An assertion Wednesday by a white Republican gubernatorial candidate that Florida voters can’t afford to “monkey this up” and vote for his black Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, was widely viewed as a “dog whistle” to rally racists.
If it was a dog whistle — the GOP candidate denies any racial intent — a jungle music-scored robo-call that has circulated in Florida is more akin to a bullhorn.
If nothing else, the minute-long audio clip is a clear sign of how quickly racism — subtle in some cases, overt in others — has seeped into the contest to determine who will lead Florida.
"Well hello there," the call begins as the sounds of drums and monkeys can be heard in the background, according to the New York Times. "I is Andrew Gillum."
"We Negroes ... done made mud huts while white folk waste a bunch of time making their home out of wood an stone."
The speaker goes on to say he'll pass a law letting African-Americans evade arrest "if the Negro know fo' sho he didn't do nothin.'" It is unclear how many people heard the call.
In a statement emailed to The Washington Post, Gillum’s spokesman, Geoff Burgan said: “This is reprehensible — and could only have come from someone with intentions to fuel hatred and seek publicity. Please don’t give it undeserved attention.”
People on the other side of the aisle also spoke out against the telephone campaign, which was first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat.
In a tweet, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, R, the current occupant of 700 N. Adams St. in Tallahassee and a candidate for U.S. Senate, blasted whoever was behind the robo-call.
"There is no room for any racial politics here in Florida - none," the tweet said. "Florida is a melting pot of people from all over the globe, and we are proud of it. No attempts to divide people by race or ethnicity will be tolerated, from anyone. THIS. STOPS. NOW."
And a spokesman for Rep. Ron DeSantis — the GOP gubernatorial candidate criticized for making racially tinged comments about Gillum — called the robo-calls “disgusting.”
“This is absolutely appalling and disgusting — and hopefully whoever is behind this has to answer for this despicable action,” Stephen Lawson, a spokesman for the DeSantis campaign, said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “Our campaign has and will continue to focus solely on the issues that Floridians care about and uniting our state as we continue to build on our success.”
DeSantis has said his comments were aimed at Gillum’s policies, not his skin color.
On Sunday, Gillum said he didn’t want the governor’s race to become one of name-calling.
“I want to make sure that we don’t racialize, and frankly, weaponize race as a part of this process,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He added that, “People are taking their cues from [DeSantis], from his campaign and from Donald Trump.”
And on "Meet the Press" Sunday, host Chuck Todd asked Gillum if he thinks DeSantis is racist. Gillum replied: "I have not called him a racist, but his rhetoric in my opinion has to be toned down. I won't get into the gutter and name call."
The DeSantis campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comments on Gillum's remarks on CNN.
If elected, Gillum would be Florida's first black governor.
"I have been really slow to try to think on it because it's too big," he told the Associated Press. "There will absolutely be a part of this that I can't even put words to around what it might mean for my children and other people's kids. Especially growing up for them in the age of Donald Trump."
A disclaimer at the end of the robo-call says it was produced by The Road to Power, a white supremacist and anti-Semitic group based in Idaho. The Southern Poverty Law Center has noted a recent rise in robo-calls across the country, calling them a "new, high-tech, computer-delivered brand of hate," according to the Times.
The Road to Power is also the group behind the most unsubtle attempt to turn the killing of Mollie Tibbetts in Iowa into anti-immigration policy and a 2018 campaign talking point.
Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student, disappeared in July while on a jog around her hometown. Authorities found her body in a cornfield a month later, led by a man they said confessed to chasing Tibbetts after seeing her running, then dragging her body into a field just outside the town of Brooklyn, Iowa.
The suspect, Cristhian Rivera, is a dairy farmworker who is an undocumented immigrant, and conservatives said Tibbetts' death highlights the need for stronger immigration laws and even a border wall. Tibbetts' family has pushed back against that argument, with her father speaking favorably of the local Hispanic community.
“If, after her life has now been brutally stolen from her, she could be brought back to life for just one moment and asked what do you think now, Mollie Tibbetts would say ‘Kill them all,’” an Iowa robo-call says. “Well, we don’t have to kill them all, but we do have to deport them all. The Aztec hybrids known as mestizos are low-IQ, bottom-feeding savages and is why the country they infest are crime-ridden failures.”
According to the Des Moines Register, the man producing the robo-calls is named Scott Rhodes, of Sandpoint, Idaho. He’s been linked to similar campaigns in California; Alexandria, Va.; and Charlottesville, Va. Rhodes could not immediately be reached for comment.