The press secretary for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) stopped short of condemning a neo-Nazi rally that took place in Orlando over the weekend, and instead lashed out at reporters and falsely suggested the rally was a Democratic “stunt” to make the governor look bad.
Plenty of local and state officials came out against the rally on Saturday, in which a handful of members of the National Socialist Movement held up swastika-laden banners on the side of a busy corridor in Orlando and chanted anti-Semitic slogans.
“The hateful & anti-Semitic demonstrations reported in Florida today have no place in our state,” tweeted Florida Sen. Rick Scott (R). “Across America, we’ve seen a heartbreaking & disgusting rise in hate like this. We must always condemn it & continue to stand strongly with our Jewish communities.”
But it took a while for DeSantis’ office to issue what should have been a layup denunciation of a hate group in his state. His press secretary, Christina Pushaw — well known for her volatility with members of the press — instead suggested that the Nazi rally was a Democratic ploy against DeSantis.
“Do we even know they’re Nazis?” she suggested in a now-deleted tweet. She then suggested the whole thing was a “stunt” by Democrats.
Pushaw added another lie to back up her claim, asserting that “Dem staffers” once disguised themselves as white nationalists and crashed a campaign event held by Glenn Youngkin, then-candidate for Virginia governor. That stunt did happen, but it was carried out by a Republican anti-Trump group called the Lincoln Project, not “Dem staffers.”
After some blowback, Pushaw relented, and on Sunday tweeted that DeSantis was, in fact, against the Nazis.
Her comments highlight a wider national issue of Trump-era Republicans’ refusal to decry far-right extremist events, and instead obfuscate or attempt to rewrite them. Trump himself over the weekend reinvigorated the lie that Joe Biden’s election was fraudulent in some way, suggested that former Vice President Mike Pence could have “overturned the election,” and promised to pardon defendants who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, should he be reelected as president.
Meanwhile, extremist events like the one in Orlando have gotten more frequent since the Capitol riots. Far-right groups like the Proud Boys, who were present at the Capitol during the riots, are still hosting extremist events at a rapid clip, even as hundreds of their allies face prison time over the insurrection.