Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gave a four-minute interview to a right-wing broadcaster wearing the insignia of the “Three Percenters” militia group and who on Jan. 6, 2021, was among the mob assaulting the Capitol as part of Donald Trump’s coup attempt.
“You have national, regime media, that they wanted to see Tampa [get struck by Hurricane Ian], because they thought that would be worse for Florida,” DeSantis said in response to a question of whether there would be any “accountability” for news outlets for how they have covered the storm.
Neither DeSantis’ governor’s office nor his campaign responded to HuffPost queries about why he would agree to an interview with someone openly wearing the domestic terror movement’s logo on his sleeve.
But Christina Pushaw, a campaign spokesperson, praised the interviewer, Brendon Leslie, in a social media post Wednesday evening. “Formerly relevant, powerful establishment lib media in Florida are jealous of him and his team. The smears won’t work,” she wrote.
Leslie, 29, was a broadcast journalist at one of the Fort Myers television stations before quitting to form a pro-Trump website, “Florida’s Voice,” which now also supports DeSantis. He has previously interviewed DeSantis multiple times, but it is unclear whether he ever was wearing the militia group markings prior to Tuesday, when he spoke with the governor after he had finished a news conference in Cape Coral.
He denied being a member of the loosely organized militia group, and said he purchased the T-shirt from a North Carolina online store because “The shirt is really cool and badass and I don’t care what you or any liberal journalist thinks.”
The store acknowledged that the logo on the sleeve ― 13 black stars surrounding the Roman numeral three and the year 1776 ― was a Three Percenters symbol but told HuffPost that the same shirt, which features an AR-15 rifle with the Florida flag stylized into the ammunition clip was available in black without the militia logo.
“Three Percenters believe that, just as a small revolutionary vanguard overthrew the tyrannical British rule in America, a dedicated group of modern patriots could rid the United States of today’s alleged tyranny,” according to the Anti-Defamation League website.
The Three Percenters are among the domestic terror groups whose members took part in the former president’s attempt to remain in power, using violence and the threat of violence, despite losing the November 2020 election.
Several Three Percenters have been arrested and charged with trying to obstruct an official proceeding, including Guy Reffitt, a recruiter for the Texas Three Percenters who received a seven-year prison sentence in August, one of the longest to date of any of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists.
“There were Three Percenter flags waving over the insurrection as people were charging into the Capitol,” said Alex Friedfeld, an investigative researcher with the ADL’s Center on Extremism.
DeSantis’ governor’s office also would not explain what he meant by the phrase “regime” media, but the term is frequently used by followers of the former president to suggest that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.
Leslie attended Trump’s pre-insurrection rally on Jan. 6 near the White House along with other Trump supporters who traveled there by bus and then marched on the Capitol at Trump’s request. He admitted in an interview with a Fort Myers TV station the day after Trump’s coup attempt that he entered the building to “occupy” the Capitol but did not participate in any violence.
In a video Leslie posted to Facebook, he is seen back outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 and urging others, whom he referred to as “our people,” not to attack police officers or damage the building.
He also acknowledged that he had entered the Capitol illegally, telling others that the Capitol and Washington, D.C., police were only “doing their job” by keeping Trump supporters out. “They have to. We’re trespassing,” he said on the video. “It’s one thing to occupy and it’s another thing to attack… We’re doing this wrong. This is doing wrong.”