Racism is already tainting the Florida governor’s race after African American candidate Andrew Gillum won the Democratic primary on Tuesday.
Voters in Tallahassee are now receiving robocalls against Gillum that are being paid for by a neo-Nazi group in Idaho.
Gillum’s GOP opponent, Ron DeSantis, started the campaign off on a negative footing when he seemed to call his opponent a monkey, which obviously is a racially derogatory term used to refer to Americans of African descent.
“He is an articulate spokesman for those far left views and he’s a charismatic candidate. I watched those Democrat debates. None of that is my cup of tea but he performed better than the other people there. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.”
The automated calls are racially offensive also. They are being narrated by a person who pretends to be Gillum with an exaggerated “minstrel dialect” with jungle noises in the background. Minstrel dialects were historically used in conjunction with blackface as ways to mimic and make fun of African Americans.
The robocalls end with a disclaimer that they are being paid for by “The Road to Power” which is an anti-Semitic, white supremacy website and podcast tied to Scott Rhodes of Sandpoint, Idaho, a well known for his racist activism and publishings.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, the group has been linked to other robocall campaigns in Charlottesville, Virginia, Oregon and California.
Terry Kant-Rauch is one Tallahassee resident who received one of the robocalls in the voice mail of her cell phone. Kant-Rauch is a Democrat and a realtor who happens to have a biracial daughter, so the call was very upsetting to her and she became emotional after hearing it.
“Campaign on the merits,” she said, “not on the color of his skin.”
Geoff Burgan, communications director for Gillum’s campaign, responded to reports of the robocalls by saying, “This is reprehensible — and could only have come from someone with intentions to fuel hatred and seek publicity. Please don’t give it undeserved attention.”
The Democrat decided not to publish a transcript of the robocall because of its blatantly racist and extremely offensive content. They said the call came from a phone number in Tallahassee.
The Democrat tried calling Rhodes for comment but he did not answer and did not immediately return the phone call.
The Democrat’s sister paper, The Des Moines Register reported earlier this week that robocalls from the same group, Road to Power, were going out using the death of Mollie Tibbetts to promote white supremacist messages in Iowa.
Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student, disappeared July 18, and her body was discovered more than a month later. So-called alt-right groups have attempted to capitalize on her killing because the suspect is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.
Although DeSantis has not been tied to the racist robocalls directly, it is clear from his comments and also from President Trump’s comments after Gillum won, that they are using a racist, divisive strategy. They believe they can win political power by dividing Americans along racial lines, and the racist robocalls are just one more example of how they are doing that.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.