As Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis is understandably very fond of alligators.
It had an alligator logo with the words “Don’t Walk On Florida” stenciled on a sign it unveiled in October when calling for a special session of the legislature to counter federal vaccine mandates. COVID-19.
And his office had that alligator’s twin on another sign with the words “Let Us Alone” stamped on the podium at a National Guard armory in Pensacola on Thursday. The staging was completed with a huge American flag and a dozen National Guardsmen who came to attention at the entrance to DeSantis.
“Comfortable,” he told them softly.
The soldiers immediately obeyed, as they are under his command unless they are nationalized by presidential decree. He was there to announce an increase in funding for the Florida National Guard.
But he also publicized a plan to revive a state military unit whose uniforms will say FLORIDA rather than THE AMERICAN ARMY like those worn by the soldiers who stood at ease behind him as he now stepped onto the podium. No matter what the President might want, the Florida State Guard will only respond to the Governor, which is DeSantis.
Call it Ron’s army.
“The Florida State Guard will act as a voluntary civilian force that will have the capacity to assist the National Guard in state-specific emergencies,” DeSantis said.
It will only be 200, so it’s hard to see what a difference it could make beyond the 12,000 members of the guard.
But that’s not Ron’s Army’s real mission.
At the start of World War II, the federal government allowed states to form military units to replace the National Guard, which had been incorporated into the US military to fight in Europe and the Pacific. The Florida Guard was formed in 1941. Its motto, “Let Us Alone,” invoked loyalty to Florida, not America, even though it was an era that called for national unity against a common enemy.
Those same three words had appeared on a flag that the first governor of Florida, William Moseley, flown upon his inauguration in 1841. the words and never officially approved the flag.
The words reappeared on April 8, 1861, when members of the Florida militia seized control of Fort Clinch at Fernandina Beach. It was four days before the Battle of Fort Sumter in South Carolina marked the start of the Civil War.
“Hurray for Florida, leave us alone,” said the banner.
Armed conflict may have erupted three months earlier when another banner – a modified American flag with a single large star modeled on the Texas Navy standard – was hoisted by a Florida militia led by a plantation owner above a fort in Pensacola. Hostilities were temporarily avoided when the militia agreed not to attack if federal actors promised not to step up.
Florida had 140,000 inhabitants at the time, just under half of whom were slaves. Some 14,000 Floridians fought for Confederation in the war that followed. And 5,000 died.
The conflict was resolved only by force, and a pre-nation state resentment of federal control has persisted through the generations among some Florida whites. This was evident in the motto of the State Guard, even though their unit was formed to replace those fighting for the nation.
But after the return of the Florida National Guard, the State Guard was disbanded in 1947. Most states did the same, but two dozen State Guards were revived in the early 1980s under the Reagan administration. Utah state custody was served in 1987, after reporter Jack Anderson reported it would be “spiced with neo-Nazis, criminals and the mentally ill.” The Virginia State Guard has been investigated amid rumors that some of its members are looking to raise enough money to buy a tank. And the New York Guard reportedly funded its operations by granting general ranks to influential politicians, some of whom had never been in the military.
Despite this, the New York Guard was one of 12 state councils that responded during the COVID-19 pandemic to help fight the virus. DeSantis has not indicated that Ron’s army will similarly escalate if his state experiences another murderous surge.
In fact, DeSantis itself doesn’t do much to combat the virus other than boasting that Florida currently has the lowest infection rate in the country. Never mind that on Thursday it had the third highest number of infections, 3,730,395. It also had the third highest number of deaths, 52,647.
DeSantis responded to that death toll – more than four times Florida’s losses during the Civil War – by hiring Dr. Joseph Lapado as surgeon general. Lapado has perpetuated lies about masks and vaccines. The truth is, the jab and face coverings save lives. And dissuading people from seeking these protections puts them at unnecessary risk.
So DeSantis has clearly not decided to rekindle state custody in response to a new variant that complicates a lingering national emergency that has left 786,000 dead and hundreds of thousands more disabled. He told the crowd at the armory on Thursday that Biden should essentially do nothing, not even something as simple as restricting air travel.
“I think all it’s going to do is cause a lot of trouble,” DeSantis told the armory. “I don’t think they should have warrants on air travel or any of the things they’ve done. I think it’s not something that has really made a big difference. I think it bothers a lot of people. I think it hampered people’s willingness to travel.
All of this begs the question of what DeSantis intends to do with something as small as Ron’s Army.
It is not for nothing that “Let Us Alone” and the gator were affixed on this podium. It’s not for nothing that the alligator twin and “Don’t Step on Florida” were on these signs.
Ron’s Army’s real mission is to appeal to that sense of state before the nation, as well as the feelings of the individual before feeding the MAGA base. Ron’s army appears to be part of DeSantis’ long-term plan to become the commander-in-chief of the entire country.
From this perspective, no one should be comfortable.