After Trump visit to Naples, Donalds mum on call to suspend Constitution

Rep. Byron Donalds and wife Erika promote “A Trump Classical Christmas” in a video posted Nov. 19. (Image: Twitter)

Dec. 6, 2022 by David Silverberg

Former President Donald Trump and former First Lady Melania Trump stealthily slipped into and out of Naples, Fla., Sunday night, Dec. 4.

“The event went off as planned and both President Trump and Melania attended and spoke,” Erika Donalds confirmed in response to questions from The Paradise Progressive.

The event’s location was kept secret to all but ticket holders and was closed to the press and public. The number of attendees has not been released.

The Trumps were in town to raise funds for “school choice” and to benefit Hurricane Ian victims. The event was mounted by the Classical Education Network, a private and charter school scholarship program in partnership with the Optima Foundation, an organization headed by Erika that helps set up and run private and charter schools.

The amount of funds raised has not been released. Tickets ranged from $30,000 for a family of four to $10,000 for individuals.

The event was heavily promoted by Erika and her husband Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) in the days leading up to it.

(Editor’s note: Because both Donalds were involved, this article will use first names on second reference rather than its usual practice of using just last names.)

“We’re just honored to have the former president and the former first lady join us so make sure you get your tickets and join us,” Byron said in a promotional video on Nov. 19.

Call for suspension

The event came a day after Trump called for suspension of the US Constitution.

On Saturday, Dec. 3, Trump posted on Truth Social, his social media platform: “So, with the revelation of MASSIVE & WIDESPREAD FRAUD & DECEPTION in working closely with Big Tech Companies, the DNC, & the Democrat Party, do you throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION? A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great “Founders” did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”

As of this writing, Byron had not commented on Trump’s call for suspension of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, other Republican members of Congress and politicians condemned the remarks.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-10-Ohio), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, told the Associated Press he “vehemently” disagreed with and “absolutely” condemned the remarks, saying they should be a factor as Republicans decide who should lead their party in 2024.

“There is a political process that has to go forward before anybody is a frontrunner or anybody is even the candidate for the party,” he said. “I believe that people certainly are going to take into consideration a statement like this as they evaluate a candidate.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-At Large-Wy.) tweeted “No honest person can now deny that Trump is an enemy of the Constitution.”

“With the former President calling to throw aside the constitution, not a single conservative can legitimately support him, and not a single supporter can be called a conservative,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-6-Ill.) tweeted. “This is insane. Trump hates the constitution.”

Yesterday, Monday, Dec. 5, The Paradise Progressive reached out to Byron’s office for comment on Trump’s statement. Although the query was acknowledged, there was no answer.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Christy McLaughlin, SWFL conservative activist, candidate, arrested for DUI, property damage – Updated

Nov. 28, 2022 by David Silverberg

Correction: This story corrects an earlier version based on an erroneous source. Updated Dec. 1 with precise location and new detail.

Christina “Christy” McLaughlin, 27, a two-time Republican congressional candidate and conservative activist, was arrested Friday, Nov. 25, and charged with driving under the inluence of alcohol (DUI) and damage to property, according to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO).

Christy McLaughlin (Photo: CCSO)

After refusing an alcohol test, McLaughlin bonded out of custody, according to CCSO.

The crash occurred at Immokalee Rd., and Lakeland Ave.

On Sunday, Nov. 27, at 2:51 pm, Mclaughlin posted on Facebook: “To my friends, I am fine.”

Political profile

In 2020, McLaughlin ran for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island. She was defeated in the primary election.

In 2022 she sought the Republican nomination for Congress in the 23rd Congressional District in the Miami area, which includes the towns of Weston, Davie, Pembroke Pines, and Aventura. She was defeated by Joe Budd on Aug. 23 in a nine person race. (Budd was defeated in the general election by Democrat Jared Moskowitz.)

McLaughlin has been an advocate for extreme conservative causes. She hosted an event in Naples on Dec. 3, 2020 at which Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys group, was an unannounced speaker.

Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio and Republican congressional candidate Christy McLaughlin (center) pose at The Mercato in Naples, Fla., on Dec. 3, 2020. (Photo: Facebook)

She also organized a Naples welcome party for conservative activist and operative Roger Stone on Jan. 3, 2021 that featured a heavy Proud Boys presence.

