TALLAHASSEE --- Florida is one of the leading states in the number of people arrested in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis repeatedly berates the “corporate media” for characterizing people protesting at school board meetings as domestic terrorists.

However, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement told state lawmakers this week that it doesn’t keep a list of domestic terrorism organizations.

FDLE Special Agent Supervisor Joshua Quigley, appearing before the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee, said the agency investigates potential domestic terrorists when it is reasonably believed they are involved in criminal activities. But, he said, the process to monitor groups is hard.

“Some of the categories that we see and that we deal with are racially motivated, violent extremists, anti-government extremists, animal rights, environmental extremist, and abortion extremists, just to name a few,” Quigley said. “These groups are often decentralized. They didn't used to be. They used to be very centralized and much easier to keep track (of) and see the activities.”

A big problem for law enforcement is that people engaged in such activities use encrypted online technology to keep conversations outside of the public eye. And more importantly, most of the conversations are protected speech.

“Although we find their speech and their rhetoric to be disgusting and hateful, we are often in a place where their words of hate are protected speech, which makes it even more difficult for us,” Quigley said. “So, we have to work through and ensure that what we're looking at has the criminal predicate reasonable suspicion for us to move forward with our intelligence initiatives or our investigations."

LOCKING DOWN AGAINST LOCKDOWNS

The federal government hasn’t called for lockdowns because of the latest coronavirus variant. But just in case there is any doubt, Florida won’t enforce lockdowns.

DeSantis, who has clashed for months with the Biden administration about COVID-19 issues, went on offense Monday at even a hint the federal government could suggest locking down businesses because of the omicron variant.

“Let me just say in Florida, we will not let them lock you down,” DeSantis said. “We will not let them take your jobs. We will not let them harm your businesses. We will not let them close your schools.”

DeSantis noted that he supported travel restrictions implemented by former President Donald Trump in January 2020, early in the pandemic. But he now is pushing for an increase in international travel and questioned the effectiveness of federal restrictions on people traveling from southern Africa because of the new variant.

“We have to take a step back and acknowledge that those travel … restrictions just didn't work. The virus had already spread,” DeSantis said. “So, whatever this variant is, the fact that you identify some in southern Africa, that does not mean that it's not in any corner of the globe. It's an airborne respiratory virus. So, I think those restrictions are not going to work. They haven't worked in the past, and clearly, to even be entertaining the idea of doing destructive disastrous policies, like lockdowns. I mean, honestly, I'm not surprised, because I think some people are just wired for this. But it is not going to happen in the state of Florida. You can take that to the bank.”

Florida in 2020 temporarily instituted COVID-19 checkpoints for people driving from certain Northeast U.S. states and Louisiana, which had high case numbers at the time..

Before DeSantis’ appearance this week, President Joe Biden had said the White House would outline a COVID-19 strategy for the winter months, “not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more.”

He later told reporters lockdowns, as a recommendation for state and local governments, were off the table “for now.”

A SEARCH FOR FUNDING

Lawmakers have received a request for $10 million to maintain the state’s eight emergency search-and-response teams that drew global attention last summer when responding to the collapsed Champlain Towers South in Surfside.

Kevin Guthrie, director of the state Florida Division of Emergency Management, said the funding request for the 2022 legislative session, which begins Jan. 11, is to make up for diminishing federal dollars.

"Years ago, our preparedness division used to receive about $130 million in Homeland Security funds, which helped maintain and sustain these teams," Guthrie told members of the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee on Tuesday. “Over time, that $131-ish million dollars has gone down to about $8.5 (million) --- $9 million. We are now looking to see how can we fix the gap.”

The search effort in Surfside, where 98 people died, was the first time all eight teams responded to the same location for a single incident. They often are deployed for hurricanes and other disasters.

FESTIVUS JABS

Chaz Stevens, an activist known for stunts, brought another Festivus pole to the Florida Capitol this week.

Stevens, who drew attention during the 2013 holiday season with a 6-foot-6-inch stack of empty beer cans topped with a disco ball displayed on the first floor of the Capitol, put up a pair of cardboard cutouts intended to draw support for COVID-19 vaccinations.

The cutouts featured Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and frequent Republican target, and Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson as an anti-vax grim reaper.

Stevens first pushed for a Capitol Festivus display --- which for a few years was joined by other equally irreverent displays --- to counter a Nativity scene placed by a Christian group.

Festivus was created by the TV sitcom "Seinfeld" as a holiday "for the rest of us."

TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Carrie Meek was a wonderful woman and an outstanding representative for the people of South Florida. She lived an amazing, inspiring, and full life. I’ll always be grateful for her friendship and support.” --- Former President Bill Clinton (@BillClinton)