Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Wants His Own Paramilitary Force

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #32 | By: Ibrahim Sultan | December 8, 2021

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Photo taken from: Florida National Guard

Policy Summary

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is looking to create the state’s own private civilian military force that would operate outside of federal control. The announcement came during a broader plan to increase funding to Florida’s National Guard. This additional $3.5 million tax payer funded plan calls for a new state-run force that would be added in addition to the already existing Florida National Guard and state police.

Florida had previously created a state guard during the second world war to fill in for national guardsmen who were fighting abroad but disbanded the unit in 1947. DeSantis recently proposed bringing back the unit with a force of 200 civilians that he claims would “not be encumbered by the federal government”. He has claimed that the force would allow him the flexibility to respond to events in the state, such as hurricanes and other emergencies, more effectively. Florida Democrats have expressed concern at the governor’s latest proposal. US Rep. Charlie Crist, who is running as a Democrat to challenge the governor in 2022, responded to the news saying, “No Governor should have his own handpicked secret police”.

Policy Analysis

SDF Map March 2021

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Were Florida to enact the governor’s plan, it would become the 23rd state with an active state guard joining other states like California and Texas. There is historical precedent for the creation of state guard forces in Florida but that was done during times of distress such as the second world war. Additionally there are also already guards, disaster response agencies, and state law enforcement, such as the Florida National Guard and state police to respond to emergencies that might hit the penninsula. Unlike the Florida National Guard, the new paramilitary force would answer solely to the Governor. The plan has come amid growing tension between the federal government and the Florida Governor. DeSantis has recently taken several actions attempting to antagonize the Biden administration over issues ranging from mask wearing, vaccinations, and immigration. 

Some of the Governor’s recent inflammatory actions have included an attempt to sue the Biden administration over its immigration policies, a self-appointed state “public safety czar” to help keep Floridians safe from what in his view are dangerous illegal immigrants arriving at the U.S. border, the signing of an anti-protest bill (HB1) that allows for detention of demonstrators, and even withholding og funding from Florida schools that required students to wear masks to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is likely that the new force will be used to carry out more of the draconian policies that will win him the favor of a far-right base. The paramilitary force would be accountable only to the Florida Governor and have no oversight federally. 

It could be used in a similar way to the way that Texan governor Greg Abbott used the Texan state guard in 2015 to monitor federal military exercises to protect Texans against baseless claims that the federal government under the Obama administration was attempting to implement military control of the state. The Florida Governor has made headlines numerous times for his inflammatory words, policies, and actions. The new force will likely further embolden DeSantis and cause increased clashes with the federal government.

Actions such as these come on the heels of a trend of Republican-led states taking steps to show their displeasure with the federal government and enacting extreme policies have stoked enhanced divisions and encouraged vigilantism. DeSantis’ endeavors have not happened in a vacuum. They are similar to the broader measures taken by other Republican-led states in banning abortions, restricting voting rights, and enacting harsh anti-immigration policies. DeSantis has continued trying to position himself as the most authoritarian of U.S. politicians and is taking more striking actions to prove it. These increasingly confrontational steps, taken by DeSantis  signal trouble for  our eemocratic institutions, and our unity.

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