JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis had a scheduled COVID-19 news conference Tuesday morning at the Florida Department of Health – Duval County in Jacksonville, but it was a well-known activist who showed up at the news conference ahead of the governor who stole the show.
“It’s time for him to address the people. Go and get him,” the man, identified as Ben Frazier, tells an apparent aide to the governor after he was approached and asked to leave.
“We’re trying to hold our elected officials accountable,” the man added, asking where the governor has been amid the surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the spread of the omicron variant.
The employee continued to repeatedly ask Frazier to leave, to which he replied, “You’re trying to stop the people from gathering on public property.”
Finally fed up, Frazier, who is also the Jacksonville Northside Coalition president, told the employee, “Go and get the governor. I’m through talking to you.”
The employee tried once more to get Frazier to leave the building ahead of the governor, who was running late to the scheduled 10:15 a.m. press conference.
“Make me leave, make me leave. I’m disobeying. I’m not leaving … End of conversation. We’re not leaving,” Frazier said.
WATCH: Man refuses to leave Department of Health building in Jacksonville ahead of governor’s press conference, saying “We are citizens. We come in peace.”
A short time later, a man who identified himself as the facilities manager entered the room accompanied by a police officer.
“Good morning, is there anyone in here who is not credentialed press?” the facilities manager asked, walking around and checking everyone’s credentials.
When he got to Frazier and the small group of people who were not members of the press, he asked them to leave, saying they were trespassing.
“Oh really? We came here to talk to our governor,” one woman responded.
“This is not the time and place for that,” she was told.
WATCH: Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks in Jacksonville
An aide to the governor gave her business card to Frazier and said she would be happy to arrange something between the group and the governor at a later time, as the press conference was a private event.
“Let me get this straight, you’re having a private press conference with a public official?” Frazier asked, repeatedly stating that they were in a public building on public property.
“When it comes to public welfare, this governor does not care,” Frazier said, leading the group to repeat the phrase.
Frazier maintained that the governor does not want to address the people, but “wants to run away and tuck his tail between his legs.”
Eventually, Frazier was placed into handcuffs as police officers ordered the group to leave for a final time.
“The governor is afraid to meet with the people,” Frazier said. “He is an enemy of the people.”
When DeSantis finally took to the podium, he reiterated his message during an appearance at Broward Health Medical Center on Monday, that he is urging the federal government to release more doses of monoclonal antibody treatments to Florida, and that once they do, the state will be opening up new treatment sites throughout the state.
When asked about the incident that occurred prior to his press conference, the governor said, “So, I have no idea what happened.”
Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary, later released a statement, saying: “The press conference is for credentialed media to cover information from the governor’s office and state leaders that is important for the public to hear. Mr. Frazier is an activist, not a member of the press. Every citizen has the right to protest in public places -- but not to trespass in a secured facility in order to disrupt a press briefing and prevent information from being conveyed to the public.”
Nikki Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner and a Democratic candidate for governor, also released a statement, saying:
“The extremely disturbing events we saw take place today, arresting an individual for simply asking to speak with the Governor at a press conference held on government property discussing public health policy, were a realization of our fears surrounding HB1′s enactment. HB1 set a dangerous precedent, disallowing individuals from speaking their minds and peacefully gathering – freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. I hope that any charges brought against Mr. Frazier, a respected civil rights activist in the community, are swiftly dropped and apologies issued for infringing on his rights. The Governor should be ashamed.”