DeSantis’ weaponization of education turns deadly

On Saturday, August 28, a white supremacist armed with an AR-15 rifle murdered three Black people at a Dollar General Store in Jacksonville, Florida.

The victims have now been laid to rest, but the atmosphere of racist violence, hatred and general antipathy towards Black and brown people in the Age of Trump continues. There will be more white supremacist hate crimes and terror attacks against Black America; this is the American Way and has been so for centuries.

The Associated Press reports:

Mourners at the funeral service for Angela Michelle Carr applauded the Rev. Al Sharpton as he criticized laws that allowed the gunman to buy an assault-style rifle years after he was involuntarily committed for a mental health examination. He also denounced white supremacists who demonstrated outside Disney World a week after the Aug. 26 killings in Jacksonville.

“How many people have to die before you get up — whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat — and say we’ve got to stop this and we’ve got to bring some sanity back in this country?” Sharpton said. “Have we gotten so out of bounds that we’ve normalized this stuff happening?”

Carr, 52, worked as an Uber driver and was sitting in her idling car outside a Dollar General store when she was shot multiple times. The gunman then went inside and killed A.J. Laguerre, a 19-year-old store employee, as he tried to flee. Jerrald Gallion, 29, was fatally shot after walking through the front door with his girlfriend, who escaped.

The Associated Press story continues:

While they insisted the focus should be on Carr’s life, ministers speaking at her funeral repeatedly criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate who had made a “war on woke” a central issue of his campaign while downplaying the existence of racism.

“Rhetoric and other policies and governors have made it comfortable for people to come out of the closet with their hatred of those of us whose skin has been kissed by nature’s sun,” Bishop Rudolph McKissick Jr., The Bethel Church’s senior pastor, said during Carr’s funeral.

Writing at Jacksonville Today, Dan Scanlan highlights the response by Black clergy to the white supremacist killings:

It is time to preach against a culture of violence and death, said the Rev. William Barber II, head of Repairers of the Breach. a group based in North Carolina that says it combats immoral and illegal policies against LGBTQ people, labor and voting rights, criminal justice and other policies that negatively affect the poor and marginalized. 

The movement aims to “take back the microphone” from lawmakers who spew hatred in their policies against others, Barber said.


“They are rising up to take back the mic from those who for far too long used the public mic to fill the airwaves with hateful and divisive lies about Black people, Black history, LBGTQ brothers and sisters, immigrants and women.”

Scanlan continues:

The clergy all pointed to DeSantis, a Republican presidential nominee, for his push to relax gun laws, repeal diversity initiatives and stop what he terms “woke indoctrination” in schools.

“A philosophy put forward by the governor of this state, a philosophy that has barred classroom lessons on race, and classroom lessons of sexual orientation and gender identity; a philosophy that blocked Advanced Placement African-American studies,” said The Rev. Mark Thompson. “And we learned just yesterday that he is pushing to replace the SAT, which isn’t great, with the CLT, the classic learning test which teaches everything Western and nothing modern or progressive.”

Rev. Sharpton, Rev. Barber II, and the other Black clergy quoted above are correct: Ron DeSantis (and other leading Republican politicians) have cultivated an environment that normalizes and encourages the type of white supremacist violence that killed three Black people on that horrible Saturday in Florida several weeks ago.

The evidence is overwhelming and obvious.

DeSantis has declared an Orwellian-thought crime war on “woke” and “critical race theory” in Florida – which he intends to spread across the United States. In practice, this means the literal whitewashing of Black America’s history (and the country’s history more generally) to serve the supposed needs and interests of “white people” as part of a larger project of fascist patriotic education that is designed to squash resistance and create a compliant ignorant public.

DeSantis’ intent is irrelevant; racism and white supremacy are not a matter of intent but of outcomes and results.

