A white supremacist group is behind a series of racist phone calls mocking Florida’s black gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum. The progressive 39-year-old Tallahassee mayor, a Democrat, is the first black nominee for Florida governor from a major political party.
The calls, first reported Friday by the Tallahassee Democrat, featured a disclaimer saying they were paid for by the Idaho-based Neo-Nazi video podcast The Road to Power. Earlier this year, the podcast sponsored robocalls supporting failed California Senate candidate, white nationalist Patrick Little, according to Right Wing Watch. The podcast, which features Nazi imagery, anti-Semitic language, and anti-black violence, describes itself as “White Nationalist anti-jew.”
In the recorded calls made to Florida voters last week, a man impersonated Gillum, speaking in a stereotypical minstrel. “Well hello there, I is Andrew Gillum,” the call starts, according to the New York Times. The sounds of drums and monkeys played in the background.
The Gillum campaign’s communications director Geoff Burgan said the calls were “reprehensible,” according to the Times. Burgan said they could only have come from someone with the intent to “fuel hatred and seek publicity.”
Before news of the calls came out, Gillum’s Republican opponent Ron DeSantis on Wednesday told Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for Gillum, and called the candidate “articulate.” The comments prompted backlash from people who criticized them as racist, including the head of the Florida Democratic Party, Terrie Rizzo who called the comments a “racist dog whistle.”
Responding to DeSantis’s comments and the robocalls on Meet the Press Sunday morning, Gillum said: “We cannot afford to weaponize race and to go to the bottom of the barrel here.”
He cautioned that people will take their cues from their leaders, and in this case, DeSantis. “I’m pleased to see him decry those robocalls, but it’s also important that Ron DeSantis take control and ownership of his own rhetoric and words,” Gillum added.
DeSantis’s campaign also commented on the robocalls, calling them “appalling and disgusting,” the Times reported. DeSantis spokesperson Stephen Lawson said, “Our campaign has and will continue to focus solely on the issues that Floridians care about and uniting our state as we continue to build on our success.”