Christy McLaughlin welcomes Roger Stone to Naples on Jan. 3, 2021. (Photo: Facebook.)

She was present at the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and riot at the US Capitol Building. In an op-ed she wrote for the Washington Times, she blamed the riot on leaders of the US Senate and House of Representatives.

 Christy McLaughlin addresses a crowd on the steps of the Supreme Court on Jan. 5, 2021. (Image: Christy McLaughlin/Facebook)

The Paradise Progressive reached out to McLaughlin by e-mail for this report but had not received a reply as of this writing.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Southwest Florida can build back better—if it chooses

A Naples resident looks out over the pier after Hurricane Donna in 1960. (Photo: Collier Museum)

Oct 12, 2022 by David Silverberg

Even weeks after Hurricane Ian stormed ashore in Lee County it’s still shocking to see the debris and destruction all along the Paradise Coast. New victims are being found and new stories of survival are coming to light.

But as stunning and disorienting and overwhelming as the storm’s impact continues to be, it’s not too soon to begin thinking about building back—better.

A disaster is awful but it’s also an opportunity. With a blank slate and a clear field, post-disaster periods can also be a time for grand plans and sweeping visions.

That may seem illusory as people just find places to live, food to eat and get back basic utilities like electricity and water. But it would be a mistake to overlook the chance to reinvent, reform and uplift communities that seem at the moment to have lost everything.

The rebuilding process can be tricky, though. The inclination of people is to try to rebuild exactly what went before and to do it as quickly as possible. There is always a clash between those who want to restore and those who want to renew and getting to one or the other of those destinations can be a winding and uncertain road.

Southwest Florida is hardly the first place to face such a dilemma.

Past examples

To reach back in time and space to an example long ago and far away, this is what happened in London after the Great Fire of 1666. This immense conflagration leveled much of the ancient city, including its crowded medieval streets and tenements. In its wake, planners and architects like Chistopher Wren envisioned a new, clean and fresh London rebuilt in the latest style and according to rational principles.

However, property owners and landlords wanted to rebuild their buildings on their holdings as quickly as possible and as closely to the previous plans as they could.

What resulted was a jumble of claims and counter-claims that was so chaotic and complex that Londoners created a special court to sort through them all. It took many years to resolve them. Meanwhile, what was rebuilt was a hodge-podge of the old and the new. Christopher Wren never got his sweeping new city but he was able to design and oversee the construction of a new St. Paul’s Cathedral, the one that stands today.

Closer to home in time and location, in 1960 Hurricane Donna swept into Naples, Florida and wiped out what was largely an undistinguished and utilitarian downtown. Naples rebuilt but its retail center, Fifth Avenue, declined in the face of suburban mall competition. In 1992 local merchants brought in Miami architect and urban planner Andres Duany to take a holistic view of the town.

“The key to reviving Fifth Avenue is not solely to make it work competently from the point of view of retail,” Duany told the city council, businesspeople and community leaders in 1993. “…Fifth Avenue must be made into a community space, a civic space, a place where neighbors can come to know each other.”

Duany’s detailed planning and vision not only revived Naples’ downtown, it made it a tourist destination and created a consistent, themed urban landscape that supported vibrant retail businesses and restaurants.

This year Naples took its own hit from Hurricane Ian, with storm surge flooding Fifth Avenue. Some stores and restaurants remain closed and some will no doubt not reopen. But it’s also likely that it will revive and attract new businesses—and that revival will build on the planned concept already in place.

Another town that sought to build back better after a disaster was Greensburg, Kansas. On May 4, 2007 an E-5 tornado swept into the small town of 1,400 people, killing 12 and virtually wiping it off the landscape.

The town’s council, meeting in a parking lot, decided that when they rebuilt they would do it in as energy-efficient and environmentally friendly a way possible.

When Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) visited a few days later and learned of the plans, she told them “‘It sounds like you’re going to build it green,’” then-city manager Steve Hewitt recalled to The Washington Post in a 2020 article. “Then we walked out to a press conference and Governor Sebelius said we were going to put the green in Greensburg. We were already talking about it, but she helped brand it and gave energy to what we were trying to do.”

