Jan. 6 marchers and conservative provocateurs attend DeSantis' invite-only inaugural ball
Potential 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has attracted interest from anti-LGBTQ and anti-vaccine activists, among other conservative Republicans.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ inaugural ball, held on Jan. 5, hosted wealthy donors, Republican Party activists, and local elected officials. According to social media posts reviewed by the American Independent Foundation, attendees at the event also included a fraudster who was convicted of felony wire fraud and conservative media figures who were present at the Jan. 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C., that preceded the Capitol riot.
Unlike in years previous, reporters were barred from attending DeSantis’ inaugural events aside from his swearing-in ceremony, the Tampa Bay Times reported. A reporter from that paper was ordered off the grounds of the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, where the ball was held. However, at least one reporter, from the Daily Mail, was allowed in.
Jonathan Lee Riches, a fraudster who was convicted on felony charges related to identity theft and spent 10 years in federal prison, posted videos and pictures from DeSantis’ inaugural ball on Facebook.
Riches, who has developed a following online after filing thousands of baseless lawsuits, including suits against Hurricane Ike and the continent of Africa, was indicted in 2018 for impersonating Jared Lee Loughner, the Arizona man who shot U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords in 2011.
Riches has branded himself a follower of former President Donald Trump and has attended conservative events.
At least two people who marched to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, were in attendance: Yvette Benarroch, a Florida Republican activist, and Chaya Raichik, who runs the Twitter account Libs of TikTok, which, the Southern Poverty Law Center says, is used for “promoting anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theories, directing hostile attention at schoolteachers who allow classroom discussion of gender and sexuality, and highlighting hospitals that provide gender-affirming care.” Raichik describes the LGBTQ community as a cult of “evil people” who want to “groom” and sexualize kids. Her posts have prompted harassment campaigns against educators who discuss LGBTQ topics, medical professionals who provide care to transgender people and children, and hospitals.
Neither Benarroch nor Raichik are alleged to have crossed police lines or entered the Capitol building on Jan. 6.
Former NYPD officer John Cardillo, who stoked controversy in 2015 by posting a selfie with a firearm on Twitter in response to anti-police violence protesters, and Sara Gonzales, a BlazeTV anchor who has spread anti-vaccine misinformation and described Pete Buttigieg’s husband Chasten Buttigieg using the anti-LGBTQ slur “groomer,” posted pictures from the event on social media.
Also in attendance was Caleb Hull, a pro-Trump digital strategist who was revealed by investigative news site Right Wing Watch to have made a series of virulently racist, homophobic, and anti-immigrant Twitter posts in 2014. In one thread, Hull juxtaposed an image of a piece of fried chicken hanging from a noose with an image of a Black man looking up. In another, Hull used anti-gay slurs.
DeSantis, who won reelection against Democrat Charlie Christ by a commanding 19-point margin, has attracted considerable attention as a potential 2024 presidential candidate. Some recent polling has found DeSantis leading former President Donald Trump, who has already announced his third campaign for the presidency, by a generous margin among potential GOP primary voters.
DeSantis rode to national fame early in the COVID-19 pandemic by refusing to institute lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus as recommended by a large majority of public health officials and epidemiologists. Since then, the Florida governor has emerged as a favorite on the right for his espousal of anti-vaccine and “anti-woke” rhetoric.
DeSantis’ office did not return a request for comment.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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