How Rebekah Jones peddled lies about Florida COVID-19 deaths

This is a narrative about Rebekah Jones, a former dashboard supervisor on the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), who has single-handedly managed to persuade hundreds of thousands of Americans that Governor Ron DeSantis has been fudging the state’s COVID-19 knowledge.

When I write “single-handedly,” I imply it, for Jones isn’t one of the individuals who have superior this conspiracy idea however somewhat is the one that has superior this conspiracy idea. It has been repeated by others, positive: by partisans throughout the Internet, by unscrupulous Florida Democrats comparable to Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist, and on tv, by MSNBC particularly. But it flows from a single place: Rebekah Jones. To perceive that’s to know the entire recreation. This is about Jones, and Jones alone. If she falls, it falls.

And boy does it should fall.

Jones’s central declare is nothing much less dramatic than that she has uncovered a large conspiracy within the third most populous state within the nation, and that, having accomplished so, she has been ruthlessly persecuted by the governor and his “Gestapo.” Specifically, Jones claims that, whereas she was working on the FDOH final yr, she was instructed by her superiors to change the “raw” knowledge in order that Florida’s COVID response would look higher, and that, having refused, she was fired. Were this cost true, it might replicate one of the crucial breathtaking political scandals in all of American historical past.

But it’s not true. Indeed, it’s nonsense from begin to end. Jones isn’t a martyr; she’s a myth-peddler. She isn’t a scientist; she’s a fabulist. She’s not a whistleblower; she’s a very good old style confidence trickster. And, like every confidence trickster, she understands her marks higher than they perceive themselves. On Twitter, on cable information, in Cosmopolitan journal, and past, Jones is aware of precisely which buttons to push with a purpose to rally the gullible and get out her message.

Rebekah Jones says that she was fired by the Florida Department of Health because she had refused to take part in a cover-up of coronavirus data.
Rebekah Jones says that she was fired by the Florida Department of Health as a result of she had refused to participate in a cover-up of coronavirus knowledge.
Twitter

Since she first made her claims just a little beneath a yr in the past, Jones has raised hundreds of thousands of {dollars} by a number of GoFundMe accounts (and, as soon as she realized that she was dropping a share to credit-card charges, by paper checks); she has grow to be a darling of the web Left; and, by pointing to her personal, privately run dashboard, which exhibits numbers that make Florida’s COVID response look worse than it has been, she has prompted hundreds of thousands of individuals to consider fairly sincerely that the state’s many successes through the pandemic have been constructed atop fraud.

Stephen Glass, the well-known writer-turned-liar who spent years inventing tales however bought caught when he pushed it too far, might solely have dreamed of such a consequence.

Jones’ journey started on May 18, 2020, on which day she was dismissed by the Florida Department of Health. Today, she claims that she was fired as a result of she had refused to participate in a large cover-up. But as her personnel file exhibits, not solely was there no cover-up however the company did the whole lot it might to de-escalate the state of affairs round this worker earlier than it will definitely turned untenable. Indeed, because the information clearly present, indulging Jones had been its method from the outset.

At the time she was employed, the state authorities knew from its background test that Jones had accomplished a pre-trial intervention program in Louisiana in 2018, thereby securing a “no conviction” document for “battery of a police officer,” and it knew that she had entered right into a deferred-prosecution settlement with the State of Florida in 2017 after being charged with “criminal mischief.” And but it employed her anyway. Had she utilized for a extra necessary position, the forest of crimson flags that Jones leaves wherever she goes may effectively have prevented this error — particularly provided that she didn’t point out any of them in her software.

Rebekah Jones claims that Florida is hiding deaths of people who died from the coronavirus.
Rebekah Jones claims that Florida is hiding deaths of people that died from the coronavirus.
CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP by way of Getty Images

But Jones wasn’t there to fill an necessary position. She was there to run a web site.

Jones’s unhealthy conduct was first formally reported on May 6, 2020, when the IT director on the FDOH, Craig Curry, emailed the division’s labor-relations advisor, Tiffany Hicks, “looking for guidance” on “properly documenting actions of one of my employees and to get guidance on proper preparation in case action needs to be taken.” Among the “actions” that Curry sought to “document” had been that the worker — Rebekah Jones — had written “posts on website [sic] and social media regarding data and web product owned by the Department that she works on without permission of management or communications”; that she had launched infographics that “should have been identical to data published by our communication department” however weren’t; and, most critically, that she had probably uncovered “personnel data” within the course of.