It should be noted that Greensburg was not the home of tree-hugging hippies. It was a conservative Republican town. But city leaders could see a reality beyond political orthodoxy.

As of 2020, according to the Post, “…Greensburg draws 100 percent of its electricity from a wind farm, making it one of a handful of cities in the United States to be powered solely by renewable energy. It now has an energy-efficient school, a medical center, city hall, library and commons, museum and other buildings that save more than $200,000 a year in fuel and electricity costs, according to one federal estimate. The city saves thousands of gallons of water with low-flow toilets and drought-resistance landscaping and, in the evening, its streets glow from LED lighting.”

Greensburg has had its challenges (among others, at one point a wind turbine collapsed in a field). Its green rebuilding was not a panacea and did not result in an economic boom. But it put the town on the world map as a visionary municipality and made it stand out among all the other places on the plains. It also attracted $120 million in disaster relief funds from Kansas, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and US Agriculture Department. To this day it remains an American touchstone in disaster recovery and rebuilding.

A coastal Renaissance?

It may seem premature to note this but towns like Sanibel, Matlacha and most of all, Fort Myers Beach now have similar opportunities to plan their rebuilding along rational, visionary lines.

As Greensburg chose to build back better emphasizing energy efficiency and environmentalism, the towns of the Paradise Coast now have an opportunity to be world leaders in climate resilience and protection, rebuilding to take into account climate change and sea level rise—and anticipating its effects.

They have the potential to update their water management practices and systems and have an unparalleled resource in Florida Gulf Coast University’s Water School.

Like Greensburg, they can also rebuild in an environmentally and energy-efficient way.

Like Naples, the rebuilt towns can be made more esthetically pleasing and pedestrian-friendly, perhaps with waterside boardwalks or promenades and a re-built Times Square in Fort Myers Beach, where “neighbors can come to know each other,” as Duany put it.

To rebuild in this fashion would attract federal support and funding that is sorely needed now. Unfortunately, before Hurricane Ian, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) line-item vetoed $1 million for Times Square renovation in Fort Myers Beach. Perhaps that state money can be restored and increased for rebuilding.

The alternative is to allow a haphazard scramble. In this case, the likely scenario is that developers and speculators swoop in and buy up distressed beach properties from desperate owners for pennies on the dollar. Building commences in a chaotic, uncoordinated way and the result is an unsightly and inefficient mish-mash of commercial and residential buildings.

Better rebuilding will take a lot of discipline, cooperation and coordination. Naples’ 1994 revival was done by the city council, business owners and residents all working together guided by a common vision. To successfully rebuild Hurricane Ian’s communities will take similar unity.

But the time to start doing this is now. The potential rewards justify the effort. If people are willing to be cooperative and patient, Hurricane Ian may be the precursor to a Paradise Coast renaissance—but only if Southwest Floridians are willing to build back better together.

______________________

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 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!

Editorial: The Naples Daily News is failing its readers and the community—but it could change

May 31, 2022: The last Naples Daily News daily Opinion page? (Photo: Author)

June 2, 2022

The decision announced yesterday, June 1, by the Naples Daily News to cease running weekday opinion pages in its print edition—and, apparently, online—removes an essential public forum from the citizens of Southwest Florida. By doing this the newspaper is failing democracy, its community and most of all, its readers. It’s an action that smacks of cowardice, abandonment and flight.

As the editors explained on the front page yesterday, June 1: “Recently, our company conducted research on how residents view opinion material published by our news outlets. What we learned is that our readers don’t want us to tell them what to think. You’ve grown weary of divisive political commentary that has no bearing on local issues, and as a result, we have worked to eliminate ‘one-sided editorials’ and syndicated national columns. But there is a healthy appetite for thoughtful local commentary, as well as respectful discussion on truly local issues in the form of letters to the editor.”

Frankly, that’s garbage. Of course there are strong opinions and divisiveness on both national and local issues. But it’s precisely in the pages of local newspapers—and media outlets of all types—that these opinions need to be aired and discussed.

