(JTA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis described participants in a Nazi rally that took place in Orlando over the weekend as “jackasses,” and said those criticizing him for not condemning the event were trying to “smear” him.
A video of the Orlando rally that spread on social media Monday showed protesters standing on a highway overpass in front of banners of swastikas. The Orlando Sentinel reported that the group shouted antisemitic slurs, and an array of bipartisan Florida politicians, including Republican Sen. Rick Scott and Democratic House Rep. Val Demings, condemned the gathering.
But DeSantis claimed those asking him to condemn the Nazis tried to “use this as some type of political issue,” according to CNN. “We’re not playing their game,” he added. The governor said that those at the rally would and should face “consequences” from state law enforcement for their behavior on the overpass.
Among those calling on DeSantis to condemn the Nazi rally was the Anti-Defamation League’s Florida office.
“We expect any public official, especially a voice for @GovRonDeSantis, to address the fears of the Jewish community thoughtfully – not with this troubling and careless approach,” the branch said in a tweet Monday.
Nikki Fried, Florida’s Jewish agriculture commissioner running for governor as a Democrat, said she was “horrified but not surprised” at DeSantis’ lack of condemnation. She recently compared DeSantis to Hitler.
The ADL tweet, and other calls for DeSantis to speak out against the rally, came after the governor’s spokesperson Christina Pushaw asked in a tweet that she later deleted whether the rallies might have simply been in disguise.
The Orlando rally was one of several antisemitic incidents to unfold over the weekend across North America, just a few weeks after the hostage attack on a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. A Jewish school and a synagogue in Chicago were vandalized and swastikas were painted on a train station in Washington, D.C. A rally in Ottawa against COVID-19 vaccine mandates also featured swastikas.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story conveyed that DeSantis did not condemn the protesters. He did call them “jackasses” at a press conference.