POLITICS

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Signs Controversial 'Public Disorder' Bill Into Law

Critics say the purported "anti-riot" bill is a direct attack on the First Amendment.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a controversial bill into law on Monday that critics say constitutes a direct attack on the First Amendment in the guise of combating “public disorder.”

Just before he signed the bill, DeSantis sought to justify his decision by painting an apocalyptic picture of burning cities and people in peril with law enforcement being told to stand down. 

“We’re not going to let the mob win the day,” DeSantis said as he praised the bill’s specific protections for “all” of the state’s monuments — likely a reference to those honoring the Confederacy. Seeking to draw a contrast with Portland, Oregon, a Democratic-run city on the other side of the country, he added that “the state of Florida takes public safety very seriously.”

Then-President Donald Trump provoked a violent backlash in Portland last summer by deploying federal agents to the city, where clashes between right-wing groups and anti-racism protesters had become fodder for conservatives to decry a breakdown of law and order. In a violent and authoritarian show of force, unidentified federal officers dressed in military-style camouflage proceeded to abduct protesters in unmarked cars. 

DeSantis, who took no questions, was joined by Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who used the platform to overtly threaten people who move to Florida and don’t vote for Republicans.

“We only want to share one thing as you move in hundreds a day,” Judd said, addressing an imagined crowd of newcomers. “Welcome to Florida, but don’t register to vote and vote the stupid way you did up North, or you’ll get what they got.”

The line drew strong laughter from DeSantis.

Among other things, the 61-page bill establishes stiffer penalties for violent protesting, allows for a “riot” to be declared if at least three people are involved, and creates a new, second-degree felony for “aggravated riots” involving more than 25 people.

The law also gives the state power to override city and county-level decisions regarding law enforcement budgets and opens local governments up to lawsuits in the event they fail to stop what the state defines as a riot.

Florida Democrats, who staunchly opposed the bill, voiced deep concerns Monday about its chilling effect on free speech and nonviolent demonstrations.

“This Governor and his Republican allies love to talk about the Constitution, while shredding it with extreme legislation like HB 1,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Silencing the speech of those seeking equality is straight from the Communist regime playbook.”

“The criminal aspects of this bill are already illegal,” she continued. “HB 1 protects no one, makes no one safer, and does nothing to make people’s lives better. It’s simply to appease the Governor’s delusion of widespread lawlessness, and it’s frightening to imagine the lengths to which he’ll go to strip away rights and freedoms for political gain.”

“The message from this Governor and his enablers is loud and clear: if you disagree with him, you will be silenced.”

Florida’s law passed against a backdrop of aggressive police action elsewhere in the country. In Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, officers arrested and violently assaulted journalists from dozens of media outlets covering protests over the police shooting of Daunte Wright last week.

And just 10 miles from Brooklyn Center, closing arguments are being heard in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd last year.