Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has faced backlash for his conservative stance, has found himself in the eye of yet another storm.
DeSantis revived the Florida State Guard, which recruited a wide range of people — from teenagers out of high school to veterans — who believed they had signed up to help residents in times of need or disaster, Miami Herald reported on Friday.
The unit instead trained volunteers for combat, according to the report, which noted that “[khakis] and polos were replaced by camouflaged uniforms.”
Additionally, the program has lost key personnel.
“A number of recruits quit after the first training class last month because they feared it was becoming too militaristic,” the Miami Herald reported, citing records it reviewed and interviews with the program’s volunteers.
In a statement, Major General John Haas, who oversees the National Guard, told the newspaper that the State Guard was a “military organization” that will be used not just for emergencies but for “aiding law enforcement with riots and illegal immigration.”
When DeSantis unveiled the program in 2022, he reportedly said it would supplement the overworked and understaffed Florida National Guard. State lawmakers subsequently gave the go-ahead to add 400 volunteers to the State Guard and approved a $10 million budget.
Nikki Fried, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, slammed DeSantis for his military command style.
“Ron DeSantis is trying to recreate a military force that only answers to him,” said Fried of DeSantis’s military style command. “This should scare the hell out of every democracy-loving Floridian & American.”
Since then, the maximum strength of the force has increased to 1,500 and the budget to $107.5 million.
DeSantis is running for the Republican presidential primary, and opinion polls show he is trailing former President Donald Trump by a wide margin.
The governor has been criticized for his conservative agenda and his political actions, such as sending refugees, who were mainly Venezuelans, to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
DeSantis is also on a warpath with entertainment giant Disney, which voiced its disapproval of a state law that bars discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools for children in kindergarten through third grade. The inclement political environment in Florida has prompted Disney to shift some of its planned investments to California.
The Florida governor is currently dominating fundraising against Trump for the GOP primary for now. With Trump ahead in the polls for the primary, it’s certain of a rematch in 2024 election between the former president and incumbent President Joe Biden.
Produced in association with Benzinga