Ron DeSantis plans Florida paramilitary force outside federal control

Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, has proposed an extraordinary plan to create a state paramilitary unit that he, rather than the federal government, would control.

DeSantis, a Republican, has asked state lawmakers to fund the establishment of what he is calling the Florida state guard to assist with “state-specific emergencies”.

This force of 200 selected volunteers would “not be encumbered by the federal government”, the governor said.

If the $3.5m plan goes ahead, Florida would gain a state-run force alongside its national guard, which is jointly funded by the federal government and the state.

Florida has previously created a state guard in 1941 to fill in for national guard members who were fighting in the second world war, but the unit was disbanded in 1947.

Related: Ron DeSantis wants to pay anti-vaccine police $5,000 to relocate to Florida

“Re-establishing the Florida state guard will allow civilians from all over the state to be trained in the best emergency response techniques and have the ability to mobilize very, very quickly,” DeSantis said on Thursday.

Florida would become the 23rd state with a state guard, according to the governor’s office.

The proposal has been sharply criticized by Democrats, who accused DeSantis of authoritarian motives.

“No governor should have his own handpicked secret police,” tweeted Charlie Crist, a Democrat who is running for Florida governor in elections held next year, having previously served as governor as a Republican.

DeSantis said the state guard would be deployed to deal with the aftermath of natural disasters, such as the hurricanes that routinely hit Florida, although these troops could be put to other tasks.

In 2015, Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas, used the state guard there to monitor federal military exercises in his state, amid a baseless rumor that the federal government was nefariously using Walmart supermarket parking lots to establish military control.

The push to establish a new state guard comes amid tensions between the Pentagon and Republican-led states over the vaccination of national guard members to protect them from Covid-19.

Troops have long received a variety of mandatory vaccinations while serving but the Covid vaccine has proved too controversial for some, despite repeated evidence showing its safety and efficacy.

The Department of Defense has said it may dock the pay of any soldier who refuses the jab.

DeSantis has not joined the pushback against military inoculations, although he has attempted to ban vaccine requirements, pay the fines of businesses that flout the federal vaccine mandate and plans bonuses to lure police officers from elsewhere who resist vaccine mandates.

DeSantis is following the rightwing populist mould of Donald Trump and is seen as a leading contender for the GOP’s presidential nomination for 2024, should the twice-impeached former president not secure it for himself.

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