DeSantis’ and the larger Republican fascist and white right’s plans to erase the real history of Black America and the color line include teaching that white on Black chattel slavery was basically a type of jobs program and not a centuries-long institution of human trafficking, torture, rape, murder, war, dislocation, and exploitation on a global scale that killed many millions of Black people. Such a reading of history is inaccurate, based on lies and willful distortions of fact and historiography, intellectually dishonest, and is right-wing dogma and disinformation masquerading as “scholarship”.

Social theorist and cultural critic Henry Giroux, has correctly described DeSantis’ weaponization of education in the service of a white supremacist fascist agenda as being an example of “apartheid pedagogy”. In an essay at the LA Progressive, he explains:

Apartheid pedagogy is about denial and disappearance—a manufactured ignorance that attempts to whitewash history and rewrite the narrative of American exceptionalism as it might have been framed in in the 1920s and 30s when members of a resurgent Ku Klux Klan shaped the policies of some school boards. Apartheid pedagogy uses education as a disimagination machine to convince students and others that racism does not exist, that teaching about racial justice is a form of indoctrination, and that understanding history is more an exercise in blind reverence than critical analysis. Apartheid pedagogy aims to reproduce current systems of racism rather than end them. Apartheid pedagogy most ardent proponent is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who has become America’s most prominent white supremacist.

Apartheid pedagogy is a form of white supremacy; white supremacy is inherently violent. Apartheid pedagogy is not new. Its roots can be traced back to slavery, the end of Reconstruction, and the Jim and Jane Crow terror regime and “separate but equal”. Today’s attempts by the “conservative” movement to reverse the gains of the civil rights movement are but a continuation of that centuries-long white supremacist political project to protect and expand white privilege and white domination over every area of American life. Apartheid pedagogy as seen in DeSantis’s Florida is also part of a much larger global project as seen in Orban’s Hungary, Putin’s Russia, and other parts of the “Western” world, to end multiracial pluralist democracy.

DeSantis’ intent is irrelevant; racism and white supremacy are not a matter of intent but of outcomes and results. For example, DeSantis has supported gerrymandering, voter suppression, voter harassment, voter intimidation, arrests for largely non-existent “voter fraud”, and other policies targeting the Black community in Florida as a way of keeping him and other Republicans in power. Rolling Stone highlights how DeSantis still refuses to publicly and in direct terms condemn neo-Nazis and other white supremacists and to disavow their support of him. One of DeSantis’s senior campaign staff members was recently fired after he posted a campaign video online that featured Nazi imagery. DeSantis and his spokespeople claim that they had no knowledge of the staffer’s white supremacist politics. Such a denial has no credibility given the larger pattern of white supremacist and other racist behavior by DeSantis and his administration and supporters. The white supremacist mass murderer in Jacksonville envisioned himself as a soldier in that global struggle. Signaling his devotion to that evil cause, he wore a Rhodesian army patch on his tactical vest.

DeSantis has repeatedly used fascist and other violent language and imagery including a promise to “slit throats” if he takes control of the White House in 2025. He is now promising to order extrajudicial killings of “drug dealers,” i.e. brown people from Latin and South America, who are caught trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally while wearing backpacks. DeSantis has made no such threats about shooting white people who fit the same profile at the U.S.- Canada border.

In all, such violent language is an example of what law enforcement and national security experts have termed “stochastic terrorism.”

In an excellent article at the Washington Post, historian Brooks Marmon makes this intervention:

The efforts of DeSantis and other Republicans pushing to remake education policy and restrict the teaching of history resemble the information control strategies deployed by the government in Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe) during the Cold War, as it tried to avert the global tide of decolonization. The leaders of this White settler colony in southern Africa used tactics including sleight of hand, outright bans and restrictions on access to information to maintain power. These efforts resulted in an increasingly violent and polarized society as Black anti-colonial nationalists escalated their resistance.

The determination of this small clique of Whites and their ability to hold out against world opinion until 1979 shows that while reactionary tactics may not be sustainable in the long run, they can garner unexpected success and create lasting divides that are difficult to surmount.

