A Florida state guard established by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) was originally promoted as an “emergency-focused civilian defense force.” Now, it has morphed into an armed militia that is under his personal command.

DeSantis organized the state guard in June 2022. Though advertised as a method of protecting Floridians and encouraging civilian involvement, volunteers have been trained for military combat, which has included the use of weapons.

Dressed in camouflage uniforms, participants were forced to undergo boot camp led by instructors who woke them before dawn and mandated a 10:00 p.m. curfew. No medical or physical assessments were conducted to determine the recruits’ fitness levels before throwing them into challenging obstacle courses and drills.

Florida legislature approved an expansion in the force’s funding this year, increasing the budget from $10 million to $107.5 million. DeSantis proposed to allocate the money towards helicopters, boats and even cellphone-hacking technology.

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Brian Newhouse, a retired Navy veteran, was chosen to lead one of the state guard’s three divisions and has since voiced concern for what the organization has become.

“The program got hijacked and turned into something that we were trying to stay away from: a militia,” told Newhouse to reporters.

Police were called to investigate the force when an instance of abuse was reported. A disabled retired marine captain was allegedly shoved into a van by national guard staff after he expressed disapproval for how the volunteers were being treated.

The chaos has been attributed to the organization’s overall leadership. Upon interviewing recruits and examining records, reporters noted that the guard was seeking its third commander in eight months.

When DeSantis first suggested reviving the program, which had been inactive since the World War II, Democrats expressed fear that the governor would exert too much power over the force.

Though he is in charge of the guard, DeSantis is not heavily involved with the training and often does not pay attention to the problems occurring within his self-made militia.

“I don’t even think the governor knows what’s going on. I don’t think this is a fly on his radar right now,” Newhouse told reporters. “He would be appalled that a disabled veteran would be abused by other military members.”

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