TALLAHASSEE – In a state Donald Trump won by a wide margin while losing the White House, Florida Republican lawmakers Tuesday continued to rally to the defense of the former president now banned from social media platforms.
Rep. Randy Fine, R-Melbourne, and Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, who doubles as the Republican Party of Florida chair, touted newly filed legislation aimed at punishing China for spreading COVID-19 and media companies for banning Trump.
Florida governments would be barred from buying products at least 25% made in China or any goods or services sold or provided by Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Apple or Alphabet. The bans would take effect in 2023, under the legislation (HB 439, SB 810).
While it may look like the two GOP lawmakers are looking to isolate Florida governments in a no-tech world defying the 21st Century, they acknowledge the legislation is purely about pressure.
The measure is chiefly designed to slap China and put heat on social media companies to reinstate Trump and other conservatives who Gruters and Fine say are being silenced.
MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell recently was barred from Twitter for his baseless claims insisting that Trump won in November. Twitter said Lindell was taken off the platform for “repeated violations” of its civic integrity policy.
“It builds on success that we had last year in holding Airbnb accountable when they discriminated against our citizens, and these companies are doing the same thing,” Fine said. “They may get to decide who they do business with, but so do we.”
Florida in 2019 placed Airbnb on a “scrutinized” list of companies accused of boycotting Israel after the rental service chose not to list properties in Israeli settlements in the disputed West Bank.
The San Francisco-based company changed its policy four months later, and Gov. Ron DeSantis took the company off the sanction list.
Gruters said: “China lied about the virus. They failed to protect the world, Florida jobs were lost and lives were lost.”
He added: “When people like the former president of the United States get banned, who knows who is next? Certainly, if they’re a private business, they get to choose who they do business with. And so do we as the state of Florida.”
Facebook already has said it is referring the Trump ban to its company oversight board for review.
Trump’s account was suspended indefinitely Jan. 7, the day after a rally where he urged his followers to march on the U.S. Capitol. The ensuing riot led to Trump’s unprecedented second impeachment by Congress.
Following the storming of the Capitol, Twitter banned more than 70,000 accounts for sharing misinformation, including Trump.
Fine and Gruters hope their legislation could prod the companies into restoring Trump’s online future.
“The goal is…to get these companies to see the errors of their ways,” Fine said.
While Fine said he condemned the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the two lawmakers held the news conference to promote their legislation on the steps of Florida’s Old Capitol.
Just over a week ago, that building was protected by dozens of law enforcement and Florida National Guard activated by DeSantis in response to FBI warnings of another round of attacks, this time on state Capitols. But Tallahassee remained quiet.
“When you tell half the country that they can’t speak openly, you actually create the conditions where they’ll speak in other ways,” Fine said.