After Complaints About Hate-Group Ties, Florida GOP Chair Held Event With More Extremists

State Sen. Joe Gruters
State Sen. Joe Gruters Florida House of Representatives
On March 27, the News Service of Florida published portions of emails between state Sen. Joe Gruters, the chair of Florida's Republican Party; and Floridians for Immigration Enforcement (FLIMEN), an offshoot of the national anti-immigrant hate organization the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which was founded by a donor who supported Nazi-style eugenics.

Apparently, Gruters responded by hanging out with even more hate groups. 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.

In a recap of the news conference, the Associated Press simply referred to Hansberger as a "bill supporter." None of the news reports from that afternoon outlined the groups' histories or statuses in the SPLC hate databases. Gruters did not immediately respond to a message from New Times this afternoon.

Speaking at a lectern, Hansberger stated outright that undocumented immigrant "victimizers" in a sanctuary city "will kill you" if you let them live near you. Hansberger, who was born in Nicaragua, claimed during the news conference that if America lets in more immigrants, U.S. citizens would need to build walls around their homes and sleep with rifles by their beds, as she said she did as a child.

"The consequences of permitting open borders and allowing people that have never been vetted to come in — they will kill you," she said.

According to the SPLC, LIFA has repeatedly shared anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theories, including writing on its blog that Muslims “intend to topple our government and institute theirs, such as the Muslims’ Sharia Law." The SPLC warned that members of the group have also occasionally met with organizations with white-nationalist ties.

Hansberger herself has said that Americans must "prevent our future generations from needing to flee their homes to escape death from Muslims" and that "card-carrying communists have infiltrated our government.” She also appeared on CNN days after the 2016 presidential election to call Donald Trump's victory "a miracle."
After Hansberger spoke, Gruters introduced Larsen, a member of the Remembrance Project. The SPLC labels the Remembrance Project an anti-immigrant extremist organization — the group catalogues deaths perpetrated by undocumented people to show that sanctuary-city policies "perpetuate killings of Americans by invaders.”

The obvious issue, of course, is that isn't actually true. Studies have repeatedly shown undocumented people commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. Of course, Gruters does not seem to care about this fact, because as of yesterday, a virulently racist "Faces of Criminal Illegals Deported From Sarasota County" sign stood outside his office door in Tallahassee.

Larsen also generated a few headlines when she spoke in front of the Florida Senate Rules Committee this past April 17. According to the Associated Press, Larsen said undocumented immigrants were rapists and added, "I'm really glad I didn't choose to live in Miami." Some lawmakers called her statements inappropriate.

Despite repeated protests and sustained criticism from immigrant-rights groups, which say SB 168 is unconstitutional nonsense and would make Florida less safe, Politico Florida warned this morning that state lawmakers are now "poised to pass legislation cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities" before this year's legislative session ends May 3. This afternoon, the Florida House passed its own version of the bill.

Civil rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have warned immigrants not to travel to Florida if the bill becomes law.
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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.