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Ron DeSantis' campaign "riot" bill weaponizes cars and could have prosecuted most of Lakeland's "leadership class"
Earlier this week, Florida's failed governor, flanked by uniformed law enforcement officers in a venue owned by the Polk County taxpayers, announced an election year campaign crackdown on "scraggly looking" protesters and a legal green-light for drivers to kill people in the street, as long they as claim to be fleeing "a mob."
When considering these rather remarkable facts, it's worth looking closely at Lakeland's May 31 experience with protesting and its one isolated instance of violence that was quickly contained.
I have no illusion that anyone will actually be moved by anything I write here. We're in a moment when no serious argument about reality or power or operations or law or morality or norms of behavior matters. But we may return to a time when it does; we have before in America. And with the fight for that future in mind, I think it's important to bear witness now and create an accurate record.
Vote for whoever you want; I'm not going to argue with you. You can call me a "libtard" or a "racist" or "anti-Trumper" or "bully" or "Officer Chauvin" or "public enemy number 1" or civics hater or whatever silly name makes you happy. I've been called all of them and more, recently, by powerful people of all types who prattle on emptily about civility.
I'm just going to keep telling you the truth as long as I can. That's because I respect everyone in my community far too much to lie. Telling each other the truth is the only way we get to a better future than this present.
The sheriff's May 31 curfew order was rooted in an uncorrected falsehood
Back on May 31, the day of the first George Floyd/Munn Park protest in Downtown Lakeland, Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz said this in response to the curfew imposed
"Many of us participated in the peaceful protest in Munn Park to show solidarity and to voice our feelings on the injustices that happened in the tragic death of George Floyd. We applaud those that participated peacefully and those agitators who seek destruction must know that we don’t have a place for that in our community.”
Little did the mayor know, he was officially part of the illegal "agitation," as was I, and about a million other Lakeland "leaders" of all races, creeds, and politics, according to the Polk Sheriff's Office. (I personally chatted with noted anarchists Tony Delgado and Frank O'Reilly during the event, for instance.)
Later that evening, Sheriff Grady Judd issued his curfew order based on a clear falsehood. It was most likely an accidental falsehood; but it was a falsehood nonetheless. And when great power is careless and imprecise, it often has serious consequences for the individual human beings subject to great power. Note the language and time on this order, which has not been corrected:
WHEREAS, this afternoon May 31, 2020 at approximately 2:00 p.m. serious incidents have occurred in Lakeland and are on-going as of the time of declaring this local state of emergency, including threat of injury to civilians, aggravated assault and or battery to civilian(s), and aggravated assault on law enforcement officers. Thus far, participants are not dispersing as ordered by law enforcement officers and the activity is on-going.
There were no serious incidents at 2 p.m. on May 31. I was there. The only thing happening at 2 p.m. was what Bill Mutz described, an entirely peaceful gathering of hundreds of protestors in Munn Park. There was one Snapchat video of one young man claiming he wanted to start trouble at one downtown store. Neither Lakeland Police nor the Sheriff's Office considered it serious enough to deploy any officers to the store, although I'm sure plainclothes officers were watching. I actually stood in front of that store for a while. Nothing happened.
It wasn't until some hours later that the lone act of violence of the day -- a brief confrontation between a car and protestors -- occurred far away from Munn Park at the corner of Memorial and South Florida Avenue.
That's when Lakeland PD and the Sheriff's Office intervened appropriately with force for the first and only time all day. And that was it. Nothing had happened at 2; and nothing was ongoing at the time of the curfew order, other than some false rumors. Indeed, LPD managed the entire day skillfully and without unnecessary bravado or dramatics in my view. I was very proud of Chief Garcia and his officers. I thought Chief Garcia's demeanor and calm at all times was exemplary.
To my knowledge, my wife was the only "victim" of "disorder" in Lakeland beyond the Memorial/South Florida event. Her car, parked on the street alongside Florida Southern College, was painted with graffiti overnight. It was easily washed off; and we have no idea who did it -- white supremacists, fake Antifa hordes, or whatever ruthless villains one wants to choose. She also attended the demonstration, being a steward of downtown, and thus was party to whatever illegal acts did not happen a 2 p.m. in Munn Park or downtown.
