SWAMPLANDIA

The Year in Florida: The Return of George Zimmerman, Flakka, & Leprosy

From politicians drinking goat’s blood to diseased armadillos, it’s been a hell of a year for America’s strangest state.

12.31.15 5:01 AM ET

Weird shit happens in Florida.

People love to speculate about why this is. Maybe it’s the heat or the swamp critters; or there’s something in the water. Perhaps it’s all the poor people packed together, the political corruption, the promise of year-round vacation living—or the fact that Florida is the last place Southerners on the lam can go before hitting ocean.

Or maybe, as some Florida-truthers contend, Florida is only seen as weird because the state has some of the nation’s most open public-records laws, making court records and police reports a breeze to access and their subjects easier to mock in the media.

Whatever the case, a thankful nation continues to pay homage to the surreal Sunshine State with books and websites and Twitter feeds. As another year comes to an end, let us take a moment to reflect on Florida’s year that was with some of the state’s most insane stories from 2015.

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January 2015: The Meth T-Shirt Man

Quintessential Florida man John Balmer, 50, was arrested outside a Pasco County Kmart and charged with possession of methamphetamine. The cops may have been tipped off to Balmer’s illegal hobby by the shirt he was wearing. It read: “Who needs drugs? No seriously, I have drugs.”

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January 2015: Ebola Underpants

Politicians and health professionals worked together during last year’s Ebola scare to institute smart policies that would protect Americans from the disease. But Florida State Sen. Geraldine Thompson’s approach was truly inspired. After an Ebola-awareness event in January, the Orlando legislator filed a bill that would protect her constituents from catching the deadly disease—through their crotches. Her bill required that stores make shoppers keep on their underpants when trying on bathing-suit bottoms, underwear or lingerie. Citing the fact that Orlando is a popular travel destination and vulnerable to a possible influx of outsiders (from West Africa, one assumes?) Thompson told the Orlando Sentinel, “I just felt like we needed to take some preemptive action.”

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March 2015: ‘Nuisance Flooding’

Officials in Florida—the state poised to fall into the ocean due to global warming’s rising sea levels—banned the state’s Department of Environmental Protection from using the words “climate change” or “global warming” in official communications or reports. “We were instructed by our regional administrator that we were no longer allowed to use the terms ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ or even ‘sea-level rise,’” one former DEP worker told the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. “Sea-level rise was to be referred to as ‘nuisance flooding.’”

The unwritten policy went into effect around the time Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011. When asked to weigh in on global warming, the Republican governor will only answer, “I’m not a scientist.”

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May 2015: George Zimmerman (groan)

Have you had enough of George Zimmerman? Just when you think you’ve seen the last of the garbage human acquitted by a Florida jury in 2013 of the shooting death of Skittles-armed Trayvon Martin, up he pops again. In 2015, Zimmerman was arrested for aggravated assault and domestic violence with a weapon in a dispute with his girlfriend. This was Zimmerman’s second arrest for a domestic violence-related event—though the first time was with a different lady. Then this summer, he was shot in what police say was a road-rage incident. The shooter, Matthew Apperson, is facing a charge of attempted murder. Meanwhile, Zimmerman has kept himself busy on Twitter, posting revenge nude photos of his most recent girlfriend along with her contact information. In a series of disgusting tweets, Zimmerman claimed she had cheated on him “with a dirty Muslim.” Twitter quickly responded by suspending Zimmerman’s account.

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June 2015: The Cop-Car Dancer

Before “Hotline Bling,” there was Christian Radecki’s six-minute dance atop a sheriff’s deputy’s SUV that entranced a nation. The 44-year-old Floridian bounced and wiggled to “Rich Girl” by Hall & Oates and “Goodbye Stranger” by Supertramp, then stole an American flag and waved it proudly before being chased—with the Grease tune, “You’re the One that I Want,” still blaring from the car speakers—and captured by police.

Why’d he do it? According to the police report, “when [Radecki] opened his front door, a woman with fangs was threatening him, and [he thought] that a human sacrifice was about to occur involving vampires.” So, he told police, he “made the conscious decision to get the Sheriff of Nottingham to help him stop the slaughter of small children.”

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July 2015: Leprotic Armadillos

Florida saw a spike in leprosy cases this year. The cause? Armadillos, of course. Experts told residents that halting contact with the critters would all but solve the outbreak. But Floridians continued to spread further into armadillo habitats and in some areas, people still hunt and eat the little armored guys.

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October 2015: The Goat-Blood Politician

Floridian Augustus Sol Invictus is a candidate for U.S. Senate. In his bid for the seat this year, the Libertarian had to do a bit of explaining to do after vetting revealed he had once killed a goat, and drank its blood, to give thanks for surviving a kind of walkabout from Florida to the Mojave Desert. A detractor in his party had already accused the attorney-by-day of wanting to start a civil war and of trying to recruit neo-nazis, but it was the goat charge that went viral. Invictus—his given name remains a mystery, and his chosen name translates in Latin as “majestic unconquered sun”—was open with reporters, saying, “I did sacrifice a goat. I know that’s probably a quibble in the mind of most Americans … I sacrificed an animal to the god of the wilderness… Yes, I drank the goat’s blood.”

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November 2015: Shark Revenge

Allen Engelman was bitten by a seven-foot spinner shark while surfing off Palm Beach, Florida. After getting his hand stiched up at the local hospital, the tow-headed Brah returned to the beach with his 5-year-old son on a mission to capture and kill his attacker. In a video posted by the Palm Beach Post, Engelman is seen fishing a shark out of the water and dragging him off the beach. “Now that we got the shark that bit my hand,” Engelman said, “we’re going to filet and eat him.”

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December 2015: Flakka-Fueled Reverse Jail Break

Flakka is the latest deadly synthetic drug to ravage the Sunshine state. Officially called alpha-PVP, the lab-grown, highly addictive drug killed scores of Floridians this year and inspired dozens of YouTubers to terrifyingly document users in the throes of the “the new bath salts” rage. One Floridan, high on flakka, made news this month when he was arrested after a failed attempt to break into jail. On a mission to “see his friends,” Patrick Rempe, 24, rammed the Indian River County Jail’s front entrance, then tried to scale the fence but became tangled in razor wire. Rempe got his wish—he was booked into the local jail, charged with aggravated assault, battery on a law enforcement officer, felony criminal mischief, leaving the scene of a crash with property damage, and driving under the influence.

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December 2015: Later, Alligator

Perhaps the most Florida-esque story to come to our attention in 2015 was of the tragic end of petty thief Matthew Higgins. The 22-year-old was out burglarizing homes in Brevard County this month—and with cops hot on his trail, Higgins thought he’d cool his heels near the banks of Barefoot Bay lake. It was there that he was attacked by an 11-foot alligator and drowned. His body was found 10 days later and the gator was euthanized.