It was a telling moment during the recent gubernatorial debate when Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum was challenged for having a more-than-cordial relationship with radical activist group the Dream Defenders.
“Andrew signed a pledge with the Dream Defenders,” Gillum's opponent Ron DeSantis stated in Tampa Sunday night, “pledging to support this radical manifesto.”
Some Floridians might not understand the Dream Defenders' "manifesto" or the extent of Gillum's interest in it.
This is a radical organization that demands an end to “disaster capitalism,” espouses socialist-style principals, rants against Independence Day and is active in the movement to boycott Israel while promoting anti-Israel conspiracies.
And Gillum and the Dream Defenders have had a long, close relationship which, frankly, has been largely unexplored in the mainstream media.
The Defenders' agenda is so markedly anti-police and socialist in nature that last week the Broward Sheriff's Office Deputies Association, the union for Broward deputies -- traditionally as blue as their uniforms -- came out in support of Republican DeSantis.
Jeff Bell, president of the union, explained why.
"When you look at Mr. Gillum's track record, and with his association with groups such as the Dream Defenders, which is an anti-law enforcement, anti-government radical group, which calls for Andrew Gillum to sign a pledge, which he did, to promise if he is elected governor of the state of Florida to divert money away from law enforcement and away from prisons in the state of Florida ... Now, taking away money from law enforcement does not protect the citizens of Florida," Bell said. "It weakens the ability of law enforcement to actually protect the innocents."
During the debate Sunday night, Gillum offered up a wan denial, and then a deflection. The Tallahassee mayor said he had "no idea" what pledge DeSantis was talking about. "The only thing I said is that, as governor, I will not see private prisons operating here in the state of Florida.”
Gillum was visibly uncomfortable, pivoting instantly to race -- even though it's a subject he said earlier in the campaign "should never" be an issue. He said DeSantis “used to moderate a xenophobic, racist FaceBook page” and reminded CNN viewers the former congressman had attended what was described as a “racially-charged conference” or an “alt-right event.” Apparently the conference was racially charged and alt-right because it was hosted by David Horowitz, deemed racially provocative.
Never mind that DeSantis had made not a single racially charged comment at this conference, nor were there any examples of controversial talks. And never mind that the event was attended by politicians, prominent African Americans and orthodox-Jewish pundits.
Gillum's pivot was an attempt to label DeSantis a racist to deflect from his Dream Defenders connection.
However, despite his debate denial, Gillum is in a very well-established relationship with Dream Defenders. Talk of "the pledge" references something that took place during this summer's Democratic primary. In June the four candidates were in South Florida for a debate when the Dream Defenders announced that all four had signed its “Freedom Pledge.”
The Pledge includes numerous alarming elements that show Floridians should indeed question Gillum a little more closely on his priorities:
“I will fight for a Florida that will divest from prisons, detention centers, guns, and police,” reads the Pledge, “and invests in the basic needs and safety of its people, especially its children.”
(Of note, at the top of the Pledge is a well-circulated photo of the interior of a passenger van that has been retrofitted with rows of child restraint seats. Once dubbed by leftists as Trump’s “prison buses for children,” it later was revealed these were commissioned in 2016 by the Obama Administration.)
In similar fashion to the signed Pledge, a member of Dream Defenders took the stage at the Primary debate and asked all the candidates to promise not to accept money from private prisons. And they promised.
During his turn, Gillum stated that private prisons should be illegal in the state. He expounded on his Pledge, noting a time when members of Dream Defenders had occupied floor space in the Capitol, staging a sit-in protest. Gillum boasted that he had snuck food in for the protesters every night, and that he was proud “to stand up for you, and stand beside you,” during that time. (See the YouTube clip on this page, or click here.) This is the group to which he tried to feign ignorance of pledging on Sunday.
Because the Dream Defenders are an avowed far left organization with numerous socialist-leaning platforms -- and know it -- the group apparently has tried to buffer the candidate from its public perception. More than a week before the debate a communications director from Dream Defenders, Nailah Summers, tried to explain to Politico that Gillum is not responsible for all of their viewpoints. “Our ideology is different from what we asked of politicians," Summers said. "We know they’d never share the same ideals because we’re leftists, so we just asked that they prioritize different things in the Pledge.
This is a convenient new standard in signing your name to a proposal. Somehow down the road, when it becomes apparent that certain contents of a document could be deemed controversial, then those elements can simply be said to not apply. Even though you have declared yourself as the undersigned, those dicey parts conveniently just don’t count.
Except Gillum’s connection with Dream Defenders does not begin months ago. That protest he mentioned, as he lauded the members and proudly joined? That was following the Trayvon Martin shooting while he was a city commissioner. In 2014 Dream Defenders shut down a police parade staged in Tallahassee, and the group touts that then Mayor Gillum ensured they were not to be arrested. That same year he penned a lengthy article praising the founder of the organization, Phillip Agnew, which is not all that surprising. The two knew each other as student activists as far back as 2003 while attending Florida A&M.
Little wonder the organization would lend its formal support to Gillum. While many supporters and the press strive to distance Gillum from the “socialist” label, Dream Defenders is proud of that very stance. “We are a socialist ...organization.” The group declares its vision for Florida as “a people-centered state replaces our current proﬁt-centered one.”
The group reports Gillum will “ﬁght corporate establishment politics and advance an agenda that puts people and environment before proﬁt.” They envision a future where “his governorship would completely change the terrain on which our movement is ﬁghting and the makeup of the Democratic party itself."
Dream Defenders has a lengthy manifesto in which it declares its mission statement for the state, entitled "The Freedom Papers." Among the many calls for freedom under various headings are plenty of revealing declarations. "Police and prisons have no place in justice" is one, which seems in line with Gillum's denied Pledge. There is also a call to bring an end to the prison and police system and to reinvest the money spent on those into social programs.
Considering the stretches made to connect DeSantis to others, all in order to paint him as a racial extremist, Gillum’s long-term and avowed connection to a left wing extremist group is all the more concrete. He has praised the members, has worked with them, and has deep personal ties with their leadership. This is not a one-off event from charges have to be extrapolated. Gillum has over a decade of connections with this group; it is not tangential, it is intimate.
The boast from Dream Defenders about Andrew Gillum is both exuberant, and revealing:
“This is not only one of the most progressive platforms that a Florida gubernatorial candidate has ever run on, but it is also one of the most progressive platforms we have seen from any gubernatorial candidate in the country.”
Those are the words not of a partisan hit job from a political opponent, but of a group praising a man who has warmly embraced them, and their agenda. Although there is a desire to soften these extreme plans there is no other way to spin years of mutual admiration.
Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.