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

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2022, Florida and the future: Anticipating the political year ahead

A vision of Florida’s future? The dome homes of Cape Romano off the coast of Southwest Florida. When built in 1979 they were on solid land. (Photo: Andy Morfrew/Wikimedia Commons)

Jan. 3, 2022 by David Silverberg

At the end of every year, most newspapers and media outlets like to do retrospectives on the year past. They’re easy to do, especially with a skeleton crew: just go into the archives, pull out a bunch of the past year’s photographs or stories, slap them together, throw them at the readers or viewers and then staff can relax and party for the New Year. Or better yet, when it comes to a supposedly “daily” newspaper, don’t print any editions at all.

What’s much harder to do is look ahead at the year to come and try to determine, however imperfectly, what the big stories will be.

That takes some thought and effort but it’s much more valuable and helpful in setting a course through the fog of the future.

Although there will be surprises and any projection is necessarily speculative, there are a number of big issues in the nation and Southwest Florida that are likely to dominate 2022.

Democracy vs. autocracy

Donald Trump may no longer be president but the impact of his tenure lives on. Just how much will he and his cultists continue to influence events this year?

Although the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and coup failed, the effort to impose autocratic, anti-democratic rule continues at the state and local levels as Trumpist politicians push to create mechanisms to invalidate election results they don’t like.

Nowhere is this truer than in Florida where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is playing to the most extreme elements of his base as he tries to ensure his own re-election and mount a presidential bid in 2024. He also has to outdo his other potential presidential hopefuls, most notably Texas’ Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

In Florida, the race is on to produce the most extreme, radical right measures both by DeSantis and members of Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature.

Examples of this include DeSantis’ 2022 $5.7 million budget proposal for an Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State to investigate election crimes and allegations. In another time and in other hands, this might seem like a politically neutral and straightforward law enforcement agency, if a redundant and unnecessary one. However, given the past year’s efforts in Florida to narrow voting options and the continuing influence of Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him, it could have more sinister purposes, like invalidating or discarding legitimate election results.

DeSantis is also proposing creation of a Florida State Guard, which would be wholly subject to his will and authority. The Florida National Guard, by contrast, can be called up for national duty and is answerable to the US Department of Defense in addition to the governor.

These efforts, combined with DeSantis’ past assaults on local autonomy and decisionmaking and his anti-protest legislation, are moving Florida toward a virtual autocracy separate and unequal from the rest of the United States.

The question for 2022 is: will they advance and succeed? Or can both legislative and grassroots opposition and resistance preserve democratic government?

The state of the pandemic

The world will still be in a state of pandemic in 2022, although vaccines to prevent COVID and therapeutics to treat it are coming on line and are likely to keep being introduced. However, given COVID’s ability to mutate, new variants are also likely to keep emerging, so the pandemic is unlikely to be at an official end.

Globally, vaccines will be making their way to the poorer and more remote populations on earth.

In Florida and especially in Southwest Florida, vaccination rates are high. However, there’s no reason to believe that anti-vaccine sentiment and COVID-precaution resistance will slacken. Further, as President Joe Biden attempts to defeat the pandemic by mandating and encouraging vaccines, Republican states are trying to thwart mandates in court. At the grassroots, as rational arguments fail, anti-vaxxers are resisting COVID precautions in increasingly emotional and extreme ways, potentially including violence.

In Southwest Florida the political balance may change in favor of science as anti-vaxxers and COVID-deniers sicken and die off. This will reduce their numbers and their political influence. As their influence wanes that of pro-science realists should rise—but it’s not necessarily clear that realistic, pro-science sentiment will automatically translate into equal and opposite political power.

This year will reveal whether the DeSantis COVID gamble pays off. He has bet that resisting and impeding COVID precautions in favor of unrestrained economic growth will result in political success at the polls.

Will Floridians forget or overlook the cost in lives and health at election time? It’s a result that will only be revealed in November.

Choice and anti-choice

Abortion will be a gigantic issue in 2022. Anti-choicers are hoping that a conservative majority on the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade and abortion will be outlawed.

A Supreme Court ruling on a Mississippi law outlawing abortion is expected in June. There may be a ruling on Texas’ ban on abortions before then. If Roe is overturned, a number of Republican state legislatures are poised to enact their own bans based on the Texas model and Florida is one of these.

If House Bill 167 passes the Florida legislature, it will inaugurate an environment of civil vigilantism as individual citizens sue anyone suspected of aiding or performing abortions. It’s hard to imagine anything more polarizing, more divisive or more destructive both at the state level and grassroots, as neighbor turns on neighbor.

By the same token, the threat to safe abortion access may galvanize political activism by pro-choice supporters regardless of political party. That was the situation in Georgia in 2020 when a fetal heartbeat bill was passed and signed into law, only to be thrown out in court. Politically, the issue helped turn the state blue.

This year, if Roe is struck down, millions of women may turn against an anti-choice Republican Party and mobilize to enact reproductive rights legislation.

What will be the reaction if Florida follows Texas’ lead and enacts an abortion ban?

Whichever way it goes, abortion will be a sleeping but volcanic issue this year. It will erupt when court decisions are announced. It has the potential to completely reshape the political landscape.

Elections and redistricting

All other issues and debates will play out against the backdrop of a midterm election. Nationally, voters will be selecting 36 governors, 34 senators and the entire House of Representatives.

The national story will center on whether Democrats can keep the House of Representatives and their razor-thin majority in the Senate. In the past, the opposition party has usually made gains in the first midterm after a presidential election. That is widely expected to happen again this year.

In Florida, DeSantis is up for re-election as is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), all state senators, all state representatives and county and municipal officials.

DeSantis is a base politician, in every sense of the word “base.” He doesn’t try to appeal to all Floridians but has clearly decided that his victory will be won by pandering to his most extreme and ignorant supporters—including Donald Trump. His actions reveal that he is calculating that this will give him sufficient support to keep him in office and provide a platform for the presidency in 2024.

Trump, however, is a jealous god and has lately been denigrating his protégé, whom he apparently sees as a potential threat for 2024 and getting too big for his britches. DeSantis may face a Trump-incited primary on the right from Roger Stone, the previously convicted and pardoned political trickster and activist, who lives in Fort Lauderdale.

If the Stone primary challenge does indeed materialize, it will make for one of the great political stories of 2022.

