Republican state lawmakers removed language denouncing white supremacy from the bill after an anti-immigrant group called it 'divisive.'
A committee in the Republican-led Florida State Senate voted on Monday to change language in a bill specifically condemning white supremacy, instead using language that condemns "any philosophy that espouses the superiority of one group of people over another."
The changes came after members of an anti-immigrant hate group complained that the bill was "racist" against white people.
The bill, which merged one previously offered by state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez (D) and a similar Republican-authored measure, originally read, "white nationalism and white supremacy are rejected and condemned as hateful expressions of intolerance which contradict the values that define the people of Florida and the United States."
The Senate Committee on Infrastructure and Security led by state Sen. Tom Lee (R) was responsible for the changes to the bill. Speaking from the chamber on Monday, Lee said the committee "wanted to make sure we didn't single out one specific form of hate speech when we know there's things going on, from anti-Semitism in New York to incel groups in Tallahassee, and so we just didn't want to elevate anybody's status at the expense of not acknowledging that we denounce all of this."
The vote came minutes after the committee heard testimony from David Caulkett of the anti-immigrant group Floridians for Immigration Enforcement, an offshoot of the Federation for American Immigration Reform which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"The resolution is racist, divisive, has no societal benefit and is a golden opportunity for liberals to smear those who advocate for immigration enforcement," Caulkett said.
He then suggested the committee "remove the racist allegations of white nationalism and white supremacy," reflecting the language change they would eventually agree on.
"This resolution targets the wrongful doings of only one race: the white race," he noted. "And completely avoids wrongdoings of non-whites. If only one race is targeted, how can this resolution be considered anything but racist?"
Rodriguez later expressed disappointment at the committee's decision to remove the language condemning white supremacy.
"I was dismayed they took 'white supremacy' out of the resolution," he told the Miami New Times on Tuesday.
Citing a shooting in El Paso last year that killed 22 people and was carried out by an avowed white nationalist, which prompted him to introduce the bill initially, Rodriguez added, "We know what's causing these attacks. I don't know why we would shy away from saying that white supremacy is what's motivating us as a legislature to act here."
The Florida attorney general's 2018 Hate Crime Report reported 168 hate crimes in the state that year, up from 169 in 2017 and a consistent rise between 2014-2016.
As the state's Anti-Defamation League chapter noted, "Due to the gaps in Florida’s hate crime laws, these statistics do not account for hate crimes that were committed because of physical disability, gender, gender identity, as well as 'association with' or 'mixed motive' hate crimes."
"Furthermore," it added, "there is significant underreporting of hate crimes in America. In fact, a U.S. Department of Justice survey estimates that 250,000 hate crime victimizations annually occur in the United States."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.