Asked to make clear the issue by Hicks, Curry confirmed that between April 9 and April 30, 2020, he had verbally instructed Jones to cease speaking to the press with out permission, and, extra particularly, that he had instructed her to cease releasing health-department knowledge or representing her employer with out consent.

Rebekah Jones
Rebekah Jones has raised tons of of 1000’s of {dollars} by GoFundMe.

In her response to Curry, despatched later that day, Hicks proposed one among two actions: that Jones ought to both be “separated” (i.e., fired) or else be put by a “Management Counseling” process that may “address and document the recent incidents.” The latter course of, Hicks defined, “would be informal and would not be placed in the employee’s personnel file.” But “if similar behavior continues,” she added, “it is a [sic] management’s decision to move forward with termination.”

Apparently, the division selected the second motion, as a result of, by the top of the day, Jones was nonetheless working on the FDOH, albeit in a barely altered position. In his notes, Curry information that, having been “instructed by management to replace Ms. Jones as primary on the COVID Dashboard,” he known as her “to notify her that she was being removed from her duties as primary GIS [geographic information system] developer on the department’s COVID-19 dashboard.”

Rebekah Jones was fired by the Florida Department of Health on May 18, 2020.
Rebekah Jones was fired by the Florida Department of Health on May 18, 2020.
CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP by way of Getty Images

Again: This was not a termination. As Curry explicitly famous, Jones “was informed that she was maintaining her role as GIS team manager and was to resume normal day to day responsibilities, but she was to cease any duties and administrative roles associated with the COVID-19 GIS dashboard.”

The subsequent day, on May 7, 2020, Jones crashed the dashboard.

Without telling a single individual what she was doing, Jones created a brand new account throughout the GIS system and moved a tranche of knowledge into it. This each broke the setup and sincerely confused the division’s IT workers. “Because the team was not informed,” Curry wrote, it “began troubleshooting the issue as if it were a system issue” — which, in fact, it was not. In the method, the FDOH requested Chris Duclos, a GIS supervisor and the one different individual moreover Jones who had “full administrative right [sic] in our system[,] to help.” This Duclos did, primarily “by modifying ownership of objects to return the process to the previous state” — that’s, to roll again the system to the way it had been when it was working. At 1 p.m. that day, conscious that Duclos was reversing her energy seize, Jones locked Duclos out of his account.

Rebekah Jones waits outside of her home in Tallahassee, Florida
Rebekah Jones waits outdoors of her residence in Tallahassee, Florida as regulation enforcement officers execute a search warrant on December 7, 2020.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement by way of REUTERS

By 1:35 p.m. on the identical day, Jones had been instructed to revive Duclos’s full administrative entry. Six and a half hours later, at 8:08, she responded by saying that she would, after which, at 8:28, added that she meant to go away Florida to spend a while together with her household in Mississippi. Except … she didn’t.

Instead, as Curry recorded, Jones set Duclos’s permissions to a decrease degree than administrator and left herself as the only real individual throughout the FDOH who had administrator standing. In response, Duclos emailed the state’s GIS vendor and re­quested that his full permissions be restored. This was accomplished.

Shamarial Roberson
Rebekah Jones claims that Shamarial Roberson (pictured) instructed her to delete knowledge on coronavirus instances and deaths from the virus to bolster Florida’s profile amid the pandemic.
Florida Health

Then got here a lull. Having been requested what on earth she was doing, Jones claimed that she had set herself up as the only real administrator as the results of “security concerns,” and, beneath the impression that this excuse had been accepted by the division, she began taking part in good. Two days later, Curry reported, “the entire team seemed to be getting along and moving forward.”

At 9:30 a.m. on May 15, inspired by the advance in Jones’s conduct, and having bought the dashboard again up and operating, the FDOH determined that “Manage­ment Counseling was still the correct option for previous occurrences.”

That determination would final for only some hours: At 1:46 p.m., Jones despatched a mass electronic mail to everybody who used the dashboard — a lot of whom had been exterior to the division — explaining that she was not assigned to the dashboard and suggesting that she had been eliminated as a result of she had refused to control knowledge. Within minutes, the press started crawling everywhere in the story. Three days later, Jones was fired.

