DeSantis proposes creating a civilian military force in Florida that he would control

San Petersburgo, Florida (CNN) — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis wants to reestablish a WWII-era civilian military force that he, not the Pentagon, would control.

DeSantis unveiled the idea Thursday as a way to further support the Florida National Guard during emergencies like hurricanes. The Florida National Guard has also played a vital role during the pandemic in administering COVID-19 tests and distributing vaccines.

But in a nod to growing tension between the Republican states and the Biden administration over the National Guard, DeSantis also said that this unit, called the Florida State Guard, “would not be taxed by the federal government.” He said this force would give him “the flexibility and capacity to respond to events in our state in the most effective way possible.” DeSantis proposes to bring her back with a volunteer force of 200 civilians, and is seeking $ 3.5 million from the state legislature in startup costs to train and equip them.

DeSantis’ move comes on the heels of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s directive warning that National Guard members who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will have their payment withheld and training prohibited. . Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican, had requested an exemption for members of the Guard in his state, which Austin denied.

Democrats in Florida immediately voiced alarm at DeSantis’s announcement. US Representative Charlie Crist, who is running as a Democrat to challenge the governor in 2022, tweeted: “No governor should have his own handpicked secret police.”

State Senator Annette Taddeo, another gubernatorial candidate, wrote on Twitter that DeSantis was a “would-be dictator trying to make his move for his own vigilante militia, as we have seen in Cuba.”

The background to the DeSantis proposal

The Florida State Guard was created in 1941, during World War II, as a temporary force to fill the void left when the Florida National Guard was deployed to assist in America’s combat efforts. It was dissolved after the war ended, but the authority for a governor to establish a state defense force remained.

States have the power to create defense forces separate from the National Guard, although not all use it. If Florida goes ahead with DeSantis’s plan to reestablish civilian force, it would become the 23rd active state guard in the country, DeSantis’s office said in a press release, joining California, Texas and New York.

“The reestablishment of the Florida State Guard will allow civilians across the state to be trained in the best emergency response techniques and have the ability to mobilize very, very quickly,” DeSantis said during a visit to Pensacola on Thursday.

State defense guards are little-known auxiliary forces whose origins date back to the advent of state militias in the 18th century. While the states and the Department of Defense share control of the National Guard, the state guards are solely in the power of one governor.

State guards are generally deployed to respond during a disaster, although governors have found other reasons to call them to action.

In 2015, Republican Governor Greg Abbott used the Texas State Guard to monitor federal military exercises in his state, responding to what was at the time a rapidly growing conspiracy theory that the federal government was using the parking lots of Walmart to prepare for a future state of martial law. Abbott said the guards were only gathering information to keep Texans safe during the multi-week exercises.

Florida law authorizes the governor to maintain a defense force as “necessary to assist civil authorities in maintaining law and order,” meaning that DeSantis would have another force to respond to unrest that may arise in the future. . DeSantis quickly deployed the Florida National Guard to major cities after protests and violence erupted in response to the murder of George Floyd, in Minnesota.

DeSantis has also stationed Florida National Guard troops on the Texas-Mexico border and dispatched them to Washington to help protect the United States Capitol during President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Thursday’s announcement came during a broader rollout of DeSantis’s plan to bolster the Florida National Guard, which included $ 100 million in funding proposals to establish three new armories, build a new headquarters for the Anti-Gun Program. National Guard Drugs and provide support to Florida National Guards seeking higher education degrees.

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