Florida’s Republican nominee for governor, Rep. Ron DeSantis, quit his role as an administrator for a racist, Islamophobic, and conspiratorial Facebook group Wednesday, shortly after media outlets reported his affiliation with the group.
DeSantis was one of 52 administrators and moderators of the “Tea Party” group (which is not affiliated with the official Tea Party Patriots), including former Arizona Republican Senate candidate Kelli Ward and Virginia GOP Senate candidate Corey Stewart, both of whom still serve as admins. The group’s admins also include notorious anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller.
According to Media Matters researcher Natalie Martinez, several members of the group have shared DeSantis campaign posts, with one specifically naming the candidate as an admin of the group, with has nearly 95,000 members.
The group’s members have shared racist, misogynist, and offensive posts, including posts slamming Parkland shooting survivors and disparaging Black Lives Matter activists, comparing both to Hitler. Members have made statements against NFL players who kneel during the anthem in protest of police brutality, calling them “overpaid ball chasers” who “kneel like ISIS.” Users have also posted bigoted statements against Muslims, referring to Islam as a religion of “pedophilia, sex slavery, rape gangs, and honor killings.”
In one bizarre anti-Semitic and Islamophobic post, a member posted a meme that read “President Trump eats bacon … Just one more reason to elect him in 2020.” One commenter responded, “Unlike the last guy, at least you know he isn’t a muslim mole…”
The group’s members have also denied that the far-right, white supremacist rally in Charlottesville took place in August 2017, claiming that it was a hoax “orchestrated by the left” to “destroy America.”
DeSantis won the Republican primary for Florida governor Tuesday and will face off against Democratic nominee, Andrew Gillum, who became the state’s first black gubernatorial candidate. Just hours after winning, DeSantis made racist comments about Gillum, telling Fox News that voters shouldn’t “monkey this up” by electing his opponent.
Democrats, including Gillum, accused DeSantis of using a racist dog whistle, with Democratic Governors Association Deputy Communications Director David Turner telling CNN that the Republican candidate “showed Floridians who he really is … a desperate candidate who will stoop to new lows in order to court and give voice to fringe elements of society.”
The DeSantis campaign denied the accusations of racism, claiming his comments were mischaracterized.