The newly crowned Republican candidate for Florida governor apparently was one of 52 moderators of a Facebook group full of racist, Islamopobic, and anti-immigrant content. The group, which is named “Tea Party” (but not affiliated with any political organizations), has 97,000 members. Other admins of the group include Kelli Ward, the Arizona Senate candidate who lost her primary election yesterday, and Corey Stewart, the “neo-Confederate” running for Senate in Virginia, according to a Twitter thread by Media Matters reporter Natalie Martinez and reporting by American Ledger.
Since his victory last night, DeSantis, who was endorsed by President Trump, has already been the center of a controversy over racist remarks he made about his black opponent.
As strange as it seems for candidates and former candidates to spend their time trawling through Facebook, it’s a good way to take the temperature of their voter base and even drum up donations. Kelli Ward’s husband Michael Ward often posted on the group, soliciting donations for his wife’s campaign. Facebook, despite its reputation on the right as an enemy of conservatism, is one of the online locations where Trumpism has flourished, so it’s understandable that candidates would find value in joining, and apparently even administering, the groups where many thousands of their supporters socialize.
The content in the group runs the gamut from purely racist attacks on Black Lives Matter, which some in the group referred to as “ghetto scum,” to conspiracy theory-tinged posts speculating that the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville was “orchestrated by the left” to “destroy America,” as one post that got 1,600 likes said. Another post called Parkland shooting survivors and gun control activists David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez a “Hitler wannabe” and “bald-headed brat,” respectively.
Over the last few days, posts gloating over John McCain’s death have filled the group. One Photoshopped image of a headstone bearing McCain’s name called him a “traitor to America” and “friend of the Viet Cong.” Another post by Michael Ward called McCain a “strong supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
One frequent poster, who according to American Ledger runs a “fake news site,” posted an article in January warning of a “civil war” in Germany between neo-Nazis and Muslim immigrants. “I’m actually having to root for neo-Nazis…sad state of affairs!” the post said.
The DeSantis campaign and congressional office has yet to respond to American Ledger’s requests for comment on their piece. He appears to no longer be a moderator of the group.
Some posts in the group escalate from bigotry to threats of violence. Several group members discussed “bloody consequences” if Trump was “illegally removed from office.” “Lots of us have been preparing for this for years. It’s coming,” one user wrote, referring to a potential American civil war. “Going to get a gun permit tomorrow,” another added.