Can Florida’s politicians meet the test of Hurricane Ian?

Hurricane Ian, photographed yesterday while a tropical storm. (Photo: NOAA)

Sept. 26, 2022 by David Silverberg

Politicians can strike any poses they want, maneuver any way they like, fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time—but they can’t avoid, evade or disguise a natural disaster.

Hurricane Ian will be a major test of the leadership and management abilities of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the entire slate of incumbent office holders seeking election this November. It could make them or break them—and DeSantis’ performance will be judged in light of his 2024 presidential ambitions.

Generally, a natural disaster favors an incumbent. An official in charge can display leadership, command and competence that win favor and respect in a way no challenger can match.

It’s hard to remember now but a sterling response to a disaster was shown by Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York on Sept. 11, 2001. Throughout a day of chaos and terror, including times when he was physically in danger, Giuliani never broke down, never disengaged, never cowered, never panicked, and never abandoned or betrayed his responsibilities or his role as a chief executive and leader. That performance won him a place as Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” and the sobriquet “America’s Mayor.” It was arguably the best response by any elected leader to any major disaster in American history.

By the same token, while people may not necessarily remember a good response, they never forget a bad one.

A classic example of this was the response of another New York mayor, John Lindsay, to an unexpected blizzard in 1969. His failure to dig the city out and keep vital services running essentially put an end to his political career.

When Hurricane Irma struck Florida in 2017 then-Gov. Rick Scott (R) acquitted himself relatively well, issuing updates and successfully managing evacuations and then the post-storm clean-up. There were no major or glaring failures in his decisionmaking and response.

The same could not be said of his response to the Big Bloom of red tide that tormented Florida’s Gulf coast in 2018. Then, his bumbling response and public frustration led to him actually being hounded from a rally by an angry crowd in Venice and fleeing in his campaign bus.

His successful handling of Irma was no issue in his 2018 Senate bid, while his red tide response hurt him, if not sufficiently to keep him from winning.

Hurricane Ian will be DeSantis’ first real big test. Until now he was dealing with human events that he could fudge, spin or manipulate to his advantage. Putting migrants on a plane did not take a genius of organization.

But natural disasters are forces beyond the ability of politicians to bend to their will. They are relentless and pitiless. Politicians can fail spectacularly in confronting them.

One of the most glaring examples of such a failure came in February 2021 when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) abandoned his state for a vacation trip to Cancun, Mexico. He left behind savage winter storms and freezes that knocked out electric power and cut off drinking water to millions of suffering Texans. Recognized at the airport, he became the target of fury and mockery, leaving a blot on his career that will likely never be erased.

So what should Floridians look for in their elected officials now and how should they be judged? Some criteria are:

Engagement: Are the officials fully engaged, alert and aware of events and developments?

Communication: Are officials communicating vital information effectively to constituents and citizens?

Presence: Are officials present where they are needed and where they can most effectively respond?

Decisionmaking: This may be hard for citizens on the ground to judge in real time but are officials making clear, rational, effective decisions given the information in their possession? These decisions must withstand scrutiny after the event.

Compassion: This is a very subjective quality but it’s one that is very important both for political careers and for the morale of disaster victims. Do officials seem to care what has happened to people as a result of the disaster? This requires walking a very fine line between genuine sympathy and blatant exploitation of tragedy.

Effectiveness: Executives, especially top elected officials like governors, county executives and mayors, need to not only weather the storm, they have to successfully manage the cleanup and recovery. Do they marshal the forces and obtain the resources and funding to do that?

It’s also in the post-disaster phase that legislative officials like members of Congress have a vital role to play. For example, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) made no effort to get any funding for his district when he had the chance to submit earmark requests to Congress. Will he similarly ignore his district’s people this time should they need assistance in the wake of Hurricane Ian?

A disaster—or even a threat short of a disaster—tests everyone. People have a right to expect the best from leaders they have elected who are seeking their next vote.

Hurricane Ian is coming at a politically sensitive time in Florida. The response could have a major impact on the future of the state and the country. Every citizen should be alert not only to the storm and its dangers but to the way it is handled by those in office.

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To learn more about past disasters and responses, see the author’s book: Masters of Disaster: The political and leadership lessons of America’s greatest disasters.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

The Donalds Dossier: Packing in the PAC cash for the midterms

Rep. Byron Donalds at CPAC on Feb. 25 of this year in Orlando. (Image: YouTube)

Sept. 13, 2022 by David Silverberg

“Folks, I like money,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) told a cheering crowd at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) convention in Orlando on Feb. 25 of this year. “Can we be honest about this? I like money!”

Indeed, he does. And Donalds is very good at raising it. This year he entered his general election campaign with $4.8 million (or exactly $4,805,548.69) in receipts, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Donalds’ public fundraising appeals are insistent and incessant, stoking and exploiting fear and anxiety of Democrats, socialism, Dr. Anthony Fauci and all the ghosts, goblins and specters that keep extreme MAGA maniacs awake at night.

There’s no denying it—it works.

As of Aug. 8, $4 million ($4,036,842.37 to be exact) of Donalds’ contributions came from individuals and the efforts of Winred, a professional, conservative fundraising service.

But $325,302.41 came from a variety of political action committees (PACs) that are not so easily swayed by emotional appeals. These PACs represent a wide variety of industries, associations, corporations and fellow politicians. The biggest sectors contributing to Donalds’ primary and general election campaign are insurance, finance, banking and energy.

They are the organizations and businesses to which Donalds is beholden. Voters should be aware of the sources of this cash and its influence on his decisionmaking on Nov. 8 when they vote for him—or Democrat Cindy Banyai.

In 2021, after Donalds denied that he was influenced by his donors, The Paradise Progressive did a two-part analysis of his ideological and industry backers.

As the 2022 general election campaign season kicks into high gear, it’s time to take another look at Donalds’ corporate backers. These are the companies and industries whom he will be serving if returned to Congress in November.

Donalds sits on House committees and subcommittees that have a direct impact on these industries.

One is the House Oversight and Reform Committee where he sits on the Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee.

His other assignment is potentially even more impactful. On the House Small Business Committee, he sits on the Oversight, Investigations, and Regulations Subcommittee as well as the Economic Growth, Tax, and Capital Access Subcommittee.

These subcommittee assignments give him influence that attracts corporate contributions.

(Of note: none of the facts reported below allege illegality or criminality. They are activities reported to the FEC as required by campaign finance laws and regulations. All numbers are year-to-date figures as of Aug. 8.)

Big Insurance

The insurance industry is heavily regulated and generally unpopular in the public imagination (think of all those personal injury attorneys inveighing against greedy insurance companies in local television commercials).

Whether they agree with individual lawmakers’ policy positions or not, at the very least, it’s worth it to the insurance industry to invest in political campaigns to keep potential investigations and new regulations at bay.

Insurance-related PACs have been very good to Donalds, both trade associations and individual companies.

Over the past year, Donalds’ most generous contributor was the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies PAC, which contributed $22,000 to his general election campaign.

That was followed by the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors PAC, which contributed $10,000 to his primary election campaign.

The Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, Inc., PAC kicked in $8,500 to his general election campaign, while the American Council of Life Insurers PAC gave $2,500 to his primary campaign.

Individual insurance companies’ PACs contributed too:

  • The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. Federal PAC contributed $4,500 to his primary campaign.
  • Cigna Corp. PAC, which supported Donalds’ 2020 campaign, contributed $3,500 to his primary campaign this year.
  • New York Life Insurance Company PAC contributed $2,500 to his primary campaign.

Big finance

The financial industry is heavily affected by congressional actions, so Donalds received contributions from a variety of finance-related companies and trade associations:

Regions Financial Corporation PAC contributed $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign and $22,000 to his general election campaign.

ACPAC ACA International PAC (The Association of Credit and Collection Professionals) represents credit reporting and collection agencies. It contributed $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign and $10,000 to his general election campaign.

The Credit Union Legislative Action Council PAC of the Credit Union National Association gave $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign and $7,500 to his general election campaign.

Navient Corp., provides education loan management and business processing solutions. Its PAC contributed $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign. Perhaps not accidentally, Donalds was a ferocious critic of President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program. A large part of Navient’s business is managing and collecting existing student loans.

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association PAC contributed $1,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign.

When it comes to investment-related associations and companies, Donalds has the backing of LPL Financial LLC PAC. LPL is a registered investment advisory firm that contributed $5,000 to his primary campaign and $7,500 to his general campaign.

In terms of investor-related associations, the Small Business Investor Alliance PAC contributed $4,000 to his primary campaign and the American Investment Council PAC contributed $2,500. The latter represents private equity investors who invest in companies that don’t offer shares on public stock exchanges. The move to private equity has been blamed by critics for looting otherwise healthy companies and harming workers.

Big Banking

Among banks, Community Bancshares of Mississippi Inc., PAC is the only individual bank PAC to contribute to Donalds, donating $3,000 to his primary campaign. Claiming to be one of the fastest growing banks in the southern United States, Community Bancshares, formerly Farmers and Merchants Bank, based in Brandon, Miss., claims $4.5 billion in assets, 54 offices, and over 850 personnel in four states.

While that may be the only individual contributing bank, that doesn’t mean the banking industry has overlooked Donalds.

The American Bankers Association PAC has been a particularly enthusiastic backer, kicking in $17,500 for the general election campaign.

Also contributing to the general election campaign was the Mortgage Bankers Association PAC, which contributed $10,000.

Another banking-related contributor was the Independent Community Bankers of America PAC, which contributed $3,000 to the primary campaign.

Big energy

Donalds doesn’t discriminate between money from fossil fuel and electric power companies—he takes money from both.

Marathon Petroleum Corporation Employees PAC contributed the largest allowable amount to Donalds’ general election campaign: $7,500.

Another fossil fuel and energy company, Valero Energy Corp. PAC, based in San Antonio, Texas, gave the next largest amount among the energy companies: $5,000 for Donalds’ primary campaign.

Nextera Energy Inc., claims to be the world’s largest utility company. Its PAC contributed $2,500 to Donalds’ primary campaign.

Duke Energy is an electric power and natural gas holding company headquartered in Charlotte, NC. Its PAC contributed $2,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign.

The PAC of the Tampa Electric Company (TECO) Energy Inc., Employees’ PAC, contributed $1,000 to Donalds’ primary election campaign.

All these were the PACs of individual companies. But in the energy sector, Donalds did receive a contribution from a single trade association: the Solar Energy Industries Association PAC contributed $1,000 to his primary campaign.

Big tobacco

Two major tobacco PACs contributed to Donalds’ campaigns:

The Swisher International Inc., PAC Fund is the PAC of Swisher International Inc., a tobacco company based in Jacksonville, Fla. Swisher has been in business since 1861 and according to its website, ships more than two billion cigars a year to more than 70 countries.

Altria Group, Inc. PAC is the PAC of one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco, cigarettes and related products. Altria companies include Philip Morris, US Smokeless Tobacco Co., and John Middleton, a producer of pipe and cigar tobacco.

Other PACs of note

In addition to these industries, some additional contributors stand out.

  • Koch Industries, Inc., PAC contributed $5,000 to the primary campaign. This is the company of the well-known and extremely conservative Koch brothers.
  • Florida Sugar Cane League PAC contributed $3,500 to the primary campaign. The sugar industry has been criticized for allegedly polluting Lake Okeechobee, a criticism sugar companies reject.
  • Publix Super Markets, Inc. Associates PAC contributed $1,000 to the primary campaign. (More about Publix’s political activities can be read here: “Publix: Where politics bring no pleasure.”)

