Ron DeSantis accuses Democrats of trying to "smear" neo-Nazi rallies on him

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis fumes after Democrats demand he condemn recent anti-Semitic gatherings

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published February 1, 2022 11:59AM (EST)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has accused his opponents of attempting to "smear" him after being called upon to condemn a neo-Nazi demonstration in Orlando this past weekend.

On Saturday, videos surfaced online of a small group of neo-Nazis chanting antisemitic slurs and holding up Nazi flags outside an Orlando shopping plaza. At one point, demonstrators reportedly engaged in a physical altercation with someone, though no arrests were made, according to deputies. A second gathering was reported at the Daryl Carter Parkway overpass on I-4.

Though it's been a full day since then, DeSantis has refused to condemn the demonstration as of this writing, despite calls from other lawmakers to do so.

"It should be easy, Ron," tweeted Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democratic Florida gubernatorial candidate. "Condemn the Nazis." 

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RELATED: Why is the media reluctant to cover neo-Nazi violence?

During a Monday press conference, DeSantis alleged that Democrats" were attempting "smear me as if I had something to do with [the demonstration]."

"We're not playing their game," the governor added. 

DeSantis' remarks came just day after his press secretary, Christina Pushaw, apparently downplayed the possibility that the demonstrators were neo-Nazis. 

"Do we even know if they are Nazis? Or is this a stunt like the 'white nationalists' who crashed the Youngkin rally in Charlottesville pretending to be Dem staffers?" Pushaw said in a since-deleted tweet. 

The press secretary was referring to a stunt staged by the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump GOP group, during a campaign event for then-Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. The group had sent five people to pose a white supremacists holding tiki torches in front of a campaign bus – an apparent reference to the white nationalist "Unite the Right" rally organized in Charlottesville, Virginia back in 2017.

After deleting the tweet, Pushaw said that she regretted "flippant" tone, arguing that the governor's opponents were attempting to paint him as a "Nazi sympathizer."

RELATED: DeSantis in hot seat after top aide pushes anti-Semitic conspiracy theory

It isn't the first time Pushaw has come under scrutiny over concerns around antisemitism. In November, Pushaw criticized the rollout of Georgia's vaccine passport program, the "Green Pass," by invoking an antisemitic trope about the Rothschild family, a European banking dynasty dating back to the 18th century that has been scapegoated in a number of baseless right-wing conspiracies. 

"Georgia decided to enact a 'Green Pass' system (biomedical security state)," Pushaw tweeted. "Immediately after that, the Rothschilds show up to discuss the attractive investment environment in Georgia (lol). No weird conspiracy theory stuff here!"

The Anti-Defamation League wrote on Monday that it was "alarmed" that the press secretary "would first give cover to antisemites rather than immediately and forcefully condemning their revolting, hate-filled rally and assault."

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik was a former staff writer at Salon.

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