On Ron DeSantis and "Nazism"
Do the anti-Semites really support the "most pro-Israel governor in America" or is something else going on here?
You may have noticed that “Ron DeSantis is a Nazi” making the Twitter rounds last weekend. It started when masked individuals outside the Turning Point USA event in Florida were spotted with Nazi flags and DeSantis 2024 signs. Shortly afterwards, DeSantis’s name started trending and headlines such as 'Why Won't Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Denounce His Neo-Nazi Supporters?" appeared in Rolling Stone and elsewhere. Even casual observers of political Twitter could’ve predicted the subsequent commentary along the usual partisan lines. When I first saw the pictures outside the event, I wondered which parts—if any—of this story were real. Was this another Democrat-aligned group posing as white supremacists, as happened in Virginia in 2021? Were these real supports of DeSantis who simultaneously held Nazi beliefs and support one of the most pro-Israel politicians in the country? Was it something else? It wasn’t immediately clear, so I decided to take a look.
When such a charged accusation against a public figure makes its way around Twitter, the partisan responses are rather predictable—complete agreement with a preconceived idea or an eyeroll at an obvious falsehood. Comments like “Ron DeSantis is a Nazi” receive so many likes and retweets partly because people who oppose him as a politician are certain he’s bad and certain they know why. They simply believe there’s new evidence to back up what they already believed. However, bad actors who wish to manipulate public opinion understand this phenomenon too. They also observe the press and social media to see what they can do to get attention. Grasping this information ecosystem is why Russia had success meddling in the 2016 election. It’s also why hoaxsters like Jussie Smollett received near universal support on the left in the first few days after his supposed “assault” in Chicago back in 2019. If you’ll recall, Smollett claimed his would-be attackers yelled “This is MAGA country” at him shortly before the assault took place. The narrative of a gay black man being assaulted by Trump supporters because he wasn’t one of them was catnip for the partisan echo chamber of Twitter. National figures tweeted support for Smollett. The story blew up. Smollett was later convicted on five felony counts of disorderly conduct related to him staging a hate crime.
Taking staged events that are almost guaranteed to go viral at face value in 2022 is fraught with peril. Were the Nazi flag wavers outside the TPUSA event waving a ‘DeSantis Country’ flag to help their preferred candidate or to denigrate him?
Ron DeSantis’s relationship with Israel and American Jews.
DeSantis was quoted as saying he wanted to be the “the most pro-Israel governor in America” on a 2019 visit to Israel in which he also met with then-Prime Minister Netanyahu. DeSantis has a long history of supporting Israel and favorable relationships in the sizable Jewish community in Florida. He has received significant funding for his campaigns from Jewish donors, including over $1.2 million from Sheldon Adelson and other Republican Jewish megadonors during his run for Governor in 2018. While Twitter was erupting with claims that DeSantis was a “Nazi”, the Florida Holocaust Museum sent out a tweet criticizing the people waving Nazi flags at the event people were citing as “proof” that DeSantis was a Nazi. In the same statement, the Florida Holocaust Museum praised DeSantis for his work supporting Florida’s Jewish community. They stated, “Today's demonstration shows we have much work left to do but we thank Governor Ron DeSantis and Florida's Legislature for their leadership this year to significantly expand The Florida Holocaust Museum's ability to educate students, our community and state about the atrocities of the Holocaust and to show the way forward to a future free of hate."
Let’s talk about the group outside the TPUSA event.
The local media outlet Creative Loafing Tampa Bay reported that the group distributed flyers at the event published by the virulently anti-Semitic group known as the Goyim Defense League (GDL). Additionally, some of the actual Nazis who were waving flags outside the TPUSA event have been doxed by Twitter users who claim they are members of the GDL as well.
GDL’s notable members are Patrick Little and the group’s founder Jon Minadeo. Patrick Little, another notorious anti-Semite, has a history of trying to tie DeSantis to Nazism – the 2018 robocalls targeting DeSantis’s opponent Andrew Gillum were sent by “Scott Rhodes” of “The Road to Power”. Rhodes was involved in several robocall campaigns that targeted Democrats, but the first set of calls went out in support of Patrick Little’s “campaign” to unseat Dianne Feinstein in California. The robocalls falsely accused Feinstein of being a citizen of Israel. Little received a tiny portion of the vote in the Republican primary, but nevertheless, he appears to have had an ongoing relationship with Rhodes around that time. I’m left to wonder whether there is a concerted campaign by “actual Nazis” to support the most pro-Israel governor in America, or is there a concerted campaign to smear DeSantis as a Nazi sympathizer because of his support for Israel and the Jewish community?
