Approximately 15 protesters, displaying flags adorned with Nazi insignia, staged a controversial demonstration outside the Walt Disney World theme park in Orlando, Florida, this past Saturday. Alongside the abhorrent symbols of hate were messages supporting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. This gathering marks a recurrence of similar protests from 2022, which saw neo-Nazis lining a bridge in eastern Orange County, raising swastika flags and banners, and launching vitriolic slurs at passersby.
DeSantis, who is running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has had to address these types of incidents before, expressing his disdain towards the neo-Nazis. “Some jackasses doing this on the street; first of all, state law enforcement is going to hold them accountable because they were doing stuff on the overpass. So they’re absolutely going to do that, and they should do that,” DeSantis commented on the previous incidents.
Pushback Against Political Ploy
Following these events, DeSantis criticized Democrats for using the issue as a political weapon against him. “So what I’m going to say is these people, these Democrats who are trying to use this as some type of political issue to try to smear me as if I had something to do with it, we’re not playing their game,” DeSantis said.
Similarly, Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary, raised eyebrows with her response to the outrage over the Orlando Nazi demonstration, questioning the authenticity of the demonstrators’ affiliations. She then clarified that she wasn’t “denying Nazis” but instead referring to an event where Democrats allegedly impersonated white supremacists to discredit a rally.
The Disney-DeSantis Dispute
The incident comes amidst an ongoing feud between DeSantis and Disney. Early last year, Disney’s then-CEO criticized a Florida law that bars classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity — Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
In response to this critique, DeSantis signed legislation that stripped Disney of the right to govern the land that includes Disney World and overhauled the property’s governing board. Disney retaliated by passing measures to deprive the new board of its power for decades.
Further escalating tensions, DeSantis suggested building a prison near the Disney property, to which Disney reacted by suing DeSantis and other government officials. The entertainment conglomerate accused them of retaliating against the company for exercising its constitutional rights. Shortly thereafter, Disney scrapped plans for a nearly $1 billion office complex in Orlando.
What’s Next for DeSantis?
The Combat Antisemitism Movement, a non-partisan international organization, noted the repeated instances of neo-Nazi demonstrations, including the recent event outside Disney World, as a disturbing trend. This non-profit organization and others continue to call for unity against hate speech and racist acts as they strive to foster an atmosphere of acceptance and respect. The Florida Holocaust Museum also weighed in on the disturbing display of Nazi symbolism. “Displays of Nazi imagery are repugnant, and this demonstration was clearly meant to offend and provoke,” they stated. “No family should be confronted with threatening symbols of hate, least of all on vacation.”
DeSantis’ representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment regarding the incident.
What Lies Ahead?
As DeSantis’ feud with Disney continues, questions arise about the implications of this political clash and its influence on these inflammatory public demonstrations. Some experts speculate that Florida could lose more in this fight with Disney, considering the significant economic contribution of the company to the state. Nevertheless, DeSantis has denied that his actions against Disney are politically motivated, adding yet another layer of complexity to this ongoing saga.
Antisemitic acts and displays of hate, such as these recent demonstrations in Orlando, shed light on the urgent need for society to combat hate speech and prejudice collectively. It’s a reminder that education about the Holocaust and the atrocities committed during World War II is vital to ensure history does not repeat itself. In a world that seems increasingly divisive, it’s more important than ever to champion unity, respect, and tolerance.