‘If you’re going to riot, you are going to jail:’ Gov. DeSantis says of potential Tallahassee protests

DeSantis points to proposed legislation aimed at cracking down on protests

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis hold a roundtable discussion regarding mental health and COVID-19 at the Tampa Bay Crisis Center on Thursday, July 16, 2020 in Tampa. (Martha Asencio-Rhine/Tampa Bay Times via AP) (Martha Asencio-Rhine, Tampa Bay Times)

THE VILLAGES, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis says rioters will face harsh and swift consequences if they choose to violently protest at the state’s capital ahead of the next U.S. presidential inauguration.

While debuting a new coronavirus vaccination site in The Villages on Tuesday, the governor once again pointed to his proposal introduced in September when asked if his office was prepared for the reports of political demonstrations in Tallahassee that could escalate to the riots seen in Washington, D.C. last week.

“I don’t want to see that,” the governor sternly said to reporters. “If anything is disorderly, we are going to act very quickly.”

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DeSantis commented on the events at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, when pro-Trump ralliers violently stormed the nation’s landmark in efforts to stop Congress from confirming electoral votes, putting the final stamp of approval to name president-elect Joe Biden as the next leader of the nation.

Five people died in the violent uprising, including a Capitol police officer. The governor, who was a former congressman, said if it weren’t for the law enforcement tactics of Capitol police, more lives could have been lost.

“It was a very difficult situation,” DeSantis said. “To be able to steer a huge mob of people away from doing a lot of other people harm -- so good on them. And that’s one of the reasons why I did the anti-rioting legislation because I thought it was a way we’re able to stand by our law enforcement.”

House Speaker Chris Sprowls, (R-Palm Harbor), and Senate President Wilton Simpson, (R-Trilby), released the Legislature’s version of the proposal known as SB 484 and HB 1 last week. DeSantis and the GOP leaders said the legislation would protect Florida from similar mob revolts.

Florida Democratic lawmakers are opposing the bill, saying it can be detrimental to Black and brown communities.

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Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday introduced a bill meant to deter riots by creating mandatory minimum sentences for anyone caught participating in a protest that turns violent and taking away that person’s government benefits.

The revamped version of the proposal creates a new offense of “mob intimidation” when three or more people act “with a common intent, to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce, another person by force, or threat of force, to do any act or to assume or abandon a particular viewpoint.” Also, the proposal would make it more difficult for local government officials to trim spending on law enforcement.

DeSantis said Tuesday the proposal was a way to convey that “Florida means business.” He also further expressed his gratitude for the actions of the Capitol police while denouncing the actions of the rioters in Washington, D.C.

“Those folks who took it to the violent level, they need to be held accountable,” he said.

[MORE: Gov. DeSantis condemns Capitol riots as Florida Republicans introduce anti-protest legislation]

When asked about copy-cat protests, the governor elaborated saying though his office has not received official word of demonstrations near Florida’s Capitol, he said if there’s a hint of potential disorder the state will plan to have reinforcements present.

“I don’t care why you’re doing it -- you’re not doing it here,” DeSantis said. “If you’re going to riot, you are going to jail.”

DeSantis said recent political strife over the recent presidential election is another example of why he is pushing Florida lawmakers now to pass a law aimed at providing harsher consequences for protesters.

“Our legislation is going to pass this legislative session,” he said. “If you assault law enforcement in a violent assembly, you are definitely going to jail; you burned down someone’s business, you do all this, the penalties are going to be very swift and immediate.”