The primary action on the Democratic side will be between the three candidates for the Party’s gubernatorial nomination: Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.), a former governor; Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide Democratic officeholder; and state Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-40-Miami.). This battle will be resolved on primary election day, Aug. 23.

On the Senate side Rep. Val Demings (D-10-Fla.), is currently the leading contender to take on Rubio, although Allen Ellison, who previously ran in the 17th Congressional District, is also seeking the Party’s nomination.

In Southwest Florida Democrat Cindy Banyai is pursuing a rematch with Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.). Currently, no other Democrat is contesting her candidacy.

The congressional and state elections will be occurring in newly-redrawn districts and the exact boundaries of all districts, congressional, state and local, will be a major factor in determining the political orientation of the state for the next decade. The Republican-dominated legislature, which begins meeting on Jan. 11, must finalize the state’s maps by June 13, when candidates qualify for the new districts.

If the maps are overly gerrymandered they will be subject to court challenges. In 2010 court challenges were so numerous and complex that maps weren’t finalized for six years. This year state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers), who heads the Senate redistricting committee, has publicly stated that he wants to avoid a repeat of that experience by drawing fair maps at the outset.

Whether the final maps approved by the legislature are in fact fairly drawn and meet the terms of Florida’s Fair Districts Amendment, will be a major question in 2022.

Battle over schools

School boards were once sleepy and relatively obscure institutions of government and education was a quiet area of governance.

That all changed over the past two years. With schools attempting to keep students, teachers and employees safe with mask and vaccine mandates despite vocal opposition from COVID-denying parents as well as right-wing hysteria over the teaching of critical race theory, school board elections have become pointed ideological battlegrounds. Frustrated Trumpers are determined to impose ideological restrictions on teaching and curriculum and use school boards as grassroots stepping stones to achieving power.

In Virginia the 2021 gubernatorial race turned on the question of parental control of curriculum, resulting in a Republican victory. Across the country Republicans will be trying to duplicate that success by making education a major focus of their campaigns. The resulting battle is already fierce and poised to become fiercer. It has erupted at the grassroots as school board members have been physically threatened and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s mobilization of law enforcement assets to protect school board members was denounced by right wing politicians and pundits as threatening parents.

This is prominently playing out in Florida. DeSantis has proposed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees [WOKE] Act to prohibit critical race theory teaching and allow parents to sue school board members and teachers. Locally, state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples) has proposed putting cameras in all classrooms to monitor teachers. Local grocer, farmer and conservative extremist Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes, has demanded that teachers’ unions be “taken down” by “force.”

The school board elections of 2022 will not be what were once considered normal, non-partisan contests. They will be extreme, passionate, heavily politicized, bare-knuckled ideological battles. The outcome of these elections will determine whether students, teachers and school employees are kept safe from the pandemic, whether teachers are able to teach free of surveillance and liability, and whether the lessons imparted to students encourage open inquiry and critical thinking or narrow, ideologically-driven indoctrination.

Climate change—natural and political

The past year was one that saw some of the most extreme weather on record, clearly driven by a changing climate. Biden’s infrastructure plan had some measures to address these changes and build resilience in the face of what is sure to be climatic changes ahead. However, a major initiative to halt climate change is stalled along with the rest of his Build Back Better plan.

Climate change is the issue that undergirds—and overhangs—every other human endeavor. That was true in 2021, it will be true in 2022 and it will be true for the rest of the life of the human race and the planet.

Florida was extraordinarily lucky last year, avoiding the worst of the storms, wildfires, droughts and heat waves that plagued the rest of the United States.

Locally, Southwest Florida got a taste of climate change-driven weather when an EF-1 tornado touched down in Cape Coral on Dec. 21, damaging homes and businesses.

Nonetheless, on Dec. 7 at a Pinellas County event, DeSantis accused climate activists of trying to “smuggle in their ideology.”

“What I’ve found is, people when they start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways. We’re not doing any left-wing stuff,” DeSantis said to audience cheers.

“Be very careful of people trying to smuggle in their ideology. They say they support our coastline, or they say they support, you know, some, you know, difference, our water, environment. And maybe they do, but they’re also trying to do a lot of other things,” he said.

This does not bode well for the governor or legislature addressing climate change impacts this year. Still, even the most extreme climate change-deniers are having a hard time dismissing it entirely.

Reducing or resisting the effects of climate change will be the big sleeper issue of 2022, providing a backdrop to all other political issues as the year proceeds. If there is a major, catastrophic event like a very destructive hurricane—or multiple hurricanes—DeSantis and his minions may have to acknowledge that the urgency of climate change transcends petty party politics.

Beyond the realm of prediction

It is 311 days from New Year’s Day to Election Day this year. A lot can happen that can’t be anticipated or predicted.

In past years a midterm election might seem to be a routine, relatively sleepy event of low voter turnout and intense interest only to wonks, nerds and politicos.

But the stakes are now very high and the dangers considerable. As long as Trumpism continues to threaten democracy and the future of the United States, nothing is routine any more.

The world, America, Florida and Florida’s southwest region are facing unprecedented perils. But as long as America is still an election-driven democracy, every individual has a say in how those perils are addressed.

That precious vote is a citizen’s right and obligation—and it can no longer be taken for granted.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Virginia, Florida and the road ahead for 2022

Nov. 4, 2021 by David Silverberg

When it comes to elections, winners tend to generalize while losers tend to specify.

That’s what’s happening as a result of the Virginia election where Republican Glenn Youngkin beat Democrat Terry McAuliffe by 51 to 48 percent.

But does what happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia necessarily translate into a precursor for the State of Florida?

Republicans, nationally and locally, are generalizing the vote as a referendum on President Joe Biden and portraying it as a harbinger of the 2022 election.

“…I do think this wave is building. I think it was strong last night. But I think it’s going to keep building all the way into 2022,” Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said in an interview on the program Fox & Friends yesterday.

“I think people are rebelling against what the Democratic Party stands for nowadays,” he said. “The never-ending mandates and restrictions because of COVID, using our school systems for leftist indoctrination rather than high-quality education, and then the Biden regime’s failures from Afghanistan to the southern border, gas prices, inflation, supply chain.”

Local Republican Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who initially tweeted a mocking message to the Democratic National Committee that he subsequently deleted, later settled on a blander pronouncement: “Virginians sent a clear message to Democrats: Parents belong in the classroom, stop teaching division, enough with the radical spending, & no more mandates!”

