Far-Right Anti-Climate Change, Anti-"Islam" Group Adivising DeSantis on Education

Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis Photo by Gage Skidmore / Flickr
The Florida Citizens' Alliance regularly rails against what it calls "cultural Marxism," "LGBTQ values," and "Islam" in Florida's public schools. If a teacher happens to mention that the Founding Fathers were all white men and that many owned slaves, you bet the Alliance would get angry. The group also loses its collective mind when America's obvious history of racism or climate change comes up in the classroom.

Two group members, naturally, are now "advising" Ron DeSantis, Florida's newly elected governor.

DeSantis announced his 40-person list of transition "advisers" last week. As the Miami Herald recently reported, a significant number of DeSantis' transition "advisers" dumped money into his campaign. But, as one might expect for the DeSantis team, some of those advisers are also Grade-A nutjobs.

The Florida Citizens' Alliance is based in Naples. The Florida Phoenix, a blog specializing in Tallahassee-related news, reported earlier this morning that some Naples-area residents familiar with the Alliance were upset that DeSantis chose two of its members — Rick Stevens and Keith Flaugh — to sit on his education advisory committee. Parents have called the group "racially insensitive."

That's something of an understatement: The group's M.O. appears to be showing up at local and state government meetings and flipping its wig whenever public-school teachers (correctly) mention the Founding Fathers were white men, when the topic of sex is discussed at all, or when climate change is taught as fact. Though not explicitly racist, the group's members sure get ornery whenever anyone mentions race relations in America. For example, one Alliance member this year objected to "required reading" for students in Collier County because the books included "stories depicting ‘victims’ of capitalism, and the bigoted, sexist, racist 'American Culture' where whites victimize Indians, Mexican immigrants, women, Japanese, Chinese, African-American, and animals." Group members have become upset that school texts have tried to explain that "racism against whites" largely doesn't exist and is not nearly as pervasive an issue as racism against people of color. In a staggering blog post from this past April, a writer labeled the 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution — the ones that freed the slaves, give women the right to vote, and protect civil rights for all people — "dangerous."

In some of the most upsetting sections, the Alliance has shared materials encouraging schools to blame Muslims, in part, for the American slave trade.

"Slavery in the Americas needs to be completely rewritten," one text about sixth-grade history courses in Collier County reads. "It puts the entire onus for slavery on the white Europeans. The historical significance and impactful history of Muslim participation in the Slave Trade has been omitted and the students are left without the slightest inkling of the ubiquitous nature and vast extent of the slave trade in the Islamic world."

The Alliance is known for being one of the groups that successfully pushed for a deeply controversial 2018 law that allows Floridians to object to virtually any piece of material taught in public schools. The group vehemently objects to any materials that teach evolution and climate change as fact (even though they are indeed fact) — the Daily Beast last month published a fairly long piece about the group's, ahem, jihad against climate science.

The group also compiles a yearly "Objectionable Materials" dossier of books and teaching materials to which the Alliance objects. The group appears to grow upset whenever it thinks school texts promote "Islam," "socialism," sex, evolutionary science, or gun control, for example. The Alliance has issued line-by-line objections to numerous history books — its complaints usually just boil down to the books simply not being conservative enough. Group members have complained, for example, about everything from positive depictions of journalists to negative depictions of Ronald Reagan. Seemingly mundane things bother group members: Following the U.S. Supreme Court's District of Columbia v. Heller, which upheld Americans' right to own guns, the Alliance even grew angry that a school text called the ruling "controversial."

Here are some other issues related to the group:
  • The Alliance objects to high-school students reading Toni Morrison's Beloved, which is considered one of the greatest American novels and a seminal piece of writing about American race relations, especially the experience of black women in the United States. The Alliance finds the book too "sexual."
  • The group wrote that Collier County approved "over 228 titles with LBGTQT themes such as Being Homosexual by Richard Isay containing sexual behavior and homoerotic fantasies of heterosexual men."
  • One Alliance member labeled an advanced-placement U.S. History book as an "objectionable social justice warrior handbook which glorifies collectivism, the elimination of private property, and the elimination of God-given rights."
  • The group complained that a book called Out of Many focuses "on the negative aspects of American history, class struggles, oppression, and prejudice, rather than the hope, opportunity, and justice of America. This is confirmed by the review of this book in the College Board website, which says, ‘Teachers considering the purchase of Out of Many should be aware that the book has become part of the textbook culture wars. Traditionalists who want democracy and free enterprise presented more favorably are bothered by what they see at left-leaning texts that pay too much attention to the dark side of American history.'"
  • Naturally, the group flags any text that teaches climate change or evolution as "settled fact." The group even objects to references to humans "descending from apes.”
On social-media, the group has also claimed that transgender people have mental illness.

Likewise, New Times found multiple articles online that Flaugh shared, claiming that public-school kids were being "indoctrinated" into following Islam. Flaugh in 2016 posted a blog to the Alliance website that was written by Pamela Geller, the far-right, outwardly racist, anti-Muslim pundit. Flaugh posted an old Geller column titled "Imposing Islam in Your Public School in Six Easy Steps." In 2017, Flaugh bizarrely shared materials on the Alliance website that accused Turkish preacher and political dissident Fethullah Gulen of trying to create an "Islamic-supremacist cult" in America.

Though the group routinely objects to historical texts that depict the Founding Fathers or white American settlers in a negative light, it has shared materials stating Islam was "spread by the sword" and grew "by the force of jihad" throughout history. The group has even shared materials defending aspects of the Crusades, in which Christian forces repeatedly invaded Middle Eastern areas and slaughtered people.

(The group is, as one might expect, pro-Trump and has posted quotes from former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, who has clear ties to a far-right Hungarian nationalist group that once collaborated with the Nazis.)

The group routinely sends representatives to local-government meetings to object to various texts. In 2017, the Alliance shared a video of a Floridian named David Bolduc (who says he's not part of the group), in which Bolduc described a Collier County school text as "Cultural Marxist education treason." Bolduc even grew upset that textbooks called America a "democracy" rather than a "republic." Many Alliance texts state that "democracy" is "mob rule."

Unfortunately, DeSantis has, on occasion, uttered statements similar to those of the Alliance. He once authored a book with a chapter making excuses for the legalization of slavery in the original Constitution.

Correction: This piece previously misstated Bolduc's relationship to the Florida Citizens' Alliance.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.