And opinion pieces do not tell people what to think. They provide outside perspectives of what other people think so that readers can make up their own minds. Opinion pieces seek to inform and persuade, not dictate. Anyone who feels that a printed opinion is dictating what he or she should think is probably too feebleminded to be reading a newspaper in the first place.

Such feebleminded readers may think when the opinion pages are no longer published they’re not being indoctrinated by op-ed writers. But ceasing to publish opinion also cuts off the outlet for local voices, institutions and agencies that may have urgent or compelling messages for the community—or who simply inform readers of their good works.

What really appears to be behind this is a continuing cutback in the size and cost of the newspaper. It’s what’s behind the smaller size of the newspaper itself and its thinner stock. It’s what’s behind moving the printing to Sarasota and the design out of Florida. It’s what’s behind reducing the comics to two pages from three. It’s behind ceasing to publish on holidays (and so completely missing the big local story of the death of Eko the tiger at the Naples Zoo as it happened at New Year’s.)

Now management is eliminating two pages of opinion in the weekday edition. That means not having to pay for syndicated columnists and cartoonists or having to write original editorials or editing letters to the editor, or, for that matter, having to take a stand on any issue, local or national, that might make some readers uncomfortable.

As for eliminating “one-sided editorials,” that happened some time ago when Allen Bartlett retired as editorial page editor and the newspaper stopped publishing original editorials. Instead it substituted columns and op-eds, including one time a verbatim essay from the conservative Cato Institute, presented as an original editorial.

While saving costs and skirting controversy, ending original editorials was not a cost-free proposition. The newspaper no longer functioned as an independent, informed voice on local events and issues, surrendering its role as a knowledgeable outside observer.

At one time the letters to the editor page seemed absurdly broad. Virtually every letter submitted was published and covered every imaginable subject from the ordinary to the outrageous, from people giving thanks that their cats were rescued from trees to calls to impeach the president, no matter which one was in office. They could be ridiculous; they could be monotonous—and they could also be amusing and enlightening.

But an unfettered, daily letters to the editor column also provided the community with a safety valve and a connection that made readers feel it was their newspaper.

Importantly, the letters to the editor have provided a neutral, non-partisan forum for the airing of concerns, grievances, and most of all, reader opinion. If the concerns have become more national and even global in recent years, if they seem “divisive political commentary that has no bearing on local issues,” well, that’s what’s been on the minds of readers as driven by outside events. A letter to the editor in the Naples Daily News is indeed unlikely to move a president or deter a dictator but it’s at least an expression of a reader’s thinking and together these opinions can show the pulse of the community on important public topics.

Beyond providing a neutral ground for community expression, the opinion pages served as an open forum unbound by the stovepipes of digital media. There’s a huge cascade of opinion in digital and social media, from opinion-based websites to individual comments on Facebook and Twitter but the chief value of a generalized forum like the newspaper is that readers are exposed to opinions they might not otherwise see on their narrowly selected social media feeds or cable TV channels.

The decision to end the daily opinion pages promotes ignorance, prejudice and blinkered thinking—the exact opposite of responsible media’s mission in a democracy. And while there may be letters to the editor on the weekends, the daily ebb and flow of popular thought will be cut off, to the detriment of all, including the newspaper itself.

As it is, over the years the Naples Daily News has chosen not to cover politics in any way. Its last dedicated political reporter was Alexandria Glorioso, who left in 2017 to cover healthcare for Politico in Tallahassee. She was never replaced. The newspaper has simply ignored or avoided doing any original political reporting even while critical debate raged nationally, American democracy was nearly crushed and Southwest Florida was treated to one of the biggest brawls in local politics as a dozen candidates at one point fought for its congressional seat in 2020.

But nature abhors a vacuum. If the major, established media institution in Naples failed to do its job of informing the public of vital news of governance, representation and elections, others would take up the slack.

That’s what sparked creation of The Paradise Progressive, as it says in its About page. It also engendered a conservative counterpart. These digital outlets provide news, analysis and interpretation—as well as polemics and propaganda—from their partisan perspectives but the community is healthier intellectually and politically when there’s a neutral, objective institution defining the middle. If the right and left are to be balanced, there has to be a fulcrum at the center.

So what should the Naples Daily News do?

