Thursday, February 17, 2022

The Extremist State

The Miami Herald editorial board on the outsized number of right-wing whackos from Florida:

More residents from Florida have been charged in the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol than from any other state. Some of the most prominent leaders of the far-right “patriot” movement are from here, too. The state now has 68 hate groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the second highest number in the nation after California. Last month, neo-Nazi groups demonstrated openly in Orlando.

Florida has an extremist problem, and we need to confront it head on.

Florida’s role in the attack of Jan. 6 , 2021, should put us all on notice about what’s brewing in this state. So far, 79 out of a total 734 federal Jan. 6 cases involve Florida residents, according to stories in the Miami Herald that focused on far-right groups, including the Oath Keepers. Based on population, that means the state is over-represented, as are other states, such as Pennsylvania.

Eleven people are now facing charges of conspiracy to commit sedition, including the founder of the Oath Keepers and four people from Florida who are either Oath Keepers or affiliates. These charges mark the first time the Justice Department has accused Jan. 6 attackers of sedition, an exceptionally serious crime that strikes at the heart of democracy. It means the Justice Department believes that Jan. 6 amounts to one of the most serious attacks on democracy in U.S. history.

There are additional warning signs for the state. National figures associated with far-right groups are here, with strong political connections. Three the Herald named: Roger Stone, a Donald Trump confidante who has associated with both Proud Boys and Oath Keepers; Miami’s own Enríque Tarrio, head of the Proud Boys and former Florida state director of Latinos for Trump; and Michael Flynn, the former Trump national security advisor who has flirted with the QAnon conspiracy movement.

Why here? Part of this concentration of extremism is, no doubt, linked to the rising national threat posed by militias and white supremacists, outlined in a U.S. intelligence report last March. But surely another steaming vat of blame must be placed squarely on the doorstep of Floridians for the government we have elected.

When Gov. Ron DeSantis refused to publicly condemn the Orlando neo-Nazis last month, he essentially shrugged off overt hatred, dismissing them as “jackasses” for local law enforcement to handle. His spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, added to the perception when she asked on Twitter whether the demonstrations were orchestrated by Democratic staffers. She later deleted her tweet and backpedaled, but that there’s no eraser big enough to make that go away. Put them together, and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the highest-ranking Republican in the state views a parading of Nazism through the streets of Florida as no biggie.

That’s precisely the kind of message that resonates with extremists.

At the same time, efforts are under way by much of the Republican Party to sanitize the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt as mere “political discourse” rather than actual political violence. Our governor chimed in, refusing to call the attack an insurrection because, “a year later, nobody has been charged with that.” Two days later, on Jan. 8, they were. Once again, though, his point no doubt resonated with the audience he was aiming for.

Florida doesn’t need to be this way. We don’t have to signal acceptance to extremist groups. And if the Republicans in power won’t do it, regular people need to call it out, in public and at the ballot box.

In many ways, Florida is a microcosm of American politics with the blend of progressives and conservatives, Marxists and Nazis, tree-huggers and developers all slammed together in a peninsula that dangles off the end of the continent like a skin-tag.  Something to do with the heat and the humidity, I guess.  At any rate, we have a governor and state legislature who proclaim themselves to be in favor of smaller government and enemies of federalism and then do everything they can to exercise sledgehammer governing when it comes to the rights of minorities and people who don’t vote for them.

Sometimes I think the biggest advantage of living in Florida is that it’s not that far to get away to another country.