UPDATE (8:54 p.m.): Rep. Ron DeSantis has quit the Facebook group that trafficked in racist and offensive slurs, following American Ledger’s reporting on Wednesday.
Ron DeSantis, the Trump-endorsed congressman who won Tuesday’s GOP primary for Florida governor, is an administrator on an active Facebook group where conservatives share racist, conspiratorial and incendiary posts about a litany of targets, including black Americans and South Africans, the “deep state,” survivors of February’s massacre at a Florida high school, immigrants, Muslims and, in recent days, John McCain.
DeSantis was listed as one of the group’s 52 administrators and moderators as of Wednesday. His involvement in the group was first noted by a researcher for Media Matters for America on Tuesday.
DeSantis’s campaign was already defending the congressman from accusations of racial insensitivity after his primary victory.
In an interview with Fox News on Wednesday morning, DeSantis warned voters not to “monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist” by supporting his opponent, Andrew Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor who became Florida’s first black gubernatorial candidate from either party when he won the Democratic nomination Tuesday.
DeSantis’s spokesman Stephen Lawson said DeSantis “was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses. To characterize it as anything else is absurd,” CNN reported.
DeSantis’s campaign and congressional offices had not returned the Ledger’s emails and phone messages seeking comment about his ties to the Facebook group as of Wednesday afternoon.
The Facebook group, simply named Tea Party, has nearly 95,000 members, and users must join the group to post or comment. The banner for the group is an image of the Confederate, Christian and Gadsden flags flying alongside the flags of the U.S. and Israel. (It isn’t affiliated with the conservative group Tea Party Patriots.)
Members of the group have attacked Black Lives Matter and other African-Americans as “ghetto scum” and ridiculed the teenage survivors of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14. Posters have referred to Douglas students David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez as a “Hitler wannabe” and a “bald-headed brat,” respectively, after they became outspoken activists for gun control in the wake of the shooting, during which a former student allegedly shot and killed 17 people.
One member believed the violent far-right rally of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017 was a hoax, writing in a post liked by 1,600 users that the rally was “orchestrated by the left” to “destroy America.”
In July, Media Matters for America drew attention to the group when it reported that Kelli Ward, an Arizona Republican who lost Tuesday’s primary for senator, and her husband, Michael Ward, were among the group’s administrators. Michael Ward regularly shared posts from his wife’s verified page, solicited donations and called McCain a “strong supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
After McCain died Saturday, members flooded the page with mocking posts, including a satirical headline that read, “President Trump bestows Medal of Honor to John McCain’s tumor.” Another image of a tombstone referred to McCain, a naval aviator who spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam before becoming a senator and Republican nominee for president, as a “traitor to America” and a “friend to the Vietcong.”
The group cheered Trump’s reported reference to African countries as “shitholes,” blamed Islam for terrorism and accused Black Lives Matters activists of plotting to take over the country.
In January, one frequent poster who runs a fake news site shared a link to an article warning of “civil war” in Germany between neo-Nazis and Muslim migrants, according to Media Matters. “I’m actually having to root for neo-Nazis…sad state of affairs!” he wrote.
While mainly a vehicle for attacking liberals, the news media and minorities, the group also regularly praises DeSantis, Ward and President Donald Trump.
Trump was quick to back DeSantis, tweeting in December that DeSantis “would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!” DeSantis won easily Tuesday, beating the one-time favorite, state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, by nearly 20 percent.
The Facebook group made its disdain for Putnam clear, regularly attacking him as an establishment “puppet.”
According to a timestamp in the group, DeSantis joined on April 28 in the middle of his Fox News-fueled campaign during which he released a TV ad showing his allegiance to Trump by building a “wall” of toy bricks with his daughter and reading Trump’s book to his infant son.
That ad referred to DeSantis as a “conservative warrior.”
On the Facebook group, literal war isn’t far from members’ minds. In a post earlier this week, a member wrote, “In August 2017, a former Navy SEAL warned of dire bloody consequences if Trump is illegally removed from office.” The comments that followed included:
“Civil war if President TRUMP is removed!!!”
“A GOOD IDEA TO LEAVE OUR PRESIDENT ALONE.”
“Lots of us have been preparing for this for years. It’s coming.”
“Going to get a gun permit tomorrow.”