Here's a Handy List of Florida Politicians With Extremist Ties

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz photo courtesy of Florida House of Representatives
Look, maybe guys such as Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz love hanging out with Holocaust deniers and people tied to white supremacists because those politicians believe every word of those nightmarish, conspiratorial death ideologies. More likely, politicians such as Gaetz associate with these people and take photos with dudes in Pepe the Frog T-shirts just to cynically gin up their reactionary bases.

But the result is the same: Florida politicians lately have been giving a lot of cover to extremists and racists. Though this isn't exactly a new phenomenon — Florida was part of the Confederacy after all — it's also not a good one. So after Gaetz and Florida Republican Party Chair Joe Gruters got lambasted for associating with racists this month, here's a handy list of Sunshine State politicians who have yet to suffer major consequences for propping up white supremacists, Islamophobes, conspiracy theorists, and the like:

1. Earlier this month, state Sen. Joe Gruters invited speakers from two anti-immigrant hate groups to speak in favor of a bill he's sponsoring to force Florida towns to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement:
On April 17, Gruters held a news conference to support SB 168, the anti-"sanctuary city" bill he's pushing that would force towns to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigrant-rights groups say the bill, if it became law, would rip apart families just to appease some racist Republican voters.

But two of the other speakers at the presser apparently belonged to hate organizations. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) today posted a Twitter thread noting one speaker, Amapola Hansberger, belonged to Legal Immigrants for America (LIFA), a group that wants to repeal the 14th Amendment and guarantee U.S. citizenship only to English speakers. A second guest, Yvonne Larsen, belonged to the Remembrance Project, a group that falsely preaches that undocumented immigrants are violent and dangerous.
2. Last week, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz hired a speechwriter who'd been fired from the Trump administration for his ties to a white nationalist. Via Politico:
The Florida Republican announced Friday that former Trump administration aide, Darren Beattie, will join his Capitol Hill office.

“Very proud to have the talented Dr. Darren Beattie helping our team as a Special Advisor for Speechwriting. Welcome on board!” Gaetz tweeted Friday.

Beattie was fired from the White House in August 2018 after reports that he had delivered remarks at a 2016 conference, dubbed an “active hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, alongside a well-known white nationalist, Richard Spencer.

3. Just a few months before he announced his gubernatorial run, Ron DeSantis spoke at a 2017 conference organized by an anti-Muslim hate group:
As first reported by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) this morning, DeSantis also spoke at a conference organized by ACT for America — a virulently anti-Muslim organization classified as a "hate group" that has repeatedly been associated with neo-Nazis in recent months.

Once again, DeSantis insists there was nothing wrong in addressing the group, whose founder has insisted Muslims “cannot be loyal citizens of the United States.”

“He said absolutely nothing controversial," Stephen Lawson, his spokesman, told FCIR's Trevor Aaronson. "Ron DeSantis will never apologize for his service and fighting to keep America safe." 

4. Nelson Diaz, chairman of the Miami-Dade Republican Party, allegedly organized a protest with the Proud Boys last fall in Coral Gables. Via the Washington Post:
The video shows a small group of protesters cursing at Pelosi (D-Calif.), and calling her a communist in English and Spanish, as she enters an event Wednesday in Coral Gables, Fla., to campaign for Democrat Donna Shalala, who is running to fill the seat vacated by retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) in Miami.

“Open up! It’s the Proud Boys in here,” one says, referencing the far-right group that was implicated in a street brawl in New York last weekend.

“Socialism sucks,” others chant.

Photographs taken of the protest around the event, which appears to have been organized by Nelson Diaz, the chairman of the Republican Party in Miami-Dade County, according to emails posted online by radio host Grant Stern, show some protesters with Proud Boys gear.
5. State Sen. Dennis Baxley refused to disavow a pro-Confederate group days after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville:
Yesterday the pro-Confederate group Save Southern Heritage Florida issued a news release blaming leftists, members of the movement Antifa, and Black Lives Matter for the terror attack by a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The group wrote that "Anti-FA and Black Lives Matter protesters were given free reign to attack permitted protesters of the City of Charlottesville's decision to take down a memorial to beloved American hero, Robert E. Lee." Save Southern Heritage operates chapters in multiple states, and one member who lives in Virginia said on Facebook that he attended the "United the Right" rally over the weekend.

Despite the obvious racism and tacit support for violence by the group online, Florida state Sen. Dennis Baxley — who tried to block a monument to the victims of slavery in Florida earlier this year — is scheduled to appear at a Save Southern Heritage Florida banquet in Temple Terrace, Florida, September 2. Baxley is scheduled to participate in a panel discussion about the alleged "War on the South" alongside Orlando-area radio host Doug Guetzloe and black Confederate flag supporter H.K. Edgerton. Tickets cost $29.50 and include a three-course fried chicken, salmon, and pasta dinner.

Reached by phone, Baxley confirmed he will indeed attend the banquet but said he'll speak to "condemn racism, bigotry, and violence." However, he said that he does not believe Confederate monuments should be taken down and that removing Confederate iconography is actually what triggers racist violence.
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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.