First, rescind the decision and restore the daily Opinion pages, including an open letters to the editor policy.

Secondly, if page count is the problem then drop the Business section and make it a daily Perspective section instead, even if it’s just a four-page folio. As it is, original local business and real estate reporting usually appears in the front news section. What appears in Business these days are weak syndicated feeds that have little or no local connection—and don’t attract advertising.

Third, get some backbone and restore original locally-oriented editorials, written and/or overseen by an Editorial Page Editor rather than a committee.

Fourth, invite some of the regular letter writers to become columnists to add locally-oriented, regular op-ed columns.

There’s no doubt that the Naples Daily News is in the same economic crunch as its print counterparts across the country. Print advertising is eroding in the face of cable and digital competition and the medium is declining. The prospect is in sight when a print edition won’t be published at all and the newspaper, if it survives in any form, will go all-digital.

But even with that prospect, the answer is not to become less relevant by cutting off an important public forum and weakening Southwest Florida’s already beleaguered democracy—especially on the eve of a critical election. The answer, rather, is to become more vital and more relevant, so that if the Naples Daily News does become just a website it will be an essential one in which the community has a voice and a stake.

As the Washington Post says, “democracy dies in darkness.” And as The Paradise Progressive says…

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Follow-up: Whatever happened to Rep. Bob Rommel’s classroom Big Brother bill?

State Rep. Bob Rommel of Naples. (Image: Tampa Bay 10 News)

March 25, 2022 by David Silverberg

Florida teachers can rest assured that they will not have to wear microphones and be subject to video surveillance in their classrooms—at least for the rest of this year.

That’s because the Video Cameras in Public School Classrooms, House Bill (HB) 1055, in the Florida legislature died at the end of the legislative session.

It was not given a hearing or considered for passage during the three-month legislative session.

The bill was introduced on Dec. 28 last year by state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples). It required that Florida public school teachers wear microphones and be watched by video cameras in their classrooms.

Following its first reading on Jan. 11, the bill was referred to two subcommittees of the Florida House Education and Employment Committee: the early learning and elementary education subcommittee and the secondary education and career development subcommittee. It was also referred to the House Appropriations preK-12 appropriations subcommittee.

In a Feb. 11 message to constituents, Rommel stated:

“On any given school day in the Sunshine State, over 2.5 million kids attend our public schools. That doesn’t even include kids in private school or homeschool.

“We have more school children than 15 other states have people. Our children must have a world-class education and we must take every precaution to keep them safe. Safe from bullying, safe from abuse, and safe from teachers with an ideological agenda.

“The key is to make our classrooms transparent and accountable. That’s why I filed legislation this year to put security cameras in every classroom in Florida.

“While the radical Left wants to take control of our kids, conservatives want to keep parents in charge. In Florida, we protect parents’ rights and we don’t have an income tax. Let’s keep it that way.”

The Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee was the lead subcommittee to consider it. When it didn’t consider the bill, HB 1055 was withdrawn from consideration on Saturday, March 12, after the official end of the legislative session and then officially declared dead on Monday, March 14.

During its short life span HB 1055 came in for blistering criticism from teachers’ unions and education experts.

“Did you ever read 1984?  Big Brother is not the way to encourage learners to grapple with difficult issues, learn critical thinking and become active informed, voting citizens of our democracy.  What you propose can only limit thinking, discussion and learning for students who will become the leaders of the future,” wrote Madelon Stewart, an education activist, in a Jan. 31 op-ed in the Fort Myers News-Press.

“You may try to justify this undemocratic law as an  attempt to root out ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ however, you are, in fact, creating what you purport to fear. You say you eschew government overreach, but common sense tells us that what you propose will do nothing positive and that, in fact, you are planning to control learning, freedom of speech and thought,” she wrote.

“I believe there are some people in the public arena who are trying to create a mistrust, not just of teachers, but of public education in general,” Michelle Dillon, president of the St. Johns Education Association told NewsJax 4 in Jacksonville when the bill was introduced. “It’s just noise, it’s a distraction from the real issues of staff shortages and the lack of meaningful pay. We need to trust our educators again.”

