Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) put on an elaborate display of chest-thumping on Monday, announcing a legislative proposal to protect his state from the “lawlessness” he said was on display around the country.
Flanked by a pack of sheriffs and police chiefs, DeSantis said the proposal was meant to send a message: “We are not going to let Florida go down the road that some of these other places have gone.”
Among other things, according to a summary of the proposed law, protesters who obstruct roadways could face a 3rd degree felony — and any drivers that run them over won’t be held liable for injury or death if they are “fleeing for safety from a mob.”
Toppling monuments would be a 2nd degree felony under the new law, and harassing someone at a public accommodation, such as a restaurant, while part of a disorderly assembly would be a 1st degree misdemeanor. The law would require the state to withhold funds from any locality that, in the summary’s words, “slashes the budget for law enforcement services.”
Lest there be any confusion at who the proposal targeted, the governor criticized “lawless jurisdictions” around the country and referred to “scraggly-looking antifa types” who’d been arrested at protests in Portland and then released. “Antifa” refers to anti-fascist protesters.
“Are you going to stand with victims, are you going to stand with law enforcement, are you going to stand with law and order and safe communities?” he asked separately, referring to candidates for office. “Or are you going to stand with the mob?”
The state’s incoming House speaker, Rep. Chris Sprowls (R) also referred to the purported “lawlessness” in some of the country’s largest cities.
“Downtown Manhattan looks more like an illustration of Gotham City than it does the heartbeat of America’s financial center,” he said.
Perhaps most elaborate in the “Law and Order”-branded package was a proposal to pursue “RICO liability” for “anyone who organizes or funds a violent or disorderly assembly.” RICO is a reference to the federal law used to go after organized criminal enterprises, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
DeSantis didn’t provide much detail on that aspect of the proposal at his press conference, but he pointed to “people that will come from all across the country” to be violent at protests.
“We’re going to figure out who’s organizing and who’s funding that, and we’ll hold them accountable,” he said, later referring to unproven and in some cases debunked theories about bad actors strategically placing pallets of bricks near protests in order to encourage violence.
“There are cities where there are just bricks, just dropped off, like on a city corner,” DeSantis said, without specifying further. “Where’s that coming from? Where are you getting — Who’s funding just dropping bricks so people can go grab bricks? It seems like an odd thing to do.”
FactCheck.org, Snopes and other fact-checkers found no evidence of bricks being staged for protest violence back when rumors were swirling about such activity in June, in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
DeSantis pitched the proposal as a blunt instrument to support law enforcement. Pointing over his shoulder to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, the governor said “we’ll back up the law enforcement because we know that they’re going to be the first one on the call when somebody is in jeopardy.”
Judd was a curious example, given the video clip that shot him to viral stardom this summer: At a June 1 press conference, he warned that citizens would take matters into their own hands if they encountered “criminals” in their neighborhoods.
“The people of Polk County like guns,” he said. “They have guns. I encourage them to own guns. And they’re going to be in their homes tonight with their guns loaded. And if you try to break into their homes to steal, to set fires, I’m highly recommending they blow you back out of the house with their guns.”
It wasn’t clear what specifically Judd was referring to at the time — he referred only to “information on social media” — but news broke the same day that Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group, had posed as an anti-fascist group on Twitter and threatened to “move into the residential areas” and “the white hoods” to commit violence.