David Horowitz, who runs the hard-core-Islamophobic FrontPage Magazine, organizes what he calls a "Restoration Weekend" every year. Past attendees have included Pamela Geller, Jeff Sessions, Nigel Farage, Laura Ingraham, and a slew of lesser-known Islamophobes and random alt-right cretins.
Last year's event included Milo Yiannopoulos, the ex-Breitbart writer whose career is in the toilet thanks to dueling pedophilia- and Nazi-sympathizing scandals; Hungarian nationalist group member Sebastian Gorka; former Trump adviser Steve Bannon; and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Jacksonville congressman who is now one of the frontrunners to become Florida's next governor.
DeSantis doesn't exactly shy away from courting the far right — he has leaned hard on Trump's January endorsement of him — but the appearance raises serious questions about the kind of company DeSantis is willing to keep.
Other attendees at last year's event were British alt-right troll Katie Hopkins (who once advocated placing Muslims in internment camps), fired Google sexist James Damore, "campus conservative" Charlie Kirk, Trump-worshipping Congressman Devin Nunes, virulent Islamophobe Mark Steyn, anti-immigrant author Douglas Murray, and fellow Florida Rep. Brian Mast.
Horowitz's Restoration Weekends don't typically get a ton of mainstream press, likely because Horowitz and his fellow FrontPage writers are far from household names. (Horowitz himself has spent this week on Twitter downplaying the severity of anti-black lynchings in the Old South.)
But DeSantis' appearance at the event last year, which went unreported save a few mentions in FrontPage and Breitbart, shows the congressman's willingness to pander to some of the most outwardly hateful members of the Republican base. At the time of the November conference, DeSantis had not yet announced his run for governor but apparently had no issues appearing alongside Yiannopoulos, who had already been outed for his comments endorsing pedophilia and his karaoke party with outright neo-Nazi Richard Spencer. BuzzFeed's damning report on Yiannopoulos' leaked emails — which showed him making Nazi jokes and using "kristallnacht" as a password — had hit the internet a month before the event took place. DeSantis, a former Tea Party darling, spoke on the same stage anyway.
The congressman's speech wasn't really out of the norm for what passes on Fox News these days. He railed against Special Counsel Robert Mueller, spouted some general bile at CNN and the mainstream media, and swore he would make sure Congress investigated the "Obama-Clinton machine" that he claims
His speech was largely GOP party line at this point, with the single exception of his hinting reference to "Western civilization," a turn of phrase popular with white nationalists.
"Do we actually believe in a constitutional structure that the founders endorsed and created, or do we basically want to have a government run by a permanent bureaucracy with a lot of self-anointed elites who can run our lives better for us than we can do ourselves, and do we believe in the core tenets of Western civilization or not?" DeSantis asked rhetorically.
Video of his speech has been shared on Gab, a social network that caters to the far right, internet conspiracy theorists, and white nationalists and neo-Nazis.
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DeSantis is neck-and-neck in polls with Rick Scott ally Adam Putnam for the Florida Republican Party's 2018 gubernatorial nomination. Though both have said their fair share of awful, xenophobic nonsense on the campaign trail, Putnam seems to be running a more hard-core-pro-business campaign so far (there is no tractor he won't take a photograph next to), while DeSantis is relying largely on his Trump endorsement and frequent Fox News appearances to drum up publicity.
Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, ex-Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum remain locked in a tight battle for the Democratic nomination.
A review of the other speeches from Horowitz's event show the majority were collections of smug, base-level nonsense: Yiannopoulos joked about his numerous scandals (he called the BuzzFeed story, which included video of him hanging out with Spencer and a crowd of other neo-Nazis, a small joke that meant nothing to him); Bannon accepted a so-called courage award for helping Trump get elected; and everyone else's speeches were as full of vacuous Ronald Reagan quotes as expected. Bannon quoted Pericles, Winston Churchill, and the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia while somehow being utterly banal.
DeSantis told the crowd that speaking alongside the rest of the attendees was "an honor."