By Rebekah Jones
For three years I’ve lived my life one viral news story after the next. I've done my best effort to include as many of the stories you may (and may not) have heard over that time, highly-cited and with receipts. So here it is: Whistleblower: A Timeline of the Media Spectacle
The official letter I received stated no reason for my termination, but I asked who made the decision and was told it was the Deputy Secretary - the very person I was filing the whistleblower complaint against.
The decision was not that of my immediate supervisor or even his immediate supervisor, but of the politically-appointed bureaucrat who had just weeks prior asked me to manipulate the publicly-available data I managed about the pandemic.
The state offered me a settlement if I agreed to resign and not sue them for retaliation. They gave me a deadline of Thursday, May 21, 2020 to make a decision.
I was already out of town and hiding from the media in a hotel as I watched every major network speculate about what had happened. Even Colbert did a bit on it.
I kept quiet.
On Tuesday, my neighbor called to tell me news vans were parked outside our shared townhouse building, and an AP reporter had been looking into our windows to see if we were home. I was visiting my parents at the time -- who lost their home that April during the 2020 Easter tornado outbreak -- and wasn't sure when I could come home.
On Wednesday, May 20,2020, while I was hiding from the press and mulling the resignation, Governor Ron DeSantis went on an unhinged rant targeting me, outing me to the world when I had planned to file my complaint anonymously.
I did not accept their settlement offer by the Thursday deadline.
The day after the deadline to accept that offer passed, a defamatory and salacious article in The Daily Mail (published in the UK and out of reach of our libel laws) sought to scare me into silence by shaming me for reporting a sexual assault I experienced seven years prior by a former classmate in college. They fudged the details and attacked my family, even publishing the names and photos of my two young children. They quoted my abuser’s many police interviews verbatim and as statements of fact, even though the university itself issued letters of support and proved he was lying. The media quickly called out the lies, but the damage had been done.
Existing job offers evaporated, and my silence surrendered the opportunity to "shape the narrative."
The Daily Mail article, meant to intimidate me into silence, had the opposite effect. The only reason I had not spoken out was because I wanted to protect my family’s privacy and not be the center of the story. By attacking me, they eliminated the only reason preventing me from coming forward.
I gave one interview then went back to my life, thinking my life before still existed in some form. I received dozens of new job offers from across the country after my CNN appearance, from places as esteemed as the MIT Broad Center to working directly for other governors in other states.
I spent the next few weeks helping a non-profit establish COVID-19 surveillance tools in east Africa while I interviewed for jobs. Because the media mislabeled my skillset, incorrectly calling me a software engineer and programmer, a lot of the jobs I was offered were far beyond my field of expertise. I was a scientist, not a programmer. I didn’t want to be under the thumb of another governor and I didn’t want to be politicized. That limited my options.
Then Florida’s 2020 summer of death began.
During the first week of June 2020, I launched a pandemic tracking system that bested the state's.
Though never a heavy social media user before my ousting, I decided to use my new platform to advocate for transparency in data reporting during the pandemic, to provide a more comprehensive view of COVID-19 in the state, and to fight for truth and evidence-based decision making.
When my former colleagues begged the state to protect them as they and their families were dying from the virus, I spoke out on their behalf.
In July 2020, I created the national tracking system for Covid in schools with Google and FinMango, and became the sole source of data for cases among faculty and staff across America.
Also in July 2020, my attorneys filed my whistleblower complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR). The complaint would be assessed and an investigation complete within 90 days, we were told, per Florida statute.
>>They did not send us their final determination until September 12, 2022 - more than two years later.
From August through December 2020, I became a mainstay in mainstream media.
I dealt with one unhinged stalker during that time, an FSU professor of economics named Rebel Cole, who posted threatening and sexually-harassing messages about me on Twitter. I blocked him, I reported him to the police, and kept working. He was eventually banned, I believe, for spreading election conspiracies in 2020.
