admire.

Meanwhile, a retired columnist and journalism professor, Thomas B Edsall, writing for the New York Times quotes a number of conservative thinkers in sounding the alarm that higher education is dying in Florida, thanks to DeSantis’s rash of laws. Though he notes that despite thinking DeSantis is going to far, “What is striking about most of the responses I received from conservatives is the minimization or complete absence of concern over the politicization of higher education when the driving force is from the right.”

But will all this work for DeSantis, who is clearly eyeing the White House in 2024? The Tampa Bay Times thinks it just might:

It’s an agenda that’s expected to give DeSantis months of headlines — and springboard his anticipated 2024 presidential run. Some of the bills could help shore up his conservative bona fides against fellow Floridian Donald Trump, who has already announced he’s running to take back the White House, and to further endear him to deep-pocketed donors. “I’ve never seen a governor in my lifetime with this much absolute control of the agenda in Tallahassee as Ron DeSantis,” said lobbyist Brian Ballard, who has been involved in Florida’s legislative sessions since 1986 and supports the governor.

And Politico ran a story last week entitled, “Die-hard Trump fans make clear: they want DeSantis.”

The war court headquarters at Camp Justice, at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, seen through a broken window at an obsolete air hangar at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Miami photo credit Miami Herald

Still, we know less about DeSantis than you might think, especially given he’s leading Trump in some polls (one poll in Virginia has DeSantis up 17 points head-to-head with Trump) to be the next Republican nominee for the White House. We know DeSantis went to Yale and Harvard and in 2006 joined the Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) for the Navy. We know as a new JAG he was assigned as to Guantanamo Bay during the peak of accusations of torture and other human rights violations. But we don’t know exactly what he did there or what he observed. All of which is odd given he likes to talk about having been in the military, but he doesn’t talk about what he did while in the military. Late in 2022 a small-time podcaster named Mike Prysner claims to have interviewed former Guantanamo detainee Mansoor Adayfi (who was imprisoned there for over a dozen years before being released without being charged) who in turn claims DeSantis not only used his position as a JAG to learn how to better torture detainees, but watched the detainees being tortured. Note: I do not fully trust the podcasters linked above—yet.

“[DeSantis] didn’t start as a very bad guy, but the course of events, I think, led him to have no choice. Many of the very big leadership, if they want to be harsh, it’s hard from the lower people to take a different turn. He aligned with the bad people in the end.”

Because I didn’t trust them fully but wanted to learn more, in early February I emailed Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times, a reporter covering DeSantis to see if the paper, which I consider more reputable than the podcaster and blogger in the previous links, was aware of the interview alleging that DeSantis witnessed torture at Guantanamo and asked if she could verify any of it. She responded, “We’re aware of that interview and are working to learn more.” On March 7 of this week Mahoney is credited along with Miami Herald staffer Monika Leal and reporter Ana Ceballos, and Charlotte Observer reporter Michael Gordon contributing to an article by Michael Wilner. The article, “’Very intimate knowledge:” What Ron DeSantis saw while serving at Guantanamo,” provides a just the facts overview of the story of torture that DeSantis witnessed at the notorious prison—it confirms a few things in the podcast and blog I’ve linked above, but not even most of them. I consider those links to still be suspect. A key quote from the Miami Herald comes from another prisoner who was detained there for over a dozen years before being released without being charged, Abdel Aziz told the Herald, ““[DeSantis] didn’t start as a very bad guy, but the course of events, I think, led him to have no choice. Many of the very big leadership, if they want to be harsh, it’s hard from the lower people to take a different turn. He aligned with the bad people in the end.”

It is well worth your read.

A note about paywalled articles. I’ve tried to keep pdf copies of every story linked here. If you are unable to read a story because of paywall let me know and I’ll find you a copy.