Interestingly, members of the GDL have praised the “Mapping Project” which maps out Jewish businesses and services in Massachusetts that have any known affiliation with Israel or Zionist organizations. The project has received the support of local chapters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and they urge people to boycott these businesses to avoid providing any indirect support for Israel. However, this project has more recently been widely denounced by local figures including both Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.
The Mapping Project’s website describes itself in rhetoric common with far-left, pro-Palestinian groups who consider themselves united in an “anti-imperialist” struggle against Israel and the United States. However, the Mapping Project’s explicit targeting of Jewish persons and businesses caused both the CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston and the head of the Anti-Defamation League to raise concerns about the GDL's endorsement of the Mapping Project and the very real danger this poses the Jewish community targeted by this movement.
The Iranian government-run media outlet PressTV has praised the Mapping Project’s “innovative” method of fighting against “Zionism.” One PressTV reporter said of the Mapping Project, “It is perfectly legitimate to target Jewish groups that support Zionist crimes, just as it is to target Christian groups that do the same. The ‘Mapping Project,’ to its credit, is already doing that.” Extensive research by multiple independent media outlets have led them to conclude the Iranian government is “probably” secretly responsible for the so-far anonymous operators of the Mapping Project. Given that the group does not solicit donations or give a hint as to the administrators of the site, their arguments in favor of Iranian government involvement are convincing.
Since at least 2006, white supremacists like David Duke have made treks to Tehran to participate in various summits and conferences with anti-Semitic, anti-Israel agendas. Holocaust denial is frequently on the agenda at this event—a key feature to the Goyim Defense League and any other virulently anti-Semitic or Nazi platform. Surely the government in Tehran doesn’t want one of the most pro-Israel politicians in the United States—a longtime ally of a man who once threatened to nuke Iran—to become our next President. You can imagine they would prefer DeSantis lost his re-election bid in Florida in 2022 too.
The Goyim Defense League’s website is full of the usual anti-Semitic rhetoric you’d expect. What I found interesting and somewhat surprising is their users go beyond simply attacking Jewish people. The GDL openly praises the Iranian government while also serving as a megaphone for certain statements those government officials make publicly. Headlines on the GDL’s website include ‘General Qassem Soleimani: Role Model, Icon, Inspiration’, ‘Based Iranian Official: Holocaust is a Lie; There Were No Gas Chambers; Jews Have Been Masters of Deceit’, 'Iranian Official: Hitler Had Jewish Origins; Israel Abducts Muslim Children, Harvests Their Organs'. I could go on with many more similar stories on the site, but I’ll spare you from having to read them. It is true that anyone can post content on GDL’s site, but the anti-DeSantis and pro-Iranian government themes appear to be consistent.
This is not surprising for me or anyone who has a history of research anti-Semitic content on the internet.Actual Nazis are pretty consistently opposed to people who support the Israeli state! Also, Minadeo himself blamed the 2021 condo collapse in Florida on an “inside job” carried out by "Jews" who were in league with Governor DeSantis. The conspiracy theory is convoluted, but it involves two fictitious Florida bills signed by DeSantis that "protect Jews" and create a "Holocaust task force" and an unexplained quid pro quo.
Put simply, the group who appears to have played a significant part in the rally outside the TPUSA event in July 2022—the rally that resulted in loud claims that DeSantis is a “Nazi” or courts Nazi voters by political commentators and his upcoming opponents in the Florida Governor’s race—was organized by far-right American organization with pro-Iranian government sympathies. This same group waved flags in support of Nazism and the self-proclaimed “most pro-Israel governor in America” at an event they knew would receive significant coverage in the mainstream media. Given the GDL’s frequent criticism of DeSantis on their own website, it seems warranted to question whether any of this is what it appeared to be at first glance.
Is this Iran meddling in another round of U.S. elections?
