At least two people in Tallahassee have received a racist robocall targeting the Democratic nominee for governor, Andrew Gillum, that references a comment made earlier this week by his Republican opponent.
The day after Ron DeSantis won the GOP nomination for governor, he told a Fox News audience that Florida shouldn’t “monkey this up” by electing Gillum in November. He also called Gillum an “articulate spokesman” for the far left.
Gillum is the first black nominee for governor of a major party in state history.
DeSantis’ comments were slammed by Democrats, the NAACP and other groups as racist dog whistles. Gillum himself later said on Fox News it was more like a “bullhorn.”
On Friday, a Tallahassee Realtor said she received a robocall on her cellphone. Edan Schultz, a reporter at WCTV, the CBS affiliate for north Florida and southern Georgia, also confirmed to the Herald/Times that the station had received the call on its landline.
The Realtor shared the recording with media. In it, a man pretending to be Gillum, speaking in a minstrel dialect, asks for voters to support him. Monkey sound effects can be heard in the background. The speaker specifically mentions DeSantis’ “monkey” comment.
“This is reprehensible — and could only have come from someone with intentions to fuel hatred and seek attention,” Geoff Burgan, spokesman for Gillum’s campaign, said in a statement. “Please don’t give it undeserved attention.”
DeSantis did not apologize for his comment on Fox News. On Wednesday, DeSantis’ campaign spokesman, Stephen Lawson, said in a statement that DeSantis “was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses. To characterize it as anything else is absurd.”
On Friday, Lawson released a statement that denounced the robocall.
“This is absolutely appalling and disgusting — and hopefully whoever is behind this has to answer for this despicable action,” he wrote. “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.”
Republican Gov. Rick Scott also condemned the call on Twitter: “There is no room for any racial politics here in Florida — none. Florida is a melting pot of people from all over the globe, and we are proud of it. No attempts to divide people by race or ethnicity will be tolerated, from anyone. THIS. STOPS. NOW.”
At the end of the robocall, there is a “paid for by” disclaimer listing a neo-Nazi website and podcast, The Road to Power, as the source. A phone number listed on the call is a non-working number with a Tallahassee area code. According to numerous news stories about the website, it’s run by a man named Scott Rhodes, who lives in Idaho.
Local news reports reveal that The Road to Power has a history of distributing racist robocalls across the country, usually targeting areas right after they were in the headlines for racial controversy or violence. The murder of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts, for instance, is being used in a robocall that has been linked to the group, according to the Idaho Statesman. The recording calls immigrants savages, calls the murder suspect “an invader from Mexico and advocates mass deportation.
The site also paid for a robocall that called for “ethnically cleansing the country by expelling nonwhites to other countries” following the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, anti-Semitic robocalls promoting fringe Republican candidates for Congress that were disavowed by the GOP also came from The Road to Power, according to the Mercury News in California.
And residents of Pittsburgh received a call paid for by The Road to Power that praised the police shootings of African Americans shortly after a high-profile police killing of 17-year-old Antwon Rose II earlier this year, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.