Voices: Ron DeSantis didn’t listen. No wonder Jacksonville booed him

Ron DeSantis speaks at a prayer vigil after a white man armed with a rifle and a handgun killed three Black people at a Dollar General store in Florida (REUTERS)
Ron DeSantis speaks at a prayer vigil after a white man armed with a rifle and a handgun killed three Black people at a Dollar General store in Florida (REUTERS)

Three people were killed on Saturday in a Jacksonville Dollar Store by a racist white man who said he “hated black people” and decorated his weapon with swastikas. Governor Ron DeSantis tried to speak at a vigil for the murdered victims, but was roundly booed. Florida state representative Angie Nixon responded to the community’s anger, saying “at the end of the day, the governor has blood on his hands.”

Nixon is right. DeSantis, and the GOP, have created a climate where violent, racist terrorists have the means and inspiration to commit horrific acts of violence against Black people and other marginalized communities. An increasingly rabid gun rights movement has been cultivated, and with it rabid racist rhetoric, because of what? A political advantage to capitalize on paranoia and hate. And when followers are fed this diet, the result is a political movement that encourages acts of racist political violence.

DeSantis, who is running for the GOP presidential nomination, has placed himself on the extreme right of the party. That means he has enthusiastically embraced both guns and racism. In April, he signed a law allowing people in Florida to carry concealed guns without a permit.

He’s been even more notorious nationwide for his legislative attack on the teaching of Black history. DeSantis claims that teaching lessons about racism makes white students feel “uncomfortable” – an inflammatory argument that suggests even speaking about Black people’s experiences harms white children. DeSantis’ anti-history dictat resulted in banning AP African-American history in the state. The NAACP responded by issuing a travel advisory for Florida. “Under the leadership of Governor Desantis, the state of Florida has become hostile to Black Americans,” said NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson.

DeSantis’ pro-gun stance and his anti-Black stance are intertwined. Numerous studies have found that white Americans who have anti-Black attitudes are more likely to oppose gun control. And NRA pro-gun messaging often conflates the two.

A particularly rabid 2017 NRA ad, for example, said that the left used concerns about “racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia” as a way to encourage its followers to “smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding.” Again, the message is that discussing bigotry or racism is itself dangerous, and that white people need to be armed to defend themselves from it. Violent fantasies of gun owners being persecuted - who are constantly being told that the left wants to “seize your firearms” - link up with fantasies of persecution of Christian conservative white people.

Given that incendiary mixture, it’s no wonder that there has been a string of attacks in recent years on marginalized people whose identities have been denigrated and demonized by white Christian conservatives. In 2015, a racist shooter murdered nine people in an African-American church in South Carolina. In 2018, an antisemitic shooter murdered 11 at a pro-immigration synagogue in Philadelphia. In 2022 a shooter murdered five in a gay nightclub in Colorado. Also last year, a shooter killed 10 people in a grocery store in a Black area of Buffalo.

The shooters in these attacks did not know each other; they were not part of a conspiratorial network coordinating violence. But that doesn’t mean that these incidents are random, or that a series of lone gunmen just happen to target Black people, LGBT+ people, Jewish people, immigrants, and other communities singled out by the right.

Nixon believes that DeSantis has been engaged in an attack on the Black community. “We have repeatedly told him what his rhetoric was going to do,” she said. But DeSantis didn’t listen. Instead, he doubled down. Based on his statements and his actions, he wants his followers to believe that Black people, Black history, and Black existence are a threat. He wants them to think that guns are a solution to every threat. And as long as that’s the case, Florida is going to see more horrific racist murders like those in Jacksonville.