Meet Chris Rose II, a candidate for the soil and water conservation district who has promulgated Islamophobia and anti-Semitism on social media.
On an afternoon in mid-May, Kaithleen Hernandez was scrolling through her Facebook feed when a video of a news broadcast from downtown St. Augustine caught her eye. Standing before a Confederate monument was a white man wearing a cut-off vest made out of a Confederate flag with two smaller flags stitched on as breast pockets. Eyes shaded by a grey baseball cap embroidered with the word “LIBERTARIAN,” he gripped a PVC pipe bearing yet another Confederate flag.
Hernandez never quite forgot the image. She would encounter it again on Facebook about a month later, when the Gainesville Antifascists posted that the man in the video, Chris Rose II, had filed to run for a seat on the county’s soil and water conservation board. Rose is a director-at-large for the Libertarian Party of Florida (LPF).
Citing his association with Augustus Invictus, a white supremacist; hate groups like the American Guard; and active involvement in pro-Confederate monument rallies, the Antifascists called for someone to step up and run against Rose.
The page asked: “Does Chris Rose II represent Gainesville???”
Hernandez filed to run two days later, turning an unopposed election into a race. “It is inherently racist,” Hernandez said of Rose’s support for Confederate statues. “We cannot allow him to run unopposed.”
Rose spoke to a Jacksonville news station this summer before a confederate statue in downtown St. Augustine.
As the November election approaches, Gainesville’s leftist community has rallied around Hernandez. Megan Newsome, 22, is active with the Antifascists. Newsome pointed out that the conservation district is typically a low-profile, volunteer position. If Rose wins this seat, she’s worried he might use the legitimacy to run for a more powerful office.
“It’s a very common tactic among Libertarians [to go] for those often unthought about seats,” Newsome said. “ … It’s never okay, especially in elected government. He’s not fit for the position. White supremacy does not need to be reflected in the government.”
Chris Rose II is from Waldo, a small town in northeastern Alachua County where his family has lived since before the Civil War. An active participant in local politics, he can often be found at county commission meetings, conservative gatherings and pro-Confederate monument rallies wearing a cowboy hat and bolo tie.
Rose said he decided to run for the conservation district last year after he joined LPF in March 2017 and was elected a director-at-large. “It’s a position I don’t think too many people know about,” he said.
The conservation district oversees general environmental quality across the county by acting as as a liaison between the federal government and local landowners.
Rose said he is campaigning on a platform of “free market conservation,” a Libertarian ideology that argues for fewer environmental regulations on businesses in favor of privatizing lands — even though it’s been proven that businesses will wreak havoc on the environment without regulations. For instance, an unregulated wood treatment facility in northeast Gainesville leached carcinogens into local waterways for decades, resulting in the Cabot-Koppers Superfund Site.
“Whenever I go to a clean up, whether it’s at one of the highways locally or one of the springs, I’m looking to get as much trash as I can pick up personally in as short a time as possible,” Rose said.
Rose said he wanted to expand the conservation district into a local government “watchdog.” He said he was concerned the district didn’t have a say in the Wild Spaces and Public Places tax, which sets aside money for environmentally sensitive lands and was approved by voters in 2016.
Three weeks after Rose filed, a Facebook group named “Libertarians United Against Chris Rose” was created. The page began to post screenshots culled from online posts, comments and news clips of Rose and his friends that offer a glimpse into the candidate’s political beliefs.
The Fine Print investigated the Facebook posts and news clips provided to us by Libertarians United Against Chris Rose, and tracked Rose’s relationship with local members of the alt-right movement.
Rose Has Shared Islamophobic Statements on Social Media
Last year, Rose allegedly shared a video on Facebook of a June 2017 rally in Orlando called “March Against Sharia.” The event was organized a year after the Pulse shooting by Augustus Invictus, a white supremacist, alt-right icon who spoke at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, and Holocaust-denier who ran for a Florida U.S. Senate seat in 2016 on the Libertarian ticket (he lost in the primary).
In an interview last year with Hatewatch, a blog run by the Southern Poverty Law Center that documents the activities of the radical right, Invictus said, “Do I believe that 6 million Jews were killed by evil Hitler? Is that what you’re asking me? Okay, then I am still waiting to see those facts.”
In the video Rose allegedly shared, Invictus speaks into a megaphone to a responsive crowd — which included members of neo-Nazi organization Identity Evropa — about Confederate statues, the “dangers of Islam” and “leftist organizations.” A group of people to the left of him can be seen holding a sign that reads “End Islamic Immigration, No Safe Space for Sharia. Identity Evropa.”
When asked about the banner, Rose said that he believes people should be free to peacfully cross borders and that, as a Libertarian, he couldn’t be against any one religion. He also said even though he gave some friends a ride to the rally, he didn’t attend due to prior plans.
But in a screenshot of a now-deleted June 10, 2017 Facebook post, Rose wrote: “I am bringing fame to those who rise against tyranny. I also just left an Anti-Sharia Law [sic] protest in Orlando, where we were very vocal about the dangers of Islam and who exactly is responsible for the Pulse Night Club [sic] massacre.”
Rose wrote in an email to The Fine Print that he didn’t recall sharing a video of Invictus’s rally on Facebook, adding that if he had, “it would have been for awareness purposes only.”
