In my OpenDemocracy column on 19 April, I argued that “intellectual diversity” initiatives – which, in their aim to ensure conservative representation, are completely unnecessary – “represent a coded reactionary effort to reclaim power by the beneficiaries of white patriarchal domination, who may feel oppressed by authentic diversification even though they are not.”

But this genteel strategy for ensuring the continuation of white male domination in US society is not for all conservatives.

Take, for example, right-wing Catholic provocateur Matt Walsh, a man who has recently been making headlines for his relentless attacks on transgender women and anyone who accommodates them. Even Fox News is too ‘inclusive’ for Walsh, who last week took time off from his targeted anti-trans vitriol to embark on a racist rant aimed at diversity initiatives in general.

Zeroing in on a story about Uber’s chief of diversity, Bo Lee Young, being placed on leave for failing to address the concerns of workers of colour in a diversity event focused on white women, Walsh complained that “99.99999% of all diversity and equity material and all training is all about telling the Black and Hispanic workers how great they are and how wonderful they are and how persecuted they are and how everyone else is out to get them and they’re right about anything.”

He claimed these workers of colour “couldn’t handle” not being the focus of diversity discussions “for 12 seconds”. He also claimed that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives “are supposed to be anti-white” and that “diversity is an anti-white conspiracy”.

According to US hate watchdog the Southern Poverty Law Center, white nationalists are currently “placing much of their energy into harnessing the anger and resentment of Trump supporters into a broad authoritarian movement. They hope to convince white Americans that they are persecuted by ‘anti-white’ ideas and policies, including the adoption of inclusive education in schools.”

Walsh may not wear the white hood of the KKK, but his actions are certainly assisting white supremacists. And even if he states his extreme views too directly and openly to get a position on Fox, the US’s most-watched cable news network, he has a massive social media reach and cannot be dismissed as fringe.

The example of Florida (again)

To illustrate that point, we need only turn to governor Ron DeSantis’s dystopian Florida, where DEI initiatives are under attack and which many Republicans view as a sort of laboratory for how the GOP could transform the rest of the country.

Earlier this month, I wrote about DeSantis’s use of an election police force to terrorise African Americans, highlighting cases in which individuals had been issued voter cards and voted in the 2020 election, but whose votes were later deemed ineligible. DeSantis had these people arrested, and his rubber-stamp Republican legislature obligingly changed state law to make it easier to prosecute them.

In addition, in cartoonishly propagandistic rhetoric, DeSantis has described university DEI initiatives as “scams” and “political indoctrination”, supposedly pushed on students by “the woke mob”. His government has banned state institutions from spending any money on these initiatives. Florida is also a key centre of the Republican party’s current drive to ban books from classrooms and libraries, with many of those books dealing with race and LGBTIQ identities.

Last week, DeSantis announced, as long expected, that he is running for US president. In a comically botched Twitter launch rife with technical difficulties, DeSantis opened his presidential campaign alongside Elon Musk, who has himself recently come under fire for making comments about pro-democracy philanthropist George Soros that many view as antisemitic.

On Twitter, DeSantis proclaimed that Florida “proved it can be done. We chose facts over fear, education over indoctrination, law and order over rioting and disorder.”

American advocates for racial justice have long understood such ‘law and order’ and its associated pro-police rhetoric to be code for white supremacy, and DeSantis’s actions as governor have done nothing to undermine that understanding.

In 2022, DeSantis received funding from the Republican-dominated state legislature to give recruitment bonuses to out-of-state police officers frustrated with the (largely fictional) “mistreating, marginalising, and defunding” of law enforcement in more ‘woke’ parts of the country. The rhetoric and money worked exactly as they were supposed to, giving DeSantis plenty of PR opportunities to hand out cheques for well over $6,000 to cops – while also attracting cops with records of bad behaviour, including racist behaviour.

We now know this definitively, thanks to an investigation by the Daily Dot, which used FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests and publicly available information to confirm the identities of a number of police officers who moved to Florida from New York. In 2021, one such officer, Justin Burgos, “allegedly ploughed his car into Black Lives Matter protesters in New York City, injuring a teen”, according to the report.

Of course, none of this has escaped the notice of affected racial and ethnic communities and their advocacy organisations. In fact, the national NAACP has taken the extraordinary step of issuing a formal travel advisory for Florida, which reads: “Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of colour and LGBTQ+ individuals. Before travelling to Florida, please understand that the State of Florida devalues and marginalises the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of colour.”

Whether or not DeSantis wins the Republican primaries or becomes president, his frighteningly authoritarian vision for the United States is absolutely mainstream in the Republican party. And it’s past time for America’s chattering classes to start explicitly calling that vision what it is: anti-democratic, racist and unacceptable.