The disinformation campaign against Ron DeSantis

So much fake news and woke hysteria is being spread about the presidential hopeful.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics USA

Two political campaigns were launched this week. First, Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s bid to be the 2024 presidential candidate for the Republicans. And second, the woke crusade to brand DeSantis as dangerous. A menace to minorities. An ‘Ultra MAGA’ – not just a run-of-the mill bad MAGA – whose words and ideas hurt entire communities. It doesn’t matter where you stand on DeSantis, whether you reckon he’ll make a good president or a terrible one – it’s the second campaign that should chill you most.

DeSantis’s big launch got off to a sticky start. It took place on Twitter Spaces, with Elon Musk compering, and it was glitchy. There was feedback, blackouts, garbled audio. There was a 20-minute delay. DeSantis haters are having a field day. ‘The campaign launch Ron DeSantis will want to forget’, snarked the BBC. The technocratic set, those managerial elites who fancy themselves as the grown-ups of politics and anti-woke agitators like DeSantis as sloganeering children, will meme this screw-up as proof of populism’s amateur nature.

Let them. Most normal people are interested in what DeSantis has to say, not that it took 20 minutes for him to be able to say it. And he sang all his popular tunes. He promised to keep fighting the woke ideology, especially in education. He said America’s southern border is a ‘disaster’ and that he would declare an emergency down there on Day 1 of his presidency. He offered his vision for the Trumpist endeavour of ‘draining the swamp’ – he said he would defang any federal agencies, including the FBI, that have become too partisan; that arrogantly believe it is their extracurricular duty to keep ‘bad’ politicians from power’s door.

Most hearteningly, he talked a lot about liberty. People who have watched in horror as capitalism has gone woke will have cheered his promise to prohibit banks from ditching customers over their political views. Too right. That credit-card companies and online fundraising platforms have blocked donations to certain political actors is an intolerable affront to freedom of speech and democracy itself. Corporations have no business using their economic muscle to punish intellectually ‘disobedient’ citizens. And if a future president stops them from doing so, good.

He also slammed the ‘legacy media’ for shrinking the space for political ideas. These people live in a ‘little bubble’, he said: ‘The elites in our society have tried to cluster themselves to where their assumptions are never challenged.’ This represents the death of critical thought, he said, because ‘no one is ever going to question obviously wrong assumptions if everybody around you shares them’. Americans who open a newspaper or switch on cable news and always see the same cosy consensus, the same staid ideas that seem so alien to their own lives, will recognise DeSantis’s description of a clerisy-like media elite more devoted to dogma than curiosity.

There was real shape to DeSantis’s pitch. The Beeb and others can chuckle as much as they like at the technological howlers, but what do they say to his rallying cry, ‘Decline is a choice’? Anything? ‘American decline is not inevitable’, said DeSantis. We need to work towards ‘American revitalisation’. And a core part of reinvigorating this great, young republic is the belief that ‘freedom is worth fighting for’, he said.

It’s only sloganeering for now, by definition. But it beats the miserabilism of a Democratic establishment that has been corrupted by the woke prejudice that says America is a nation born in sin and stuffed with deplorables and domestic terrorists whose threat can only be contained by the vigilance of the well-educated. 2024 could end up being a clash between coastal cynicism about the American Dream and a sunny, Floridian belief in it.

Yet judging by some of the chatter about DeSantis this week, you could be forgiven for thinking he had just launched KKK 2.0. His launch was ‘full of hate’, says one observer. What? Where? This is the other political campaign that was launched this week, though of course it’s been brewing for years: the campaign of DeSantis delegitimation. The elite effort to put a cordon sanitaire around DeSantis as if he were a toxin to be avoided rather than a politician to be engaged with.

At the forefront of the delegitimation efforts was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In a breathtakingly cynical move, the NAACP issued a ‘travel advisory’ for Florida. Just ahead of DeSantis’s presidential launch, it said Florida is ‘openly hostile’ to minorities. Be careful down there. Its proof? The fact that DeSantis has clamped down on the teaching of critical race theory in schools.

This is such a contemptible political stunt it threatens to cast a shadow over the great work the NAACP has done. The NAACP is using fear to score political points. It is whipping up dread among African Americans to the squalid end of wounding DeSantis and helping the Dems. The truth is that Florida is a fine place for minorities. Seventeen per cent of its people are black, 27 per cent are Latino, and many of them voted for DeSantis. Florida is far behind other states when it comes to hate crime. The NAACP’s travel advisory is clearly about defeating DeSantis, not raising awareness of a real problem in Florida. It says it wants ‘Florida residents to join [the] effort to defeat the regressive policies of this governor’. Okay, then say that. Don’t issue an apocalyptic advisory falsely depicting Florida as a hellhole for non-whites.

Others joined in with the defamation of Florida. ‘Ron DeSantis’s ultra-MAGA Florida isn’t safe for people of colour [or] LGBTQ+ people’, said Hillary Clinton, the retired warmonger who knows a thing or two about making states unsafe, I guess. Note that DeSantis is ultra MAGA. How long before she brands his voters as super-deplorables? There is constant threat inflation from the anti-DeSantis camp.

You see it in commentary circles, too. Vanity Fair breezily refers to his ‘bigoted culture wars’ and his ‘cruel crusade against black Floridians’, both myths. Britain’s Pink News says he is ‘reliant on hate’. For example, he said in his launch that the US military should focus on its ‘mission’ rather than daft things like ‘gender ideology and pronouns’. That isn’t hate. Just as it isn’t racism to bristle at critical race theory, so it isn’t bigotry to think soldiers have bigger things to worry about than misgendering a they / them.

It all adds up to a disinformation campaign. Consider another story that made waves this week: a Florida school’s banning of the poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ that the young African-American poet Amanda Gorman read at Joe Biden’s inauguration. It was fake news. What really happened is that one school in Florida moved Gorman’s book of poetry to the middle-school section of its library. That’s it.

It is surreal that an American school moving a book from one shelf to another can become global news. It’s not surprising, though. Thanks to the DeSantis delegitimation campaign, everything now done in Florida is described in the most apocalyptic terms. Every expression of discomfort with critical race theory is a return of Jim Crow. Every move against woke is the beginnings of a trans genocide. Every school-library decision is a book ban. Every attempt to protect young schoolkids from the 72 genders nonsense is violent homophobia. It’s getting to the point where, every time you read criticism of DeSantis, you would be wise to ask yourself: ‘Is this fake news?’

The disinfo attack on DeSantis speaks to one of the most sinister tactics of the woke. They don’t just say their opponents are wrong or misguided – fine points to make in political to-and-fro. No, they say they’re a menace to life as we know it. Their every utterance threatens to erase the vulnerable. Their ideas kill. They’re deplorable, semi-fascistic, evil. Such fact-lite dread-mongering is what passes for political opposition now, and, ironically, it really does pose a threat to the American republic and its traditions of free, honest debate.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available for pre-order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics USA


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