“It’s just a lot of energy wasted on something that is wrongheaded, destructive to a profession that’s already in low morale,” Vicki Kidwell, president of the Clay County Education Association, told the same TV station. “We [the teachers] are made out to be villains and we don’t see the energy being put into fixing the problems that we have.”

The Paradise Progressive reached out to Rommel to ask if he plans to re-file this bill next year and if he would make any changes to it. To date no answer has been received.

New district lines

Rommel has announced that he will be running for the Florida House again this year. However, he will be facing a different constituency due to new House district lines.

The existing Florida House 106th District. (Map: Florida House)

Rommel’s current 106th district stretches along the Gulf coast from Bonita Beach Road in Lee County to Naples to Everglades City and Chokaloskee.

The new Florida House 80th and 81st districts. (Map: Florida House)

However, under new district maps passed by the Florida House, the 106th District has been altered and split.

The northern new district, the 80th, runs along the coast from the Lee County-Charlotte County line in the north to Immokalee Rd. in Collier County in the south. It includes Boca Grande, Pine Island and Sanibel Island.

The new southern district, the 81st, runs along the coast from Immokalee Rd. to Marco Island and includes Naples.

This more closely conforms to Rommel’s existing district and he has already stated that he will be running there for both the Aug. 23rd primary and Nov. 8th general election.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

The Paradise Progressive will be on hiatus until April 11.

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!

Naples City voters reject partisanship in Council election – Updated

Petrunoff, Hutchison, Christman, winners; Dugan defeated, CCCVPAC rebuffed

The City of Naples flag. (Photo: Author)

Feb. 2, 2022 by David Silverberg

–11:00 am updated with voter turnout data

City of Naples voters resoundingly kept their municipality and elections non-partisan yesterday.

City Council elections are supposed to be non-partisan, according to the City charter.

Winners in the election for three Council seats all ran as non-partisan candidates. According to the Collier County Supervisor of Elections, with all seven precincts reporting, the three winners in order of their vote totals were: Beth Petrunoff with 23.8 percent of the vote (3,899 votes); Vice Mayor Terry Hutchison with 23 percent (3,763 votes) and Councilman Ray Christman with 21.4 percent (3,496 votes).

John Dugan, a conservative who, along with the Republican Collier County Citizens Values Political Action Committee (CCCVPAC) had targeted Christman for having once been a registered Democrat, was defeated, gaining only 16.9 percent (2,766 votes).

Ian Rudnick, a former Naples police officer, came in last with 14.8 percent (2,426 votes).

Of 16,497 eligible voters, 6,572 or 39.8 percent voted.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorn scheduled speakers for Naples rally in March

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene engages in a shouting match with another member of Congress in September 2021. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call)

Jan. 28, 2022 by David Silverberg

A roster of far right speakers including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-14-Ga.), the high-profile, controversial, extremist member of Congress, is scheduled to come to Naples, Fla., on Saturday, March 19, 2022 for a rally being billed as Patriot Fest.

The rally location is being advertised for Sugden Regional Park in Naples from noon to 5:00 pm.

Other speakers include Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-11-NC), Anna Paulina Luna, a Republican candidate in the 13th Congressional District (Tampa), Alex Bruesewitz, a conservative political strategist, Brendon Leslie, an independent conservative journalist, Rogan O’Handley, a conservative commentator who goes by the stage name “DC Draino,” and Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the local extremist farmer and grocer.

The event’s sponsor is listed as Florida’s Conservative Voice, a website operated by Leslie.

This is the second Patriot Fest being held in Southwest Florida. The first was held on Sept. 18, 2021 at Oakes’ home in North Naples, the same day as a Washington, DC protest against the jailing of Capitol insurrectionists.

General admission for the event is $25, with higher classes at $150 and $250.

Greene (also known by her initials, MTG) has propagated numerous baseless conspiracy theories like QAnon and Pizzagate, called for the assassination of fellow members of Congress, including House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), and denied the reality of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the Sandy Hook and Las Vegas shootings, saying they were fake and staged by anti-gun activists. She has also made anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic accusations including that lasers in outer space run by the Rothschild family created California wildfires. She has consistently supported former President Donald Trump’s false contention that he won the election.

