Supporters of former President Donald Trump are accusing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) of being anti-free speech after security at a mall where DeSantis was doing a book signing instructed them to disperse.
DeSantis, who is seen as a potential challenger to Trump for the Republican nomination for president in 2024, signed autographs for his new book at a mall in Leesburg, Florida, on Tuesday. Outside of the mall, pro-Trump protesters led by white nationalist Lara Loomer demonstrated against the Florida governor.
According to footage shared on social media by Loomer, a security guard approached the group and instructed them to leave the premises. After the protesters refused to do so, the guard said he had to call the local police department.
“DeSantis people are in there telling me to come out to tell you guys not to be here while he’s here,” the guard said to the pro-Trump group.
“Governor DeSantis, he always talks about how he’s in favor of free speech,” Loomer said in response. “So do we have a first amendment right to be here, to rally in support of President Trump?”
“Right, you do. But not now,” the guard said.
“As you can hear from the video, DeSantis told the police to kick out anyone in Trump gear,” Loomer said in one of her tweets.
“Ron DeSantis is anti-free speech!” she wrote in another tweet.
Loomer told The Daily Beast that police eventually showed up to tell Trump supporters to leave.
“Police showed up and they told us that we were going to be cited and arrested for trespassing if we didn’t leave because DeSantis didn’t want us inside,” Loomer said. “It shows that he’s a tyrant.”
First Amendment speech rights do not allow individuals to speak without consequence on private property, meaning that malls and stores can indeed ask people to leave their premises on the basis of their political positions or affiliations.
Notably, both Trump and DeSantis have repeatedly sought to limit the speech of people who oppose them and their views.
In 2017, Trump called for the NFL to punish players who protested against police violence by kneeling during the national anthem at the beginning of games. And in the summer of 2020, the U.S. Park Police — which falls under the purview of the president — used tear gas on protesters outside of the White House, appearing to do so to ensure that Trump could walk unimpeded to a photo op at a nearby church.
In his role as governor, DeSantis has championed legislation that aims to restrict teachers in Florida from discussing LGBTQ topics in schools.
DeSantis is widely considered the most viable option to challenge Trump for the GOP nomination for president in 2024. While several polls have shown the two in a neck-and-neck race, a more recent survey from Emerson College shows Trump leading the Florida governor by 25 points among Republican respondents.
The two Republicans fare somewhat equally in hypothetical matchups against President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic nominee in the next presidential election cycle. According to an aggregate of polls about possible matchups in the 2024 election by RealClearPolitics, both Trump and DeSantis are statistically tied with Biden.