From that second on, Jones has sought relentlessly to painting herself as a martyr who was dismissed for telling “the truth.” Having waffled just a little within the first few days, she rapidly come across a selected declare to bolster this total impression: that she was instructed by Dr. Shamarial Roberson — the well-respected chronic-disease epidemiologist who’s presently serving as Florida’s deputy secretary of well being, and is the primary African American to carry that publish — to “delete cases and deaths” with a purpose to current a rosier model of what was occurring within the state. Absurdly accusing this official of being a “liar, fraud, murderer,” Jones now says that Roberson “asked me to go into the raw data and manually alter figures.”

Rebekah Jones
Jones claimed Gov. DeSantis’ “Gestapo” raided her residence and pointed weapons at her youngsters.
by way of REUTERS

This, in fact, is preposterous — not least as a result of it flies immediately within the face of Jones’s preliminary story. Today, Jones insists that the members of an ever-growing solid throughout the authorities of Florida ordered her to “fudge” the numbers. Back in May 2020, nevertheless, the Associated Press reported that she had not alleged “any tampering with data on deaths, hospital symptom surveillance, hospitalizations for COVID-19, numbers of new confirmed cases, or overall testing rates,” and that she had acknowledged that “Florida has been relatively transparent.”

Why did Jones initially decline to make such allegations? Because, as she knew full effectively, she had not been in a sufficiently senior place to have been capable of do such a factor, even when she had been requested. In her position because the supervisor of the dashboard, Jones didn’t have the power to edit the uncooked knowledge. Only a handful of individuals in Florida are permitted to the touch that info, and Jones was not amongst them. Instead, every day she was given a duplicate of the info and charged with importing it into the system in a fashion decided by the epidemiological crew. Had she for some cause determined to change that replicate, it might have been apparent to everybody inside seconds of its being in contrast with the unique.

There is a particularly good cause that no one within the Florida Department of Health has sided with Jones. It’s the identical cause that there was no devastating New York Times exposé about Florida’s “real” numbers. That cause? There is solely no story right here. By all accounts, Rebekah Jones is a proficient developer of GIS dashboards. But that’s all she is. She’s not an information scientist. She’s not an epidemiologist. She’s not a physician. She didn’t “build” the “data system,” as she now claims, neither is she a “data manager.” Her position on the FDOH was to function one of many individuals who export different folks’s work — from units over which she had no management — and to current it properly on the state’s dashboard.

To perceive simply how far eliminated Jones actually is from the precise knowledge, think about that even now — at the same time as she rakes in money from the gullible to help her personal unbiased dashboard — she is utilizing exactly the similar FDOH knowledge utilized by everybody else on the planet. Yes, you learn that proper: Jones’s “rebel” dashboard is connected on to the identical FDOH that she pretends each day is engaged in a conspiracy.

As Jones herself confirmed on Twitter: “I use DOH’s data. If you access the data from both sources, you’ll see that it is identical.” She simply shows them in another way.

Or, to place it extra bluntly, she shows them badly. When you get previous the entire nonsense, what Jones is finally saying is that the State of Florida — and, by extension, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — has not processed its knowledge in the identical method that she would if she had been in cost.

But, frankly, why would it not? Again, Jones isn’t an epidemiologist, and her objections, whereas compelling to the form of low-information political obsessive she is so good at attracting, betray a substantial ignorance of the fabric points.

In order to extend the numbers in Florida’s case rely, Jones counts constructive antibody checks as instances. But that’s unsound, provided that (a) these positives embody individuals who have already had COVID-19 or who’ve had the vaccine, and (b) Jones is unable to keep away from double-counting individuals who have taken each an antibody take a look at and a COVID take a look at that got here again constructive, as a result of the state appropriately refuses to publish the names of the individuals who have taken these checks.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Via her claims, Rebekah Jones single-handedly satisfied hundreds of thousands of Americans that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been fudging the state’s COVID-19 knowledge.
AP/Wilfredo Lee

Likewise, Jones claims that Florida is hiding deaths as a result of it doesn’t in­clude nonresidents in its headline numbers. But Florida does report nonresident deaths; it simply reviews them individually, as each state does, and because the CDC’s tips demand. Jones’s most up-to-date declare is that Florida’s “excess death” quantity is suspicious. But that, too, has been rigorously debunked by just about everybody who understands what “excess deaths” means in an epidemiological context — together with by the CDC; by Daniel Weinberger, an epidemiologist on the Yale School of Public Health; by Lauren Rossen, a statistician on the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics; and, most notably, by Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist on the University of South Florida, who, having gone to the difficulty of constructing a video explaining calmly why the speaking level was false, was then bullied off Twitter by Jones and her followers.