In February 2021, Greene’s general behavior and calls for violence against fellow members of Congress and failure to “reflect creditably on the House,” resulted in her being stripped of her committee assignments by a majority vote of the entire chamber. Southwest Florida Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted against the resolution, while Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) voted for it.

“I’ve previously stated that MTG’s comments are unacceptable, & today I voted to remove her from her committee assignments,” Diaz-Balart tweeted at the time.

Cawthorn, the youngest member of Congress at 26, has been termed an “embarrassment to the institution, to his party, and to his state” by the Charlotte Observer newspaper in no small part due to his emphatic support of Trump’s baseless election claims. John Hood, a North Carolina board member of the conservative John Locke Foundation, called him “a callow and appallingly ignorant young man who regularly embarrasses conservatives and Republicans, whether they admit it or not.”

Luna, a Republican, ran unsuccessfully in the 2020 general election against Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.), who this year is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

A very partisan non-partisan election: The race for Naples City Council

Naples City Councilman Ray Christman. (Photo: Campaign)

Jan. 11, 2022 by David Silverberg

Voters in the City of Naples, Fla., will get an early preview of the nation’s electoral battles on Feb. 1 when they go to the polls to select three at-large councilmembers, who will represent the entire city, rather than specific districts, for the next four years.

Despite the officially non-partisan nature of the election, Councilmember Ray Christman is being targeted by rightist Republicans for defeat. The reason? At one time, they say, he was a registered Democrat, although he is now officially a non-party affiliated voter. The same goes for candidate Ian Rudnick.

Candidates do not have party affiliations listed on the ballots.

But this year’s partisan twist introduces the possibility that an otherwise open and welcoming Naples could see imposition of a far-right (for Naples) conservative agenda. Traditionally, municipal elections focus on very local issues like development, the environment, quality of life and economic growth.

It’s a test of the movement of Trumpism into the grassroots and its outcome could have an impact beyond just the Naples City limits.

There are 19,115 residents in the city, according to the 2020 Census. Of those, 16,497 are active voters eligible to cast ballots, according to the Collier County Supervisor of Elections.

In addition to Christman, Vice Mayor Terry Hutchison is seeking re-election. The other candidates for the three open seats are Rudnick, a retired Naples Police Force officer; Beth Petrunoff, a retired General Electric executive; and newcomer John Dugan.

Ian Rudnick (Photo: Campaign)

Under the city’s rules, the top vote getters will take the open seats. All candidates presented their positions at a forum hosted by the Gulf Shore Association of Condominiums, on Thursday, Jan. 6, covered by The Naples Daily News.

The target

Christman told the forum that his priorities were the same as they had been when he first ran: protecting the environment; managing development; sustaining quality of life; and maintaining a transparent, ethical and responsible government. He pledged to be open, communicative and represent the entire community. He expands on these positions in detail on his campaign website, Ray Christman for Naples City Council.

Christman has extensive credentials for municipal government. A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., he grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla. He attended Florida State University and received a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh and headed Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, then served as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Commerce.

He’s been deeply involved in technological development and environmental conservation, from his first job at the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to his 2014 efforts to pass the Florida Water and Land Legacy Act, which now provides state funding for water and land protection. He worked to adopt a new City Ethics Code after an ethics commission was created by referendum. 

Amidst the COVID pandemic, he helped establish a city-based vaccination site to inoculate residents against the virus.

The targeters

John Dugan (Photo: Campaign)

Leading the charge against Christman is candidate John Dugan and a political action committee, Collier County Citizens Values Political Action Committee (CCCVPAC).

“Be informed, all Republican voters residing in the city need to vote to replace Raymond Christman,” states the CCCVPAC website. “He is a sitting City Councilor that was a registered Democrat until recently when [he] changed to be registered Non-Party Affiliated (not Republican). State election reports show his residence made donations to Democratic candidates running for Governor named Andrew Gillum and running for State Representative in District 105 Javier Estevez.”

Dugan was an at-large member of CCCVPAC before resigning on Aug. 31 to run for the City Council.

The PAC is currently headed by Russell Tuff, former chairman of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee. As CCCVPAC reveals on its website, Tuff has provided paid services to Dugan and to Michelle McLeod, a candidate for the Collier County Commission and a city council member ousted in the 2020 city election.

