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Ron DeSantis's Florida's State Guard is being trained as 'militia,' veterans say

Beatrice Nolan   

Ron DeSantis's Florida's State Guard is being trained as 'militia,' veterans say
  • Veterans say they quit Ron DeSantis's State Guard because training became too militaristic.
  • One recruit accused the guard of becoming "a militia," per the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times.

Veterans who were part of Ron DeSantis's new State Guard say they quit the program when training became too militaristic, according to an investigation by the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times.

DeSantis reestablished the Florida state guard in June 2022, promoting it as a civilian disaster relief force in a "natural disaster-prone state." However, volunteers say when they showed up at camp, they were trained for combat, per the report.

Brian Newhouse, a 20-year retired Navy veteran who was chosen as a lead for one of the guard's divisions, accused the program of being "hijacked" and turned into "a militia." He told the news outlet he was escorted off the base on the first day of training after raising complaints.

Two other veterans, who asked not to be named in the report, said they quit after having similar concerns the organization was deviating from its earlier mission.

Florida's State Guard was originally created in 1941 to support the Florida National Guard during World War II, but the unit was disbanded in 1947.

Unlike the National Guard, which takes orders from the federal government, the State Guard is under the direct control of the governor.

The budget for the State Guard has spiraled to $89 million

Democrats have previously questioned the Florida governor's motives for reestablishing an organization that only answers to him. Former governor and political rival, Charlie Crist, once called the organization DeSantis's "handpicked secret police."

Representatives for DeSantis did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment, made outside normal working hours.

In a statement shared with the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, major general John D. Haas, who oversees the Florida National Guard, called the state guard a "military organization" that would also be used for "aiding law enforcement with riots and illegal immigration."

"We are aware that some trainees who were removed are dissatisfied," Haas said in the statement shared with the outlet. "This is to be expected with any course that demands rigor and discipline."

The program has also faced an abuse allegation reported to the local sheriff's office by a disabled retired marine captain. The former captain accused Florida national guard instructors of forcing him into a van after he expressed concerns over the program and its leadership, according to the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times.

Newhouse told the news outlet that he didn't think the governor was aware of exactly what was going on within the camp. He told the outlet DeSantis "would be appalled that a disabled veteran would be abused by other military members."

Meanwhile, the budget for the State Guard has spiraled from $10 million to $89 million, to help boost its size to 1,500 members In March, state lawmakers and the governor revealed they wanted a specialized unit within the guard to have police powers and the ability to carry weapons. Its emergency response remit was also expanded to "protect and defend the people of Florida from threats to public safety," per the Miami Herald.

DeSantis is currently in the midst of a presidential campaign with hopes to beat out former US president Donald Trump. However, the Florida governor has been struggling to make up ground against Trump after nearly two months of campaigning.