Republican luminaries such as Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Ted Cruz took to the stage in Tampa to spew slurs and insults for an appreciative audience.
Republican Party luminaries gathered in Tampa July 22-24 for Turning Point USA's "Student Action Summit." The headliners at the conference of the right-wing organization, which says on its website that its "mission is to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote freedom," were Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump, both of whom are widely expected to announce a run for president in 2024.
Over the course of the conference, speakers ranging from Fox News' Laura Ingraham to Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) repeated favored GOP talking points on issues such as the 2020 presidential election, which they continue to insist was stolen from Trump; public health mandates they consider tyrannical; and LGBTQ rights.
While speakers were addressing the attendees inside the Tampa Convention Center on July 24, neo-Nazis gathered: Several dozen protestors carrying signs showing swastikas and insignias of Adolf Hitler's elite SS armed paramilitary enforcers yelled at bystanders through megaphones. A video posted to Twitter on July 24 appears to show them saying through a megaphone, "Vote Ron DeSantis this year. Ninety-six percent of the media is owned by six Jewish corporations. You know it. ... It's a conspiracy. Just like the Holocaust."
The pro-DeSantis protesters held banners that read "DeSantis Country" as well as pictures of the Florida governor and antisemitic caricatures.
One of them told counterprotesters, "We kicked all your n** ass in Rhodesia. The Rhodesian Bush War — it was a race war in Africa between whites and Blacks. You guys got your ass kicked." The 50-year conflict between white settlers and Black insurgents in the territory that gained independence as Zimbabwe in 1980 has become a point of reference and an inspiration to many white supremacists.
The Florida Holocaust Museum issued a statement on Monday condemning the protest:
Openly and proudly displaying genocidal symbols is a direct threat to the Jewish community. Carrying the Nazi flag, or that of the SS, the organization responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the Holocaust, is an indefensible act of pure hatred.
This isn't about politics or religion. It's about humanity. The Florida Holocaust Museum calls upon everyone, Jew and non-Jew, regardless of political affiliation, to condemn this blatant antisemitism in the strongest possible terms. This should matter to everyone. When antisemitic incidents occur that leverage chilling Nazi symbols, we are reminded of the importance of The Florida Holocaust Museum's mission to preserve the memory of the Holocaust while educating future generations to prevent antisemitism and hatred of all kinds. We will not be deterred.
While the neo-Nazis marched outside, many of the most prominent members of the Republican Party addressed the audience inside.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) used her speech to ridicule concern about the spread of monkeypox, rates of which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says are higher in Georgia than in all but four other states. She also made fun of support for Ukraine and vaccinations against COVID-19 before going on to suggest that President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi should be impeached for security breaches during the Trump-inspired insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) ridiculed women protesting for reproductive rights, saying, "Why is it that the women with the least likelihood of getting pregnant are the ones most worried about having abortions? Nobody wants to impregnate you if you look like a thumb." He also said, "Our America is not for the thugs and the criminals who would burn our cities and murder our citizens in the name of some bullshit social justice," later sharing video of the speech on Facebook with the comment, "When the Republicans are in the majority, and I have subpoena power, I will personally investigate #BLM like I'm a George Soros-funded prosecutor going after the Trump Organization."
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) told the appreciative crowd: "It really is bat-crap crazy. Like, the left, you are no longer allowed to say — here's a radical statement, OK? Trigger warning: Women exist. But what the hell is wrong with you idiots? This is not — it, it, it's — they've gone to Crazy Town." Cruz said that a woman could be defined as "a homo sapien with two X chromosomes. This stuff ain't complicated."
Donald Trump, Jr. asked the crowd with regard to right-wing conspiracy theories, "All the things we've been talking about — has there been one that we were wrong about?" and also mocked concern about monkeypox, saying, "The monkeypox pandemic, folks! Monkeypox — it's very scary." Encouraging the crowd to boo the World Health Organization, which has issued warnings about the spread of the virus, Trump went on, "I don't know about you, but if — and I won't even say it here, because no matter what I say I will be criticized, but if you look at how you can get it ... I mean, I dunno, seems like it would be rather easily avoidable unless you're Hunter Biden."
Two Democratic candidates for governor of Florida, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, condemned the protesters outside the convention center.
Fried, standing where the protesters had been the day before, said on July 24: "I am asking for every elected official — I don't care if you're Republican, I don't care if you're Democrat, I don't care if you are independent: This is a time to say, No, we are not going to stand for hate and antisemitism and racism. And so I am asking you, Ron DeSantis, to denounce the Nazis that were here, here to celebrate your speech inside of this convention center. They were holding your pictures yesterday."
Charlie Crist tweeted that same day: "The reprehensible anti-Semitic hate and Neo-Nazi demonstrations from this weekend have no place in FL. We need a governor that'll forcefully condemn hate. DeSantis is coddling anti-Semitism because he views them as part of his base. It's just another reason he must be replaced."
A spokesperson for Turning Point USA condemned the protesters.
DeSantis has not mentioned the protest. His press secretary, Christina Pushaw, posted and then removed a tweet suggesting that the neo-Nazis were possibly DeSantis political opponents.
A straw poll conducted by Fox News found that 78.7% of attendees at the Turning Point USA event would vote for Trump for president in the general election, with only 19% preferring DeSantis.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.