While there is a difference in degree, curbing the discussion of the United States’ history of racism, segregation and slavery puts American conservatives in the same camp as Smith’s Rhodesia — using a selective version of the past and attempting to strictly regulate access to information to bolster their own political project. The similarities expose the reality: information control is a tool of despots, and it’s ultimately rarely effective. Instead of winning anyone over, such strategies just deepen societal fissures.

Few observers in the mainstream news media and political class have publicly connected Ron DeSantis’s white supremacist policies to the year he spent as a high school history teacher in Rome, Georgia. Such a failure is not a surprise given the mainstream news media’s desperate attempts to elevate DeSantis as a “reasonable” and “respectable” alternative to Donald Trump, and general unwillingness to properly adapt to the country’s democracy crisis and the existential danger embodied by neofascism and resurgent white supremacy. At the Independent, Joe Sommerlad explains:

The current Republican governor arrived at the Darlington School aged 23 after graduating from Yale University.

He had been born in Jacksonville in September 1978 to working class Italian-American parents, his father a TV engineer and his mother a nurse, going on to study at Yale and then Harvard Law School, after which he joined the US Navy in 2004, where he served as a legal advisor to SEAL Team One and was stationed at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq before being discharged, thereafter working as a special assistant US attorney in Florida and then seeking election to Congress in 2012.

His year as an educator was chronicled by The New York Times last year in a report that investigated the allegation that he had partied with students.

One former student told the newspaper they remembered seeing him at one such event: “As an 18-year-old, I remember thinking, ‘What are you doing here, dude?'”

Asked how his presence at such events was received, another was dismissive: “It was his first job out of Yale, he was cute. We didn’t really think too much about it.”

Another student, Danielle Pompey, claimed Mr DeSantis had treated her unkindly as a student, alleging this was because she was Black.

“Mr Ron, Mr DeSantis, was mean to me and hostile toward me,” she told The NYT.

“Not aggressively, but passively, because I was Black.”

She also claimed that, during a history class on the American Civil War, he had made arguments for the justification of slavery, saying: “He was trying to play devil’s advocate that the South had good reason to fight the war, to kill other people, over owning people – Black people.

“He was trying to say ‘It’s not OK to own people, but they had property, businesses.'”

Another former student, who asked not be named, said Mr DeSantis’s views on the Civil War were so well known that they were made the subject of a parody video for the school’s video yearbook.

The NYT reports that the video contains a snippet of a student imitating Mr DeSantis and saying, “The Civil War was not about slavery! It was about two competing economic systems. One was in the North…,” before the clip cuts to a student dozing off at their desk.

Given what his former students have said about their time with him, DeSantis’ apartheid pedagogy and apparent embrace of the white supremacist Lost Cause ideology and other lies and distortions about the color line and America’s history (and present) should not be any surprise at all.

Decades of research has shown that education level is positively correlated with reducing racism and prejudice in general. However, that dynamic does not override the fact that there are many “highly educated” racists and white supremacists. DeSantis and the other racial authoritarians and white supremacists in the “conservative” movement and larger white right increasingly fit that profile in the Age of Trump.

Of course, they would never use that language to describe their values and beliefs and political project because such transparency would mean that they would not be allowed platforms and positions at leading publications, think tanks and interest groups, educational institutions, in the news media, in the Republican Party and “mainstream” “conservative” movement, and across civil society. Instead, these “educated” white supremacists and racists present themselves as defenders of the “Western tradition”, “conservative values”, “legacy Americans”, “patriotism”, “real America”, and “(White) Christian heritage.”

DeSantis and the other leaders of the Republican fascist party and larger white right know the real power of the Black Freedom Struggle as an example of one of the world’s most successful pro-democracy movements.

They are working very hard to prevent the teaching of those lessons. Why? Like the fascists and authoritarians and demagogues in other countries and earlier eras, today’s neofascists, both here in America and around the world, know that to win the present and future they must control the past.

Read more

about DeSantis and the Jacksonville massacre


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