CCCVPAC says it has rated all the candidates based on “values” but in fact only Dugan filled out its questionnaire and received its only rating. The PAC recommends that voters vote only for Dugan.

“Only one candidate, John Dugan, completed our questionnaire,” states CCCVPAC. “Apparently, the other candidates did not want to be rated on our values. Since that is the case, although you can vote for up to three candidates, we are recommending you vote for only John Dugan, who wasn’t afraid to state his values up front and have them communicated to the community.”

When it comes to his platform, on his campaign website Dugan opposes COVID precautions like mask and vaccination mandates.

He states that “Growth is inevitable” and “When we take a No Growth position, we do not prepare adequately for projects that happen without proper planning which creates acrimony and problems that could have been avoided. We have a fiscal responsibility to allow redevelopment which increases city revenue while maintaining tax rates.” He also supports water infrastructure improvements and beach renourishment.

Dugan is originally from Boston, Mass., and graduated from Northeastern University with a major in accounting and a degree in business administration. He spent his career at Accenture, a management and technology consulting company headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, retiring as a partner in 2009.

CCCVPAC calls Dugan “a rock-solid Republican and not a ‘Party Switcher.’ He was instrumental in fundraising and getting out the vote for the Republican party during the last election cycle.”

Commentary: A very partisan non-partisan election

On March 17, 2020 Naples City voters threw out the mayor and three City Council members in a startling sweep of the city’s government.

In addition to the city’s purely local issues, the election results, coming on the same day as the Florida presidential preference primary, were viewed by some observers as a repudiation of President Donald Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic response and voter unhappiness with a very conservative status quo in the city.

CCCVPAC doesn’t see it that way. As it puts it on its website: “It is clear that the last City Council election could have had a better result for the Republican Party.  Two Non-Party Affiliated candidates were elected.  The final election vote tally showed 3,751 Republican did not vote – 44% of the City Republicans did not vote.  By Party, Republicans were the largest no shows on election day by more than 2000 votes!” [sic, capitalization and syntax theirs].

The fact, though, is that the Naples City Council election is supposed to be non-partisan. Prior to Trump’s hyper-politicization of all of American life this was largely the way business was conducted. While there might be differences of opinion on various decisions or courses of action, party labels were generally irrelevant to the conduct of the city’s business.

That has now changed and Dugan and CCCVPAC are kicking the partisanship up a notch. Their chief complaints against Christman and Rudnick have nothing to do with those candidates’ actual positions on city matters—their unforgiveable sin is that they were once registered Democrats and don’t march in lockstep to conservative Republican decrees. This betrays an intolerance of diverse viewpoints and an effort to impose a single, rigid ideological approach on the city’s government. It’s undemocratic—with a small “d.”

It’s also not the way to govern a city whose chief challenges have to do with local matters like infrastructure maintenance, water and environmental quality, growth management and tourist hospitality.

This election will have consequences on a variety of fronts.

For those Naples City residents who don’t want to see the imposition of a rightist ideology on the city and want to keep the Council focused on real issues affecting all its residents, the choice is very clear: Ray Christman should be returned to office and John Dugan should be defeated.

This will be an election decided by mobilization of supporters on each side.

Having an election in February is often very tough anywhere in the country where winter is usually at its worst. But in Naples the weather should be pleasantly warm and the sunshine abundant. Voting by mail eliminates the possibility of contamination by Omicron and even at the polling place, social distance and a mask make a difference. Besides, most sensible Naples voters have already gotten vaccinations and boosters for their protection.

As of Jan. 10, 680 mail-in ballots had already been cast, representing 4.12 percent of the electorate.

In-person voting will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 1. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is 5 pm on Saturday, Jan. 22.

Early voting begins Wednesday, Jan. 26 and runs until Saturday, Jan. 29 from 10 am to 6 pm daily at two locations: the Norris Center in Cambier Park, 755 8th Avenue South, and the Supervisor of Elections Office at 3750 Enterprise Ave.

There will be drop-box locations for mail-in ballots at the Supervisor of Elections Office and the Norris Center (locations above), and at the Collier County Supervisor of Elections satellite office at 2335 Orange Blossom Drive.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

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