There’s no sugarcoating this defeat for Democrats nationally: It was a big, unexpected blow and it hurt.

As the Republicans generalized its implications, so Democrats tried to focus on the specific reasons McAuliffe lost.

During a candidate debate in which Youngkin questioned McAuliffe’s veto of legislation banning “sexually explicit” content in school curriculum (Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved) “out of McAuliffe’s mouth tumbled these words: ‘I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they can teach.’

“And that’s what done it,” writes Michael Tomasky in The New Republic. “A day later, those words became an attack ad, and McAuliffe was forced to play defense from that moment on.”

DeSantis on a roll

As DeSantis pointed out, the Youngkin victory is a good omen for him.

DeSantis is undeniably in a strong position as he conducts his primary race for gubernatorial re-election and his—at this point—secondary race for president in 2024.

So strong is DeSantis’ position, given his $60 million war chest and subservient legislature that the news platform Politico Florida headlined an October 31 article: “Florida Democrats anxious as DeSantis seems unbeatable.”  

That Democrats are anxious is indisputable; that DeSantis is “unbeatable” is overstating the case.

In fact, Democrats do have some resources and determination, as the article pointed out.

“The election’s not happening tomorrow, there is still time for the tide to turn,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-47-Orlando) told Gary Fineout, the article’s author. “But obviously it needs to be an all-hands-on-deck situation right now.”

Manny Diaz, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, took issue with the article’s premise. “We’re in Florida. We lost the last governor’s race by 30,000 votes against the same character,” he said. “In politics, a year is an eternity. There’s nothing that leads me to believe DeSantis is unbeatable.” He also noted that it’s “unbelievable we’re having a conversation a year out” about a DeSantis victory.

Against DeSantis’ advantages are his liabilities: strenuous, determined efforts to block all forms of COVID protections; attacks on local school boards that have tried to protect schoolchildren, and the resulting COVID death toll in Florida—currently at 59,670, according to The New York Times, despite all the governor’s attempts to conceal or obscure state statistics.

Also, it’s being widely noted that a key to Youngkin’s success was his keeping Donald Trump at arm’s length, something noted in another Lincoln Project video, “Ungrateful.”

Another observer who emphasized Youngkin’s distance from Trump was Rep. Liz Cheney (R-at large-Wy.), who tweeted: “Congratulations to @GlennYoungkin for a great victory last night. Winning back suburban moms and independent voters, he demonstrated Republican values and competence, not conspiracy theories and lies, win elections.”

Ironically, DeSantis’ slavish Trumpism may prove a disadvantage next year. His difficulty may come from—of all people—his idol and mentor, Donald Trump. Trump is a jealous god and DeSantis’ popularity among the Republican faithful is already bringing down the divine wrath. He seems to feel a need to cut him down in his youth before he can really mount a challenge to Trump’s own nomination bid.

The anti-Trump Lincoln Project noted this in one of its cutting videos, called “Sad!

Other than Trump’s jealousy of DeSantis, there’s little to no daylight between the maestro and the apprentice. Floridians would be getting a committed Trumper if they re-elect DeSantis in 2022, although that would certainly give some Floridians joy.

Weirdly, DeSantis may face a primary challenge on the right from Roger Stone, the convicted and then Trump-pardoned political trickster and activist who told Dave Elias of NBC2 in Fort Myers that he might run in order to conduct an audit of the 2020 election in Florida. He could be a surrogate for Trump himself in the 2022 Florida race.

But the final arbiter of the 2022 election may not be human at all: COVID is still active and deadly even though the numbers are declining, thanks to widespread vaccinations. DeSantis is on record and running as an anti-mandate, anti-precaution candidate.

If, however, DeSantis and the anti-vaxxers block vaccination mandates for schoolchildren and there is an outbreak that kills large numbers of them, Florida parents might—just might—put the blame at the feet of DeSantis and anti-vaxx Republicans. It is a horrible outcome but one being invited by the anti-vaxxers’ gamble.

Finding a strategy

Still, expecting victory based on an opponent’s stumbles is not a strategy.

The problem for Democrats in Florida and nationally is that they are a political party competing with a cult.

A cult, when it’s strong, has some decided advantages: it has a single leader, its followers obey unthinkingly, and it has a clear, simple message based on a few unmistakable tenets.

This is the state of the Republican Party today. Even with Trump somewhat sidelined, the Republican Party is still a cult of personality, worshipping Trump and his clear, simple message of, in his words, “hatred, prejudice and rage.”

Nowhere is this truer than in Florida, where the man resides and the governor is his closest acolyte.

In comparison to this Democrats, as is more characteristic of a political party, are diverse, contentious and sometimes chaotic. While they entertain a wide spectrum of ideas there’s no one personality imposing intellectual uniformity. Sometimes that can be a disadvantage at the voting booth.

Actually, the Democratic Party does have some clear tenets: inclusion for all, concern for humanity, determination to forge a better future and commitment to democracy. But while the Democratic Party stays within the law and argues policies, Trumpist Republicans pursue power at all costs. There is no hypocrisy too great, no mental gymnastic too convoluted, no legal barrier too high to impede this raw pursuit of power. And if elections don’t go their way they’re willing to overturn them through violence and then condone it, as the January 6th insurrection demonstrated.

Trumpist Republicans also have the advantage in that theirs is an emotional movement, riding on hatred, prejudice and rage but also fear and outrage, much of it generated by pandemic restrictions but finding expression against their long-time targets of Biden, Democrats and governing institutions like school boards.

This is neither new nor surprising. After every disaster there is a search for human scapegoats, sometimes very strange ones. For example, after the Johnstown Flood of 1889, survivors scapegoated Hungarian immigrants; after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 city residents’ wrath fell on a tiny Japanese community; after the great 1927 Mississippi flood there was a horrendous wave of lynchings and murders of Black people in the affected southern states. It is as though people, having suffered at the hands of nature, must find human victims.

We are now coming through the disaster of the pandemic, which, though receding, is still with us. After four years of Donald Trump’s routinely lying, scapegoating and deflecting blame as a standard operating procedure, his cult is now primed to channel all its pandemic frustrations against Biden and the government working so hard to defeat the disease. The resulting program is clear: hatred of Biden and opposition to all restrictions, rules or Democratic ideas.

As of right now, the political landscape is decidedly headed in the Republican direction, boosted by the victory in Virginia and the close call in New Jersey.

