Anti-Immigrant Group Almost Redefined "White Nationalism" in Florida Legislation

Florida Senator and GOP chair Joe Gruters
Florida Senator and GOP chair Joe Gruters Photo via Florida Senate
When it comes to the definition of "white nationalist," there is no nuance.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a white nationalist as "one of a group of militant white people who espouse white supremacy."

The Anti-Defamation League defines white nationalism as "a term that originated among white supremacists as a euphemism for white supremacy."

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) defines white-nationalist groups as those that "espouse white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of nonwhites," and lists the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and neo-Confederate sympathizers as examples.

But according to Floridians for Immigration Enforcement (FLIMEN), it takes one to know one. The lobbying group that works to introduce anti-immigration ideology into state policy defines a white nationalist as "a Caucasian who supports the rule of law and America First," and the group seems determined to insert that definition into Florida legislation.

A March 2019 email from FLIMEN that included the above definition was addressed to the staff of Republican Party of Florida chairman Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, who is one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 628: Federal Immigration Enforcement, more commonly referred to as the sanctuary-city ban, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law in June of that year.

Sanctuary cities are municipalities that limit their cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in order to protect low-priority undocumented migrants from deportation. Though there are no sanctuary cities in Florida, DeSantis' ban was one of the strictest in the nation, barring municipalities not only from enacting policies that would offer refuge to undocumented immigrants, but also forcing them to cooperate with ICE and other federal agencies.

By July of 2019, nine civil-rights groups, including the Florida Immigrant Coalition and the Farmworker Association of Florida, joined the City of South Miami and sued Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody in Miami federal court in an effort to prevent the law from taking effect.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom in Miami struck down key portions of the law in a scathing 110-page ruling, saying SB-168 violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, making clear that the legislation was rooted in prejudice.

While the language regarding the definition "white nationalist" didn't make it into the final version of the bill, Bloom made clear in her ruling that FLIMEN's fingerprints on the legislation were irrefutable, and that Gruters' staff should have known better than to welcome the influence of a group with clear anti-immigrant sentiment.

"The series of communications between FLIMEN and Senator Gruters’ office are persuasive evidence of their shared discriminatory intent," she wrote in the September 21 ruling. "Allowing anti-immigrant hate groups that overtly promote xenophobic, nationalist, racist ideologies to be intimately involved in a bill's legislative process is a significant departure from procedural norms."

"Allowing anti-immigrant hate groups...to be intimately involved in a bill's legislative process is a significant departure from procedural norms."

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Bloom's ruling spells out the extent to which FLIMEN interacted with Gruters' office as he was sponsoring the bill.

"On many occasions during the 2019 legislative session, FLIMEN’s racial animus and discriminatory intent were made apparent to Senator Gruters and his staff but were ignored," the judge writes. "Indeed, FLIMEN sent a newsletter alert to members of Senator Gruters’ office, the Office of the Attorney General, and the EOG that was rife with animosity against racial and ethnic minorities."

Gruters' office did not immediately return a request for comment from New Times via email on Tuesday.

Anders Croy, communications director for Florida Watch, tells New Times that FLIMEN's involvement in shaping the legislation is a clear indication that the DeSantis administration and its associates are openly inviting the input of anti-immigrant groups to influence immigration policy.

"The fact that known white nationalists not only have a seat at the table in policy-making but are trusted advisors of the chair of the Republican Party should be concerning to every Floridian," Croy says. "What this ruling makes clear is the fact that Florida's Republican Party is only interested in appealing to the most far-right and nativist elements of its base."

Bloom also states in the ruling that lawmakers permitted the input and counsel of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which the SPLC designates as a hate group.

"These instances demonstrate that Senator Gruters and SB 168’s supporters were aware of FLIMEN and FAIR’s racist ideologies," she writes. "Nevertheless, there is no record evidence establishing any effort to renounce these discriminatory views."

The SPLC notes that FAIR's leaders have ties to white-supremacist groups and eugenicists and that the group's founder, John Tanton, has previously expressed his desire for the U.S. population to remain predominately white.

"Groups like FAIR and local offshoots like FLIMEN have tried to find mainstream acceptance, so it is not surprising that they would try to re-label their dangerous white separatist ideologies in such innocuous terms," A.J. Hernandez Anderson, senior supervising attorney with SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project, tells New Times. "Thankfully, these groups were unable to escape their overtly racist and xenophobic origins and missions in this case.”
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