MSNBC producer maps out DeSantis’ record of appointing conservatives with 'radical fringe beliefs'

MSNBC producer maps out DeSantis’ record of appointing conservatives with 'radical fringe beliefs'
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, speaks with members of Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., leadership during the governor's first visit to the base since becoming governor, Jan. 16, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Solomon Cook)

After Florida Republican Governor Ron Desantis last week appointed a far-right Christian extremist who believes tap water may turn people gay, an MSNBC producer and editor is calling him out.

“DeSantis keeps tapping conservatives for official positions of influence, and they have something important in common: a set of radical fringe beliefs,” says MSNBC’s Steve Benen, a producer on The Rachel Maddow Show and the editor of The MaddowBlog.

Benen points to DeSantis now fully stripping Disney World of its fifty-year special self-governing status after the Magic Kingdom’s corporate leaders criticized his “Don’t Say Gay” bill. DeSantis’ appointment of Ron Peri, a former pastor who now runs the far-Christian right men’s ministry called The Gathering to the new Disney World area oversight board leads Benen to ask, “Has Gov. Ron DeSantis tapped far-right conservatives to serve in key government positions despite their radical records or because of them?”

CNN’s KFile last week reported Peri has “frequently” made derogatory remarks about LGBTQ people, and “shared a baseless conspiracy theory that tap water could be making more people gay.”

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“’So why are there homosexuals today?” Peri asked in a January 2022 Zoom discussion. “There are any number of reasons, you know, that are given. Some would say the increase in estrogen in our societies. You know, there’s estrogen in the water from birth control pills. They can’t get it out.”

“The level of testosterone in men broadly in America has declined by 50 points in the past 10 years,” he has also claimed. “You know, and so, maybe that’s a part of it.”

“But the big part I would suggest to you, based upon what it’s saying here, is the removal of constraint,” Peri also said. “So our society provided the constraint. And so, which is the responsibility of a society to constrain people from doing evil? Well, you remove the constraints, and then evil occurs.”

In other words, Peri believes that being LGBTQ is the result of water laced with drugs, or “evil.”

It’s not just Peri.

Benen adds, “it’s also worth appreciating the Republican governor’s broader track record when it comes to making personnel assessments. DeSantis had a great many choices for state surgeon general, for example, but he picked Dr. Joseph Ladapo, despite — or perhaps because of — the physician’s highly controversial record.”

“Similarly, the governor had an opportunity last year to appoint a new Florida secretary of state — an office that helps administer state elections. DeSantis tapped Cord Byrd, who has partnered with election deniers and has refused to say President Joe Biden won the 2020 election.”

READ MORE: ‘Emperor With No Clothes’: DeSantis Mocked for Being Unable to Say How He Would Handle Ukraine as President

“Byrd’s wife, meanwhile, has taken some radical positions related to the Jan. 6 attack, the Proud Boys, and even the QAnon delusion — and DeSantis appointed Esther Byrd to the state board of education.”

There’s more.

Benen doesn’t mention her but Gov. DeSantis’ former official spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, who switched over to his political campaign office, is the one largely responsible for getting the damaging and offensive “groomer” label against LGBTQ people to go viral.

Recently, Pushaw pinned her response to a VICE News tweet to the top of her Twitter account page.

The tweet reads: “If DeSantis gets his way—and he likely will—diversity, equity and inclusion efforts will be eliminated from every public college and university in Florida.”

Pushaw’s one-word response: “Good.”

Also not mentioned in the article is DeSantis’ highly-controversial appointment of far-right activist Christopher Rufo to the New College of Florida Board of Trustees. Rufo is the Manhattan Institute extremist behind the right’s CRT panic.

In 2021, Rufo bragged he wants to “have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory,’” and “put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.” Last summer he told conservatives to make drag queens “more lurid” and sexual.

“Conservatives should start using the phrase ‘trans stripper’ in lieu of ‘drag queen,’” Rufo said on Twitter, despite drag queens not generally being transgender. “It has a more lurid set of connotations and shifts the debate to sexualization.”

It’s little wonder DeSantis found a home in Florida for Rufo.

“Mr. Rufo has taken aim at opponents of a new Florida law that prohibits teachers in some grades from discussing L.G.B.T.Q. issues and that critics call ‘Don’t Say Gay,’” The New York Times reported last year in April. “He declared ‘moral war’ against the statute’s most prominent adversary, the Walt Disney Company. And he has used the same playbook that proved effective in his crusade on racial issues: a leak of insider documents.”

Rufo consulted on and appeared with Governor Ron DeSantis “at the signing of a bill known as the Stop W.O.K.E. Act, which bars teaching in workplaces and schools that anyone is inherently biased or privileged because of race or sex,” The Times added, noting that Rufo “warned Disney that an in-house program it had run that urged discussion of systemic racism was ‘now illegal in the state of Florida.’”

Last week, Florida Democratic state Sen. Tina Polsky likened DeSantis’ takeover of state boards, (which he is doing via appointments,) to “fascist regimes,” as the Florida Phoenix reported.

“When you look to fascist regimes, it starts with beating down the press. Beating down academics. Excluding minorities. Targeting minorities – I think exactly what he’s (DeSantis) doing with the LGBTQ community fits into that. And with the Black community with AP African American studies,” Polsky told the Phoenix. “That’s how it starts. And you control all levels of government, and you ban books. And so that is how it starts, and to me, that’s what it looks like is going on right now.”

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