For Democrats who stay within the bounds of law and the Constitution the solution will always be the same: more and better organizing, more energetic campaigning, greater voter registration, sharper messaging, more programs and policies that benefit people and an appeal to reason and good sense.

There is also this to remember: a victory is sweet but a defeat sharpens the mind and energizes the effort.

As Thomas Paine put it in the darkest days of the American Revolution after a string of Continental defeats: “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2021 by David Silverberg

It’s not your imagination: There really is a MAGA migration to Florida

Gingrich move to Naples is just latest addition to rightist roster

A satirical map of the MAGA migration to the Sunshine State. (Art: Author)

May 17, 2021 by David Silverberg

Updated May 18 with current valuation of Sen. Rick Scott’s home.

If you had the impression that all the debris and detritus of the Trump years was drifting southward to Florida—you’d be right.

The latest move is by Newt and Callista Gingrich, who on May 3 purchased a property in Naples’ tony Quail West development and will be moving there permanently in September.

Newt and Callista Gingrich announce their Florida move on Twitter. (Photo: Twitter)

They’re just part of the Trumps, Trumpsters and assorted Trumpers migrating to the swampy warmth of Florida south of Interstate 4.

Of course, the real lodestar for all this is Donald Trump himself, the loser of the 2020 election, who retreated to his luxurious lair of Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach following his failed January 6th attempt to overturn the US government and cancel the election. Trump became a full-time Florida resident in September 2019 and officially tweeted the change on Nov. 1 of that year.

“…Despite the fact that I pay millions of dollars in city, state and local taxes each year, I have been treated very badly by the political leaders of both the city and state. Few have been treated worse,” he complained of New York. At the time he was under pressure from New York authorities investigating a variety of suspected misbehavior. (That pressure may turn into indictments any day now, his Florida residence notwithstanding.)

Along with the Former Guy himself came the family Trumps, who have settled along the east coast of the peninsula. Daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner have purchased a lot for $32 million on Miami’s exclusive Indian Creek Island, known as the “Billionaires Bunker.”

Further north, Don Jr. and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, purchased two waterfront homes in Jupiter’s Admiral’s Cove, another exclusive high-end enclave. The main house, 492 Mariner Drive, listed for $11 million. Next door, Guilfoyle was planning to purchase a $9.5 million mansion for her family, according to The Palm Beach Post.

Marla Maples shows off her new Florida driver’s license, taking care to conceal her address. (Photo: Instagram)

It’s not only the current family coming south: Trump ex-spouse Marla Maples has settled in Miami, joining her daughter Tiffany who already resides there with her fiancée, Michael Boulos. In March, Marla posted a photo on Instagram of her coyly displaying a Florida driver’s license.

Interestingly, while Trump & Family settle into extravagant and expensive digs, lesser Trumpsters who served his campaign or administration are pleading poverty and penury, either because they’re out of the graces of the Orange One, or because they’re facing the wrath of law enforcement.

Fort Lauderdale is home to Roger Stone, political trickster, lobbyist and consultant. Stone was arrested there on Jan. 25, 2019 and charged with witness tampering, obstructing an official proceeding, and five counts of making false statements during Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian collusion. He was convicted of seven felonies and sentenced to 40 months in prison. Trump first commuted his sentence and then pardoned him altogether just before leaving office. However, this past April 16, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sued Stone for $2 million in back taxes.

Stone pleaded poverty: “The Internal Revenue Service is well aware of the fact that my three-year battle for freedom against the corrupted Mueller investigation has left me destitute,” Stone told The Associated Press. “They’re well aware that I have no assets and that their lawsuit is politically motivated. It’s particularly interesting that my tax attorneys were not told of this action, filed at close of business on a Friday. The American people will learn, in court, that I am on the verge of bankruptcy and that there are no assets for the government to take.”

That’s not the IRS view, which holds that Stone and his wife used a commercial front to “shield their personal income from enforced collection” and support a “lavish lifestyle.”

According to the IRS filing: “Despite notice and demand for payment, Roger and Nydia Stone have failed and refused to pay the entire amount of the liabilities.”

The drama will play out in a Fort Lauderdale courtroom over the coming months.

Also in Fort Lauderdale, Brad Parscale, who touts himself as “an advertising legend,” served as Trump’s campaign manager for 897 days before a major Trump rally he organized in June 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma failed spectacularly.

Brad Parscale’s former Ft. Lauderdale home. (Photo: Miami MLS)

During his Trump time, Parscale was riding high with a salary of $15,000 a month but with seeming use of much more. Under Parscale Properties LLC, he invested in real estate around Fort Lauderdale including a $2.4 million waterfront home for himself. Over the course of a few months he also purchased $300,000 in luxury cars.

But apparently he wasn’t feeling well after his fall from grace. On Sept. 27, 2020 his girlfriend called Fort Lauderdale police to say that he was waving a gun and threatening both her and himself. Parscale’s takedown by police in his driveway was videotaped and widely broadcast. He sold his main house shortly after his arrest and the following day listed a townhome he also owned.

In March 2021, Pascale announced that he had formed a new super political action committee (PAC) called American Greatness PAC and a non-profit American Greatness Fund, which promotes what it calls the Election Integrity Alliance to “unite groups and efforts across the nation focused on combating election fraud.” It will fund state legislators and activists “on challenges to free and fair elections.”

Donors will no doubt be reassured by Parscale’s proven record of handling money in the past.

The other side of Alligator Alley

In an essay published in The Washington Post this past January, humorist Dave Barry put Florida’s east and west coasts into perspective:

“…Miami, where I live, is directly across the Everglades from Naples, only about 100 miles as the crow flies, which the crow had better do because if it lands it will be eaten by a Burmese python,” he wrote. “But despite their proximity, the two cities, because of unfortunate stereotypes, view each other negatively. Miami views Naples as a boring, retiree-infested backwater where the height of wild nightlife is ordering a second round of breadsticks at the Olive Garden. Naples views Miami as an insane urban hellscape whose residents celebrate every occasion, including Valentine’s Day, with gunfire.

“For the record, both of these unfortunate stereotypes are 100 percent accurate.”

Perhaps it was this boringness—or viewed another way, the peace and quiet—of the Gulf coast that first drew Indiana native Mike Pence to Sanibel Island. During his time as Trump’s vice president, Pence would occasionally vacation at an undisclosed location there. Whether his trips continue in the future or he settles there permanently, only Pence himself knows.

