“The devil went down to Georgia,” the Charlie Daniels Band sang, “lookin’ for a soul to steal.” There he dueled with a fiddle player named Johnny, who sent the evil one packing back to whence he had come.
South of the Georgia border one weekend early last year in Florida, evil made a real appearance in the form of Neo-Nazis. Waving swastika flags and yelling “White Power!” and “Hail Hitler for what he did!”, they condemned non-white souls to hell and beat up a Jewish passerby. It was captured on video for all the world to see.
Pressed to condemn the Nazis, Florida governor Ron DeSantis refused. His press secretary attacked reporters for simply asking about the hate crimes. “Do we even know they’re Nazis?” she asked, questioning whether they were really “white nationalists.”
DeSantis himself disingenuously changed the subject. The alleged Nazis were not an issue, he insisted, but instead the real problem was “Democrats who are trying to use this as some type of political issue to try to smear me as if I had something to do with it. We’re not playing their game.”
This real story of a state governor giving Nazis a blank pass while insinuating that Democrats are evil provides context to white Christian nationalist DeSantis’s rewriting of the Bible in the months following.
Speaking at a Florida Republican conference in July 2022, DeSantis praised himself for speaking “truth” and standing up to the “woke” mob (not to be confused with today’s American Nazis, who clearly are not yet “woke” from their racism and hate, which seems just fine with the Florida governor).
And in a transparent (not to be confused with transgender, which, unlike Nazism, DeSantis always makes it a point to condemn) move designed to drive home his white Christian nationalist “values,” the Florida governor took his first whack at rewriting the Bible to bless his personal political agenda.
Not that many in the room noticed. A reporter from far-right Breitbart News was on hand for the occasion and gushed over the scene. DeSantis, the reporter wrote, gave “the ultimate word of advice to fellow conservative Republicans, straight out of Ephesians 6:” ‘Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the left’s schemes.'”
“Straight out of Ephesians 6”? Since when? The actual biblical verse, Ephesians 6:11, is “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Even Charlie Daniels, who died in 2020, knew this.
But this is the governor of Florida we are talking about, a Christian who considers himself a friend of Jews, yet who a few months earlier didn’t have the guts to voice even the mildest of rebukes to Nazis who assaulted a Jewish citizen of his own state.
Instead of standing up to actual evil, he busied himself with QAnon word games, cutting and pasting his Bible in pretending that liberalism is the devil.
“We’re just getting warmed up. I’ve only begun to fight,” DeSantis bragged. And he wasn’t kidding: a few months later, he went back to scripture, this time adding a self-glorifying verse to the Bible.
Here we go back to the beginning, and I really do mean the beginning. After creating light, the sun, the moon, stars, Earth, plants, animals and ordinary humans, God realized something was missing.
DeSantis takes it from there: “On the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a protector,’” a God-like voice pronounces in black-and-white video (color video not yet available at the dawn of creation). “So, God made a fighter” to serve God’s people and “save their jobs, their livelihoods, their liberty, their happiness.”
Ron DeSantis, none other than God’s protector, in a campaign-like video making himself the finishing touch of God’s creation.
Let that one sink in for a few minutes. Meanwhile, the coast of Florida is actually sinking.
In fact, you might think that the “paradise” of DeSantis’s eighth day of creation is a reference to Florida’s vast and sunny beaches. But you would be mistaken.
God’s – as dictated by DeSantis – ideological “paradise” is a white, straight, Christian America. That is the paradise DeSantis is already faithfully protecting in Florida through far-right politics: the racist edicts, the dehumanization of LGBTQ persons, the outlawing of inconvenient American history, the ridicule and banishment of liberals, the cruelty and meanness.
But let’s not lose sight of Florida’s actual beach paradise, a modern-day Garden of Eden. Literally.
Governor Ron DeSantis is, admittedly, a biblical steward of Florida’s natural paradise: his state’s official tourism marketing corporation – VISIT FLORIDA – openly extols the marvels of the “Sunshine State” to the world, breezily and nakedly marketing Florida’s “Top Nude Beaches.” (Check it out for yourself – or not.)
Ignoring Nazis, punishing liberals, rewriting the Bible, protecting God, marketing nude beaches: the naked ambition of Florida’s white Christian nationalist governor leaves little to the imagination.
If DeSantis has his way – and he has told us he is just beginning – the last verse of this devilish tale has yet to be written.
Editor’s note: This column is part of a monthly series of articles in which Gourley will discuss Christian nationalism’s origins and manifestations. It is part of GFM’s A Better Way Initiative, which is working to expose and counter Christian nationalism and to provide an alternative voice in the public discourse regarding policy and religion.