(The Center Square) – It’s not often an ethics complaint filed by one lawmaker against another is resolved within 24 hours, but that’s exactly what Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva did Tuesday in announcing no action would be taken against Rep. Anthony Sabatini.
Rep. Cindy Polo, D-Miramar, filed a complaint Monday against Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, for “openly calling for violence” against protesters on Twitter.
In a Saturday tweet, Sabatini posted a photo of an AR-15 and wrote, “Attention potential ‘protesters’ coming near Lake County, FL. This is an AR-15 — this will be a very common sight upon illegal entry at any Lake County business — FYI!”
Polo cited two sections from Rules of the Florida House and said, “This kind of dangerous language and behavior should not be tolerated. It threatens the safety of U.S. citizens exercising their constitutionally protected rights of assembly and speech to highlight the everyday injustices the black community faces.”
Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, in a statement relayed over seven tweets Tuesday, concluded Sabatini’s comments did not violate House rules.
“Rep. Sabatini’s comments were no doubt provocative, as for their wisdom, I will leave that to the public at large however, they were directed specifically at a hypothetical party who would engage in an unlawful act,” he tweeted. “I therefore do not feel it is within my authority to take official action.”
Oliva said he was “in receipt of a few letters” regarding Sabatini’s tweet.
“Imagery notwithstanding, it is my conclusion the wording of the tweet does not constitute a direct or preemptive threat to any specific person, organized group or entity,” Oliva wrote. “The rules do not and should not grant presiding officers the power to determine the wisdom of member’s speech. This is a truth I think we all can agree on.”
Sabatini is not the only Florida official drawing fire as state and congressional lawmakers use Twitter feeds to defend or abhor President Donald Trump’s call to designate “Antifa” – a characterization for nebulous, ad hoc left-wing, anarchist groups – as “domestic terrorists” and to react to his Monday threat to use U.S. military troops against protesters.
U.S. Rep Matt Gaetz, R-Pensacola, in a Monday tweet from his personal Twitter account, asked, “Now that we clearly see Antifa as terrorists, can we hunt them down like we do those in the Middle East?”
The tweet was cited by Twitter for “glorifying violence” but not removed. Gaetz responded with a Breitbart interview and attacks on Twitter “censorship” in his Hot Takes podcast.
But Gaetz’s response to Trump’s call for “law and order” to be enforced by the military if necessary was relatively muted and succinct – “God bless President @realDonaldTrump” – as were those from other Florida Republicans, who expressed support for protesters’ right to demonstrate while backing the president’s call to take a tougher stance against violence.
Florida’s congressional Democrats, meanwhile, lambasted Trump, including Rep. Val Demings, the former Orlando police chief who is said to be a front-runner to be Joe Biden’s vice president running mate.
“This president, who wouldn’t lift a finger to help Americans dying of COVID-19, will gladly impose martial law. Resist,” Demings tweeted.
“Craven actions by a small president who was never fit to lead,” Rep. Kathy Castor tweeted. “We need a president who can unify and heal.”
“Rubber bullets & noxious gas to clear peaceful protesters for a reality tv moment at a church,” tweeted Rep. Ted Deutch. “No governor should emulate/allow this in their state.”
“This was a shameful and appalling abuse of power – for a photo op,” tweeted Rep. Frederica Wilson. “U.S. soldiers should never be used against the American public.”