For four years Pence was an unfailingly loyal and servile wingman to Donald Trump—who rewarded him by inciting a murderous mob to try to lynch him on Jan. 6.

Also on the Gulf coast is the longtime home of former Florida governor and current senator Rick Scott, whose beachfront home at 3150 Gordon Dr., Naples, is estimated to be worth over $30 million as it awaits climate change-driven sea level rise to wash it into the Gulf.

Naples, with a picturesque downtown and beautiful beaches, has been a minor haven for right-wing pundits and performers for some time.

Fox News commentator Sean Hannity bought a $4.75 million penthouse in a luxury high-rise condo called Moraya Bay in 2009. It was one element of his real estate empire that reportedly includes as many as 900 properties around the country. Hannity sold that penthouse for $5.7 million in December 2020 and has reportedly moved on to Florida’s east coast.

Among the Fox news readers, Brett Baier also has a condo in Naples, possibly in Moraya Bay.

Also in Naples, rocker Ted Nugent, better known at this point for his extreme political views than his music, has long been an occasional seasonal resident. Nugent announced on April 19 that he had contracted COVID-19 a week after performing at Seed to Table, a defiantly COVID-denying, anti-masking market in North Naples.

None of these celebrities made much of an impression on the local community, either showing up on the streets, in shops or in the pages of slick hometown lifestyle magazines as charitable donors.

To the north of Sanibel, Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson occasionally visits the $2.9 million, 3,000-square-foot plus, single-level modernist home he purchased in 2020 on Gasparilla Island, one of the Gulf shore’s many islands.

Newt and Callista Gingrich are the latest additions to the Gulf shore, scheduled to move permanently to Naples in September.

Newt, of course, was Speaker of the US House of Representatives from 1995 until he was ousted in 1999. Callista is just back from a stint as US ambassador to the Vatican’s Holy See.

Her presence will give Naples two former Vatican ambassadors, given the presence of Francis Rooney, who served in that capacity from 2005 to 2008 before representing the district in Congress from 2016 to 2020.

Rooney called Southwest Florida “the redder than red region” in a 2016 speech at the Collier County Fairgrounds when he introduced then-candidate Donald Trump. While he later broke with Trump and Trumpism, he was certainly right in his characterization.

To his credit, for all his ideological loyalty, Gingrich vehemently denounced the Jan. 6 insurrection in no uncertain terms:

“I was furious. I am furious. Every person who broke into the Capitol has to be arrested and has to be prosecuted,” said Gingrich in a Fox News interview the day after the riot. “This is the center of freedom on the whole planet. It’s a symbol for everybody. And what happened yesterday was utterly, totally inexcusable. People should be locked up and punished. And I’m delighted that they’re increasing the preparations for the inaugural because we have to make absolutely certain nothing like this happens again. But as a former House member as well, as you point out, former speaker, I found it enraging that people who clearly are not patriots — these are people are destructive barbarians and they are frankly criminals, and they should be treated that way and locked up. And I’m very proud of the Capitol Police, that they clearly needed a lot more reinforcements yesterday.”

This is not to say that Gingrich hasn’t pounded the Trumpist drum for a long time. But at least he drew the line at insurrection.

Someone who never broke with the Big Lie and in fact swore actual allegiance to the absurd QAnon conspiracy theory is Michael Flynn. He served 24 days as Trump’s national security advisor in 2017 before being dismissed after lying to Pence about his contacts with the Russians. He pleaded guilty to one felony count of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, then withdrew his guilty plea. He was pardoned by Trump in December 2020.

On April 9 Flynn and his wife Lori closed on a home in the Boca Royale Golf and Country Club in Englewood. It’s a modest, 2,236-square foot single family home valued at $543,005 with three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms that backs onto a lake.


Sidebar: Disappearing beaches

The Moraya Bay condo in North Naples pushes beachgoers into the Gulf using its beach chairs as barriers in March 2021. (Photo: Author)

In keeping with Trump’s “Me First” philosophy, Naples’ beachfront condos and hotels are now trying to drive Floridians off the sands of the area’s beaches.

Florida law allows property owners to possess beaches up to the “mean high tide line”—i.e., the dry sand up to the water. For the most part, the beaches are sufficiently broad that in the past there was room for all and people could walk and pitch their umbrellas where they liked.

But the high-end beachfront resorts and condos sell themselves as having exclusive, private beaches. They’re prohibited from putting up clear barriers like traffic cones to keep people off the sand. Instead, they put up barriers of beach chairs right to the water’s edge. Beachgoers are allowed on the dry sand as long as they keep walking but if they sit down they’re shooed away by security guards. Otherwise, everyday Floridians had better stay in the water—not exactly where people can camp out to enjoy a day at the beach.

The leader in this movement to appropriate the beaches is the Moraya Bay condo in North Naples, once home to Hannity. Further south, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on the town’s Vanderbilt Beach has moved with increasing aggressiveness to keep plebeians off its sands. Once upon a time, the Ritz-Carlton was tolerant and welcoming but no more. The condos’ movement against beachgoers is picking up steam, both with other property owners and with state legislators like the area’s state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples) who in 2018 introduced legislation to make it more difficult for municipalities to claim beaches for all residents.

Naples, which prizes its beaches as its main tourist attraction, is headed toward a time when all but a small strip of wet sand will be off-limits to anyone other than the extremely well-heeled. It’s the logical result of Trumpism on the ground—literally.


It’s the law

“My parents live in Florida now,” observed comedian Jerry Seinfeld. “They moved there last year. They didn’t want to move to Florida, but they’re in their 60s, and that’s the law.”

Seinfeld continued: “You know how it works. They got the leisure police. They pull up in front of the old people’s house with the golf cart, jump out: ‘Let’s go, Pop! White belt, white pants, white shoes! Get in the back! Drop the snow shovel! Right there! Drop it!’”

As it is for normal people, so it is for Trump and his Trumpsters. Perhaps Seinfeld’s Florida must-move law was the only law Trump ever obeyed—and even then he was tardy, being well past 60 when he took Florida residency in 2019. Flynn, Stone and the Gingriches are all past 60 and all coming to Florida to—presumably—retire.

Being under 60, the family—Ivanka, Jared, Don Jr., and Tiffany—have moved because that’s simply the way of the world: where Daddy goes, so they go all.

As for the rest of the Tumpers, pundits and assorted minions of all ages, in addition to the extreme politics, they’re attracted to the beaches, the heat and the low taxes like everyone else.

