Utah Republicans decry the use of swastikas to protest Ron DeSantis’ speech at state GOP convention

Opponents of DeSantis’ visit to Utah say some of the Florida governor’s supporters display the Nazi symbol, so why can’t they?

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses The American Legislative Exchange Council annual meeting July 28, 2021 at The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City. DeSantis is heading the Utah Republican Party Convention on April 22, 2023, which has led to calls for protest.

Utah Republicans are furious that calls for protests during Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ appearance at Utah Valley University this weekend use swastikas and refer to the potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate as a “fascist.”

DeSantis will be the keynote speaker at the Utah Republican State Convention on the UVU campus Saturday morning. In response, fliers calling for a protest march have been posted around campus and online.

One post, in particular, has drawn the ire of several Utah Republicans for showing DeSantis with a swastika on his head.

“It’s in bad taste,” Utah GOP Chairman Carson Jorgensen said Thursday. “It’s fine to protest, but calling anyone you disagree with a Nazi is absolutely in bad taste.”

DeSantis has become a darling among conservatives for his media attention-grabbing policy proposals in Florida. Following his landslide reelection win last year, DeSantis is seen as a rival to former President Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Some of the momentum powering a potential DeSantis presidential bid has cooled in recent weeks as Trump has sprinted to a sizeable lead among Republicans in the polls, The Washington Post reports.

Sen. Mike Lee exploded after Assistant Professor Trevor Warburton, a UVU faculty member, shared the image on his Twitter account earlier this week.

“This was wildly inappropriate on every level,” Lee said during a Thursday morning interview on Fox News. “There is nothing about Governor DeSantis that is a fascist.”

“The use by the left of the word fascist — and symbols like the swastika to depict anything they don’t like — it cheapens the meaning of the word. This is a word with real significance and it will be more difficult to call it out when it actually exists,” Lee added.

Warburton removed the post and set his account to private earlier this week and did not respond to emails or phone calls seeking comment. A spokesperson for UVU said Warburton was acting as an individual when he posted the graphic featuring a swastika.

The image originally appeared on the Instagram account of an anarchist collective based in Provo and Orem known as “Trashbird Distro.” They describe themselves as a “decentralized art and mutual aid network.”

Through a spokesperson, the group did not apologize for calling DeSantis a “fascist” or using a swastika on the flyer, noting that some of DeSantis’ supporters in Florida display the symbol without DeSantis condemning them.

“It’s important that we use accurate language to describe what these actions lead to: fascism. The choice to include that symbol was deliberate. As the most universally understood symbol of political oppression, it serves as a reminder that if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it,” they said.

They add that while DeSantis’ visit is the impetus for Saturday’s protest, it is not the main focus.

“Ultimately, the target audience for this event isn’t Ron DeSantis — it’s our community. In the face of all of the attacks from the recent legislative session, we want everyone to know: ‘We will keep loving and fighting, and you are welcome to join us,’” they said.

Update, April 20, 8:10 p.m. • This story has been updated to include a statement from Utah Valley University and to update a statement from Trashbird Distro.