Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ Tuesday press conference in Jacksonville started late after community activists refused to leave the building when asked by aides.
After the arrest of 72-year-old Ben Frazier, the remarks went as scheduled.
Also appearing as scheduled: an email during the press event from the Governor’s political operation, ironically bashing “authoritarian” President Joe Biden for COVID-19 policies.
“Back in August, Biden told me to ‘get out of the way’ if I wouldn’t go along with his administration’s authoritarian, lockdown COVID policies, guided by Dr. (Anthony) Fauci and his ‘science,'” DeSantis asserted.
“Fortunately, I never caved to Biden’s ineffective and authoritarian government lockdowns and mandates in Florida,” DeSantis added in an email full of familiar attacks.
DeSantis bashed Biden for having “demagogued” former President Donald Trump throughout the 2020 campaign, only to pronounce that there is “no federal solution to COVID.”
“When the going got tough, Joe ran back to his basement,” the email contends.
The timing of the email and its worries about authoritarianism came after a tense morning at the Duval County office of the Florida Department of Health. Frazier and others stood their ground, wondering why they were being compelled to leave a public press conference in a public building.
Frazier was told by a man who described himself as a facilities manager that the conference was only for “credentialed press” and asked everyone to leave “who is not media.” A former broadcast journalist, Frazier serves as president of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville.
Police and staffers entered the room, and others, including Wells Todd, said they wanted to ask DeSantis about critical race theory and other topics DeSantis has politicized. Frazier, a former broadcaster, held firm, asking about having a private press conference in a public building.
As police handcuffed him, Frazier asked, “Why am I being handcuffed? Am I being arrested?”
In the end, Frazier was charged with trespassing and given a notice to appear, as reported by Jim Piggott of WJXT.
The Governor had no explanation for the delay.
“I have no idea what happened,” DeSantis said when asked about the incident after his prepared remarks.
By the evening, the arrest became national news, covered by outlets including The Washington Post, while Democrats heaped on criticism. DeSantis chief Democratic rivals, Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried, issued their own criticisms of the arrest that also invoked authoritarianism.
“In Ron’s Florida, the freedom of speech only extends to those that agree with him. This isn’t an authoritarian state, Mr. DeSantis,” Crist tweeted.
“Our governor is a wannabe dictator,” Fried posted.