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DeSantis says Florida “will not allow federal agents to squelch dissent”

File photo: Governor DeSantis speaks in Newberry on September 13, 2021

BY AMBER THIBODAUX

Governor Ron DeSantis accused United States Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday of weaponizing the Department of Justice to intimidate and silence concerned parents who speak out against school boards and administrators; the governor added that Florida will defend parents’ free speech rights.

DeSantis was referring to a memorandum published by Garland on October 4, which says, in part, “… there has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation’s public schools. While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.”

DeSantis responded to the memorandum on Twitter, claiming “Attorney General Garland is weaponizing the DOJ by using the FBI to pursue concerned parents and silence them through intimidation. Florida will defend the free speech rights of its citizens and will not allow federal agents to squelch dissent.”

Although the memorandum mentions an increase in threats, no specific threats or incidents were cited.  

The Justice Department put out its own press release on Monday, stating that it has directed the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Offices to meet in the next 30 days with federal, state, Tribal, territorial, and local law enforcement leaders to discuss strategies addressing harassment and threats of violence against school board members and teachers across the country.  

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The Justice Department also plans to take additional action against threats, including “… the creation of a task force, consisting of representatives from the department’s Criminal Division, National Security Division, Civil Rights Division, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the FBI, the Community Relations Service and the Office of Justice Programs, to determine how federal enforcement tools can be used to prosecute these crimes, and ways to assist state, Tribal, territorial and local law enforcement where threats of violence may not constitute federal crimes.” 

The Alachua County School Board has had its own share of spirited debates, which have at times ended in Chair Leanetta McNealy demanding that speakers be escorted out of school board meetings by deputies. McNealy has interpreted the school district’s civility policy as prohibiting “calling names,” or saying any names of board members or the superintendent during public comment. Attorney Jeff Childers sent “cease and desist” demand letters to McNealy and to Sheriff Clovis Watson after Tayari Appiah was escorted out of the September 21 school board meeting for saying Superintendent Carlee Simon’s name. Tonight’s school board meeting (at 6:00 p.m.) will be the first test of whether those letters have led to any change in school board policies.

  • Thank God for Governor DeSantis. Our Country is under full attack by the “woke” mob who’s hypocritical actions defy logic. From our destroyer in chief down to the local government level, we need to fight back.

  • I thank God for our Governor fighting back against the communists trying to take over our country. These people are Stalinists. Their ideas are so unpopular they have to threaten arrest if you disagree.

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