Hurricane Ian has hit Florida hard and is officially the deadliest hurricane in the continental United States since Hurricane Katrina. At least 119 people are confirmed dead. But Hurricane Ian has another disturbing similarity to Hurricane Katrina: the risk of survivors being shot and killed by right-wing vigilantes. And controversial Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz has decided to fan the flames, taking to Twitter to openly advocate for survivors of Hurricane Ian be shot. In response to a Fox News report about alleged looting suspects being taken into custody after Hurricane Ian, Gaetz simply wrote, “You loot. We shoot. #FloridaMan.” In addition, Florida Sheriff Grady Judd went on Fox News and told potential vigilantes to shoot targets and make them “look like grated cheese.” The implications here are dire. Sheriff Judd's violent and homicidal comments contrast the very idea of "innocent till proven guilty."
This means that according to Trump-allied Congressman Gaetz and the Sheriff; a mere allegation of looting, even without any evidence, is enough of a reason to fatally shoot a Hurricane Ian survivor. Florida Republicans are actively inciting potential terrorist attacks and fatal shootings at a time when first responders and rescue workers are trying to focus on saving lives. This kind of rhetoric is endangering everyone on the ground who is dealing with the emergency response effort.
Far-right officials should not take advantage of a disaster in order to flex their bombastic political personas to a heavily-armed and insurrectionary base. There is precedent for such attitudes specifically inciting racist hate crimes and murders.
ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson documented a saga of racist white vigilante gun violence targeting Black Hurricane Katrina survivors in 2005. The local police also used the chaos as an excuse to shoot at Black people, leading to the infamous Danziger Bridge shooting. 17-year-old James Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison were fatally shot by police. Four other civilians were wounded. All of the shooting victims were Black. None of them were armed. None of them had committed a crime. One of the deceased victims, Ronald Madison, was mentally disabled. He was shot in the back. There was a massive public outcry, and the New Orleans Police Department attempted to cover up their horrific and racist shooting, but failed.
There is absolutely no reason why officials should be trying to invoke such a dark, violent, and racist history of vigilantism when it comes to the confusion and disarray following a natural disaster. Residents are looking to local officials to be voices of compassion and safety, not lawlessness and murder. But considering Congressman Gaetz’s white nationalist track record, such dangerous behavior should only be expected.
The terms of service for Twitter strictly forbid using the platform to threaten or call for violence. It remains to be seen if they will take action in response to Gaetz’s Sunday morning tweet.