Florida is America’s insurrection capital

OPINION: Governor Ron DeSantis is waging a full-scale war on Black history, LGBTQ rights and voting rights in a bid to out-trump fellow resident Donald Trump to see who will become the white supremacist-in-chief.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis before an AFC divisional playoff game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs on January 21, 2023 at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Florida, that popular tourist destination with lots of sun, beaches and Mickey Mouse, has become a circus of white supremacist madness. A state with a long, unaddressed history of racial oppression and genocide is going back to the future and staking a claim for fascism. Welcome to the insurrection capital of America.

Those who need receipts need only look at the latest move by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has banned the teaching of Advanced Placement African American Studies in Florida high schools under a College Board pilot program. According to Florida’s Department of Education, the new AP curriculum “is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.” 

This decision to block the teaching of Black history is par for the course for DeSantis, who is waging a full-scale war on racial justice, civil rights and voting rights in the Sunshine State. Under his Stop W.O.K.E. Act, DeSantis has blocked the teaching of race, Black history and so-called “critical race theory” or CRT in K-12 schools. And the presidents of Florida’s state colleges and universities said they would scrap any academic program “that compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality.”  

What’s more, Florida under DeSantis has engaged in human trafficking by bussing migrants and asylum seekers to northern states and falsely arresting Black, brown and poor people with felony convictions for voter fraud.

And his “Don’t Say Gay” law wages violence against LGBTQ+ people by prohibiting “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels or in a specified manner.”

As Congressman Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) tweeted: “SHOCKING: Ron DeSantis has BANNED the teaching of AP African American Studies in Florida. Florida has gone from Don’t Say Gay to Don’t Say Black.”

“DeSantis is criminalizing African American Studies, making life difficult for gay and trans people and created a law enforcement unit to arrest black people for voting. Is this why @elonmusk and other self-described centrists like him?” tweeted Davidson College professor Issac J. Bailey.

Channeling the Jim Crow petty dictators who came before him — those who blocked the schoolhouse doors and sicced police dogs and water hoses on Black children — Ron DeSantis would make George Wallace, Theodore Bilbo and Ross Barnett proud. And yet Florida is the headquarters of two rival autocratic “strongmen” — DeSantis and former President Donald Trump — who are competing to be the leader of the American tinfoil-hat white supremacy brigade. And DeSantis, who is as cruel and racist as Trump but without the charisma, wants to beat Trump in the race to the White House.

And Trump’s Mar-a-Lago is more of a problem for democracy than the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee. On Jan. 8, supporters of defeated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro — known as the “Trump of the Amazon” — stormed Brazil’s legislature, supreme court and the presidential palace. This, after Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo traveled to Mar-a-Lago in November to meet with Trump and speak to Trump advisers like Steve Bannon and Jason Miller to discuss overturning the Brazilian election. And before the attempted coup in Brazil — a country with the largest Black population in the African diaspora — Bolsonaro skipped the inauguration of his successor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and fled to Florida. In Florida, Bolsonaro ate at KFC, shopped at the insurrectionist-supporting Publix supermarket and brought in the new year with Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is under federal investigation for child sex trafficking and sought a pardon from Trump. The Florida congressman, who said he is “proud of the work we did” on Jan. 6 and is “ashamed of nothing” — is eyeing a 2026 run for governor.

Leading the nation in people arrested for attacking the U.S. Capitol, Florida is a hot mess. There is a reason why neo-Nazis feel comfortable projecting swastikas onto buildings in some Florida cities. After all, they know they live in a fascist-friendly state where they are just as welcome as tourists and right at home with their hate.

It is no accident that DeSantis would ban the teaching of racial history, including Florida’s own history of racial injustice, voter suppression and racial massacres, enabling him to repeat those atrocities in the present day. Some of these atrocities include the Ocoee Massacre of 1920 — when at least 50 people were brutally murdered for exercising their right to vote — and the Rosewood Massacre of January 1923 — when a white mob lynched, burned and destroyed a Black town, killing as many as 200

Removing Black history from the curriculum also attempts to silence those important stories about Black resistance to enslavement. One example is the Black Seminoles, Maroons who liberated themselves from the Southern plantations and joined forces with the Seminole nation in Florida.  

Banning the teaching of this history does not protect white children from shedding tears of “discomfort, guilt or anguish.” Rather, DeSantis disarms and disempowers children when he withholds knowledge that could create solutions for eradicating white supremacy, placing everyone in peril in the process. But that’s his point.

One hundred years later, Florida has not come to terms with the legacy of Rosewood, and it shows. As Trump would say, Florida is not sending their best.

David A. Love is a journalist and commentator who writes investigative stories and op-eds on a variety of issues, including politics, social justice, human rights, race, criminal justice and inequality. Love is also an instructor at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information, where he trains students in a social justice journalism lab. In addition to his journalism career, Love has worked as an advocate and leader in the nonprofit sector, served as a legislative aide, and as a law clerk to two federal judges. He holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Harvard University and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He also completed the Joint Programme in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. His portfolio website is davidalove.com.

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. Please download theGrio mobile apps today!