The first in our three-part series on the right-wing players around Ron DeSantis, the Republican candidate for governor of Florida.
Knowing that Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, who is challenging Democrat Andrew Gillum in Florida’s gubernatorial race, attended conferences hosted by right-wing author David Horowitz is concerning—and the closer one looks, the worse it gets. Not only did DeSantis appear on stage with the unsavory characters listed in Sunday’s investigative report by The Washington Post; the same conferences also hosted the founder of a violent far-right hate group, a Canadian alt-right entrepreneur and an anti-Muslim activist who has downplayed the horrors of the Holocaust.
DeSantis has recently faced public criticism for using language that many perceived to contain “dog-whistles,” or language that insinuates racial animosity. August 29 on Fox News, DeSantis remarked Florida should not elect Gillum, who is black, despite him being “articulate,” and said of the election that he hoped his state wouldn’t “monkey this up.”
On September 9, The Washington Post reported that DeSantis had spoken four times at conferences in Florida and South Carolina sponsored by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, including annual Restoration Weekend conferences where “hundreds of people gather to hear right-wing provocateurs such as Stephen K. Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos and Sebastian Gorka sound off on multiculturalism, radical Islam, free speech on college campuses and other issues.” From The Washington Post:
Founded in 1988, the Freedom Center described its mission on a fundraising appeal: “We combat the efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values and disarm this country as it attempts to defend itself in a time of terror.”
Guest speakers at its conferences over the past five years have included Republican members of Congress, former governors Rick Perry of Texas and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, young conservative activists James O’Keefe and Ben Shapiro, and right-wing European politicians Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders.
Beyond the annual conferences, Horowitz has a record of inflammatory comments on social media. He was temporarily locked out of his Twitter account last month for a post involving Islam.
Right Wing Watch has been keeping an eye on Horowitz for more than a decade. We remember when he condemned the Conservative Political Action Conference because he believed it had been “compromised by radical Islamic influences,” and when he suggested that Huma Abedin, a top aide to Hillary Clinton, had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and had decided to “marry a Jew so she can infiltrate our government.” He’s accused former President Barack Obama of wanting a “free ride” because he’s black, and claimed that the nation’s first African American president was anti-Semitic. Horowitz said that “there is no community more racist in America than the black community,” and said everything Democrats do is “an attack on white people,” who Horowitz says should be thanked for ending slavery. The largest hate group in America, according to Horowitz, is the “anti-Trump hate group.”
Despite Horowitz’s lengthy history of inflammatory rhetoric and revisionist history, Restoration Weekend events have existed for years as a place where activists embedded in the fever swamps of right-wing politics go to pitch their causes in front of wealthy funders and political influencers. The event also manages to wrangle handfuls of politicians each year. In addition to the figures listed in the Washington Post report, past attendees include current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, Sens. Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson, and Reps. Louie Gohmert, Steve King, and Brian Mast.
But to best understand the nature of the Horwitz events, one should examine the speakers list and the audience members it attracts.
Prior guests include Andrew Torba, owner of Gab, a Twitter knock-off site that is populated with white supremacists who frequently encourage violence, who pitched his site at the 2017 conference. Others who have presented at Horowitz’s events include Dinesh D’Souza, a far-right propagandist who recently released a movie accusing liberals of being white supremacists, Gavin McInnes, the CRTV host and founder of Proud Boys, an organization recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, and Laura Loomer, an anti-Muslim hatemonger who thinks that having lost her Twitter verified status is akin to being a victim of the Holocaust, and Ezra Levant, owner of the far-right Canadian outlet “The Rebel.” And while the Post mildly describes James O’Keefe, who also spoke at the 2016 Restoration Weekend event, as “a young conservative activist,” he actually traffics in deceptively edited videos designed to smear core constituencies of the Democrats, such as Planned Parenthood and labor unions.
The Washington Post article prompted Horowitz to pop into the conservative media sphere to offer his own rebuttal.
Yesterday, on the “Breitbart News Tonight” program hosted by SiriusXM radio, Horowitz said he knew why The Washington Post called him before their story: because he had been “slandered and defamed and libeled for decades.” Horowitz called Gillum a “corrupt, idiot leftist” that wants to make Florida a sanctuary state and to invite in “tens of thousands of criminals.” He also lamented that DeSantis received criticism for using “the word ‘monkey’ within a hundred yards of a black person.”
Horowitz told Breitbart that he had been a “fighter for civil rights” his whole life, and went on to describe liberals as “anti-white and racist.”
“They use this term, ‘white skin privilege,’ which takes away the efforts and achievements of whites and teaches black kids that the system is rigged against them, that people—that they succeed through privilege,” Horowitz said, adding his contention that black students who are accepted into college despite scoring lower than the “whites and the Asians that get in” actually experience “black skin privilege.”
Read more in our series on DeSantis and the right: