DeSantis campaign mired in controversies over slavery, anti-gay video, alleged Nazi symbol

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Gov. Ron DeSantis had a difficult weekend on the culture war front, re-doubling his defense of the state’s controversial new Black history standards as a new report revealed a now-infamous anti-LGBTQ ad was actually made within the campaign itself.

A pro-DeSantis account also tweeted a video that included alleged imagery of a Nazi symbol. Though reports that it had been retweeted by a DeSantis campaign staffer before it was deleted were unconfirmed, Florida Democrats pounced.

DeSantis’ continuing cultural battles come amid reports that his presidential bid is planning a “reboot” following worsening poll numbers and a major shedding of cash.

Fox News polls released Sunday showed DeSantis trailing former President Donald Trump by 40 points in the Iowa GOP presidential caucus and coming in third in the South Carolina primary behind former Gov. Nikki Haley.

“What’s happened is what might be expected, and I did expect,” said Mac Stipanovich, a former Tallahassee Republican consultant who has been a frequent critic of DeSantis. “The campaign is proving to be a clown car. Malevolent clowns, but clowns just the same.”

On Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris condemned the standards, approved in a state Board of Education meeting in Orlando on Wednesday, which for the first time will spell out what students should learn about Black history in each grade from kindergarten through high school.

The instructions include teaching “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

“How is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities that there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?” Harris said at an event in Jacksonville.

The DeSantis campaign initially responded with a statement from the governor that Democrats were “obsessed with Florida” and were lying about the standards.

At a campaign event in Utah later that evening, however, DeSantis initially appeared to distance himself from the standards in responding to a question from CNN.

“You should talk to them about it,” DeSantis said of the state Department of Education. “I didn’t do it. I wasn’t involved in it. … These were scholars who put that together. It was not anything that was done politically.”

But at the same time, he added, “They’re probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life.”

Two members of the workgroup that put together the standards, William Allen and Frances Presley Rice, released a statement listing blacksmiths, shoemakers and shipping industry workers as examples of slaves benefiting from developing skills.

But some of the examples they listed, James Forten, Paul Cuffe, John Chavis and Henry Blair, were all likely born free, according to the Tampa Bay Times, and others such as Booker T. Washington were children when slavery ended.

Also over the weekend, the New York Times reported that the much-maligned anti-gay ad retweeted by the DeSantis War Room account in June, which had initially been posted by an outside account, was actually created by a campaign staffer.

The staffer, the Times wrote, “produced the video internally, passing it off to an outside supporter to post it first and making it appear as if it was generated independently.”

The video used footage of then-candidate Trump saying he would protect LGBTQ people in the wake of the 2016 Pulse gay nightclub shooting in Orlando that killed 49.

The video also included references to DeSantis signing “extreme” and “draconian” anti-transgender bills, a Pride event canceled in St. Cloud, images of bodybuilders and movie clips.

The video was condemned by both Democrats and gay conservative groups such as the Log Cabin Republicans.

The latest video to cause controversy, tweeted by the account DeSantisCams, closed with an image of soldiers in front of what appeared to be the circular Aryan sonnenrad symbol used by the SS in Nazi Germany and neo-nazi groups today.

Despite reports, there was no confirmed proof that the since-deleted video was retweeted by a DeSantis campaign staffer. The DeSantisCams account had previously been retweeted often by members of Team DeSantis.

The Florida Democratic Party still seized on the issue, with chair Nikki Fried stating that DeSantis “has been given every chance to denounce neo-Nazis and what they stand for, and he refuses to do it.” U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Orlando, also tweeted, “Calling DeSantis a fascist isn’t hyperbole, it’s defining what he is.”

The Times story cited sources saying the DeSantis campaign was planning a “leaner-meaner” operation. Politico also reported that the campaign will portray DeSantis as “an outsider, doing more media and smaller events.”

The shift comes after NBC News revealed earlier this month that the DeSantis campaign spent nearly $8 million in its first six weeks.

The DeSantis campaign did not immediately return a request for comment Monday.