Politically, though, these are not just ordinary immigrants. Their presence along with their money, a Trumpist governor and a Republican legislature incline Florida to indeed become Florumpia—a state governed in true Trump fashion where voting is suppressed, dissent is crushed, corruption is pervasive, lawbreaking is excused, lying is instinctive, bankruptcy always looms and fantasy prevails.

In Florida, all the world will be able to see what a second Trump administration would have looked like—and could look like again if Trump and Trumpism are able to triumph in future elections at any level.

But then, Florida has always attracted delusional dreamers and fevered fantasists. Why should Trump be any different?

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Sleaze, slime and slander: Southwest Florida’s summer in the swamp

06-29-20 Fig and Hurley NBC2

Dr. William Figlesthaler and Matthew Hurley in happier times.  (Image: NBC2)

July 2, 2020 by David Silverberg

If you’ve been preoccupied with the resurgence of coronavirus in Florida, the breakdown of the state unemployment system, protests and reactions and the general collapse of civilization, you could be forgiven for overlooking the schemes and scandals of Southwest Florida’s local politics, of which there has been a bumper crop.

So here, for those who might have missed them and would like to catch up, is a roundup of some of the seamier stories that have burst on the airwaves and Internets this summer.

Figlesthaler’s news—fake and otherwise

This one belongs to political reporter Dave Elias of NBC2, who has been peeling back layers of denial and obfuscation toward something that may be much bigger and badder than first reported.

On June 22, Elias reported that Matthew Hurley, a campaign staffer with Dr. William Figlesthaler, a Republican congressional candidate in the 19th Congressional District, had been arrested for contempt of court charges in a business contract dispute unrelated to the campaign.

Figlesthaler denied that Hurley had been with the campaign. (“Local Congressional candidate denies affiliation with arrested man, despite contrary evidence.”) Hurley is also a partner in a political consulting firm—owned by his girlfriend, Rachel Schaff—called Southeastern Strategies that was hired by Figlesthaler (as confirmed by Federal Election Commission (FEC) financial reports).

Figlesthaler didn’t just deny that Hurley was with his campaign, he went all-Trump on Elias and the story. In a statement, he claimed to be “the overwhelming front runners (sic) in the race” (absolutely not true), accused NBC2 of being “fake news media [that] utilized lies and distortions to attack our campaign and promote their anti-Conservative, anti-Trump, anti-America message,” (that honor belongs only to The Paradise Progressive) and accused Elias of being “a long-time liberal activist, open borders proponent, and self-proclaimed Never Trumper” who attacks “real America First Conservatives” (totally untrue).

But the real essence of Figlesthaler’s attack and the person against whom he leveled real accusations was one of Elias’ on-air sources, a woman named JoAnn Debartolo.

“Elias’ only so-called ‘source’ in his hit piece was well known political extortionist JoAnn Debartolo,” Figlesthaler stated. “JoAnn has for years preyed on independently wealthy individuals to pay her personal bills and mortgage. In March of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, JoAnn attempted to extort my campaign for more than $50,000 in cash. When I refused to pay her, she quickly aligned with one of my deep-pocketed opponents in an attempt to spread lies about our campaign.”

Debartolo is a long-time Collier County Republican activist who was approached to join Figlesthaler’s campaign and turned him down—and provided Elias with the proposed contract to prove it.

06-29-20 Roger Stone endorsement YouTube
Roger Stone endorses JoAnn Debartolo.  (Image: YouTube)

(Debartolo is on this year’s Republican Party primary ballot for the position of state committeewoman. On June 20, Roger Stone—yes, that Roger Stone—endorsed Debartalo as a “conservative Trump supporter” over her opponent in a 41-second YouTube video.)

Elias followed up his first story the next day, June 23, with one that provided even more evidence of Hurley’s relationship to the campaign: “Congressional candidate claims coverage of campaign member is ‘fake news’ despite piles of evidence.”

The story featured statements by competing Republican candidates Darren Aquino, Christy McLaughlin, Casey Askar and state Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) attesting that they were all approached by Hurley on behalf of Figlesthaler’s campaign—either in Hurley’s capacity as a campaign worker or in an effort to get them to drop out (Aquino).

Elias’ report also revealed that: “Lawsuits show Hurley owes thousands of dollars in civil lawsuits and has not paid them. A judge has ordered them paid and an arrest document lists Figlesthaler’s campaign as a possible employer to garnish wages.”

As of this writing, there have been no further reports by Elias on the Figlesthaler-Hurley relationship. However, Elias had solid evidence for all his reporting and his work to date seems to hint at something deeper.

At the very least, Figlesthaler’s Trump-like reactions of blame, denial and accusation to the stories indicate the kind of congressman he would be if elected to represent Southwest Florida in the House of Representatives—and he’s running on a “drain the swamp” platform, no less.

Much more is likely to come on this story. Stay tuned!

The origins of Askar’s millions

07-01-20 FEC logoIn the 19th Congressional District race, businessman Casey Askar rocketed to the front of the Republican pack on the strength of a $3 million personal loan to his campaign.

But now it appears that $3 million may not have come out of his own pocket.

In a June 9 article, “Complaint alleges Casey Askar bankrolled with improper loan,” in Florida Politics, reporter Jacob Ogles detailed a FEC complaint alleging that Askar’s $3 million was actually a sweetheart, interest-free loan from Northern Bank and Trust.

The complaint was filed by Stan Carter, a conservative activist in St. James City (on the southern tip of Pine Island, in the 19th Congressional District). Carter told the FEC that the loan “reeks of fraud to the highest degree.”

While ostensibly a business loan made to several individuals, Carter suggested that it was really a personal loan by the bank’s president to Askar.

Kristin Davison, a consultant with the Askar campaign, told Ogles that the loan came from a line of credit Askar had through Northern Trust for years. Money was drawn from the account before Askar filed for Congress and he then loaned it to the campaign.

“The bank didn’t loan money to the campaign,” she said. “Casey has a line of credit. Those are his personal funds.”

The fact that the original business loan was made to several individuals meant that the money was not Askar’s alone to lend to his campaign, thus violating campaign finance rules, according to Carter.

“Of course, banks are conscious of the stringent regulations surrounding campaign finance, and they would be all the more conscious of those regulations when lending a figure as large as $3,000,000,” Carter wrote. “However, Northern Bank & Trust Company blatantly ignored these regulations. Why? Because Kousay ‘Casey’ Askar conspired with the President & CEO of Northern Bank & Trust Company, James Mawn, to receive the fraudulent loan.”