Rose Is Associated With Hate Group American Guard
Rose is publicly associated with at least three members of the American Guard, which is a hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The American Guard is a self-proclaimed nationalist organization whose mission is “Restoring the Bill of Rights, Asserting the American Identity,” according to its website. Similar to other alt-right organizations like the Proud Boys or Patriot Prayer — who in the wake of Charlottesville have shifted from ethno-nationalism to emphasizing legal status — the American Guard claims to advocate for freedom “without regard to race, religion, culture or previous political affiliation,” according to its website.
Yet the group’s logo is of two crossed meat cleavers, a reference to “Bill the Butcher” from “Gangs of New York”, a character based on William Pool. Pool was a leader of the violent street gang the Bowery Boys that was infamous for attacking immigrants.
Rose told The Fine Print he is not a member of the American Guard and claimed to not know anything about the organization. He did acknowledge he knew people who were involved in it, and in a photo posted on the American Guard Facebook page in fall 2017, Rose is pictured with friends, some of who are leaders in the American Guard. They include: Ryan Ramsey, the vice president of the Florida American Guard; Joe Martin, a Republican School Board Candidate for Duval County; Ryan Hansen, a newly patched American Guard member, according to his activity on the Florida chapter’s Facebook page and his public ties with American Guard President Brien James; and Todd Gomez, Florida Sergeant at-Arms for the American Guard, according to its Facebook page.
Though Rose had written in a June 2017 Facebook post that he formally denounced the alt-right, Rose said the picture was from the unofficial campaign kick-off for Ramsey, who was running for Florida State House and is also an active LPF member. Ramsey represents Region 4, which comprises nine counties including Alachua.
Hansen has shared posts of Rose speaking at county commission meetings and has twice tagged Rose in comments along with other LPF members, including Ramsey and Invictus, who is no longer a member.
Rose Supports Confederate Monuments
Rose actively participates in pro-Confederate monument rallies in Florida, including ones in Gainesville and St. Augustine.
Rose spoke at a May 2017 county commission meeting in support of “Old Joe,” the Confederate statue in downtown that’s since been removed. Rose describes his family’s role in the Civil War and the Battle of Gainesville, claiming that the Civil War was not about slavery and that none of his family members owned slaves. The notion that the Civil War was about states’ rights was promulgated by white Southerners and former Confederate generals and is today a common white supremacist talking point.
“I hate that the topic always turns to slavery,” Rose told The Fine Print. “None of my ancestors nor their friends nor the ancestors of my friends have been slave owners … why they should be vilified and put in the same category as someone who did own slaves is kind of an injustice.”
Instead of removing Confederate monuments with taxpayer money, Rose supports private groups erecting adjacent monuments so that “both sides” can mourn their losses. “I’m a fan of diversity,” he said.
Rose Supported Richard Spencer
Last year, Rose was quoted in news outlets across Florida on Richard Spencer’s talk at UF. “I would also say hate speech does not cause violence,” Rose said. “Actions cause violence. You might tell me whatever you want to, but what I choose to do, I am responsible for that.”
Rose told The Fine Print he wished that activist groups had “intellectually” debated Spencer instead of shouting the white supremacist offstage. “That’s what people like that want,” Rose said. “They thrive on that attention.”
Yet Spencer hasn’t been able to hold a successful speaking event since No Nazis at UF shouted him offstage. The protests last year became a model for preventing alt-right speakers from hosting events at universities.
Rose Shared An Anti-Semitic Meme
In one of the screenshots posted by the Libertarians United Against Chris Rose Facebook page, Rose is shown messaging a Facebook group chat a meme that depicts an illustration of Adolf Hitler photoshopped next to the planet Jupiter. The meme reads: “A gas planet? We’ll call it Jewpiter.”
“Alright, alright, I’ll stop lol. Greg, delete if ya wanna [sic],” Rose writes underneath, responding to a hidden comment.
When asked about the post, Rose apologized. He said the meme was sent in a private conversation among friends and that it was intended to poke fun at the idea of being called a Nazi, which he said a couple people in the group chat had been called before.
“Looking back, was it in poor taste?” Rose said. “Yes, perhaps. But it was also in that context. It was just between ourselves.”
“It doesn’t look good when you have your name associated with something like that,” he added.
Rose is part of a greater pattern of individuals with ties to white supremacy and the alt-right seeking to legitimize themselves through public office, like Invictus, or a connection to local politicians, like the Proud Boys in South Florida have done with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.
Rose told The Fine Print that whether or not he wins this election, he intends on running for the conservation district again. “I do plan to run again because I feel so confident I would be able to accomplish at least some of the things I want to see done,” he said.
The Antifascists have been flyering at farmers markets and other local events, urging people to vote for Hernandez
instead of Rose. Hernandez, a coordinator at the Civic Media Center, has a bachelor’s degree in sustainability and was active in the protests against the Sabal Trail pipeline in 2016. She supports government regulations on the environment.
“I’ve seen what happens when we don’t have people doing that kind of work [regulations] in places like in Peru, where there are a lot of unregulated developers,” Hernandez said. “So I’d like to be able to prevent that from happening in such a beautiful place like Alachua County.”
Hernandez is not running alone. Danielle Sullen is running unopposed for the district two seat on the board in order to provide an anti-racist perspective if Rose is elected.
“We can’t let this go,” Hernandez said. “We can’t not have someone run against this guy and allow him to win.” •