Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is ramping up his war against Disney, threatening to retaliate against one of his state’s largest employers over its criticism of the anti-gay law he signed this week. “Disney has alienated a lot of people now,” DeSantis said at a press conference Thursday. “And so the political influence they’re used to wielding, I think has dissipated. And so the question is, why would you want to have special privileges in the law at all? And I don’t think that we should.”
DeSantis appears to be endorsing an idea floated by some state GOP lawmakers to revoke the “special privileges” Disney has enjoyed for decades under the Reedy Creek Improvement Act as punishment for its stance against the anti-gay bill. The Reedy Creek Improvement District, established in 1967, effectively allows Disney World to act as its own government; the park oversees its own land use, regulates its own buildings, roads, and essentially provides the services a municipal or county government typically would. By revoking this statute, Disney World would come under the county’s regulations. “If Disney wants to embrace woke ideology,” Florida State Representative Spencer Roach tweeted Wednesday, “it seems fitting that they should be regulated by Orange County.”
It’s unclear whether DeSantis and his Republican allies will follow through on this threat, which came days after the governor enacted the “Don’t Say Gay” bill Florida Republicans passed in March. The law takes effect July 1 and will prohibit teachers in the state from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with school children and allow parents to take legal action against school districts they feel have violated the law. Disney had initially shrugged at the bill, with CEO Bob Chapek insisting that the “inspiring content” the company created in programs like Modern Family could better effect change than any condemnation of the GOP’s legislative attack on LGBTQ kids. That triggered an internal revolt at the company, including an employee walkout and an open letter from Disney employees stating that Disney’ had “utterly failed to match the magnitude of the threat to LGBTQIA+ safety represented by this legislation.” The pressure campaign pushed the company to more directly criticize the law and vow to support repeal efforts. The law has already been challenged in court.
That drew the ire of Republicans in Florida and beyond, who have made the entertainment giant the latest target in their endless culture wars. National Republicans like Marco Rubio accused Disney of supporting the “indoctrination” of young kids. The right-wing outrage machine has made the company their punching bag du jour, with Ben Shapiro planning to create kids’ content through his conservative Daily Wire media outlet to counterprogram Disney, which he whined was “being held hostage by the woke.” And state Republicans like Roach are holding meetings to discuss repealing the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
That would be a “disaster” for the company, according to Orlando News 6 political analyst Jim Clark. But it may be a bluff: “If you ask me whether it’s politically possible to take these privileges away from the Disney company, I don’t think so,” Richard Foglesong, who explored the relationship between Disney and Orlando in his book, Married to the Mouse, told News 6. “I think that cooler minds will prevail and that this is really a shot across the bow to try to bring the Disney company, Mickey Mouse if you will, into line with Governor DeSantis.”
DeSantis, then, may be playing a game of chicken…with the Mouse. It’s petty, but it’s also fitting for the Florida governor, who has become a GOP star — and potential 2024 presidential contender — by rushing to the front lines of every conservative culture war. And, as Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern recently observed, it’s part of a disturbing trend in which the GOP appears to be “turbocharging its anti-gay agenda” after a period of “tactical retreat.”
More Great Stories From Vanity Fair
— Fox News Hosts Entertained Putin-Friendly Talking Points. Then Their Colleagues Were Killed in Ukraine
— The Life and Confessions of Mob Chef David Ruggerio
— Kremlin Keeps Blurring Its Red Line Around Nuclear War
— Calls for Recusals, Resignations, and Even Impeachment: Democrats Escalate Ethics Campaign Around Clarence Thomas
— Two Ukrainian AP Journalists Capture the Most Devastating Moments of War
— Trump: If I Was President I’d Threaten to Drop a Nuclear Bomb on Russia
— What Will Dems Do If Biden Doesn’t Run?
— Orgies, Beheadings, Jewish Space Lasers: Everything Kevin McCarthy Has Had to “Speak” to Republican Lawmakers About
— The Truth Behind Republicans’ Vile Questioning of Ketanji Brown Jackson
— From the Archive: Molly Bloom’s House of Cards
— Not a subscriber? Join Vanity Fair to receive full access to VF.com and the complete online archive now.