The sheriff's curfew order made no effort, at all, to distinguish between "legitimate protest" and "riot" or legitimate attendees and bad actors. Indeed, the phrase "legitimate protest" does not appear in the curfew order at all. It just includes references to serious incidents that, with one exception, did not occur. Power, in my experience, generally doesn't care much about distinctions.
When the power of life and death speaks, it must be honest, precise, and careful
After the events of May 31, I pointed out this timing error, the sloppy generality of the curfew order, and its implications to the sheriff's office quietly, rather than publicly. I was trying not to exacerbate the intensity and strife of the overall situation.
I also pointed out that that Sheriff Judd inadvertantly put a target on every high school kid walking to and from work when he extended the curfew and cited vague "social media" threats about Antifa hordes that did not exist descending into your neighborhoods. This was not helpful for public safety or the safety of young people walking to and from work:
“The people of Polk County like guns,” the sheriff said at the time. “They have guns. I encourage them to own guns. And they’re going to be in their homes tonight with their guns loaded. And if you try to break into their homes to steal, to set fires, I’m highly recommending they blow you back out of the house with their guns.”
To my knowledge, no one in Polk has said where that non-existent Antifa neighborhood horde threat came from. But, on the same day, news broke that Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group, had posed as an anti-fascist group on Twitter and threatened to “move into the residential areas” and “the white hoods” to commit violence. See article here. I suspect the white nationalist hoax is what Sheriff Judd was referring to; but he's welcome to correct me.
In any event, exactly zero Antifa hordes descended into any neighborhood, anywhere, in Polk County or anywhere else. This is not because Polk County people like guns; this is because neighborhood-invading Antifa hordes did not exist and do not exist.
By contrast, organized white supremacist gangs do exist at large scale. They are America's greatest internal violent threat. Even Donald Trump's FBI director says they are much greater threat to me and my family than whatever "scraggly Antifa types" the governor fantasizes about. See article here.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers Thursday that racially motivated violent extremism cases account for the bulk of the bureau's work on domestic terrorist threats.
Testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee, Wray also said most of the racially motivated cases deal with white supremacists.
"Within the domestic terrorism bucket, the category as a whole, racially motivated violent extremism is, I think, the biggest bucket within that larger group. And within the racially motivated violent extremist bucket, people subscribing to some kind of white supremacist-type ideology is certainly the biggest chunk of that," he said.
You can read about the "Boogaloo Movement" here, for instance, if you please.
Ron DeSantis' Boogaloo Boi Car Militia Bill is a grotesque dumpster fire of political self-indulgence and deadly power
This is all background for Ron DeSantis' grotesque campaign event at the taxpayer-owned Polk Sheriff's Office operations center to unveil his purely election-gambit Mad Max car militia bill. Read the failed governor's statement here.
Here are the two most relevant absurdities for this article:
A. Prohibition on Violent or Disorderly Assemblies: 3rd degree felony when 7 or more persons are involved in an assembly and cause damage to property or injury to other persons.
B. Prohibition on Obstructing Roadways: 3rd degree felony to obstruct traffic during an unpermitted protest, demonstration or violent or disorderly assembly; driver is NOT liable for injury or death caused if fleeing for safety from a mob.
As you can see from part A, everyone who attended the Lakeland rally, even as a passive observer, is liable. That's because the official law enforcement account, in the uncorrected curfew order, cited everyone in the supposed serious wrongdoing. Law enforcement made no official effort to distinguish between the good rally and the bad disruption in its order. It conflated the two completely. As such, it provided probable cause to arrest anybody who took part in either, under the DeSantis proposal. Ask yourself if you really think power would be more careful if armed with this law.
Operational reality versus raw politics
One of the differences between me and most political figures today is that I think operationally first, not personally or politically.
Ironically, that leads most political people to consider me somewhat radical, when my ideology is actually quite boring and golden-rulish. That's probably why I'm soon to be an ex-political figure. I care about operational outcomes more than dishonest narratives. I'm going to keep telling elected officials and the public the truth about the on-the-ground, operational consequences of their political decisions. It's my way to continue contributing to the public good and to the fight for the future, as I always have.
