‘Continued failure to speak out’: Nikki Fried demands Ron DeSantis condemn Nazis after Tampa protest

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Agriculture Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried is again calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to condemn Nazi ideology days after protesters with swastika flags, “DeSantis Country” banners and posters with antisemitic imagery and slurs converged on a Republican conference in Tampa.

In a letter posted online Tuesday, Fried called the Saturday neo-fascist protests outside the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit a “disgusting display” well deserving of censure. But as was the case earlier this year, when similar demonstrations occurred in Orlando, DeSantis has been slow to speak up.

Fried first demanded a response from DeSantis on the Tampa demonstration Sunday, two days after the Governor delivered a headlining speech at the conference. She suggested that despite their difference of political opinion, she and the Governor should be able to agree that hate isn’t welcome in Florida.

“We may disagree on polices, but if we as leaders don’t denounce neo-Nazis and white supremacists in our state, in our country, what are we doing here?” she said. “I’m asking you, Ron DeSantis, to denounce the Nazis that were here — here to celebrate your speech inside this convention center. They were holding your pictures yesterday.”

DeSantis has remained mum on the matter. So have other high-profile attendees of the summit, including former President Donald Trump and U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

The only featured speaker at the summit to condemn the group was U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, DeSantis’ predecessor in the Governor’s Mansion. In a Twitter post quoting similar condemnation from Florida Holocaust Museum Chair Mike Igel, Scott called the protests “a disgusting act” that “doesn’t belong in Florida, our nation or anywhere across the world.”

“We stand with our Jewish community against this hate,” Scott added.

Fried, who is the first Jewish woman to be elected to statewide office in Florida and the only current statewide elected Democrat, came under fire in January for comparing DeSantis’ leadership with the rise of Adolf Hitler. The Anti-Defamation League, which works to counter antisemitism across the world, called her comments inappropriate and offensive.

Fried said in her Tuesday letter that while she does not believe DeSantis is involved directly with the Nazi demonstrators, his silence on the matter is conspicuous.

“(Your) continued failure to speak out –especially when your name, image, and likeness is being co-opted by Nazis — is puzzling from a Governor who never fails to speak his mind,” Fried wrote. “Given the level of criticism you have directed at me over policy differences, it is deeply concerning that you cannot muster even a tweet against a group that glorifies genocide while using your name.”

She noted Scott’s statement and other such comments from elected leaders in Florida and Turning Point USA representatives denouncing the protesters for their “unacceptable actions.”

“In joining us in condemnation, you would stand with leaders from both sides of the aisle, who understand Nazism is incompatible with American values,” she wrote. “This isn’t a partisan issue, it’s a matter of morality.”

But according to DeSantis and some in his camp, white supremacist demonstrations around the state are being used for partisan purposes.

After being prodded for days to say something about a pair of neo-Nazi protests held in Orlando in January, DeSantis called the participants “some jackasses doing this on the street” and said law enforcement would hold them accountable.

He had much more to say about the Democrats who called on him to respond, alleging they were highlighting his reticence to “distract from the failure” of President Joe Biden’s administration.

“They try to play games to try to politicize. Why would they do that? Why would they want to elevate a half-dozen malcontents and try to make this an issue for political gain?” he said. “We’re not going to let them get away with these stupid things where they’re trying to smear somebody unfairly, and I will not be smeared by them.”

DeSantis’ Press Secretary, Christina Pushaw, has questioned once whether some of the protesters waving swastikas and other antisemitic symbols around this year are truly neo-Nazis and not costumed Democrats trying to draw negative attention to her boss.

Shortly after videos of the January demonstrations spread across social media, Pushaw asked in a since-deleted tweet, “Do we even know they’re Nazis? Or is this a stunt like the ‘white nationalists’ who crashed the (Glenn) Youngkin rally in Charlottesville and turned out to be Dem staffers? I trust Florida law enforcement to investigate and am awaiting their conclusions.”

She later dismissed she was denying that the protesters were Nazis, following up with a post asserting that DeSantis “has ALWAYS condemned antisemitic attacks & hatred, and always will.”

“To suggest otherwise is just plain wrong,” she added.

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