For a yr now, just about everybody who has criticized Jones has met the identical destiny as did Salemi. It doesn’t matter who they’re, or what they’ve been arguing, the play is at all times the identical. First, they’re known as a sexist or a racist or a member of the “alt-right.” Next, it’s implied that they’re working with Ron DeSantis or with Vladimir Putin — or, generally, with each. Then they’re instructed that they hate “science” — or, in the event that they disagree together with her or expose a given lie or verify that she doesn’t have the {qualifications} or expertise she claims, that they’ve bought out.

Medics transfer a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance outside of Emergency at Coral Gables Hospital near Miami, Florida on July 30, 2020.
Medics switch a affected person on a stretcher from an ambulance outdoors of Emergency at Coral Gables Hospital close to Miami, Florida on July 30, 2020.
CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP by way of Getty Images

And, lastly, they’re added to Jones’s “enemies” checklist (she actually has one, and used to publish it on-line), and an try begins to get them kicked off Twitter or Substack or no matter portion of the Internet they’re utilizing to clarify the ruse.

Because a very good variety of the folks Jones has focused will not be journalists or public figures, however scientists and public servants, such assaults work fairly effectively. If your profession is in epidemiology, and your employer is a public college, there may be little to be gained by attracting scandal.

Much of the nationwide consideration that Jones has obtained is the results of her insisting that, having discovered about her “whistleblowing,” Governor DeSantis used his “Gestapo” and “raided” her house, placing her kids at risk. But this, too, is a ridiculous lie.

Late final yr, the police did certainly execute a search warrant on Jones. But they did so as a result of an information breach on the FDOH — during which the private info of 19,000 workers was stolen — was traced again to the IPv6 tackle that Comcast had assigned to Jones’s home. Governor DeSantis had nothing to do with it. The search warrant — which alleges that Jones dedicated a felony by not solely quickly accessing personnel knowledge she had no proper to entry however completely stealing it — was initially signed by Judge Joshua Hawkes, a Republican appointee, however subsequently upheld by Judge John Cooper, an elected decide in closely Democratic Leon County. (Florida doesn’t have explicitly partisan judicial elections.)

Rebekah Jones speaks to her family members, as law enforcement officers execute a search warrant at her home in Tallahassee, Florida on December 7, 2020.
Rebekah Jones speaks to her members of the family, as regulation enforcement officers execute a search warrant at her residence in Tallahassee, Florida on December 7, 2020.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement by way of REUTERS

Jones now claims that she was “terrified” by the police’s go to. But even this appears to be extremely questionable. Not solely did she put together for the go to by making a made-for-the-cameras signal that learn “Biden hire me!” — hardly the instantaneous work of somebody who’s shocked that the cops are on the door — however she subsequently unfold a bunch of extraordinary claims about the conduct of the police that, after festering on-line for some time and spawning a swiftly dropped lawsuit from Jones, had been flatly disproven by the discharge of the body-camera footage.

As the Tampa Bay Times just lately famous, regardless of Jones’s having “claimed on Twitter that the agents ‘pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids,’ ” the bodycam video “does not appear to show police pointing their guns at anyone in the house.” On the opposite: It exhibits the police ready outdoors patiently for 22 minutes; it exhibits them making an attempt to attenuate the disruption to her kids by encouraging her to return and discuss to them on the door; and it exhibits them repeatedly calling Jones to search out out why she wasn’t cooperating. After the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) had launched the footage, a spokesman confirmed what anybody who watches it may well see: that at no level through the search did the brokers level their weapons at anybody in the home.

RN's suit up with PPE  in the COVID-19 section before entering the ward to work with patients in Tampa, Florida.
Nobody within the Florida Department of Health has sided with Rebekah Jones claims of a large cover-up.
Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post by way of Getty Images

They did, nevertheless, discover sufficient of what they had been on the lookout for in Jones’s residence for an additional Leon County decide, Nina Ashenafi Richardson, to signal a warrant for her arrest. In January, Jones turned herself in. She is presently awaiting trial. Thus did her stint on the FDOH finish as her stints elsewhere appear to have ended: in shame, in termination, with the cops displaying up on the door, and, ultimately, within the submitting of fees.

Until now, Jones has bought away with it each single time. Eventually, although, her luck goes to expire. And when it does, no quantity of flailing or distraction goes to stop the payments from coming due.

Excerpted with permission from National Review.

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