As Ogles put it in his article: “The FEC complaint itself focuses on Askar’s loan, suggesting a bank with no personal ties to Askar would never grant such a low-risk deal to a first-time political candidate and saying the way the money was directed into the campaign account was unlawful.”

Northern Bank & Trust did not return Ogles’ calls before the article’s publication.

In response to a question from The Paradise Progressive, a FEC official confirmed that the complaint had been received at the federal agency but FEC rules prohibited her from providing further details of the proceeding.

Carter’s complaint did highlight something that is now being used against Askar by his Republican opponents: his Iraqi immigrant origins and the fact that his birth name was Qusay (قصي or Kousay, as his critics prefer to spell it). Askar seems to be hitting back with a new video ad that again focuses on his faith and immigrant roots—and allegiance to Trump—called “Time to fight back.” It takes aim at the usual liberal targets—but also, it seems, his Republican tormentors.

Heather’s horror

No sooner had state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-78-Fort Myers) abandoned her quest for the 19th Congressional District House seat and staked a claim on the state Senate seat representing the 27th District (basically, Lee County) than her opponents opened up with all guns blazing.

Her bid outraged fellow Republicans in the Florida Senate, who didn’t want her in a primary race against a fellow Republican, didn’t like her political moderation and thought she was too cozy with a powerful Democratic lawmaker.

The result was a 30-second TV ad whose female narrator intones: “Planned Parenthood’s favorite politician? Nancy Pelosi? Nope, Heather Fitzenhagen.” As this is said, Pelosi’s face morphs into Fitzenhagen’s. The ad attacks Fitzenhagen for a variety of conservative heresies like opposing Trump and being liberal but most particularly her stance on choice.

06-29-20 Pelosi morph 1

06-29-20 Pelosi morph 2

06-29-20 Pelosi morph 3The metamorphosis of Heather Fitzenhagen, according to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.     (Images: FRSCC)

Produced by Isaac Communications of Jacksonville, the ad is sponsored by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which urges viewers to vote for Fitzenhagen’s primary opponent: State Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-76-Sanibel, Pine Island, Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Springs). It’s also supported by state Sens. Debbie Mayfield (R-17) and Gayle Harrell, (R-83), all of whom approved it, as it says in the fine print at the end.

Whenever the ad runs on local television stations it’s paired with a 30-second pro-Rodrigues ad that touts his conservative credentials.

Despite the vitriol, an internal poll by the Fitzenhagen campaign showed her leading Rodrigues by 10 points, according to a June 22 Florida Politics article by Ogles: “Internal poll shows Heather Fitzenhagen with a double-digit lead on Ray Rodrigues.”

Of course there is a Democratic alternative to the 27th Senate District Republicans: Democrat Rachel Brown, a Naples native. And running for the seat Rodrigues is vacating is Democrat Anselm Weber. Both first-time candidates are campaigning as progressives trying to bring change to Southwest Florida.

Ogles reported on June 16 that state Sen. Gary Farmer (D-34) representing eastern Broward County, urged Brown not to run so that Democrats could vote in an open Republican primary and elect the more moderate Fitzenhagen. However, Brown refused.

“How can I tell people I’ve marched with that I changed my mind, I’m not going to run, and they should go vote for a mediocre Republican instead who’s just going to take their taxes and use it for corporate handouts?” Brown told Ogles. “And how can I take a backroom deal that represents the behavior I’m fighting to end?”

06-29-20 Rachel BrownDemocrats Rachel Brown and Anselm Weber.   (Photo: The Daily Kos)

McCarthyism makes a comeback

In case you didn’t enjoy the first round of McCarthyism when Sen. Joe Mc

07-01-20 Joseph_McCarthy
Sen. Joseph McCarthy

Carthy (R-Wis.) was active in the 1950s, or if you missed it entirely (like this author) you have a second chance to see it right here in Southwest Florida.

That’s because Darren Aquino, a retired actor formerly of New York and now a Republican congressional candidate, is raising the old “Communist” canard—and like McCarthy, is doing so without any basis in fact, evidence or truth.

Aquino’s far fringe campaign consists almost entirely of tweets leveling insults and spitting hate against everyone around him. He calls Casey Askar a “snake” because he’s an immigrant and not a “natural-born citizen” and Aquino wants to make immigrants ineligible to serve in Congress. He also thinks America is headed for civil war and it’s time to pick a side. He despises refugees, Democrats, and other fellow Republicans (he calls Dane Eagle a Republican in Name Only and Sen.Marco Rubio a Never-Trumper, etc.) He even wants Bubba Wallace thrown out of NASCAR. And, of course, WINK News is fake news in his eyes.

06-11-20 Darren Aquino
Darren Aquino  (Image: WINK News)

But Aquino’s “communist” attack was leveled against Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai, whom he first called a “socialist” but then decided to change into “communist” after she called for removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in downtown Fort Myers.

Aquino’s hysteria would be laughable on the face of it but on June 23 he went on to call for Florida Gulf Coast University to fire Banyai as an adjunct professor because of her views.

The attack is reminiscent of Joe McCarthy’s baseless personal smears and the professional price people paid when targeted by him and his assistant Roy Cohn. Aquino is the only SWFL candidate in any race who is attacking another candidate’s livelihood.

At the moment there’s no indication that anyone—including FGCU—is taking Aquino seriously.

Aquino’s bitter McCarthyist revival seems destined to end up in the dustbin of history. As Karl Marx once pointed out, history sometimes happens twice: “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

Trump, Florida, Russia: Tracking the Sunshine State in the Mueller Report

Trump t-shirt seller at Germain Arena rally 9-19-16

A seller peddles a t-shirt at a Trump campaign rally at Germain Arena, Estero, Fla., Sept. 19, 2016. The Mueller Report has revealed that Russians organized rallies for Trump in August 2016.     (Photo by author)

April 19, 2019 by David Silverberg

Russian election interference efforts in Florida were numerous and extensive during the 2016 presidential election campaign, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Report (technically, Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election).

The big initial news in Florida was that a Russian hacker tried to penetrate at least one Florida county’s election system. The scramble is now on to identify the county.

However, there are references to Florida events, people and places throughout the 448-page document.

Here, in the order they appear, are summaries of those references.

