As investigations continued into the weekend’s mass shootings, Gov. Ron DeSantis acknowledged the difficulty Thursday of probing the Internet’s dark recesses for early warning signs while protecting freedom of expression.
“If you didn’t necessarily have places online to congregate, they would not have strength in numbers. Being able to go and trade these ideas in an online community, I think that radicalizes people,” the governor told reporters.
“The solution to that, to me, is not obvious. Because typically the government is not policing or holding people to account just for speech. It really requires incitement or for it to be a threat.”
DeSantis – in Hillsborough County to promote worker training programs – was certain of at least one thing: He wants news media to deny such killers the spotlight.
“I don’t know all that’s happened since the weekend, but I really believe that a shooter should not have their face plastered everywhere. The media should not … put out whatever manifesto. I think it’s, like, no notoriety, because I don’t want these people to somehow think that, if they do something like that, they’re going to make this big splash,” he said.
DeSantis brings a background in military intelligence to the case. He is a a Harvard-trained former prosecutor with the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General Corps who advised a SEAL team in Iraq about how to lawfully investigate insurgent activity and conduct humane interrogations. He also served at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility and, as a congressman, on the House Intelligence Committee.
The governor has ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to devise a strategy to spot “red flags” signaling potential threats of mass shooting like those in Texas and Ohio – or, closer to home, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School or the Pulse nightclub in Florida. That work is expected to be completed by year’s end.
“I think it’s probably going to require somewhat different solutions than what we’ve been trying to do with the international terrorism over all these years – simply because there’s going to be constitutional and legal restrictions vis-à-vis what we would have been able to do to somebody in Syria,” he said.
Earlier this week, DeSantis noted the Internet’s role in helping domestic and international terrorists organize. Thursday, he remarked about how difficult it can be to block radicalization on the web.
“It was really distressing to see on some of these websites after the El Paso shooting, there were people who were cheering this guy for doing it. It’s a very, very sick, I think dark, recess. But I think it’s there,” the governor said.
The gunman who killed nine people in Dayton reportedly had exhibited warning signs, including a fascination with violence and death. People who knew him told reporters they weren’t surprised he was behind the attack. A manifesto attributed to the El Paso killer appeared on the 8chan message board, favored by extremists, shortly before the shooting started.
“People post some of this stuff. If they post something saying that they want to attack a synagogue or something like that, and you have information, that’s something that law enforcement can take very, very seriously,” DeSantis said.
“Online is a huge factor. It’s a factor with the radical Islamic terrorism. You have these international terrorism groups, they put out propaganda and people can get radicalized just by going on the Internet, even if they’ve never been to an ISIS training site in Syria,” he continued.
“The solutions are not obvious. Its harder for us to combat domestic than international [terrorism] because the legal authorities are different. International, you have all kinds of legal authorities. When you start talking about domestic, it all has to be done in terms of a law-enforcement posture. I would always argue, for international terrorism, we want it to be more of a military posture, but it’s hard to fit it into our domestic system when you have that.”