A member of Rep. Ron DeSantis’s campaign shared racist and anti-Islamic posts on Facebook and was a member of a vitriolic conservative group that DeSantis joined earlier this year while running for the GOP nomination for Florida governor.
The staff member, Tony Ledbetter, shared a post on his personal Facebook page comparing students advocating for gun control after 17 people were massacred at a Parkland, Fla., high school in February to “Jews that gave up their firearms to Hitler” and then “led into gas chambers.”
Days after the shooting, Ledbetter shared a post claiming David Hogg, a survivor of the shooting who called for stricter gun laws in national interviews, was “coached on anti-Trump lines,” with the word “exposed” stamped on a photograph of him.
In the group, called Tea Party, Ledbetter commented on a post about Muslims, saying “ANIMALS REMOVE THEM FROM OUR COUNTRY.” He also regularly posted support for DeSantis.
Accusations of racial insensitivity have dogged DeSantis since almost immediately after he won the primary on Aug. 28 on the back of an endorsement from President Donald Trump. The next day, the American Ledger reported on DeSantis’s involvement with the Facebook group and DeSantis was criticized for saying in an interview that Florida voters should “not monkey this up” by voting for his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, the state’s first black gubernatorial candidate from a major party.
DeSantis left the group hours after the Ledger article was published.
The DeSantis campaign said he had no idea that he was a member of the Tea Party group and that he had been added by someone else. However, DeSantis was listed as one of 52 moderators of the group and identified on multiple occasions as an active member.
Stephen Lawson, a spokesman for DeSantis’ campaign, told the Tampa Bay Times that DeSantis was “completely unaware that he was part of the Facebook group, which he was added to without his knowledge or consent. As soon as he found out about it, he immediately deleted it.”
But Ledbetter was clearly an active member. On Aug. 20, he shared a video that called former CIA Director John Brennan a “traitor.”
By Monday night, Ledbetter had left the group.
Neither Ledbetter nor a campaign spokesman had returned emailed questions Tuesday.
Ledbetter’s role on the DeSantis campaign was not immediately clear. In an email to the Volusia County GOP on Sunday, Ledbetter asked potential volunteers to contact him at an email address at the DeSantis’s campaign domain, rondesantis.com.
Ledbetter has long been involved in Republican politics.
Since 2012, Ledbetter has been the chairman of the Republican Party in Volusia County, which makes up the heart of DeSantis’s congressional district. He was a delegate for Donald Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
In August 2016, Ledbetter was one of the 29 Republicans — alongside Attorney General Pam Bondi and state Senate President Joe Negron — chosen to serve as Electoral College electors for Trump. Weeks after Trump won the state by 1.2 percent, Ledbetter and the other 28 electors cast their votes for him.
Ledbetter also used his personal profile to post controversial rhetoric.
In November 2016, he shared a photograph showing young black people on top of a destroyed police car with text imposed: “Want to stop riots? Play the national anthem. They’ll all sit down.”
On Aug. 12 he shared a post criticizing students protesting the lack of action on gun violence in the wake of school shootings, comparing them to Jews who were killed in the Holocaust after they “gave up their firearms to Hitler.”
The post featured a photo of shoes from Jews who were killed in the Holocaust and read: “To all the kids that walked out of school to protest guns. These are the shoes of Jews that gave up their firearms to Hitler. They were led into gas chambers, murdered and buried in mass graves. Pick up a history book and you’ll realize what happens when [sic] u give up freedoms and why we have them.”