A full list of Donalds’ PAC contributors can be seen on the FEC website and accessed here.

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

‘To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance’—Responding to anti-Semitism in Southwest Florida

The bridge over the Rhine River in Basel, Switzerland. (Photo: Author)

Aug. 31, 2022 by David Silverberg

In the city of Basel, Switzerland there is a bridge that crosses the Rhine River.

It’s a magnificent, sturdy bridge and a critical asset for the city. It was built around the year 1225 and was quite an engineering feat for its day.

Construction of the bridge was made possible by a loan from the city’s Jewish community. Theirs was an act of civic engagement and community pride that supported the city’s growth and prosperity. With the bridge built at the southernmost navigable point on the Rhine, Basel flourished and prospered.

But then in 1347 bubonic plague, the Black Death, began to scourge Europe. It was a horrible disease of unknown origins with a swift lethality that terrified the living. Although the term “pandemic” wasn’t known at the time, it was a sickness that seemed to strike the whole world.

In the year 1349, the Black Death hadn’t yet reached Basel but its onslaught was known and residents of Basel panicked. A conspiracy theory began making the rounds that Jews had poisoned the wells, causing the plague.

The Jewish community had high-level protection: in late 1348 Pope Clement VI issued a papal bull absolving Jews of responsibility for the plague. They were under the safeguard of the Holy Roman Empire. The bishops of Basel, Freiburg and nearby Strasbourg met to coordinate their responses.

But none of the assurances held any weight with an agitated and unreasoning mob. On Jan. 9, 1349 those Jews who hadn’t already fled the city were rounded up. The children were separated to be forcibly converted. The estimated 100 to 600 adult men and women were forcefully taken to an island in the Rhine, shackled together in a wooden hut—and then burned alive.

A Jewish community was massacred despite its high-level promises of protection, the civic-mindedness of its members, and its obvious contributions to the well-being and welfare of the city. Their innocence could not prevail in the face of a delusional conspiracy theory that had no foundation in fact. (And, by the way, the immolation didn’t stop the plague.)

Flash forward 667 years. On December 4, 2016, Edgar Welch, a 28-year-old man from Salisbury, North Carolina, shot his way into a pizza restaurant in Washington, DC, based on an utterly baseless and absurd conspiracy theory he had read on extremist websites asserting that a pedophilia ring was operating out of the restaurant. On October 27, 2018, Robert Bowers, 46, entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., and killed 11 people and wounded six based on a conspiracy theory that Jews were importing people into the United States to replace non-Jewish whites. On March 15, 2019 Brenton Tarrant, 28, killed 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand when he attacked two mosques based on the same racist “great replacement” conspiracy theory.

Conspiracy theories—the term doesn’t fully convey the real nature of these hateful, fabricated, slanderous lies—have consequences. Unfortunately, we live in an age of delusions when such insanities are running rampant.

It was probably inevitable that after demonizing immigrants, blacks, Hillary Clinton, Democrats, Joe Biden and going through a pandemic when ignorant people ferociously fought safeguards like masks and vaccines and promoted magic potions, that some would turn their wrath to Jewish targets. The most laughable slander is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-14-Ga.) bizarre 2018 allegation of space lasers owned by the Jewish Rothschild family causing California wildfires. But as absurd and laughable as that defamation is, it’s part of a trend.

And now Southwest Florida has its own blood libel: Katie Paige Richards, who claimed to be the campaign manager of Collier County school board District 5 candidate Timothy Moshier, repeated a current extremist conspiracy theory on social media that Jewish-controlled media is using pornography to brainwash white males. This comes after a Bonita Springs rabbi’s car, driveway and home were vandalized and defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti in January, after anti-Semitic flyers were distributed in Fort Myers saying anti-Semitism is a human right and other flyers festooned with swastikas were placed on car windshields at local shopping malls. Most recently, on the other coast, anti-Semitic threats of violence were directed at Bruce Reinhart, the magistrate judge in Palm Beach Gardens who approved the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago.

Jews have heard these kinds of libels before: that Jews punctured communion wafers to make them bleed; that they took blood from Christian children to bake matzohs; that they poisoned wells to spread bubonic plague; that they conspired to impose democracy on Europe and overthrow monarchies; and that Germany lost World War I because Jews stabbed it in the back.

So when new libels and conspiracy theories emerge, it’s not as though Jews are just offended or emotionally upset. They have a lot of historical experience with these kinds of completely false and malevolent fantasies. They’ve been there before. Jews know how they begin, how they spread and how they end—and they always end badly.

There’s also no excusing the source of this madness. In America in the past, these kinds of fantasies could be debunked with facts, healthy skepticism and simple reality. But Donald Trump sought to discredit real reality and impose his own reality, a reality that ranged from such delusions as having the largest inaugural crowd ever to believing that he won an election that in fact he lost. He smeared as “fake” those who pursued truth. He sought scapegoats for a pandemic he couldn’t competently handle. He not only tried to impose his own lies on the world, it was as though he opened a sealed box and allowed every lunatic’s hallucination to gain credence and circulation. Some of those hallucinations are anti-Semitic.

The time may come when this mass mania may die down. This has happened before in America, ever since the days of its first bout of madness, the Salem witch trials.

But until the lunacy passes, as with the Salem witch trials, there are real casualties.

Anti-Semitism in Southwest Florida

For Southwest Florida’s Jewish community the rise of local anti-Semitic insanity presents the same challenge that every Jewish community has faced in the past: how best to respond?

On Sunday, Aug. 28, Rabbi Bruce Diamond, head of the Fort Myers Community Free Synagogue, which bills itself as a progressive congregation, published an op-ed in the area’s Gannett newspapers, the News-Press and Naples Daily News under the headline, “I worry about the rising tide of aggression.”

In many ways it’s a strange and internally contradictory essay (with some significant lapses in grammar and usage reproduced here as in the original).

On the one hand, Diamond argued, “At this time there is no existential threat to America’s Jew. It may be that the amount of antisemitic violence and incitement is increasing around us and throughout America, but so are all sorts of violence and incitement aimed at so many groups. It’s not just Jews who are the targets- it be anyone, anywhere and at any time.”

Then he states that “Like many of you, I worry about the rising tide of aggression and government’s inability (and sometimes its apparent unwillingness) to containing it.” 

However, cultural and grassroots anti-Semitism, in Diamond’s view, “is a universe apart from the government organizing and sponsoring violence against its residents, be they Jews or any other identifiable group.”

That kind of official persecution can’t happen, he argues, “as long our democratic institutions remain intact, the courts are empowered, and, by consent of the governed, our Constitution holds sway.”

Still, as Diamond acknowledges, “history teaches us that there no guarantees.” Further, “A people that is made to feel threatened by its leaders can tear its government to shreds and jettisoned its most cherished values overnight.”

So ultimately, Diamond writes, “don’t let yourself feel threatened — not by media eager to sell, by the politicians eager for the trappings of power, or anyone else trying to gain control over you and what is yours. They themselves are the threat. But, remarkably, if we all decide to ignore them they will go away and we will be just fine!”

Diamond is apparently putting the onus for anti-Semitic sentiment on the media that seeks to expose it, officials attempting to stop it and anyone else in authority trying to combat it. If those people are ignored, he believes, the wave of anti-Semitism will simply go away—“like a miracle, it’ll disappear,” as one person infamously said of the COVID virus.

As for the real purveyors of anti-Semitism on the Internet, in leaflets and in public forums, he apparently believes they too will pass like the wind and rain or they don’t present a threat.

A somewhat different response came from Rabbi Mendy Greenberg, head of the local Bonita Springs Chabad (a Hebrew acronym for “wisdom, understanding, and knowledge”) chapter of the very orthodox Lubavitcher religious movement.

On Jan. 31, 2022 it was Greenberg’s mailbox that was destroyed, his car window broken, and his sidewalk defaced with the word “Jew’s” in big red letters by two teenagers, Tucker Bachman,17, and a 14-year old accomplice. The perpetrators were swiftly caught by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, charged with hate-crime felonies and in March sentenced to probation.

When the arrests were made Greenberg was generous and forgiving. He said that Lee County was a place of love and friendship and he had never experienced any anti-Semitic crime in his 17 years there.

“This type of behavior is obviously in the minority so, but it also stains the community,” he said, calling for kindness on the part of people of different faiths and backgrounds.

He was neither bitter nor vindictive. “A little light sheds away a lot of darkness. It may sound like a cliché but it really can change reality. For the Jewish community, my message is there is nothing to be fearful for. We are here to stay, we are not going anywhere. We’re proud of who we are.”

In a subsequent service after the incident, Greenberg urged congregants to deal with anti-Semitism by praying and putting on “tefillen,” boxes with sacred script in them used during prayers by very orthodox Jews.

Analysis: Responding effectively

So what’s the best response to incidents of local anti-Semitism?

Is Diamond right in thinking that, “if we all decide to ignore them they will go away and we will be just fine!”

Is Greenberg right that “there is nothing to be fearful for” and prayer will be sufficient?

Sadly, history doesn’t bear out either of these responses. Ignoring prejudice just strengthens it and indifference has always led to disaster.

Rather, small acts of anti-Semitism—indeed, all minor acts of extremism, hatred and bigotry—are like the early raindrops that precede a storm. They may seem scattered and insignificant at first but they’re precursors of much worse to come.

Unlike a storm, however, these are human actions and human actions can be changed or deflected.

In one respect, Diamond is absolutely right: officially sanctioned and sponsored anti-Semitism. “cannot and will not happen as long our democratic institutions remain intact, the courts are empowered, and, by consent of the governed, our Constitution holds sway.”

A vigorous defense of democracy, the Constitution and justice will indeed impede anti-Semitism at the grassroots. And the local person to date who has most embodied and enforced a robust and unflinching response to it isn’t Jewish at all.

When Greenberg’s home was defaced, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno was having absolutely none of it.

“Violence based on discrimination or hatred of anyone is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in my county,” he said emphatically at the press conference announcing the vandals’ arrests.

Greenberg was grateful. He thanked “God Almighty for such a special sheriff’s department. It is unbelievable the type of support and velocity, speed and determination of the Lee County Sheriff’s staff to get down to the bottom of this case,” he said.

Marceno was pursuing specific violations of specific statutes but his vigor and decisiveness shows the way that anti-Semitism must be confronted if it’s to be defeated. And the Lee County Sheriff’s Office response exemplified the way hate crimes need to be pursued and prosecuted.

But that’s law enforcement. What can everyday people do?

As long as the US Constitution holds sway and provides legal, non-violent channels for activism, the answer is always the same: energize, organize and mobilize.

Opposing anti-Semitism should be a no-brainer for politicians and officials of all parties. For the past 50 years it was just a standard position that was largely taken for granted. But now it must be reaffirmed and people must push them to do it.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish organization that monitors and opposes anti-Semitism and all forms of defamation, has formulated what it calls its COMBAT Plan. It consists of:

  • Condemn Antisemitism
  • Oppose Hate and Extremism Driven by Antisemitism
  • Make Communities Safe from Antisemitism
  • Block Antisemitism Online
  • Act Against Global Antisemitism
  • Teach about Antisemitism

The details are explained in a 2-minute, 50-second video on YouTube.

