The Press Secretary for Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared Sunday night to question whether a Nazi flag hung from an Orange County bridge was in fact the effort of Nazis.
In a tweet she posted Sunday night and later deleted, Press Secretary Christina Pushaw responded to Twitter outrage over an Orlando Nazi demonstration by asking, “Do we even know they’re Nazis?”
Her tweet, which offered doubts rather than condemnations of the event, presented the unsupported prospect that those witnessed this weekend on a bridge holding a Nazi flag and shouting antisemitic oaths might have been Democratic staffers in disguise.
She later dismissed any assertion that she was denying the people on the bridge were Nazis, but she held to the theory she offered in her tweet.
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘denying Nazis.’ I was referring to this event in VA, when a group of Democrats dressed up as white supremacists to discredit a (Glenn) Youngkin rally,” she said in a response to Florida Politics.
Pushaw’s original tweet Sunday drew a firestorm of responses on social media, creating yet another controversy for the Governor’s Press Secretary.
In one of the harshest responses, Parkland gun law reform activist Fred Guttenberg tweeted, “Holy shit!!! @GovRonDeSantis, two weeks ago your press secretary @christinapushaw made a Hitler joke. This is now her response to the disgusting antisemitic Nazi behavior taking place in Florida this weekend, targeted at people like me. Is this your public position?”
Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami-Dade Democrat running for Governor, sent a letter to DeSantis urging him to denounce the demonstration, and calling out Pushaw by name.
“It was incredibly disappointing to see how your administration’s spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, took to Twitter in a now deleted tweet… not to denounce these actions but to instead politicize the situation and question if individuals displaying swastikas and flying Nazi flags were actually Nazis,” she wrote. “Being the spokesperson for your administration, bigoted comments such as these by your staff only embolden anti-semitic sentiment. By refusing to condemn these comments, you are sending a strong message to the Jewish people that your administration stands with these individuals.”
Although Pushaw deleted that particular tweet, she nonetheless continued to promote the prospect that the Orlando protesters might have been fake.
She liked and retweeted others’ posted tweets that seemed to come to her defense after criticism of her tweet emerged. Pushaw also responded to people who tried to connect the protesters to her boss, with a tweet declaring, “These aren’t ‘genuine questions’. It’s a dirty political smear attempt, and people who say things like this aren’t fooling anyone. Not anymore.”
Democratic Rep. Mike Grieco of Miami Beach tweeted: “Just because she deleted it doesn’t mean she didn’t tweet it.”
Pushaw also sent out a message contending the Governor opposes antisemitic attacks.
“Gov. Ron DeSantis has ALWAYS condemned antisemitic attacks & hatred, and he always will. To suggest otherwise is just plain wrong. I am confident that Florida law enforcement will respond appropriately and justice will be served to any protester who violates the law.”
In her written response to Florida Politics Monday morning, Pushaw alluded to reports that a Republican political rally in Virginia last October had included Lincoln Project members posing as white supremacists.
“The fact that Democrats attempt to smear Republicans by tying them to Nazis is sadly well documented. I deferred to law enforcement to determine who was behind the protest because frankly, I didn’t know anything about the group. But I can guarantee it wasn’t the Governor. Attempts to tie the protest to his policies are disgusting political smears,” Pushaw wrote.
“Nazi imagery and hate speech, whoever is using it, is never acceptable. Nobody from our office ever suggested it was,” she added.
Other Republican leaders found it far easier to condemn the Nazi message without implicating Democrats or discussing unrelated events in Virginia.
“Yesterday’s disgusting display of anti-Semitism in Orlando does not reflect the values of Floridians,” tweeted Florida Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican. “These thugs and their hateful messaging are not welcome in this state.”
Florida House Democratic Leader Evan Jenne at a press availability said there’s no truth to any suggestion Democratic staffers were behind the demonstration, and Pushaw knows that.
“We know it’s completely false,” the Dania Beach Democrat tweeted. “Her immediate deletion of that tweet shows she was just talking trash. No more or less.”
While Jenne said he appreciated that Pushaw’s tweet was quickly taken down, he said DeSantis himself still needs to weigh in with forceful words to condemn the hateful message.
“Call out that we don’t want neo-Nazis in the state of Florida. It’s not that difficult a statement to make,” Jenne said.
“I would hope the Governor would say he does not support neo-Nazis’ agenda or beliefs. That was not difficult for me to do right now, nor should it be difficult for the Governor’s press secretary. I think she realized she probably over-stepped when she deleted that tweet. We still need a more positive statement saying exactly where the Governor stands. I believe he would be against neo-Nazis, but the people of Florida need to hear that.”
The Governor’s Press Secretary’s tweets, including the one offering a potential denial of Nazi involvement, came after a gathering of about 20 demonstrators reportedly lined a bridge in eastern Orange County over the weekend, hanging the swastika flag and banners — including a banner with the pro-Donald Trump slogan “Let’s Go Brandon” — and yelling profanities and antisemitic slurs at passing cars.
Elected leaders in Florida slammed the presence of Nazi symbols and hateful messages.
“The neo-Nazi rallies in Orlando this weekend were a disgrace,” said U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat. “Central Florida is home to patriots of every political stripe — and we have no tolerance for these anti-Semitic and racist groups.”
State Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Ocoee Democrat, also weighed in. “Anti-Semitism is not welcomed here in our community. We love our Jewish brothers and sisters and I forcefully condemn the hateful acts of this weekend,” he said. “It is important that we as a community remain vigilant and that law enforcement acts swiftly against acts of anti-Semitism so that the message is clear — anti-Semitism will not be tolerated here.”