DeSantis’ struggling campaign recently fired Nate Hochman, a staffer who posted a video that prominently featured soldiers marching in front of a Florida flag superimposed on the sonnenrad (a symbol neo-Nazis often use along with the swastika). Hochman worked as a communications staffer with the DeSantis campaign until his firing but was also a young rising star within the GOP: He worked as a staff writer for the National Review, had a guest essay published in the New York Times, and occasionally appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program. His LinkedIn profile shows various stints at prominent conservative think tanks and policy shops. Hochman once referred to white supremacist media personality Nick Fuentes – a Holocaust denier – as a “good influence.” He also once tweeted favorably about fascism as an ideology, comparing it to mainstream conservatism. Former GOP strategist Rick Wilson told The Guardian that Hochman was only fired “because he got caught.”
The company DeSantis keeps provides helpful context to his neo-Nazi support in his home state: In June, Florida state representative Anna Eskamani (D) tweeted videos and photos showing a gaggle of a dozen or so neo-Nazis flying swastika flags and pro-DeSantis signs that read “Make America Florida” outside of Disney World in Orlando. Gov. DeSantis has frequently attacked the company following its condemnation of his “Don’t Say Gay” bill and what he describes as its “woke” agenda.
Neo-Nazis may be more inclined to vote for DeSantis over Trump as DeSantis has consistently attempted to carve out a lane for himself by outflanking Trump on far-right culture war issues pertaining to race and gender. On Thursday, the Florida governor defended changes to Florida’s middle school history curriculum, which requires teachers tell students that slaves learned skills “that could be applied for their personal benefit.” Vice President Kamala Harris accused DeSantis of “wanting to replace history with lies.”
The slavery remarks are par for the course for the far-right governor: In May, DeSantis signed a bill defunding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs at Florida’s public universities, arguing that educational programs encouraging racial equity “distract from the core mission” of universities. That particular bill specifically also required that general education programs “not distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics.” DeSantis’ radical policies as governor led to a very rare travel advisory from the NAACP, which warned African Americans that Florida is “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals.”
Given his current polling position, the chances of Ron DeSantis winning the presidency, let alone the Republican nomination, are slim. But as Trump’s criminal indictments continue to pile up, his viability in a general election could come into question in the 2024 primaries, giving DeSantis an opening. This scenario is particularly worrisome: As a former Congressman and two-term governor, DeSantis would likely be far more effective at ruthlessly weaponizing the full force of the state against marginalized populations than Trump’s chaotic, incompetent, and mercurial regime.
What makes DeSantis so dangerous as a politician is precisely his advanced education and experience. In 2022, when a judge asked Ryan Newman – DeSantis’ general counsel – to define the word “woke” when he referred to Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren as a “woke ideologue” for refusing to prosecute abortion cases, the Florida governor’s top lawyer made a revealing statement. Newman said that while “woke” was a pejorative slang term for progressive activism, he gave a general definition of the word as “the belief there are systemic injustices in society and the need to address them.” He then added that DeSantis does not personally believe any systemic injustices exist.
The reason this should raise huge red flags for voters is that Ron DeSantis is an Ivy League-educated attorney with degrees from both Yale and Harvard, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2005. Since the 1970s, Harvard University has taught critical race theory, which is a graduate-level course examining how racial injustices have been baked into the American legal system from chattel slavery to Jim Crow and beyond. DeSantis obviously knows systemic racial injustices exist: He’s simply using his power and position as an elected official not to combat them, but to exacerbate them. This is likely why neo-Nazis are so warm toward his campaign.
DeSantis’ 2024 campaign is thankfully teetering on the edge of collapse. His “burn rate” (the rate of a campaign’s spending vs. its fundraising) is hovering around 40% and the Florida governor recently had to lay off approximately one third of his campaign staff to make his shrinking funds stretch. The problem of DeSantis’ dwindling financial support is compounded by the fact that the first primaries are still roughly six months away, and it’s possible his presidential bid may not survive past New Hampshire.
However his current endeavor fares, it’s important to note that the Florida governor is only 44 years old and will remain a fixture in Republican political circles for numerous election cycles to come. His overtures toward neo-Nazis are an ominous sign that the Republican Party’s neo-Nazi constituency is no longer fringe, but mainstream. The beltway media needs to unequivocally condemn any politician with ties to neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and they need to do it loudly and often.
Carl Gibson is an independent journalist whose work has been published in CNN, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, the Louisville Courier-Journal, Barron’s, Business Insider, the Independent, and NPR, among others. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.