One of the major aspects of the COMBAT Plan is to get existing institutions—political, social and religious—to condemn anti-Semitism.

On the political front as applied in Southwest Florida, that means people need to contact their elected officials—of whatever party or level of government—to insist that they publicly condemn anti-Semitism.

That should also extend to candidates for elected office. Any candidate who refuses to condemn anti-Semitism should know that he or she will pay a price: at the ballot box, in financial donations and in social isolation.

Political parties too should be pushed to take public stances against anti-Semitism. To cite a particular local case, the Collier County Republican Party reacted to the reports of Richards’ anti-Semitism in the school board race with a defensive message to members accusing the Naples Daily News of “fake news and selective reporting of facts” and attacks by “leftists.”

What it should do is issue a clear and unambiguous condemnation of anti-Semitism and those who spread it. It needs to clearly, emphatically and publicly state that anti-Semitism has no part in the Party, its platform or its candidates and those who embrace or accept or propagate it will not get its endorsement, its support or even be allowed to be members.

Additionally, government bodies like municipal and county governments should be urged to pass resolutions condemning anti-Semitism—as well as all forms of bigotry and prejudice. These may not have the force of law but there is a value in putting this position on the public record.

Non-governmental entities like chambers of commerce, professional and civic associations should also be urged to adopt resolutions, amendments and statements announcing their abhorrence of anti-Semitism, hate and extremism.

Religious leaders of all faiths, denominations and creeds should be encouraged to denounce anti-Semitism, hatred and prejudice from their pulpits and in their communications to congregants.

Citizens should report any criminal anti-Semitic incidents and hate-driven activities to law enforcement and the ADL, which provides an online reporting form, and to local media for coverage and exposure.

Teaching the evils of anti-Semitism and extremism needs to be updated in schools. The ADL provides materials and online resources.

Regrettably, in Florida, there’s no telling at this point how legislatively-mandated changes to the state’s curriculum and teaching force will help dampen anti-Semitism, given Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “anti-woke” crusade. In the past, teaching about the Holocaust and Anne Frank was considered sufficient. But curricula need to be updated and modernized to deal with online hate and new conspiracy theories.

In a very specific instance in Collier County, incumbent school board member Roy Terry needs to be returned to office in District 5 to help continue enlightened, secular, objective education, along with fellow incumbents Jory Westberry in District 1 and Jen Mitchell in District 3.

All this will not end hatred, prejudice and anti-Semitism altogether. But it should ensure that it’s confined to the stupidly ignorant, the pathetically gullible and the completely insane—who should be recognized as such.

History’s lessons

History is clear: hate doesn’t just evaporate, passivity doesn’t protect, and appeasement doesn’t appease. Anti-Semitism and all “conspiracy theories” and hatred need to be actively opposed.

If there is any comfort to be had, it is that this opposition is very much in the American tradition. Here, history provides strength and reassurance and this from a Founding Father revered by every true patriot.

In 1790, when the United States was newly formed, Moses Seixas, a Jewish resident of Newport, Rhode Island, wrote to President George Washington praising the new government’s attitudes toward religious freedom, in light of past European persecutions.

Washington wrote back and his answer clarified not just the government’s attitude but what would become the nation’s attitude toward all its citizens:

“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

This is the policy that’s now being put to the test both in American government and on American streets, both nationally and locally, in Southwest Florida and everywhere else.

Every true patriot, every good citizen, every American should heed Washington’s words: “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” and give the nation their “effectual support” by supporting democracy, tolerance and freedom with their votes, their actions and their words.

That’s what builds bridges between people—whether those bridges connect communities or cross rivers like the Rhine.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Reading the tea leaves from Southwest Florida’s primary election

I see a need to clean a cup in your future. (Photo: Author)

Aug. 26, 2022 by David Silverberg

Getting lessons from elections can be like reading tea leaves at the bottom of a cup—just about anything can be deduced from the dark, soggy jumble.

But elections have consequences and so discerning trends from voting patterns becomes important. And when democracy, governance and representation are on the line, making sense of it all becomes downright critical.

What is to be made of the primary elections held Tuesday, Aug. 23, in Southwest Florida? This analysis is based on official returns from the supervisors of elections in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties.

Turnout was low

As is to be expected in a late August primary in steamy Southwest Florida, turnout was low.

In Collier County, only 29.7 percent, of eligible voters turned out. In Lee County, that came to 26.57 percent of eligible voters. In Charlotte County, it was 26.77 percent.

This was down from 2020’s totals. In the last election cycle 36.3 percent of voters turned out for the primary in Collier County, 31.67 percent in Lee County and 21 percent for Charlotte County.

Then again, 2020 was a presidential election year, it was a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency and it took place in the midst of a pandemic, so the intensity of the electorate was reflected in the primary.

Mail-in voting is here to stay—and favored by voters

In 2020, while mail-in balloting was hardly new, it was newly controversial and strenuously denounced by Trump.

But this year’s balloting seems to show that despite the denunciations and recently enacted restrictions on drop-boxes and verification, mail-in voting remains popular and widely used. This year, mail-in ballots accounted for 54 percent of Collier County ballots, 66 percent of Lee’s and 53 percent of Charlotte’s.

Clearly, legislative restrictions and increased complications placed in the way of easy mail-in balloting have not dampened enthusiasm for this form of voting.

What is more, this is an especially favored form of voting for the many Southwest Florida residents who are away during the days of August.

Did DeSantis make a difference for school board candidates?

In both Collier and Lee counties, the school board elections remain unresolved in all but one race where a candidate won an outright majority and thereby the election.

In an unprecedented move this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) reached down the ballot to endorse candidates in what are usually non-partisan elections. He aided candidates with publicity, cash and favorable mentions to advance his “education agenda.”

According to the non-profit website, Florida Phoenix, “of DeSantis’ 30 endorsed candidates, 19 appear to have won their races and five lost on primary night. The other six appear to be either in runoff situations or advancing to the general election based on election data and local coverage.”

Locally, in District 5 of the Lee County School Board, Armor Persons won with 54.85 percent of the vote.

The other local DeSantis-endorsed candidate was Sam Fisher in District 1. He came in with 43.34 percent of the vote, not enough to elect him outright. He will be facing incumbent Kathy Fanny, who took 30.91 percent of the vote.

This indicates that at least in Lee County, a DeSantis school board endorsement does not automatically result in a school board victory for the favored candidate.

That said, in District 1, Fisher did out-poll Fanny, who now must use the time until November to close the gap.

Thanks to DeSantis’ intervention, school board races are now actually part of the 2024 presidential campaign and one more mile marker on his road to the White House. His credibility is on the line for every candidate he endorses.

In Florida, school boards are not your parents’ sleepy, down-ballot elections any more.

Collier County school board incumbents have to up their game

All the Collier County school board races will be decided in the general election in November.

Interestingly, despite the MAGA (Make America Great Again) nature of some Collier County school board candidates, DeSantis did not endorse any of them.

This makes for what should be an intense and active race to November. The incumbents, Jory Westberry in District 1, Jen Mitchell in District 3 and Roy Terry in District 5 must use the next two months to energize and broaden their campaigns while their opponents, Jerry Rutherford, Kelly Lichter and Tim Moshier, will be doing the same.

The incumbents, all of whom have dedicated their lives and careers to education, have tended not to view their elections as the all-out political struggle their challengers did. For the most part, they continued to see the election as the relatively quiet ratification process it was in the past, interesting only to a small group of parents and professionals.

However, the school board election is now part of a much larger ideological struggle. If serious, sensible, secular education in Collier County is to be maintained, Westberry, Mitchell and Terry need to approach their races much more intently, raise more money—which their challengers are certainly doing—and become much more energetic.

The Moshier mess

Timothy Moshier’s Collier County school board campaign in District 5 deserves special attention following the revelation that Katie Paige Richards, who claimed to be his campaign manager, posted a blatantly anti-Semitic video on social media. When asked, Moshier initially stated that he had “no problem with it.”

When the story was covered in The Naples Daily News (NDN), Moshier’s response was to claim that she wasn’t his campaign manager and that his wife was Jewish (presumably absolving him of all responsibility). He and his lawyers demanded a retraction and threatened a lawsuit.

The Collier County Republican Party issued a statement to Republicans saying, “The NDN is using fake news and selective reporting of facts to destroy Tim. That way, they can assure a continued liberal majority on the Collier County School Board.” It added: “He will not allow last-minute and despicable assaults on his character by the NDN and leftists to defeat him.”

However, for all their defensiveness and outrage, neither Moshier nor the Party denounced anti-Semitism in principle or the lies propagated by Richards, who asserted that Jews are using their supposed control of the media to promote pornography to brainwash white males. Neither Richards, nor Moshier, nor the Collier County Republican Party has repudiated that slander or anti-Semitism in general.

It needs to be pointed out that Moshier, a trucking company executive, has no educational credentials or school administrative experience whatsoever. During a school board candidate panel on May 21st, he called for cuts in the Collier County school budget—at a time when the school district is struggling to retain and attract underpaid teachers among many other needs.

What a more sensible and less defensive county Republican Party might have been expected to do is issue a statement condemning anti-Semitism, saying it has no part in the Republican Party, that it’s un-American and un-patriotic and completely rebuking and repudiating Richards and her delusional allegations.

This case is still open.

The meaning of MAGA for Collier County

MAGA candidates Chris Hall and Daniel Kowal won their races for Collier County Board of Commissioners in districts 2 and 4.

Incumbent Penny Taylor was defeated in District 4. Hall will face Democrat Barbara “Bebe” Kanter in District 2 in the November election.

After Taylor’s defeat, Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the extremely conservative farmer and grocer and Republican committeeman who endorsed and backed both candidates, posted on Facebook: “Ding dong the witch is dead,” above a picture of Taylor, with the label, “Walking Dead auditions.”

Alfie Oakes’ post-election Facebook post of Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor. (Image: Facebook)

“That was just in fun,” Oakes said of the post to The Paradise Progressive in a phone interview. “I wish her all the best. It doesn’t come with any ill-intent. I told her [at the time of the Collier County Commission vote in July 2020] that if she masked the people I would make it my purpose to defeat her.”

When Taylor voted to impose a county-wide mask mandate at the height of the pandemic, Oakes posted a picture of her and two other county commissioners in Nazi-esque helmets outside his Seed to Table market. He helped fund Hall and Kowal’s campaigns through the Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee, of which he is president.

More substantively, the likely elections of Hall and Kowal will place a solid MAGA majority on the Collier County Board of Commissioners.

It’s difficult to say exactly how their election will impact the county’s development, infrastructure and budgeting, given that neither made those issues a priority in their campaigns.

According to Hall’s campaign website, “God, his word, love, and ways, (virtue) has to be reinstated in our nation, our states, our counties, and cities. It’s the only way America won’t fail.” He complained that Andy Solis, the outgoing commissioner, voted for mask mandates, shut down beaches during the pandemic, voted against a sanctuary ordinance for guns and one to nullify federal law and allowed businesses to require vaccinations.

Kowal, a former Collier County deputy sheriff, ran a campaign for Congress in 2020 that mostly consisted of a bare-bones website. This time he stated on his website he was running for commissioner because he is “Pro-Clean Water, Pro-Limited Government, Pro-Second Amendment, Pro-Law Enforcement, Pro-Life, Pro-Military.” He also states “I stand for clean water, safe streets and sustainable growth.”

