Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ creation of a state guard, initially presented as a civilian disaster relief force, has reportedly transformed into an armed militia under his direct control. Recent investigations by the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times reveal that military veteran recruits, troubled by the program’s militaristic training and instances of abuse, have chosen to resign. The shift in the state guard’s focus, coupled with substantial increases in funding, size, and equipment, has raised concerns about its true purpose.
According to the investigative report, the Florida state guard, established by Governor Ron DeSantis in June 2022 as an “emergency focused, civilian defense force,” has deviated significantly from its original intent. Former volunteers assert that recruits have been trained for combat, including weapons handling, while the standard khaki uniforms were replaced with camouflage attire. Boot camp instructors reportedly employed harsh tactics such as early morning wake-ups and enforced lights-out by 10pm, instilling a militaristic environment.
Furthermore, the Republican-led state legislature, aligned with DeSantis, has approved a substantial expansion of the force’s budget, size, and capabilities. The state guard’s funding skyrocketed from $10 million to $107.5 million, and its maximum size more than tripled from 400 recruits to 1,500. The list of acquisitions sought by Governor DeSantis includes helicopters, boats, police powers, and even alleged cellphone-hacking technology, positioning the force as independent from federal oversight and directly accountable to the governor.
Veteran recruits who quit the program expressed deep concerns about the drastic shift in direction. Brian Newhouse, a retired navy veteran chosen to lead one of the state guard’s divisions, was removed from the training base near Jacksonville on the first day for raising his apprehensions with national guard staff acting as instructors. Another retired marine captain, who is disabled, lodged a police complaint regarding an incident in which he was allegedly mistreated by national guard staff after expressing dissatisfaction with the treatment of recruits.
According to Newhouse and two other veterans with extensive military experience, the training camp lacked structure, and recruits were provided with minimal written materials and received no assessments of their fitness levels. The state guard’s leadership also appeared disorganized, with records indicating the search for a third commander within eight months.
In response to these allegations, Maj Gen John D Haas, Florida’s adjutant general overseeing the state’s national guard, stated that the veterans were “dismissed” from the program, denying their resignations. Haas acknowledged the dissatisfaction of some trainees but justified it as a consequence of the demanding nature of the course, emphasizing the state guard’s role in assisting law enforcement with riot control and addressing illegal immigration.
Concerns about DeSantis establishing a paramilitary force loyal only to him were previously voiced by Democrats when the reactivation of the state guard was proposed in 2021. Charlie Crist, the Democratic candidate who ran against DeSantis in the November election, expressed apprehension, stating that no governor should have their own secret police force.
Allegations of the Florida state guard being trained as a personal militia under Governor Ron DeSantis’ control have surfaced, with military veteran recruits highlighting the program’s militaristic training and instances of abuse. The state guard’s significant expansion in funding, size, and equipment, along with reports of its changed purpose, have raised concerns about its original intent. The accusations have sparked debate about the implications of such a force being solely answerable to the governor, with critics cautioning against the establishment of a paramilitary organization.