Cole’s “First Blood” tweets, comments about hurting myself, and sexually deranged statements reached a level of concern I had never experienced. One of Cole’s grad students, posing as a professor online, jumped on the bandwagon and eventually tried to make himself out to be a victim to gain clout. They both now live in shame and obscurity.
I worked too much to spend my time reading the filtered messages on Twitter, or respond to every comment or tweet about me. I stuck to my work, publishing the COVID stats for Florida and schools nationwide every single day, never missing an update.
For my efforts, I was named one of Fortune's 40 under 40, one of Elemental's 50 Experts to Trust, Forbes' first-ever Technology Person of the Year, and more. I gave the keynote address to the American Statistical Association and National Institute of Statistical Science’s joint conference on COVID-19 data science, the URISA annual conference, and others.
An MIT study found I was one of the most prominent voices on all of social media for accurate COVID-19 information.
On December 7, 2020, my home was raided at gunpoint. The police initially lied and said no guns were drawn or pointed at us, unaware that we had filmed the entire incident. DeSantis admitted his involvement in the case days later; another unhinged press conference attacking me.
I found the composure to go live on primetime news that night, though I still don't know where that strength came from. The more video that came out, the worse it looked for the state. Even Russia's state-controlled media reached out to express their outrage over the "shocking" treatment of a whistleblower and scientist in the United States.
That moment represented the culmination of corrupt politicians trying to intimidate scientists about the pandemic, and I went from public scientist to international symbol just as quickly.
Within a few weeks of the armed raid on my home, we sued the police for the raid. My family and I packed up our things and moved out of state not long after, arriving at our new home in the DC area on January 5, 2021. Incredible timing.
The day after our first hearing for the lawsuit in mid-January 2021, state police issued a warrant for my arrest. FDLE filed a single charge under the state's "misuse of computer systems" law, claiming that they found a contact roster of DOH employees on one of my backup drives.
The problem with that charge: Not only can any member of the public get that data via public records request, but I was emailed that list no fewer than four times while working at DOH. This charge -- and its eventual dismissal -- was only properly reported on by two media outlets.
Police threatened to "stack charges" and send US martials to my home to arrest me. After the trauma we had just endured and escaped, I couldn't put my family through another armed raid on our home.
Instead, I made the overnight drive back to Florida, and went to jail, sick with Covid, for one night until being set free by the court.
>>>Exactly two years later from the day of the raid, the state agreed to dismiss that charge, but not before threatening me with prison if I refused to drop my whistleblower complaint and destroy evidence.
FCHR, whom our whistleblower complaint was already overdue with, forwarded their concerns to the FDOH Inspector General’s office, who started their own separate investigation. My lawyers and I did not expect the very agency my complaint was against to do a fair investigation, so we decided not to participate in any interviews with the FDOH-IG office.
Exhausted, sick and afraid from the raid, arrest and quick move to Maryland, I stepped back from doing press for several months.
I had hoped that the move to Maryland and the public withdrawal would get DeSantis to stop his obsession and persecution. Even DeSantis’ closest advisors were telling him to stop, with Jared Moskowitz claiming he told DeSantis that attacking my family went too far. The day after the raid, when I asked Moskowitz why DeSantis was coming after me, he told me only that “He is relentless, as I’ve seen with others.”
I focused on doing good: I started an awards program to recognize others who, like me, dedicated their time and resources to reporting accurate COVID-19 information, and used money I raised from my own work to fund it. I had far outraised what I expected to be the legal costs associated with fighting the state, so I decided to put the money I didn't immediately need toward those who didn't get the kind of intense media attention I was getting.
Around the same time that I stepped back, a massive disinformation network dedicated solely to stalking, harassing, doxxing, threatening and silencing me cropped up, led by a woman whose previous job was as an eastern European disinformation agent for war criminal and imprisoned former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Pushaw started conspiracy theories about a massive media hoax to make DeSantis look bad, which she blamed solely on me. She created fake accounts, recruited paid operatives, and spent three months stalking my every move. