Breakfast in a Floridian diner is never for the faint-hearted.
There’s the biscuits and gravy, the grits, the oversized breakfast tacos, the waffles, the pancakes, the corned beef hash and, of course, the all-American drip coffee.
If you survive all that, and if you nudge the locals a little, then the passionate yet divisive politics of this state and this nation all comes tumbling out.
The moment I mention Ron DeSantis, the cards are on the table.
“I love him… I think he’s doing the things that most of us would like him to do,” Patricia Barra says.
“He’s just kept Florida very productive; open through COVID. I think he wants to make America the way we were used to having it.”
Her husband, Gerald, finishes her thought: “Californians moving to Florida, Massachusettsans moving to Florida, New Jerseyans moving to Florida, New Yorkers moving to Florida. Must be something!”
But, a table away: “He’s bigoted, a white supremacist, a Trump wannabe…” Robin Mix says.
They say the Starlite Diner is a Daytona Beach landmark, an unofficial community meeting place for the locals. Where better, then, to find out more about Florida’s governor?
This is where the political career began for the man who wants to be president.
Daytona Beach is in his old district back when he was a congressman, way before he made waves nationwide.
I’ve come to find out what the allure is and whether that landslide vote for governor last year really could propel him all the way to the White House.
‘Make America Florida’ is his line. It’s a neat play on the tagline of his fan-turned-foe, Donald ‘Make America Great Again’ Trump.
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Trump is the clear favourite to clinch the Republican Party nominee for president. But DeSantis is behind him and hopes to close, fast.
He is Trumpian without the chaos. Maybe he can deliver on policy where Trump didn’t manage to? That’s exciting for some; frightening for others, and it turns out they’re all represented in the Starlite Diner this morning.
The vibe from his fans reflects a view that America has lost its way and needs to return to traditional values – conservative ones.
‘He would make a wonderful vice president’
“I like that idea…” another diner says when I put the Make America Florida tag to her.
“I think he would make a wonderful vice-president under President Trump…” another says.
It reflects what some see as the dream conservative ticket, however improbable it may be given the pair’s current animosity.
If there is one theme which gets to the heart of what Ron DeSantis is all about, it’s culture wars – his war on woke.
He has recognised that cultural issues – tapping into the idea that values have been eroded – so often resonates more with voters than issues like the economy.
Trump harked back to a time when America was apparently greater. DeSantis has gone further, identifying issues which, for his conservative support base, represent societal erosion – wokery.
“We will fight woke in the schools, we’ll fight woke in the corporations. We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die,” he says in varying forms repeatedly.
And yet, even channelling Churchill in Florida, by no means everyone here in the Starlite Diner is buying it.
“You know, his big thing is he wants to get rid of wokeness and I’m happy to be woke myself,” Peter Stephenson says.
“You know, I feel the definition of wokeness is having an acceptance for all types of people.”
His wife, Karen, adds: “And this stuff about all the gays and all that. Just let them live. Let everybody get along.”
Ron DeSantis has never explicitly said anything against the gay community.
DeSantis’s policies represent erosion of minority rights, say critics
But his policies, for his critics at least, represent an erosion of minority rights whether they be gay rights, racial rights or the freedom to be who you want to be.
“He wants to make everything like the 50s television shows where all the people were white, all the people were ‘normal’. Dad goes to work, mum stays at home. We can’t go back to the 50s. But that’s what they want,” Robin Mix says.
His recently published book is called The Courage To Be Free.
Critics say there’s a deep irony that a man who champions freedom has been so busy restricting so many different things.
On abortion he has introduced legislation banning it after six weeks.
On drag shows, laws now make it illegal for children to be present. There are restrictions on gender-neutral toilets. He was elected governor with these policies as promises.
And then there is the so-called book ban. It’s a headline that’s not wholly accurate.
He hasn’t banned books but has taken a hard line on what books are available to school children of different ages. In that sense, some books are banned for some age groups.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen some books in some of these libraries – you’re talking about kids in middle school – some of the stuff that’s ended up there is incredibly disturbing stuff,” he said recently.
The governor’s grassroots support comes from mothers like Tina Descovich, who co-founded the group ‘Moms for Liberty’ here in Florida. It now has branches nationwide.
She raises a book in her hand as we chat.
“Gender Queer has obscene images throughout. It was found here in a local middle school library that shared middle school in high school and not only was it in the school, it was on display on one of the display cases at the end,” she tells me.
“A lot of school districts around the country have decided that this is appropriate for as young as six grade so 11 and 12-year-olds here in the United States.”
There is no evidence that this book is widely available to that age group across America.
But for Tina, his strong stance represents leadership.
“He takes action. You know, we are tired in our country and in our state of spineless leaders, who change their mind, who flip-flop, who go with the flow. What we saw with Governor DeSantis as he looked at facts, and he made decisions even though they were unpopular.”
‘DeSantis is not for freedom for all people’
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Down the coast in one of Florida’s few remaining Democratic counties, I met Denise Soufrine, a teacher who is considering leaving Florida.
“He touts that we’re the Free State of Florida, and I don’t understand how he could possibly say that when you are restricting the rights,” she says.
“The Moms for Liberty will say ‘we’re protecting children’. Well, what about all the other parents that want their children to be exposed to ideas of all sorts so their children can grow?
“I don’t really think that’s what this country wants. I don’t think so.
“That’s not what this country was founded on. And this governor is not for freedom for all people. He’s only for freedom for certain people.
“Years ago, there were hardly any books in libraries that showed black characters, African American characters, Hispanic characters.
“So as a librarian, as a teacher, I’m someone that wants to make sure that everyone in the class feels comfortable and knows that they’re accepted.”
She adds: “There’s no kindness in any of the bills that he is promoting at all.”
New York issues air quality alert as smoke from Canadian wildfires shrouds landmarks
People in New York are being warned to limit outdoor activity as smoke from Canadian wildfires drifts across many areas of the northeastern US.
Air quality in the state is now “unhealthy”, according to the Environment Protection Agency, and a murky haze has descended over landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and Times Square.
Unusually early and intense wildfires in Canada’s Quebec province are to blame – more than 150 forest fires were burning on Tuesday – and over 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate.
Lightning is said to have started many of the fires.
US authorities said residents with heart or lung disease, older people and children should keep outdoor activities short, and that others should reduce the amount they’re active or exercising.
New York state, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the Washington DC area are among the states with an “unhealthy” fine particulate matter reading (PM 2.5).
Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, also warned residents about the air quality and tourists at the CN Tower were met with a murky orange vista rather than clear early-summer skies.
An eerie haze also hung over the New York Yankees’ game against Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night.
There was an even starker air warning in Canadian capital Ottawa, where officials ranked it category 10+, indicating “very high risk”.
Wildfires are common in Canada’s west, but this year the east has seen significant fires – and more than 110 are said to be out of control.
Some 3.3 million hectares have already burned – about 13 times the 10-year average – and more than 120,000 people have been forced to leave home.
Chibougamau, a remote Quebec town of about 7,500, was the latest to be evacuated late on Tuesday.
What’s the risk from the pollution?
Fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, is about 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair and can be blown long distances.
It can cause throat and lung irritation and worsen conditions such as asthma or heart disease. The particles can also disturb the eyes and nose.
Children can be particularly sensitive as their lungs are still developing and they breathe in more air per unit of body weight. Older people can also struggle more than others.
Where does PM 2.5 pollution come from?
Primarily from vehicle exhausts, but also any other operations that burn fuels such as coal or wood – including forest or grass fires.
How can you reduce the risk?
Try to avoid outdoor exercise or exertion. Consider wearing a N95-rated face mask to reduce your exposure if you have to go outside.
Keep windows, doors and fireplace shut and run any air-con units on a recirculation setting. An air purifier in the home could also help people who are especially vulnerable.
“We’re following all of this from hour to hour, obviously,” said Quebec Premier FranCois Legault.
“If we look at the situation in Quebec as a whole, there are several places where it is still worrying.”
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He said the Abitibi-Temiscamingue region in the northwest of the province Quebec was a particular concern.
The US, Mexico, France and South Africa are among those who have sent firefighters to help – but no rain is immediately forecast meaning the fires are likely to be tougher to extinguish.
Man armed with four handguns kills two after high school graduation ceremony in Virginia
A man armed with four handguns killed two people and wounded five others by firing into a crowd outside a high school graduation ceremony in Virginia, causing hundreds to flee in panic, police said.
A 19-year-old man, who is believed to know one of the victims, was arrested in Richmond shortly after the incident outside the Huguenot High School’s commencement ceremony on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.
The suspect is expected to be charged with two counts of second-degree murder in addition to other offences, interim Richmond Police Chief Rick Edwards told a news conference.
He called the shooter’s behaviour “disgusting and cowardly”, since his dispute appeared to be with just one person.
“When you have a crowd like this, innocent people are going to be caught up in the mayhem, and that’s what happened today,” Mr Edwards said.
“Obviously, this should have been a safe space… It’s just incredibly tragic that someone decided to bring a gun to this incident and rain terror on our community.”
The mass shooting was the 279th to take place in the US in the first 157 days of 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive. It defines a shooting as a mass shooting when four or more people are shot or killed in a single incident, not including the shooter.
Among those killed was an 18-year-old male student who had just graduated and a 36-year-old man, Mr Edwards said.
He did not confirm a local TV report saying the victims were father and son.
A 31-year-old man suffered life-threatening injuries and four other males aged 14, 32, 55 and 58 were expected to survive, he added.
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Nine-year-old injured in chaos
Mr Edwards said a nine-year-old girl was struck by a car in the ensuing chaos and several other people were injured in falls or suffered from anxiety.
The suspect fled the scene on foot and was captured in possession of four handguns, three of which may have been fired, Mr Edwards said.
The school district said a different graduation scheduled for later on Tuesday was cancelled “out of an abundance of caution” and schools would be closed on Wednesday.
Prince Harry’s admitted drug use cited in push to release his US visa records by conservative think tank
Prince Harry’s past drug use detailed in his explosive memoir should lead to the release of his immigration paperwork, an American conservative think tank has argued in a Washington court.
The Heritage Foundation appealed to US District Judge Carl Nichols for a quicker response to a records request the US government has so far deemed private.
Mr Nichols told the foundation and the Department of Homeland Security to work on the speed of the response and said he would rule if they could not reach an agreement on their own.
The Duke of Sussex moved to Southern California with his wife Meghan Markle and their young family in 2020 after they left royal life.
Prince Harry’s US court case could land him in very hot water with the authorities
In his memoir Spare he detailed his past drug use, saying he took cocaine several times starting around age 17 in order “to be different”.
He also admitted using cannabis and magic mushrooms.
The US routinely asks about drug use on its visa applications.
This has led to travel headaches for several celebrities including chef Nigella Lawson and singers Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty.
Acknowledgement of past drug use does not necessarily bar people from entering or staying in the country.
Read more about Harry’s UK case:
Prince Harry blames tabloids for casting him as a ‘thicko’ and a ‘playboy’
The key people named in Harry’s witness statement
Which articles have been brought up?
Request denied because group lacks Harry’s permission
The Heritage Foundation sent a public information request to the Department of Homeland Security asking for Prince Harry’s immigration records.
They argue there is “intense public interest” in whether the prince got special treatment during his application process.
The conservative think tank also linked those questions to wider immigration issues in the US such as those surrounding the southern border with Mexico.
The request has largely been denied since the group does not have Prince Harry’s permission to get the private information.
“A person’s visa status is confidential,” said John Bardo, an attorney for the Department of Homeland Security.
The agency’s policy allows the release of information about issues of public interest, but the agency argued media coverage of how Harry’s drug use connects to his visa status in the US has not been widespread among mainstream American publications.
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‘This is about accountability and transparency’
“This case is all about the enforcement of US Immigration Law and certainly Prince Harry is one of the most high profile figures, one of the most well-known figures in the world right now including here in the United States,” Dr Nile Gardiner from the Heritage Foundation told Sky News’s US correspondent Mark Stone.
“But at the end of the day, this is about accountability and transparency and openness on the part of the US administration, with regard to an immigration application by a high-profile individual.
“There is a US public interest in this. But without a doubt, I think that a key factor here has been Prince Harry’s memoir Spare and his revelations about his own drug use; he’s put it all out there.
“Let’s see whether that exactly matches what he put on his immigration application. Because if it doesn’t, that’s perjury, that’s a criminal offence, actually, and everyone should be held to account before the law. No one should be treated any differently.”
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