Neo-Nazis rallied in Florida over the weekend, with viral footage showing the group waving Nazi flags, shouting antisemitic and white supremacist slogans, and appearing to assault someone.
Amid all of this, Christina Pushaw, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) spokesperson, reacted by wondering whether they were actually Nazis. Pushaw’s since deleted tweet ignited a firestorm of criticism.
On Sunday night, Pushaw tweeted: “Do we even know they’re Nazis? Or is this a stunt like the ‘white nationalists’ who crashed the [Gov. Glenn] Youngkin rally in Charlottesville and turned out to be Dem staffers?”
The tweet has been deleted, but several people screenshotted it.
The “stunt” Pushaw referred to was the Lincoln Project sending people dressed like Unite the Right attendees to a Youngkin rally during the Republican’s campaign for governor of Virginia. The Lincoln Project is an anti-Trump political action committee. It isn’t affiliated with the Democratic party.
Footage of the rally posted by @Imposter_Edits show people holding a banner for the National Socialist Movement standing on the side of the road in the Orlando, Florida area. The Nationalist Socialist Movement is a neo-Nazi group founded in the mid-1990s. It’s been active in Florida for years.
Imposter Edits’ posts include footage of the group shouting antisemitic slurs, “white power,” and mocking the Holocaust. Several did Nazi salutes and waved swastika flags.
The video has more than 2 million views as of this writing.
A second video Imposter Edits posted shows that the rally-goers wore armbands with swastikas on them. The video says that the “Nazis … assaulted a friend of mine.”
Footage also shows the group taunting and appearing to assault a driver who confronted them.
StopAntisemitism reports that the neo-Nazis also shouted racist slurs for Black people, “the Jew is the devil,” “Jews brought slaves here,” and “Jews rape children and drink their blood,” an apparent nod to the QAnon conspiracy theory, which has a history of antisemitism.
StopAntisemitism added that the rally was livestreamed on the American Nazi Party website.
The group also reportedly hung Nazi banners, with one reading “let’s go Branon” at an overpass nearby. The latter was an apparent misspelling of “let’s go Brandon,” a coded saying Republicans use to disparage President Joe Biden.
Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani tweeted of the banners: “I hope every Republican who gleefully says ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ takes a serious look at this and realizes they’re empowering dangerous and hateful people.”
Pushaw quoted Eskamani’s tweet and opined that she was likening “let’s go Brandon to fascism.”
A Twitter user replied to inquire whether Pushaw ever used her platform to be anything but “hateful” and said someone with a recent “blip with antisemitic tweets” might instead denounce the Nazi rally. They were seemingly referring to Pushaw tweeting an antisemitic conspiracy theory about the Rothschild family in November.
That’s when Pushaw suggested that it isn’t clear that the people waving Nazi flags, shouting Nazi slogans, and wearing swastika armbands are actually Nazis.
Amid rising backlash, Pushaw deleted the tweet. Since then, her Twitter feed has been a mix of damage control and defiance.
Sunday night, she tweeted, “@GovRonDeSantis has ALWAYS condemned antisemitic attacks & hatred, and he always will. To suggest otherwise is just plain wrong. I am confident that Florida law enforcement will respond appropriately and justice will be served to any protester who violates the law.”
Pushaw also said that while she doesn’t know who staged the rally, “Nazi symbols and hate speech are unacceptable.” In another tweet, she said that the Lincoln Project wasn’t responsible.
In spite of these efforts, Pushaw’s tweet questioning whether the people at the rally were actually Nazis continued circulating on Monday. Most were critical of the tweet. One likened it to former President Donald Trump saying there were “very fine people” at the racist Unite the Right rally in 2017.
Thomas Kennedy, a member of the Democratic National Committee, tweeted: “Reminder that DeSantis spokesperson @ChristinaPushaw, whose first instinct after Nazi rallies in Orlando this weekend was to question if the violent individuals with swastikas were really Nazis, gets paid $120,000 by Florida tax payers to spread disinformation on twitter all day.”
As of Monday morning, Pushaw was continuing to tweet defensively about the matter.
DeSantis hasn’t personally commented on the controversy.