In that spirit, I think Sheriff Judd, who is a smart and competent operational law enforcement leader, made a terrible operational mistake in indulging the raw political motivations of our failed governor in pushing this truly awful and transparently political law. He should disavow his role here if dispassionate, professional law enforcement operations are more important to him than getting on Fox News.
That's because if dispassionate, professional law enforcement is what's most important to Sheriff Judd, the failed governor made a fool of him by running immediately to Tucker Carlson's show. There, the failed governor literally announced this whole sordid event was nothing more than a raw campaign ploy. It wasn't a bill announcement; it might has well have been an ad, in which Sheriff Judd took part. See video here. Key governor quote:
"Everyone running for office in Florida, in the House or Senate, they [have to] take a position on this now. Are you for law enforcement, rule of law — or are you going to stand with the mob? I know where I stand."
Well, governor, I can tell you I am on the side of not giving angry people carte blanche to run down other people in the street. I DO NOT support giving "people subscribing to some kind of white supremacist-type ideology," who are the biggest American threat to public safety, a new tool with which to commit terrorism. I'm not in favor of legalizing a tool they've already used.
I'm not sure why Sheriff Judd thinks it's a great idea to do all those things. Perhaps he can explain.
An object lesson
I happened to drive though Memorial and South Florida on May 31 a few minutes ahead of the confrontation with the car that led to the curfew. I was on my way to deliver campaign signs in North Lakeland.
It looked like a potentially dangerous scene to me. But no one threatened me. And I do not think I should have had the option to run down the few dozen young people dancing or acting stupidly on the edges of the street because I considered them a "mob" I needed to flee.
Had they attacked me and I fled and injured one of them, existing law would already support me in basic self-defense or self-protection doctrine. I also think it was entirely appropriate for law enforcement to clear the intersection after the car incident.
And yet, that's not good enough for DeSantis. He wants to create a sort of mobile, aggressive, vastly expanded "Stand your Ground" militia law for cars and drivers. Consider the white supremacist who murdered a young protestor by car in Charlottesville a few years ago. In Florida, under this law proposed by DeSantis, he'd be free, not in prison for life.
Under this proposed law, as described by DeSantis, a white supremacist Boogaloo boy in my position on May 31 could have killed a swath of kids and just said, "Hey, man, I was scared."
Under this law, that option would exist every day, everywhere in Florida. The definition of "mob" and of "fear" will always be available to justify death and violence because the confrontations are even more chaotic and ambiguous than Stand your Ground gun incidents. Cameras would be the only half-way meaningful deterrent.
"Defund the Schools" is fine with the governor. What about you, sheriff?
Finally, Gov. DeSantis and Richard Corcoran and legislators like Melony Bell are preparing to "Defund the Schools" as soon as the November election is done. Everyone knows this. So I read this part of the Boogaloo Boy Empowerment Act with interest:
A. No “Defund the Police” Permitted: Prohibits state grants or aid to any local government that slashes the budget for law enforcement services.
First, this certainly sounds like a requirement to raise local taxes given the budget hardships that most cities and counties face. I guess "slash" is as open to interpretation as "fear" or "mob."
Moreover, ask yourself why the governor and our Legislature, which has basically refused to work during the entire Pandemic, is not adding a "No Defund the Schools" or "No Defund the Teachers" provision to this law?
The most obvious reason is that Florida has an almost entirely state-controlled and funded school system. Our awful state government officials would have to cut off their own aid to themselves to punish themselves for defunding the schools they fund and control. Moreover, they have already defunded the schools in many ways, for years. Melony and company defunded the schools just in Polk just last summer by $9 million through the FRS Heist. That's just the operational part.
The ideological part is a more interesting question. Why is Defund the Schools and Defund the Teachers and Defund the Paras and Defund the Bus Drivers fine with Governor DeSantis and Melony Bell, ideologically?
I don't know; but I bet Sheriff Judd could bring them around. If the sheriff is going to take part, in uniform, in obvious campaign events hosted by the taxpayers of his county, I think he can come out strongly for "No Defund the Schools." I think he can publicly renounce the new mobile weapons that Gov. DeSantis wants to give Boogaloo Boys in their war against America.
As one of his constituents, who finds him an endlessly fascinating study, I sincerely hope he will.