Possibly the last group of people that need heavy artillery.
If there’s one thing the United States desperately needs more of these days, it’s militarization with less centralized accountability. That, at least, seems to be the thinking behind Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s newly announced plans to re-institute a World War II-era “civilian” military program answerable solely to him. The idea, he claimed, is to augment the existing National Guard, without any of that pesky federal oversight.
Flanked by members of the Florida National Guard during a press conference Thursday, DeSantis insisted his $3.5 million proposal for a 200-person volunteer force would “allow civilians from all over the state to be trained in the best emergency response techniques and have the ability to mobilize very, very quickly.” And while DeSantis stressed in a press release accompanying the announcement that “Florida will become the 23rd state with a state guard recognized by the federal government,” he also was quick to note during his remarks on Thursday that the unit would “not [be] encumbered by the federal government.”
Shortly after his press conference, DeSantis tweeted that “Florida is the most military-friendly state in the nation,” adding, “We need to keep it that way.”
It is indeed true that nearly two dozen states already have some form of civilian defense force — units that can be activated solely at the discretion of their governors, cannot be federalized, and which the far-right Heritage Foundation conservative think tank described in 2010 as “the 21st-century militia.” And while details of what DeSantis has in mind for his proposed reactivation of Florida’s forces are scarce (his office simply says “emergency response efforts in the event of a hurricane, natural disasters and other state emergencies”), it’s hard to uncouple this sudden interest in establishing a discrete civilian-military force from DeSantis’s broader effort to establish his state as one of the nation’s hubs for violent conservatism, executive autocracy, and general Trump-infused lunacy — to say nothing of establishing himself as the heir apparent of the Trump-addled GOP as it heads into both the midterms and 2024 presidential race.
Consider, for instance, DeSantis’s push to expand his state’s “Stand Your Ground” laws to essentially condone shooting protesters under the paper-thin justification of protecting the flow of business. Add to that DeSantis’s effort to both criminalize protests that block traffic, and protect drivers who hit said protesters with their cars. In that context, it’s easy to see why his newfound interest in a civilian force without any federal oversight, designed to address the extremely vague category of “state emergencies,” might raise alarm bells, no matter the national precedent.
Already, Florida Democrats have begun ringing the alarm bells over the proposal, with Florida congressman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist blasting it as “handpicked secret police.” Fellow aspiring Florida governor and current state senator Annette Taddeo went even further, calling DeSantis a “wannabe dictator trying to make his move for his own vigilante militia like we’ve seen in Cuba.”
For now, DeSantis’s proposed “state guard” is just that: a proposal. Let’s hope it stays that way.