With a MAGA majority on the county council, the county will no doubt be primed to resist any future public health measures that commissioners find inconvenient, no matter how compelling or immediate the threat.

At the very least, a MAGA-dominated Commission calls into question the handling of all the county’s relations with the federal government—and this on top of the DeSantis-dominated state government’s hostility to Washington, DC.

For Oakes, the election may close a chapter in his contentious relations with the county government.

“I just think that the people are speaking,” he said of the results. “They don’t want this wokeness, and they don’t want this radical liberalism.”

As for the results of the election benefiting himself and his business, he said that was not his primary motivation in supporting these candidates. “I’m just happy that the people in Collier County have candidates who uphold the Constitution and America first,” he said.

In statewide races, Southwest Florida tracked the rest of the state

The big statewide race that received the most attention was the contest in the Democratic Party to see whether Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) or Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried would be nominated to challenge DeSantis.

Crist won that primary statewide by 59.71 percent to Fried’s 35.34 percent. This proved to be true locally as well, with Crist winning Collier County by 57.1 percent, Lee by 53.65 percent and Charlotte by 57.08 percent.

This contrasts with 2018 when regional Democrats favored more conservative candidates over the eventual statewide winner, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. It proved that Southwest Florida Democrats are more temperamentally conservative in contrast to their brethren elsewhere.

It would be very interesting to know if Southwest Florida Democratic women favored Fried over Crist in light of the two candidates’ battle over their respective commitments to women’s choice. Fried was counting on a female groundswell to lift her to the nomination. It didn’t happen statewide. Did it happen in Southwest Florida? What might the results mean for the general election on Nov. 8? Just how much will the overthrow of Roe v. Wade factor into people’s next ballot?

Regrettably, the official tallies don’t provide those answers since there’s no gender breakdown in the statistics. There’s a real need in this region for serious, sustained, professional public opinion polling with publicly reported results.

Until we get those kinds of scientific surveys we’ll just have to deduce what we can from the results that we get—and read whatever we can from the tea leaves in the bottoms of our cups.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

The Proud Boys, the insurrection and Southwest Florida — Updated

Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio and current Republican congressional candidate Christy McLaughlin (center) pose at The Mercato in Naples, Fla., on Dec. 3, 2020. Surrounding them are other Proud Boys including Christopher Worrell (back row, to the right of McLaughlin). (Photo: Facebook)

June 15, 2022 by David Silverberg

—Updated June 17 with Tarrio’s Seed to Table speech and photo and newly revealed congressional occupation plans. Also explanation of t-shirt in photo caption.

The Proud Boys have gotten a lot of publicity and are getting more right now as the January 6th insurrection conspiracy comes to light. They’ve been active in Southwest Florida for some time. But how much political influence do they currently have and what is their potential future impact on the region?

Events like the hearings of the US House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, an indictment of the organization’s leader for seditious conspiracy and the prosecution of East Naples resident, Christopher Worrell, are putting the organization in the spotlight.

The Proud Boys were literally at the forefront of the Jan. 6 insurrection and attack on the US Capitol, according to the Committee. The Committee’s first hearing on Thursday, June 9, revealed that it was members of the Proud Boys who deliberately and according to a pre-set plan, first breached Capitol Police barriers, leading to the general assault on the Capitol Building.

The hearing also revealed that the Proud Boys and the similarly extreme Oath Keepers organization coordinated their efforts on Jan. 6 to deliberately stop the peaceful transfer of power. The leaders of both organizations, Enrique Tarrio, chairman of the Proud Boys, and Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, met in a parking garage to discuss their plans.

Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio and Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes meet in a Washington, DC parking garage to coordinate plans prior to the Jan. 6 insurrection. (Image: January 6th Committee (J6C))

Rhodes was arrested on Jan. 13, 2021 and charged with seditious conspiracy. His trial is scheduled for this September, tentatively the 19th or 26th. On June 6, Tarrio was also charged with seditious conspiracy.

Court filings have also revealed the existence of a detailed plan given to Tarrio, called “1776 Returns,” for Proud Boys to occupy congressional office buildings and the Supreme Court to stop the election certification.

In the past Proud Boys recruitment and activity found some favorable response in Southwest Florida. Even at recent events like a pro-choice march in Fort Myers on May 14, Proud Boys were present.

A Proud Boys primer

The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, one of the founders of VICE News. McInnes decided on the name based on the song, “Proud of Your Boy” from the 2011 Disney musical Aladdin. He despised the song and its sentiment as Aladdin tries to win his mother’s approval but couldn’t stop playing or thinking about it.

McInnes did not stay at the helm of the organization for long, leaving in 2017 in large part because he was advised by his lawyers that his quitting might help Proud Boys indicted in a street brawl. By that time the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had characterized the organization as “an extremist group with ties to white nationalism.”

Enrique Tarrio, a Miami native, was made leader in 2018. Although another Proud Boy, Kyle Chapman, claimed to be president in 2020, his presidency never seems to have been recognized by the organization.

The Proud Boys gained media attention for their extremism, racism and propensity for violence and apparent endorsement of President Donald Trump’s policies and positions. By the time of the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020, they had achieved national prominence.

Debate moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he would urge white supremacist groups that inflamed violence at nationwide protests to “stand down.”

“Give me a name,” said Trump and the first name supplied by candidate Joe Biden was Proud Boys.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem,” Trump said.

The mention on national television catapulted the Proud Boys to the forefront of media attention and Tarrio said it prompted a tripling of memberships.

Enter Naples and Southwest Florida

After the election, Tarrio was in Naples on Dec. 3, 2020 to address a fundraising dinner for the Republican candidates in the Georgia Senate runoff elections. The dinner was at The Counter in the Mercato in Naples and was organized by Christine “Christy” McLaughlin, a Republican candidate for Congress who was defeated in the party primary that August (and is now running for the Republican nomination in Florida’s 22nd Congressional District).

Although John DiLemme, founder of the Conservative Business Journal, was the featured speaker, Tarrio was the unannounced speaker. Pre-event publicity for the gathering never mentioned that Tarrio or the Proud Boys would be present.

Wearing a t-shirt that stated: “Kyle Rittenhouse did nothing wrong,” Tarrio spoke to the gathering for about five minutes.

Enrique Tarrio addresses an audience in Naples on Dec. 3, 2020. (Photo: Facebook)

Tarrio’s speech did not call for violence and simply explained the public aspect of the Proud Boys philosophy and went some way toward explaining their appeal, which makes it worth reprinting in its entirety:

“There is something good that has come out of the contested—in air quotes, contested—election.

“There was obvious voter fraud. They’ve practically stolen this election. But we’re not going to let them. We’re not going to go quietly.

“But there is something good that has come out of this contested—to use air quotes, contested—election and it’s shown us what’s important.

“Something beautiful that has happened…But before that, it’s so frustrating when we’re putting together events for the past four years. It takes me months of planning, months of marketing to get 500 conservatives out on the street when they could put together four to five thousand people at a moment’s notice. But the beauty of this contested election is that we’ve been able to put thousands of angry Americans on the streets. (Applause) And why are they angry?

“Because how far the Left has gone. Put together in DC with over 750,000 people on the street, we made some noise. And we’re going to do it again on December 12th. And where they mess up, where the Democrats mess up, is not that they’re attacking the President, they’re attacking the people. They’re attacking our constitutional values and that is something that we are passionate about.

“Proud Boys is just a regular group of guys. There’s nothing special about regular men. But there is something when those men have, this passion and this love for this country. Because we don’t get in the front lines because …it really pains me that it takes something like this to unite us. But they’re probably the bravest men that I’ve ever met in my life.

“One thing that we can’t forget is that we can never let evil take root. We can never give up and we can never give up on the president.

“We’re together here, today and we should continue to do this and we should continue to take the inspiration that we’ve been given to continue going out on the streets, not maintain this from the couch. We cannot maintain this from our phones. It’s unrealistic. We need to make noise, we need to be …If you can make it, if you can get to DC on Dec. 12th I ask you guys, I beg you to please come out. Because there’s so much to fight for. There’s so much work to do.

“I’ve been an activist for about 18 years and I never, I never thought that I would ever see an election as electric as 2016, or as important as 2016. But here we are in 2020 and boy, was I wrong.

“1776 will commence again. We need, we need as many people as active as possible and it’s beautiful that we’re here today at a bar because this country was started—a lot of people forget—this country was started at a tavern called the Green Dragon Tavern by a regular group of people who drew a blueprint of what our country is today.

“Our forefathers didn’t envision all this view, this is not what they wanted, this is all just a plus. All they wanted was to create a country where they could practice their religion freely, be free from tyranny and a place to raise their kids with their own values and not be bothered. And I’m thankful for that, thankful for that every day. Those ideas are under attack right now.

“So one thing that people tell me is what does it take to be a Proud Boy? So in the past I would give them the West Side, I’d tell them where to go but I think this has become more than an organization, this has become a movement.

“When does standing up for your country become something wrong? So we, right now, regardless of anything, I want you guys to repeat after me. I’m going to induct you guys right now.

“I’m a western chauvinist. And I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world. We’re all Proud Boys. Thank you so much.”

(At the time The Paradise Progressive reached out to the management of The Counter, Kahala Management in Scottsdale, Ariz., to determine whether it was aware of Tarrio’s attendance and had any involvement in it. No answer has ever been received.)

Following the speech and the campaign event, Tarrio and McLaughlin posed for a group photograph (seen above). There are six Proud Boys in the photo, with Tarrio and McLaughlin in the center. Three of the Proud Boys are making a “white power” gesture with their hands. (The pinky, ring finger and middle finger up to signify a “w” and the thumb and forefinger meeting to signify a “p” in what used to be the “OK” gesture.)

In the back row on the right was Proud Boy Christopher “Chris” Worrell (more about him later).

An unidentified man, Tarrio and Worrell converse at the Dec. 3, 2020 event in Naples. (Photo: FBI)

The following night, Dec. 4, Tarrio addressed a crowd at Seed to Table, the market owned by outspoken conservative Alfie Oakes, and a frequent venue for far-right personalities.

Enrique Tarrio at Seed to Table. (Image: Anonymous)

Tarrio was introduced by McLaughlin, who said she had met him and the Proud Boys during the Million MAGA March on Nov. 15, 2020 when, she said, the Proud Boys had protected marchers from Antifa, the anti-fascist movement.

In this speech Tarrio revealed some personal history when he said that relatives of his in Cuba had been killed during the Cuban revolution by Communist guerrillas on the orders of Che Guevara when they refused to allow their farm to be used as forward position. Tarrio accused Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14-NY) and President Joe Biden of concealing their socialist and Marxist intentions as Guevara did in Cuba.

“In order to save the West we must replicate the minds of those who have its best interests at heart,” he said. “We must inspire more. We must inspire more people to follow us, inspire more people to lead us, inspire more people to do the things that are necessary to save this country. To make America great again.”

This speech was also more explicitly pro-Trump than in his Mercato appearance. In a foreshadowing of what would come, he said the Proud Boys were not going to allow the theft of the election.

“The most important thing we can do is stand by him,” Tarrio said of Trump. “So when he said ‘stand back and stand by,’ we didn’t take it as ‘stand by at the ready,’ we took it as ‘stand by me’ and we have. We’ve stood by the president since day one.”

Welcoming Roger Stone

Proud Boys were next in evidence locally on Jan. 3, 2021 when Roger Stone was welcomed to Naples in an event organized by McLaughlin.

Roger Stone is a far right activist and political operative whose political involvement goes back to the 1970s. He was an ardent supporter of Trump’s candidacy.

In 2018 Stone approached the Proud Boys for personal security and announced in a Facebook video: “Hi, I’m Roger Stone. I’m a Western chauvinist. I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world,” making him a “first-degree” member, according to some Proud Boys, although he subsequently announced he was not a member.

Stone was arrested by the FBI in January 2019 on seven counts connected with the investigation of Russian election interference by Robert Mueller. He was convicted in November. His 40-month sentence was commuted by Trump in July 2020 and he was fully pardoned on Dec. 23, 2020  

Stone had lived in Florida since 2014, first in Miami, then in Fort Lauderdale but he traveled across the state, first in August 2020 after his commutation and then on Jan. 3, 2021 when, post-pardon, he was welcomed with a street corner rally organized by McLaughlin that took place at the corner of Rt. 41 and Pine Ridge Rd.

Roger Stone and the Proud Boys in Naples on Jan. 3, 2021. Worrell is to Stone’s right, making the “white power” sign. (Photo: Twitter)

One of the purposes of Stone’s visit was to encourage a demonstration at the Naples home of Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) to demand he oppose the certification of “fraudulent electors” who would certify Joe Biden’s election as president on Jan. 6.

Christy McLaughlin on a ladder welcomes Roger Stone to Naples on Jan. 3, 2021. Note the Proud Boys flag to her left. (Photo: Facebook)

Another purpose of the Stone event was to exhort people to attend the big “Stop the Steal” rally scheduled for Jan. 6 in Washington, DC. As Trump so notoriously told his followers: “Be there. Will be wild!”

Chris Worrell

Proud Boy Chris Worrell, 53, a resident of East Naples, may have been in the back row when he attended the Tarrio speech in Naples but he was very much on the front line of the rioters when they attacked the Capitol.

As revealed by the Jan. 6 Committee, about 200 to 300 Proud Boys left the rally on the Ellipse before Trump spoke to march to the Capitol, where, as they had planned, they breached the first police barriers at the Peace Circle, opening the way for the general assault.

In the newly released video from the Committee, Worrell plays a prominent role at the Capitol grounds. As police equip themselves in a staging area, Worrell, in a heavily equipped combat vest, screams at them: “Don’t make us go against you!” and “These are our streets!”

On Jan. 6 in Washington, DC, Christopher Worrell tells police “These are our streets!” (Image: J6C)
On Jan. 6 in Washington, DC, Christopher Worrell tells police : “Don’t make us go against you!” (Image: J6C)

Worrell’s alleged involvement in the riot was extensively documented in a 2021 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warrant for his arrest on charges of illegally entering a government building, impeding and interfering with government business, carrying “a deadly or dangerous weapon” (chemical spray) while committing acts of violence, for “willfully and knowingly utter loud, threatening, or abusive language” in the Capitol building to disrupt or impede congressional business and using or carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon in the Capitol.

Chris Worrell allegedly uses a chemical spray against police during the Capitol riot. (Photo: FBI)

On June 1, a new, superseding indictment was filed against Worrell by a grand jury in Washington, DC. It added charges of obstructing, impeding and interfering with a law enforcement officer in the conduct of his duties, using the spray against government officials, and added charges against another rioter, Daniel Scott.

Worrell’s lawyer, Alex Stavrou, the third to handle the case, told the Naples Daily News that “The video showing Mr. Worrell is an untruth and incomplete edit purposely done for the purposes of spreading misstatements and falsehoods and trying to control public opinion about Mr. Worrell and others who were at January 6 so as to portray them in a false light.” He added: “He has not been charged with sedition, nor is there any expectation he will.”

Worrell was arrested by the FBI on March 12, 2021 and was initially jailed in Washington, DC, in part due to threats he issued on Facebook against potential witnesses against him. However, he pleaded that his medical conditions, including an alleged case of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, major dental problems and a broken hand he said was improperly treated while in federal custody, merited his release. After some dispute he was placed under house arrest in Naples under a variety of restrictions.

On April 26, he appeared before the Collier County Commission at one of its regular meetings to ask commissioners’ assistance.

“Good morning, Commissioners,” he began. “I am Christopher Worrell, Political Prisoner 377183.”

Christopher Worrell addresses the Collier County Board of Commissioners. (Image: CCBC)

Worrell emotionally recounted the arrest: “They deployed flash-bang grenades, parked a SWAT tank at the front of my entrance to my door, and held my wife at gunpoint for hours and I wasn’t even home,” he said.

Several times he choked up and wept.

“Due to my blatant civil rights violations I am now not just fighting for my rights and the rights of others, I am fighting for my life,” he said.

When he finished, Commissioner Rick LoCastro, District 1, applauded and said he would meet with Worrell and direct him to the proper officials, since his was a federal indictment beyond the scope of the county commission’s authority.

Worrell is scheduled to be arraigned on the superseding indictment charges on Friday, June 17.

Analysis: Past their peak?

In Southwest Florida, the most recent public appearance of Proud Boys as a group came on May 14 when several Proud Boys came to counter a pro-choice Bans Off Our Bodies demonstration in Fort Myers.

Proud Boys counter-protest at a pro-choice demonstration in Fort Myers, Fla., on May 14, 2022. The acronym FAFO on the t-shirt stands for “fuck around and find out.” (Photo: Alathea Shapiro)

That spasm of protest notwithstanding, overall, it appears that the Proud Boys movement and organization may have peaked and be in decline—for the moment.

A Proud Boy at Patriot Fest in Naples, Fla., on March 19, 2022. (Photo: Author)

It appeared most formidable after its founding in 2016 when it was a shock troop on the leading edge of President Donald Trump’s cult of personality. The fact that it was mentioned by name during a presidential debate and essentially endorsed by Trump himself established its place in the media firmament. There seemed no limit or restraint on its activities—or the threat it presented.

But the group no longer has the sanction and support of a president of the United States. Its top five members have been indicted for seditious conspiracy. The Jan. 6 Committee is exposing its leading—literally—role in the Capitol attack and other activities, violence and even sedition. In Canada it has been designated a terrorist group.

Despite its claims of racial inclusion its members keep putting up those “white power” hand signs, revealing their racism.

A Proud Boy gives the “white power” sign at a counter-demonstration in Fort Myers, Fla., May 14, 2022. (Photo: Alathea Shapiro)

In general, the Proud Boys now appear to be outside the cultural zeitgeist and their positions and attitudes seem outmoded and obsolete.

They’re even being mocked on late-night comedy shows. (Stephen Colbert: “I gotta tell you: seeing those guys arrested makes this boy proud,” he said in a monologue on June 8. As for a Proud Boys rule limiting masturbation to once a month, “that’s going to make those 20 years in prison seem pretty long. But I do understand why they’re so angry.”)

To be an overt Proud Boy now is to invite public mockery, law enforcement monitoring and potential arrest rather than inspiring the fear and respect they crave—both nationally and locally.

In a local context, the weeping, self-pitying performance of Christopher Worrell before the Collier County Commission hardly exemplified the masculinity and strength the Proud Boys attempt to project. (And it is worth noting that Worrell’s desire for clemency based on his health concerns hardly extended to his concern for the health or well-being of the police he allegedly attacked on Jan. 6.)

Nor were the current Proud Boys who appeared in Fort Myers on May 14 exactly the most impressive specimens of the species.

What usually happens to extreme ideological movements during periods of decline or eclipse is that they fracture and factionalize. In its short history, the Proud Boys went through multiple chairmen and even its founder has disavowed it. Now this very small group will likely engage in blame and recrimination and fragment around competing extremist would-be leaders as it faces new challenges.

Could it revive? Certainly. But that revival appears far off. If Trump runs for president in 2024 Proud Boys could mobilize again. They may even revivify if there’s a conservative wave at the polls this year. Even then, though, establishment politicians are unlikely to identify with them the way Trump did in 2020. The media will be merciless in exposing and condemning them. They’ve become an electoral liability rather than an asset.

If anything, the Proud Boys resemble the Nazis who were disgraced and demoralized after their failed 1923 putsch. Though the subsequent Nazi movement built the undisciplined, street-brawling Brown Shirts organization in the years afterwards, they became inconvenient and even threatening to Adolf Hitler’s leadership. As a result, they were eliminated in the purge that became known as the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.

Such is often the fate of violent, extremist, fringe organizations. Once they’re no longer useful they’re discarded by the people who use them for their own ends. Further, if past is any prologue, no one discards those who proved loyal in the past but are inconvenient in the present more than Donald Trump.

Perhaps the truest verdict on the Proud Boys is best contained in the biblical proverb: “Pride goeth before a fall.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

The inaction calculation: Why SWFL congressmen won’t act against gun violence

Students who survived the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., visit the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University in June 2018 to promote changes in gun laws and register voters. (Photo: Author)

May 31, 2022 by David Silverberg

It is only a matter of time before the next massacre of innocents at the hands of a crazed, heavily armed gunman. The massacre could occur any time, in any venue, anywhere in the United States.

Southwest Florida is certainly not immune: there are lots of guns here and plenty of addled people to wield them.

In the wake of the Uvalde, Texas elementary school massacre there is yet another cascade of calls to “do something”—i.e., to in some way stem the flood of high performance weapons used against unarmed people peacefully going about their business.

Any proposed solutions are certainly not going to come from Southwest Florida’s elected congressional representatives. After Uvalde, congressmen from Southwest Florida have made the usual, pro-forma expressions of sympathy for the victims’ families. But they are also already falling silent and if history is any guide they will vote in Congress against any kind of gun law reform. Then the public outrage will die down and life will return to “normal.”

It’s as predictable as the coming of hurricane season—there will be storms, there will be damage and there will be death—but all a person can do is hunker down and hope not to be hit.

In contrast to hurricanes, of course, gun regulation is a human construct that could be enacted. However, among the three congressmen who make up the Southwest Florida delegation, not only is there no inclination to make any changes, there is nothing in their records or public positions to indicate they will do anything except resist reform and parrot the talking points of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

An examination of their records makes this clear.

Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Byron Donalds

In the 19th Congressional District, which stretches along the coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who does not live in the district, has made a major point of his pro-gun, pro-NRA positions. His 2020 campaign tag line was that “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Trump-supporting, liberty-loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.”

Donalds’ opposition to gun violence legislation goes back to his time before he entered Congress. In 2018 in the wake of the massacre in Parkland, Fla., as a state legislator from the 80th District, he voted against the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act in the Florida legislature, which banned the sale of bump stocks, raised the age for gun purchases to 21 and established a three-day waiting period for all firearm sales.

In his 2020 congressional race Donalds received a full endorsement from the NRA and an A+ rating from the NRA Victory Fund, denoting that he had “an excellent voting record on all critical NRA issues.”

Since entering Congress Donalds has voted and spoken out against the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1446) and voted against the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (HR 1620). (Both bills passed.) These votes earned him an A rating from the Gun Owners of America, an organization even more fervent in opposing reform than the NRA.

On May 24 immediately after the Uvalde massacre Donalds tweeted: “No family should have to bury their loved one because of the actions of a sick & deranged animal. Our nation is suffering from a mental health crisis that is plaguing our society & senselessly killing too many. Erika & I offer our deepest condolences to the victims of this attack.”

