Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that he plans to restart the state’s civilian defense force, a temporary entity formed during World War II. The state has survived over 70 years without such a force raising concerns about DeSantis’ motivations.
Columnist Jamelle Bouie suggested there’s a thin line between DeSantis making liberals freak out and him seriously wanting to take specific actions. As he’s shown over the past few years, anything is possible with DeSantis.
According to CNN, DeSantis’ need to create his own state force could be a part of growing tension over the National Guard between Republican-controlled states and the Biden administration.
And while state defense operations exist in 21 states and Puerto Rico, the renewed effort raises eyebrows given DeSantis’ overall attitude toward civil liberties and protecting all communities. Local news reported DeSantis saying he wants the state guard to be on hand to assist with “events.”
“We also want to make sure that we have the flexibility and the ability needed to respond to events in our state in the most effective way possible,” DeSantis said. “Some of that will require us to be able to have access and be able to use support in ways that are not encumbered by the federal government, that don’t require the federal government.”
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund’s President and Sherilyn Ifill tweeted concern about the announcement simple tweeting, “pay attention.”
The “not encumbered by the federal government” is the type of vague language that raises concerns about how the group would be utilized. Florida led the charge in criminalizing dissent, using last year’s racial justice protests as an impetus to ram through the restrictive law. It’s not a stretch to imagine DeSantis using a newly created civilian force to take action against local communities. States can create their own civilian force as provided by federal law.
Under 32 U.S. Code § 109, DeSantis seemingly has wide latitude for action.
“A defense force established under this section may be used within the jurisdiction concerned, as its chief executive (or commanding general in the case of the District of Columbia) considers necessary, but it may not be called, ordered, or drafted into the armed forces,” the section reads.
Many active state guards were established at the start of World War II or well before. The Maryland Defense Force was reactivated in 1983. The New York Guard was started in 1917. Like South Carolina’s, some state guards have their roots in militias that predate the United States.
If and when DeSantis’ request is approved, it will remain to be seen how he puts the civilian force to use in the Sunshine state.