Shortly before the 2020 elections, emails were sent out to U.S. voters who were registered as Democrats. The emails were purportedly from the pro-Trump extremist “Proud Boys” movement, and the message laid out in emphatic terms what the recipients needed to do—vote for Donald Trump in the 2020 election, not Joe Biden. The threats were initially taken as real. The story picked up steam, gained national attention and caused a predictable uproar. Pretty quickly though it became apparent that these emails weren’t being sent by pro-Trump Americans. They originated from Iranian nationals in Iran, two of whom were late indicted for the scheme. What looked like a clumsy attempt at threatening Democrats into voting for Trump was actually a shoddy influence operation coming out of Tehran. Trump, a longtime critic of the Iranian regime who opposed and later tore up Obama’s Iran Deal, authorized the drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani—the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force—doesn’t differ a whole lot from DeSantis in his feelings towards the regime in Tehran. After the Iranian “Proud Boys” scheme was revealed to the public, Republicans claimed the influence operation was meant to damage Trump. Democrats claimed this was about sowing chaos and doubt about the American electoral process much the same way Russia had operated in 2016. Whichever is the case, it’s worth noting this wouldn’t be the first time Iran targeted a hardline anti-Iran right-wing American politician a short time before his next election. What we should be wondering is if this was an isolated incident or part of an ongoing pattern?
As I write this in July 2022, the Biden administration has brought the Iran deal back on the table. Negotiations between the two sides are currently stalled with the White House essentially hoping to return to the terms Obama agreed to with Iran in 2015. Tehran wants the White House to sweeten the pot this time around. It’s too early to say if a deal is going to be made. However, what is clear is DeSantis opposed Obama's Iran deal, he launched a Congressional investigation of that deal in 2017 (while he was still a House Rep), and while DeSantis has said little about the current negotiations, based on his history, it’s likely he would tear up any new deal made with Iran by this current administration if he becomes President in 2025. The Iranian government may not have many friends in the United States, but they do have clear enemies.
There’s a difference between partisan politics and making a difference.
When DeSantis’s opponents hit retweet on another claim of Ron’s “Nazi sympathies,” it’s worth considering who they’re helping here. I know a lot of people out there consider the label “extremist” to be perfectly warranted when it comes to DeSantis and the current behavior in the Florida GOP. I’m not going to argue one way or another here, but I will say “extremist” is a debate, to me, that can be had in good faith. You can agree or disagree with it, but either argument is potentially true. It may differ based on your personal beliefs or biases, but a rational, fact-based argument can be made for or against. Yet there’s no real basis for the claim that “DeSantis is a Nazi”, unless the word “Nazi” is stripped of all meaning and is instead defined as “person I don’t like.”
One of my biggest problems with modern politics is too often we end up disliking people for reasons that either don’t really change much or aren’t even true. I think the way forward to healing the very real divisions in this country is the truth. It’s honesty. It’s arguing your position against the other person’s positions—not one side’s straw man taking on the other’s. If your criticism with Ron DeSantis is that he’s a “Nazi”, and he’s not a Nazi, then there’s really no discussion to be had. That’s the reason DeSantis won’t comment on the actual Nazis waving flags outside the TPUSA event while claiming to support him. Why should he deny something that’s obviously untrue? If you don’t like him for real reasons, for real policies he’s enacted, let’s have that discussion! His feud with Disney, for instance, is a shambolic mess in which his attempt at earning culture war points may result in actual hurt (in the form of increased taxes) for Floridians. You don’t agree with his COVID response? Okay! Let’s talk about that, but not in terms laid out by the disgraced Rebekah Jones (whose claims have now been thoroughly debunked). Our foreign adversaries want us fighting over things like “Ron DeSantis is a Nazi” because all that really results is chaos and dishonest infighting over an argument that, if we were being honest with ourselves, shouldn’t even exist. It’s important to recognize the difference. Otherwise these culture war distractions run the risk of eventually tearing this country apart for good.
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A well-written, thorough article which makes consistent, sensible conclusions. Thank you!
This is a pretty funny red herring for a guy with a name that is an established Five Families surname.
Ironic, the fairly dumb "all right wingers are Nazis" obscures the fact that Ron really is a stereotypical 1940s Italian-American with regards to being as mobbed-up as they come.
When cultures lose these old stereotypes, is some form of positive group knowledge lost?
If the Feds come for Ron, it will be because he had the hubris to try to take over a US top ten international airport four years ago like Whitey Bulger taking over a liquor store.
In the meantime, we should ask - are any GOP with obvious Putinite influence *not* 99% aligned with the beliefs of Meir Kahane? Haven't seen one yet. Only Massie does the vote the other way, for the thousands that imply "America First".