Rep. Greg Steube

Rep. Greg Steube

Another NRA A+ winner is Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district stretches from Venice to the Lee County line and includes large swaths of six interior counties.

Steube has been a defender and active proponent of unrestricted gun access throughout his political career beginning in 2010 when he first ran for the Florida House of Representatives. There, he was a sponsor of House Bill 4001, which allowed the carrying of weapons, both openly and concealed, on college campuses in Florida. He was endorsed by the NRA during his 2016 race for the state Senate and then in 2018 when he ran for Congress.

In Congress, Steube opposed a 2020 Democratic effort to ban guns from the Capitol grounds and introduced a bill to speed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ approval of applications to buy gun silencers. In 2021 Steube, like Donalds, voted against the enhanced background checks and violence against women bills.

In keeping with NRA and conservative orthodoxy, Steube favors hardening schools rather than regulating guns to prevent shootings. On Friday, May 27, Steube signed on as a cosponsor of the School Resource Officer Assessment Act, a bill that would require a national assessment of the number and status of school resource officers across the country. The bill was originally introduced in 2018 by Rep. Clay Higgins (R-3-La.) after the Parkland, Fla., massacre. It passed the House and then died in the Senate. Higgins reintroduced it this year on May 26.

The day after the Uvalde shooting, Steube tweeted: “‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ – Matthew 5:4. Keeping the students, families, and Uvalde community in my prayers during this horrific time.”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

As Florida’s longest-serving member of Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) has a more complex record on gun access and violence than his two Southwest Florida neighbors.

Representing a district that stretches from roughly from Interstate 75 in Collier County to Hialeah in the east and including huge stretches of virtually unpopulated Everglades and Big Cypress territory, Diaz-Balart’s focus has been on the Cuban-American and Hispanic populations that provide most of the population of his district.

Throughout his political career in the state House and in Congress, Diaz-Balart maintained an A rating from the NRA, accepted its financial contributions and largely followed its lead on gun-related legislation.

In the immediate wake of the murder of 17 students and teachers (and injuring of 17 others) at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018 nothing changed in Diaz-Balart’s positions. He continued to accept contributions from the NRA. So pro-gun was Diaz-Balart that after Parkland he was the focus of an effort to unseat him by former Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, the victim of a shooting at an Arizona mall in 2011.

As Giffords put it in her endorsement of his 2018 opponent, Democrat Mary Barzee Flores:

“Here are three facts that you should know about Diaz-Balart.

“Number one: he’s taken thousands of dollars from the NRA. More money than any other Florida member of Congress. He even took their money AFTER the Parkland school shooting. After seventeen children and their| educators were gunned down.

“Number two: Diaz-Balart gets an A rating from the NRA year after year.

“And number three: Diaz-Balart voted to weaken our gun laws, not strengthen them. Diaz-Balart even refuses to support common-sense solutions like requiring background checks on all gun sales.

“Nothing’s going to get done with Diaz Balart in the NRA’s pocket voting against our safety.”

Despite the criticism and the passions aroused by the Parkland shooting, Diaz-Balart handily won his 2018 election.  

However, he did shift slightly on gun legislation. In February 2019 he joined seven other Republicans to vote for the Bipartisan Background Check Act of 2019, which mandated background checks for private sales of guns. By voting for it, Diaz-Balart was defying both the NRA and the Republican congressional leadership. The bill passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 240 to 190 but died in the Senate.

The bill was revived after the 2020 election as HR 8 and it came up for a House vote in March 2021.

This time, though, Diaz-Balart had second thoughts and voted against it. As he explained his reversal in a press release, the first time it came up he had hoped there would be “serious negotiations” but “the radical left altered this bill and, in the process, made it far worse and indefensible.”

That bill passed the House on March 11, 2021 by a vote of 227 to 203. It is now in the Senate.

At the same time Diaz-Balart joined two Democrats in sponsoring another piece of legislation, the NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] Denial Notification Act of 2021 (HR 1769). Under this bill if someone is denied a gun license because of a background check, local law enforcement agencies have to be notified by the Justice Department. The bill was introduced on March 10, 2021 and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee where it remains to this day.

Diaz-Balart’s momentary lapse from pro-gun orthodoxy did cost him a bit politically: His grade from the hard-core Gun Owners of America slipped to a C. In 2020 his grade from the NRA Political Victory Fund was A. The 2022 grade is not out yet but it will be interesting to see where he falls when it’s published.

Last Wednesday, May 25, in the immediate wake of the shootings in Uvalde, Diaz-Balart tweeted: “I’m devastated by the senseless shooting at Robb Elementary School that took 19 innocent lives. School safety must be at the forefront of our priorities in Congress. I pray for the families, staff, and students that were victims of this merciless act of violence.”

Commentary: Incentives, disincentives and death

The politicians in Southwest Florida and across the nation who have consistently and stubbornly opposed any kind of gun regulation reform have made two risk-and-reward calculations, one political and one social.

The political calculation is that there are many downsides and no rewards for making any change to gun laws.

It’s not only that the NRA opposes any changes; it is that its followers and one-issue gun owners will more effectively punish a politician for heresy than reform supporters will reward him for righteousness.

There was a clear example of this in the 2020 Republican congressional primary in the 19th District after Rep. Francis Rooney announced his retirement.

At that time all the Republican candidates were ostentatiously loyal Trumpers and gun rights advocates, vying to show the fervor of their fanaticism.

Dane Eagle of Cape Coral, a Florida House member, was the first person to declare his bid for the seat.

By all outward signs Eagle was a properly extreme conservative, Trumpist candidate, a rising star in the Florida Republican Party and at the outset by far the strongest candidate.

But Eagle had a vulnerability: he already had an extensive political career in Florida even at the precocious age of 36.

In the wake of the Parkland massacre the Florida legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. The bill imposed a three-day waiting period for most purchases of long guns, raised the minimum age for gun purchases to 21 and banned possession of bump stocks. People deemed mentally unstable could have their guns confiscated under “red flag” provisions. It also created a program to arm school personnel and provided $400 million for school security and training.

It was quite unprecedented given Florida’s ingrained gun culture. It was a well-crafted bipartisan bill that embodied many of the reforms now being discussed nationally and for once Florida was in the vanguard of new ideas.

The bill passed with majorities in both the state House and Senate and was signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Scott on March 9, 2018, a mere 23 days after the Parkland massacre.

When Eagle ran for Congress in 2020 his opponents, outside advocacy groups and conservative political action committees were ferocious in blaming him personally for the bill. He was accused of “betrayal,” “selling out” and being a pawn of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. One television ad had him in a gunsight’s crosshairs and called him a “surprisingly liberal Republican.”  One opponent called him “sick” because of the law.

An attack ad against Dane Eagle during the 2020 Republican congressional primary race. (Image: Drain the DC Swamp PAC)

Eagle fought back with dark, paranoid, violent TV ads and videos that featured him firing guns in just about every one to show his love of weapons and loyalty to the pro-gun cause.

Dane Eagle takes aim to prove his love of guns in a 2020 campaign ad. (Image: Dane Eagle campaign)

But Eagle ultimately lost his primary bid to Byron Donalds. Just how large a role his supposed “betrayal” played in that defeat cannot be determined with certainty but the race was close.

That’s the nightmare Republican politicians face when they contemplate taking stands contrary to the NRA and it’s why they almost never do it. The gun voters will retaliate while the reformers aren’t cohesive and powerful enough to keep them in office—especially in Republican primaries. And that’s not to mention the pro-gun money on offer from gun industry-related political action committees and organizations.

Until there’s greater personal reward for voting for gun reform than punishment for voting against it, Republican politicians will continue to toe the NRA line and vie for its approval with ever more extreme legislation.

But there’s a second, social calculation that NRA-compliant politicians have made.

It is simply that the occasional random shooting and classroom massacre is just a price worth paying for unlimited public access to guns, industry profits and access to pro-gun votes and cash. In their view, by whatever imperfect means, society’s decision has been made and it has chosen to live with massacres in order to have guns.

Politicians have also calculated that with every massacre and mass murder the horror and the outrage and the grief will peak and then subside and be forgotten—but the cash and the threats and the votes of pro-gunners will always be there.

As for the children, the teachers, the shoppers, the churchgoers and the everyday citizens who might lose their lives to random gun violence—well, they’re just collateral damage.

It’s as though humans are a herd of buffalo on the old plains. The predators take down the weak, the sick or the slow—or in this case the innocent, the incautious and the unlucky. The herd takes note, and learns to live with the threat and the fear. Each member hopes that he or she won’t be the victim next time. Then the herd moves on—until it’s extinct.

In Southwest Florida this is especially true among Republican politicians, all of whose past statements and actions adhere to NRA doctrine—and in which they may actually, genuinely believe. But regardless of motivation, there has never been any apparent inclination nor is there any evident now, to take any action whatsoever to restrict or regulate guns. That is unlikely to change unless the next massacre occurs very close to home in Collier or Lee or Charlotte counties. Even then it would have to be a particularly dramatic and horrifying event to produce a transformation in thinking.

Of course, these are only the calculations within the locally-dominant Republican Party. There is an alternative. In Southwest Florida it is Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai who is running for Congress in the 19th Congressional District against Donalds.

Cindy Banyai

Banyai was calling for four immediate measures to curb gun violence well before Uvalde. She wants:

  • A federal moratorium on the production and import of high-powered and fast-firing weapons;
  • Incentives for the state to create local registration for existing firearms and new purchases, requiring initial and routine training on safety and use, and oversight of all weapons sales;
  • Annual recognition by the state of safe firearms owners and distributors;
  • Voluntary buy-backs for those wishing not to register.

When she learned of the Uvalde shootings, Banyai tweeted: “I am struck with the same sick sadness as when I learned of Sandy Hook. The community of Uvalde and the kids of Robb Elementary School deserved more than thoughts and prayers as a shooter ravaged them.” And subsequently, “I am sick and tired of living in fear of the gun crazed America the NRA fueled. I do not want to live in this carnage. I love our kids. There cannot be another Uvalde.”

Sadly, there are likely to be more Uvaldes as the year progresses and some may be even more bloody and horrific. But the mechanism for reform still exists through a peaceful, non-violent ballot and on Nov. 8, Election Day, maybe—just maybe—the citizens of Southwest Florida will exercise that right for the benefit of all.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

The Donalds Dossier: Putin’s pal; an address mess; and a legal laurel–Updated

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo: TASS)

May 17, 2022 by David Silverberg

Updated at 4:30 pm with additional bill details and Senate status.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t been getting much good news lately but surely he must have smiled when he saw that Southwest Florida’s own Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) had voted against aid for Ukraine.

The vote came last Tuesday, May 10, at 10:05 pm when the United States House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to grant Ukraine $40 billion to keep up its fight for democracy and independence, a fight that has inspired the world.

The Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2022 (House Bill 7691) passed by a vote of 368 to 57. Even 149 Republicans voted for the bill, among them Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and eight other Florida Republicans.

“Among other things, the bill provides appropriations for defense equipment, migration and refugee assistance, regulatory and technical support regarding nuclear power issues, emergency food assistance, economic assistance, and seizures of property related to the invasion,” according to its official summary.

“It’s about democracy versus a dictatorship,” argued House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in favor of the bill. “Democracy must prevail. The Ukrainian people are fighting the fight for their democracy and, in doing so, for ours as well.”

“Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom and their future against Russia’s unprovoked and illegal war,” Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) stated. “This vote makes clear that the US remains as committed as ever to supporting Ukraine in its fight for freedom and democracy. Slava Ukraine!”

By contrast, Donalds said in a statement: “While I’m a firm supporter of the Ukrainian defense, the American taxpayer shouldn’t bear the perpetual cost of this war.” He argued that “the $40 billion aid package I voted against is an unfunded commitment that shovels money blindly without proper accountability and opens the door for even more irresponsible funding. I supported the original multi-billion-dollar aid package, but we cannot continue down this reckless spending pattern bankrupting our nation,”

(It should be noted that there’s nothing “perpetual” about the aid package. It’s a one-time infusion to help Ukraine defend itself and assist Ukrainians victimized by the conflict.)

Oddly, Donalds failed to mention the vote in his newsletter recapping the week’s events.

To Donalds’ north in Southwest Florida, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), another far-right conservative who also opposed the package, complained that while he had voted for previous Ukraine funding: “Congress has not received a single report on how much of this funding was spent, if any, nor assurances that the funding even reached Ukraine. Today less than 6 hours before a vote, the Democrats dropped a massive, last-minute bill to send $40 billion more without any safeguards, assurances of use, or proof of a strategic plan for the US role in Ukraine.”

Somehow, the pictures of charred Russian tanks and equipment abandoned in retreat from Ukrainian territory might indicate that current aid is being put to very good use.

Following passage in the House the bill was sent to the Senate. Yesterday, May 16, senators voted 81 to 11 to proceed with the legislation and a final vote is expected this week, possibly as soon as tomorrow. Both of Florida’s Republican senators voted to proceed with the bill.

District delay

The extension of the 19th Congressional District boundaries to Santa Barbara Blvd. in Collier County under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ preferred congressional map. It includes Rep. Byron Donalds’ home address at the approximate location of the X. The red line denotes the existing boundary of the district. (Map: Florida Redistricting Committee)

Donalds will remain outside the district he represents if Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) favored congressional district map is invalidated by the courts, where it is now being considered.

A congressperson doesn’t have to live in the district he or she represents, only in the state. Donalds’ address of record is in the 25th Congressional District represented by Diaz-Balart. [Editor’s note: The precise address is not being posted here out of courtesy to Rep. Donalds.]

Traditionally, of course, it is best for the member of Congress to reside in the district. The representative can stay close to the people, personally share their concerns and keep an eye on the community’s needs and issues. It also gives the member credibility at election time.

Donalds, elected in 2020, has never resided in the 19th but he was handed a favor when DeSantis’ team redrew the Florida congressional map, rammed it through the legislature and DeSantis signed it into law on April 22. Instead of moving into the 19th, DeSantis moved the district’s borders to include Donalds.

This not only closed a campaign vulnerability for Donalds, it avoided a potentially damaging primary fight between Donalds and Diaz-Balart if Donalds had chosen to run in the 25th (re-numbered the 26th in the DeSantis map).

It was a neat solution for all concerned. However, with the DeSantis map thrown out in court and now up in the air as the judge’s ruling is appealed, it remains to be seen in which congressional district Donalds hangs his hat—which has never seemed to matter much to him anyway.

Court conquest

Donalds might have received a blow when the court threw out DeSantis’ map but a different court handed him a victory in his battle with former Republican congressional candidate, businessman Casey Askar.

Casey Askar

The case was initially scheduled to be tried before a jury on May 18. However, Judge Elizabeth Krier of the 20th Judicial Circuit handed down a ruling on April 14.

To recap: On primary election day, Aug. 18, 2020, a text message was sent to Republicans, allegedly from Donalds, saying that he had dropped out of the race. Donalds vehemently denied its authenticity and accused Askar of sending the false message.

However, Donalds provided no evidence and Askar denied the charge. On Nov. 16, 2020, Askar sued Donalds for defamation and libel, demanding $30,000 in damages.

After nearly a year and a half of legal wrangling and maneuvering—and legal expenses—Krier granted Donalds’ request for a summary judgment and dismissed Askar’s complaint.

“…Viewing the facts in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, there is no genuine issue of material fact as to the mandatory element of actual malice, and therefore Defendant Donalds is entitled to judgment as a matter of law,” Krier wrote.

Essentially, Askar had to prove that Donalds acted with malice against him, knowing his charges were untrue. What was more, Askar had to provide evidence to that effect. The bar for doing this is especially high when it comes to public political figures like political candidates.

Askar failed these tests, in Krier’s view. Donalds’ accusations against Askar were merely “opinions” she wrote. Donalds had made the accusations based on the belief that one of Askar’s consultants, Jeff Roe, had allegedly pulled this kind of trick in 2016 against Dr. Ben Carson in his presidential primary race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Given that Askar failed to make his defamation case with “clear and convincing evidence,” Krier ruled against him.

Krier may soon rule that Askar has to pay all the attorney’s fees and court costs to Donalds for the litigation, which likely comes to quite a tidy sum. One hopes for Askar’s sake that the pizza business is booming.

Slava Ukraini! Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

DeSantis congressional map largely leaves SWFL districts intact, splits Immokalee

An overview of the congressional district map being proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Map: Florida Redistricting)

April 19, 2022 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida’s congressional district boundaries will experience only minor tweaks under the redistricting map (P000C0109) submitted by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), which is expected to be enacted under a special legislative session opening today.

A bitter fight has emerged over the disposition of the 5th Congressional District in the panhandle. DeSantis’ map would eliminate the district represented by Rep. Al Lawson (D-5-Fla.) by splitting it into two new districts, 2 and 3, that would likely vote Republican. Democrats are charging that through deliberate gerrymandering in this district and others, DeSantis is trying to wipe out Black representation in Florida. DeSantis has argued that his map is racially neutral.

Also, DeSantis’ map creates 20 Republican districts to Democrats’ eight, ensuring majority Republican representation in Congress for the next decade and favorably positioning him to take Florida’s Electoral College vote if he runs in 2024.

DeSantis vetoed the legislature’s proposed map and instead insisted on passage of his own, a very unusual move given that redistricting is usually in the legislative domain.

An earlier map proposed by DeSantis was very radical in its changes for Southwest Florida, making Lee County its own congressional district and significantly altering the 19th and 25th districts. The new map, submitted by J. Alex Kelly, DeSantis’ deputy chief of staff, is less sweeping for this region.

The DeSantis map, which is likely to be enacted, makes changes to the three districts that constitute Southwest Florida. Some changes are minor, others substantial. All have electoral implications but would remain majority Republican districts.

The new 19th

Changes to North Fort Myers (left arrow) and Lehigh Acres (right arrow), both of which move into the 17th District under the DeSantis map. Red lines denote existing district boundaries.

Changes to the 19th District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, are relatively minor and the district keeps its existing number.

The DeSantis map takes a bit of territory out of North Fort Myers and moves it and all of Lehigh Acres into the 17th District. However, unlike other past proposed maps, minority neighborhoods in Fort Myers, like Dunbar, remain within the 19th.

In Collier County, the DeSantis 19th extends the district boundary to Rt. 75 and as far east as Santa Barbara Blvd. between Pine Ridge Rd. and Golden Gate Pkwy., so it now encompasses Village Walk, Livingston Walk, Wyndemere and parts of Golden Gate.

This change would put the home of Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) in the district. Until now he has been representing it while living in Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s district.

The Collier County portion of the DeSantis map. Red lines denote existing district boundaries. Blue lines are county borders.

The severed 17th

The DeSantis 17th, which splits the existing district into two. Red lines denote existing boundaries.

The 17th District, currently represented by Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) would be substantially reduced and under the DeSantis plan would extend roughly from the Lee County line north to Sarasota and would include sections of North Fort Myers and all of Lehigh Acres.

Much of the 17th’s former interior area—which is very lightly populated—would be transferred to a newly drawn 18th Congressional District, which would include DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Okeechobee, Glades and Hendry County and include part of the unincorporated Collier County town of Immokalee.

The renumbered 26th and the splitting of Immokalee

The new 26th District. Red lines denote existing boundaries.

The old 25th District represented by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart would now be renumbered the 26th and would lose largely unpopulated territory it formerly had in Hendry County. Its center of gravity would still be in the east in the Cuban-American stronghold of Hialeah.

Interestingly, the unincorporated town of Immokalee in Collier County, which was previously in Diaz-Balart’s district, would now be split down the middle between the 26th and the new 18th along North 15th St., and State Road 845.

The town of Immokalee, split down the middle between two congressional districts.

Analysis: The DeSantis implications

For Southwest Florida the most significant change from the DeSantis map is moving Donalds into the 19th District so he doesn’t have to change domiciles and he eliminates a potential electoral vulnerability. Otherwise, the racial, ethnic and partisan makeup of the region stays largely the same and favors the incumbents and the Republican Party.

The division of Immokalee is particularly unfortunate for that low-income community of roughly 20,000 people. The largely Hispanic town of mostly seasonal farmworkers was at the far edge of Diaz-Balart’s district but he would visit it occasionally and he requested $987,000 in federal earmarked funds for sidewalk and drainage improvements. Now, with it divided between districts, it’s likely to be neglected by both congresspeople in whose districts it falls.

The DeSantis map has raised vehement protests from Democrats and charges of racism since it eliminates districts with black representation in the north and around Orlando. Democrats are vowing to challenge it in court, which was exactly the outcome that Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers) worked hard to avoid when he headed the state Senate Redistricting Committee.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is Naples no-show; sends video speech instead

Patriot Fest in Sugden Regional Park focuses on local candidates; urges political involvement

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (on screen at left) speaks to attendees of Patriot Fest in Naples’ Sugden Park on Saturday, March 19. (Photo: Author)

March 21, 2022 by David Silverberg

On Saturday, March 19, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-14-Ga.), the controversial right wing member of Congress promoted as the headliner for the third Patriot Fest held in Naples, Fla., did not appear in person as advertised, instead sending a pre-recorded video speech.

Greene’s speech was subdued and mainly urged listeners to get involved in politics at the local level, the chief theme of the gathering.

“Now, you know we have a problem in the Republican Party and those are the Republicans like Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham and all of the RINOs [Republicans in Name Only] who sell us out,” she said. “They only talk good on TV but they never follow through with the right actions. What I’m calling on all of you to do is, going into this election cycle, make sure you’re supporting good Republican candidates, America First candidates that you have vetted and that you know are going to do the job they say they’re going to do on the campaign trail but they will actually do it when they get to Washington.”

For the most part, Greene’s roughly 7-minute speech consisted of standard conservative orthodoxy. She denounced a lack of attention to the southern border, high inflation and gas prices and condemned what she saw as greater concern with the global economy than domestic economics.

Brendon Leslie, an independent conservative journalist, event organizer and master of ceremonies, attributed Greene’s absence to demonstrations, although no demonstrators were apparent outside Sugden Regional Park in east Naples during her address.

The festival at its height attracted perhaps 400 attendees in this author’s estimation. Alfie Oakes, the extremely conservative local farmer and grocer and key organizer of the event, announced that over 1,000 tickets were sold. General admission cost $25 and special access tickets cost $150. Food trucks provided food and tents promoted various candidates for office as well as consumer products.

Seventeen speakers were scheduled. Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno, although listed as a speaker, did not attend.

The main point of the festival was to showcase and promote local candidates supporting a far-right agenda and encourage political involvement by attendees.

This was driven home in a speech by Oakes.

