Andrew Gillum and the Dream Defenders don't agree on everything. But they appear comfortable with their alliance even as Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis continues to cast his Democratic opponent as a "radical" due to his association with the Miami-based social justice organization.
One day after DeSantis name-dropped the activist group while arguing that Gillum has "anti-Semites around him," the Republican Governors Association on Tuesday released a TV commercial highlighting some of the organization's more controversial beliefs. The ad notes that Dream Defenders — which made its name over the last six years through acts of civil unrest — espouses open borders and states on its website that police are racist and have no place in society.
"Andrew Gillum: He's just too radical," a narrator says in the ad.
The commercial comes as DeSantis has sought to flip the script on Gillum after weeks of defending and distancing himself from news reports about his campaign's ties to alleged racists and extremists. DeSantis on Monday accused reporters of ignoring Gillum's association with groups like the Dream Defenders, which has likened Israel's treatment of Palestinians to an "Apartheid" system.
Gillum's support for Dream Defenders goes back years, to his time as a Tallahassee commissioner following the group's formation after the controversial shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The group was one of eight progressive organizations last month, including NextGen America and New Florida Majority, that contributed $3.5 million and/or campaign volunteers to help Gillum's underdog primary campaign pull off a stunning victory.
"These radicals not only support the abolishment of borders, prisons, and police, but also call the United States 'the biggest bully in the history of the planet," RGA spokesman Jon Thompson said in a statement.
Dream Defenders joined the coalition but did not contribute any money, said spokeswoman Nailah Summers. Instead, about 60 of the group's members helped canvass and raise money across the state in the days leading to the primaries. Summers said she doesn't see Dream Defenders as a radical organization because they advocate for basic needs such as food, safety and healthcare for all. However, she's not surprised to see Republicans call them radicals.
"This happened to Dr. King, to the women's suffrage, to slavery abolition," she said. "The other side has always pinned this name tag of radicals on people who want to progress and who want to change things for the better."
Gillum quickly responded Monday to DeSantis' comments by calling his opponent "unstable."
Gillum's campaign didn't address questions Tuesday about whether he agrees with the organization's stance on open borders and criminal justice, instead issuing a statement that accused DeSantis of "lying to voters in a desperate attempt to save his campaign."
But asked earlier this month to respond to characterizations of Dream Defenders as "extreme" and criticisms of the group's support for the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions act against Israel, a spokesman for Gillum told the Miami Herald that he's not-lockstep with the group on all its positions.
"The Mayor and the Dream Defenders, who are one of the leaders in the struggle for social justice here at home, don't agree on everything: he doesn't support BDS or other efforts that undermine the peace process," the spokesman said.
Gillum does advocate for the abolishment of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement — an increasingly mainstream opinion in the Democratic party — but he also says the agency should be replaced with a more compassionate entity to enforce immigration law. Gillum has also played a role in overseeing the Tallahassee Police Department for more than a decade as commissioner and mayor of the city.
Phillip Agnew, co-founder of the Dream Defenders, recently said in an interview with Democracy Now that the group considers Gillum "part of the movement."
But Summers, the Dream Defenders spokeswoman, said the organization and Gillum also disagree on certain topics, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the role of police and prisons, and the functionality of borders.
"We are more left-leaning than Gillum," she said. "He doesn't believe in everything we believe in, but he's still the best option for Florida."
— This story was written by David Smiley and Jimena Tavel.