Aug. 20, 2016: Florida rallies

The Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Russian organization chiefly responsible for covertly interfering in the US election through social media, organized rallies for Trump throughout the country using front organizations. The report describes their modus operandi:

“The IRA organized and promoted political rallies inside the United States while posing as U.S. grassroots activists. First, the IRA used one of its preexisting social media personas (Facebook groups and Twitter accounts, for example) to announce and promote the event. The IRA then sent a large number of direct messages to followers of its social media account asking them to attend the event. From those who responded with interest in attending, the IRA then sought a U.S. person to serve as the event’s coordinator. In most cases, the IRA account operator would tell the U.S. person that they personally could not attend the event due to some preexisting conflict or because they were somewhere else in the United States. The IRA then further promoted the event by contacting U.S. media about the event and directing them to speak with the coordinator. After the event, the IRA posted videos and photographs of the event to the IRA’s social media accounts.”

Three of these rallies were in New York, a series were held in Pennsylvania and a series were held in Florida. “The Florida rallies drew the attention of the Trump Campaign, which posted about the Miami rally on candidate Trump’s Facebook account,” states the report. The IRA-organized Florida rallies occurred on Aug. 20, 2016 and were called “Florida Goes Trump!” and were billed “a patriotic flash mob.” At least 17 rallies were attempted.

(During the campaign, Trump held two rallies in Southwest Florida, one at the then-Germain Arena in Estero on Sept. 19, 2016 and the other at the Collier County Fairgrounds on Oct. 25, 2016.)

Nov. 2, 2016: Disseminating Russian disinformation

As the report states:

“Among the U.S. ‘leaders of public opinion’ targeted by the IRA were various members and surrogates of the Trump Campaign. In total, Trump Campaign affiliates promoted dozens of tweets, posts, and other political content created by the IRA. Posts from the IRA-controlled Twitter account @TEN_ GOP were cited or retweeted by multiple Trump Campaign officials and surrogates, including Donald J. Trump Jr.”

One of these Trump Jr. retweets was an allegation that Democrats were committing voter fraud in Florida: “RT @TEN_GOP: BREAKING: #VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.”

June 15, 2016: Releasing hacked e-mails

On June 14, the Democratic National Committee publicly announced that its e-mail server had been hacked. Apparently in response, the following day the Russian unit (Unit 74455) of its military intelligence service, the GRU, began releasing the stolen e-mails under the persona Guccifer 2.0. Releases were grouped around specific themes such as key states—like Pennsylvania and Florida.

The report also states: “On August 22, 2016, the Guccifer 2.0 persona transferred approximately 2.5 gigabytes of Florida-related data stolen from the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] to a U.S. blogger covering Florida politics.” The blogger’s name is not mentioned in the report.

November 2016: The attempted hack of Florida election officials

In November 2016 GRU officers sent over 120 e-mails to Florida election officials in a spearphishing effort—specifically targeting the officials with false e-mails that would open their systems to exploitation. “The spearphishing emails contained an attached Word document coded with malicious software (commonly referred to as a Trojan) that permitted the GRU to access the infected computer,” states the report.

It was through this technique that at least one Florida county’s election system was hacked. Since release of the report, the media and Florida officials have been seeking the name of the county.

Spring, 2016, Henry Oknyansky/Henry Greenberg

In the spring of 2016 a Florida-based Russian approached the Trump campaign and political activist and provocateur Roger Stone with an offer to sell damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

As stated in the Report:

“In the spring of 2016, Trump Campaign advisor Michael Caputo learned through a Florida-based Russian business partner that another Florida-based Russian, Henry Oknyansky (who also went by the name Henry Greenberg), claimed to have information pertaining to Hillary Clinton. Caputo notified Roger Stone and brokered communication between Stone and Oknyansky. Oknyansky and Stone set up a May 2016 in-person meeting.

“Oknyansky was accompanied to the meeting by Alexei Rasin, a Ukrainian associate involved in Florida real estate. At the meeting, Rasin offered to sell Stone derogatory information on Clinton that Rasin claimed to have obtained while working for Clinton. Rasin claimed to possess financial statements demonstrating Clinton’s involvement in money laundering with Rasin’s companies. According to Oknyansky, Stone asked if the amounts in question totaled millions of dollars but was told it was closer to hundreds of thousands. Stone refused the offer, stating that Trump would not pay for opposition research.”

According to the Report, Rasin was trying to make money by peddling the information and getting a cut if the information was sold. Despite his statements that he had worked for Clinton, there’s no evidence he ever did, according to the Report.

Despite being a director or registered agent for a number of Florida companies and having a Florida driver’s license, the Special Counsel’s office was unable to locate Rasin.

The Rasin-Oknyansky effort may have been separate from official Russian interference efforts, according to the Report.

July 27, 2016, Trump’s Doral, Fla., press conference.

It was at this Doral, Fla., press conference that President Donald Trump made his infamous remark: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” There are repeated references to this press conference throughout the report, starting on page 18. As the Report notes: “Within five hours of Trump’s remark, a Russian intelligence service began targeting email accounts associated with Hillary Clinton for possible hacks.”

Mar-a-lago, Palm Beach, Fla.

President Trump’s Mar-a-lago resort figures several times in the Report.

It was here in the Spring of 2016 that Paul Manafort was hired as campaign manager, initially without pay.

It was also at Mar-a-lago that on Dec. 29, 2016 the Trump team first learned of President Barack Obama’s imposition of sanctions on Russia for election interference and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats.

Numerous members of the Presidential Transition Team, including Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and K.T. McFarland, who was slated to become deputy national security adviser, were at the resort.

There was an exchange of e-mails about the impact of the sanctions. National Security Advisor-designate Michael Flynn was in the Dominican Republic and spoke by phone with McFarland. Flynn told McFarland that he would be speaking to Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak. He did so that evening and urged the ambassador not to allow the situation to escalate by retaliating. The following day, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced there would be no retaliation.

Conclusion: Russian efforts past and future

It remains to be seen if the Florida county where Russian spearfishing succeeded will be revealed. But what the Mueller Report really brings out was the depth and breadth of the Russian election interference effort. With Florida a key battleground state and the home of Mar-a-lago, there was considerable Russian effort expended here.

Most importantly, the Mueller Report is a critical warning for the 2020 election: Florida is in the crosshairs. The Russians will be back.

Liberty lives in light
© 2019 David Silverberg