“I want every single person who hears my voice to go out and find five other people to show up for the primary and make sure that they vote for strong people,” he exhorted the crowd. “Do your homework. The reason we’re in this situation right now is because we have not been doing our homework, we’re voting for whoever sounds good on TV, for whoever spends the most money to get name recognition and, unfortunately, those are almost always the wrong people.”

Oakes made the point that ideological fervor was the most important qualification for office.

“I don’t want to hear about what IQ someone has or what level of education someone has,” he said. “I graduated from North Fort Myers High School—a bunch of rednecks. Common sense and some back is all we need right now.”

He continued: “I want to get behind people that have backbone; that stand up, it’s the only way we’re going to take back this country, it’s the only chance. And school board is just a little microcosm of the same 535 [members of Congress] that are making the decisions. They just spent 1.5 trillion dollars in our federal government, the school board of Lee Country spends 2 billion dollars. If I were on the Lee County school board, I could put an extra billion dollars back into the taxpayer and get everybody probably a 300 percent better education, if you let a businessman run it. There’s so much corruption going on up there, it’s disgusting.”

Oakes said he would be collecting money for his Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee and he endorsed candidates at the festival. In Lee County, this was Denise Nystrom for Lee County School Board District 6. Collier County School Board candidates were: Jerry Rutherford, District 1; Kelly Lichter, District 3; and Tim Moshier, District 5. For Collier County commission he endorsed Chris Hall for District 2; and Daniel Kowal for District 4.

Other candidates present at the festival included Anna Paulina Luna, who ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) in the 2020 election and is running for the seat again and Drew Montez-Clark, who was collecting signatures to get on the ballot against Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) in the August 23 Republican primary.

Ukraine? What Ukraine?

During the proceedings Ukraine was only fleetingly mentioned. Greene noted the overseas crisis, although her focus was domestic: “While we all disagree with what Putin and Russia have done in Ukraine, we mourn for their people and their losses, we have got to urge our leaders to care about our country before it’s too late,” she said.

There was also concern expressed for the Jan. 6 rioters who are being prosecuted and convicted in increasing numbers.

Again, as Greene put it: “After several years of non-stop riots from Antifa leading into the summer of rage and BLM [Black Lives Matter] riots, we’re now seeing people being persecuted after going and walking around the Capitol on January 6th,” she said. “The Department of Justice is out of control. This is all the Democrats’ fault. Americans should always have their due process rights and never be treated like political prisoners of war.”

There were also numerous references to the need to preserve the United States as a Christian nation.

The crudest, most emotional—and loudest—speaker was musician Ted Nugent who led off the rally with an ear-splitting guitar rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.

The chief focus of Nugent’s speech was conservative voter apathy, although that was hardly the only target.

 “Worse than Democrats—if you can imagine—worse than the scourge of Marxist, Communist Liberalism, because that’s what it’s become, worse than that—you ready?” he roared.

A member of the audience shouted: “RINOs!”

Nugent responded: “RINOs are even worse, you’re right, because they have violated our faith in them. But worse than all that you can think of, worse than any of that, worse than doctor punk-ass Fauci, worse than Hillary Clinton, worse than Barack Obama and Eric Holder running illegal guns to Mexican gangs to kill my friend, Brian Terry, the Border Patrol agent from Michigan, worse than that—it’s hard to imagine worse than that! You know what’s worse than that? You had better take this home with you because Nancy Pelosi would like to thank you: people who think they stand up for the good of America and don’t even vote. Shame on you! Why don’t you just go up to a flag-draped coffin and piss on it? Is that a little harsh? Do you not need to hear this? If you don’t vote for the principles and the core belief that those soldiers and sailors and Marines and airmen have died for, then you’re worse than Nancy Pelosi because you invited her to bed.”

Analysis: Actually, a universal message

The atmosphere of Patriot Fest was a combination of country-western concert, county fair and political rally. The mood was upbeat and enthusiastic—and surprisingly un-angry among the crowd—but the underlying purpose was very serious.

Given its admission fee at the door, participants were already self-selected to be politically active, so despite the repeated exhortations this was not an apathetic crowd by any means. Attendance numbers did not necessarily indicate an overwhelming groundswell of popular commitment to this cause, the fervor of attendees notwithstanding.

However, the impact of that fervor is not to be underestimated. In relatively obscure down-ballot elections like school boards and county commissions, small numbers of committed voters and volunteers can make a big difference.

It needs to be remembered that while Oakes’ beliefs are sincere and intense he also has a big economic stake in the outcomes of these elections. He remains in litigation with the Lee County School Board over a contract with Oakes Farms that was canceled in 2020 following his public statements regarding George Floyd. He had a bitter dispute with the Collier County Commission over mask mandates that resulted in four lawsuits, all of which have now concluded in settlements or court defeats.

A change in school boards in both Lee and Collier counties and especially in the Collier County Commission could significantly alter the overall atmosphere and regulatory approach to his businesses.

However, there was also a universal message in this gathering that reached beyond partisanship—and that was the need for participation and activism by every citizen.

Of course, the speakers and organizers at Patriot Fest wanted attendees to get active and vote in order to implement their ideological program. But the opposition to inactivity and apathy applies to everyone, whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican—and especially to those who would defeat imposition of an extreme agenda.

As Oakes said: “This is a dire time. We’re not going to get another chance. This midterm 2022 election is the most crucial election of our lifetime. Don’t kid yourself.”

That’s perhaps overstating it a bit; after all, the 2020 election determined whether the United States would remain a democracy and independent of Russia. But he’s not wrong that the upcoming election is crucial, that its results will be significant and that it will be lost and won at the state, congressional, county and school board levels.

Greene, Oakes and the other Patriot Fest speakers may not have intended their message to include liberals, progressives, Democrats and RINOs but the idea that every citizen should be active, engaged and most of all, vote, applies to every American.

And that, after all, is what makes a true patriot.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

Putin’s pawns and the price of gas in Southwest Florida

Cars line up to get gas in South Fort Myers, Fla., following the ban on Russian oil. (Image: NBC2)

March 11, 2021 by David Silverberg

There’s nothing quite like an outside threat to bring Americans together. After Dec. 7, 1941 or Sept. 11, 2001, Americans rallied to the country’s defense and dropped their domestic differences.

The United States is not in a shooting war with Russia right now but it is certainly in a conflict. Only this time, there’s no give in partisanship and Republicans are maneuvering to take advantage of the situation with an eye to the November midterm elections—especially in Southwest Florida.

With its embargo on purchases of Russian oil the United States is turning to Venezuela as a potential supplier, easing its decades-long tensions with the South American country and its opposition to its president, Nicolas Maduro.

This has created howls of protest from Florida Republicans, who sense an opening to expand their appeal to Florida’s Hispanic community, especially Venezuelan-Americans.

Their efforts can particularly be seen in the actions and statements of two Southwest Florida congressmen: Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

While dealing with two dictators at the same time is certainly not a comfortable position for a democracy, at the same time their partisan attacks on the administration display some glaring inconsistencies.

The Doral gambit

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Rep. Byron Donalds

Maintaining an anti-Maduro drumbeat is especially important for Diaz-Balart whose district includes the city of Doral, whose population of nearly 76,000 is as much as 28 percent Venezuelan-American, many of them exiles and refugees from Venezuela’s socialist regime.  

This week, Diaz-Balart was early and adamant in his denunciations of a US rapprochement with Venezuela.

His most articulated and detailed attack came Wednesday, March 9 in a Miami Herald op-ed titled “Biden would be wrong to support the tyrant in Venezuela to fight the tyrant in Russia.”

“If the Biden administration agrees to weaken sanctions against the murderous and anti-American Maduro dictatorship, it would shamelessly betray the Venezuelan people and the cause of freedom, as well as the national security interests of the United States,” he wrote. “Instead, the United States must pursue a policy that puts American values first, rather than trading one type of blood oil for another.”

Noting the energy ties between the West and Russia, Diaz-Balart argued: “We must pursue a policy of ironclad sanctions that prioritizes U.S. national security interests, human rights and freedom, rather than securing a bad deal with a different devil.”

The same day Diaz-Balart and Donalds sent a letter to President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm expressing their concerns about opening up relations with Maduro. They were joined by three other members: Carlos Gimenez (R-26-Fla.), Daniel Webster (R-11-Fla.) and Scott Franklin (R-15-Fla.). (Interestingly, Southwest Florida’s other member of Congress, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), who does not have a significant Hispanic constituency in his district, was not included.)

Clearly intended for constituent consumption rather than any genuine policy impact, the letter was predictably accusatory and insulting.

“Since taking office, your administration has engaged in a relentless crusade against America’s energy infrastructure, killing jobs and making us more reliant on adversaries such as the Iranians, Russians, and yes, the evil Maduro regime,” it alleged. “We are concerned that your administration supports Maduro over Midland, the Kremlin over Colorado, and the Ayatollah over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).”

The letter calls the reaching out to Venezuela “a slap in the face to the half a million Venezuelans that call America home who fled his vicious and failed socialist nation” and calls the gas crunch a “mounting Green New Deal policy induced energy crisis at home.” Lastly it urges “complete reversal of your harmful energy and foreign affairs policies.”

Just days prior, Donalds had been demanding a cutoff of Russian oil imports: “This is a no-brainer BAN RUSSIAN IMPORTS NOW!” he tweeted on March 7.

Analysis: Inconsistency, illogic and insecurity

In their attacks Diaz-Balart and Donalds are simply following a larger Republican playbook that is just designed to score points against the Biden administration rather than seriously shape policy.

This strategy was exposed and neatly summarized by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank in a column titled: “Biden heeded Republicans’ pleas to ban Russian oil. Then they pounced.”

“For days, Republicans called for a ban on imports of Russian oil, a move that, while the right thing to do to counter Putin’s attack against Ukraine, would cause already high gas prices to rise even further,” wrote Milbank. “Biden did as Republicans wanted — and they responded by blaming his energy policies for spiking gas prices.”

He continued: “It’s not only that the charge is bogus — the current price of gas has virtually nothing to do with Biden’s energy policies — but that the Republican officials leveling it are sowing division at home and giving a rhetorical boost to the enemy at a perilous moment when national unity and sacrifice will be needed to prevail against Russia.”

Milbank didn’t focus on Diaz-Balart or Donalds but their particular attacks on the outreach to Venezuela after demanding a Russian oil cutoff while still lambasting the president for high oil prices, is in keeping with the overall Republican flight from logic. Milbank called it “a gusher of mendacity.”

“Blaming Biden for the spike in prices around Russia’s Ukraine invasion isn’t just false — it’s an assist to Putin that damages national security,” Milbank pointed out.

It’s also interesting to note that the stridency of Diaz-Balart’s and Donalds’ criticism of Biden seems to be in direct proportion to their lack of criticism of Putin and the invasion of Ukraine.

None of this should be surprising. After all, all Republican politicians including Diaz-Balart and Donalds are just pursuing short term electoral advantage rather than responsibly trying to help the country navigate between the shoals of plague, war and now a fuel famine. Still, at a time when Americans should be pulling together to face a common, unmistakable threat, their inconsistency and illogic is disheartening at the least. At worst it’s unpatriotic and gives aid and comfort to the enemy.

Or, as Milbank put it: “Fighting Russian aggression while avoiding World War III is hard enough. With Republicans acting in bad faith, it’s that much harder.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

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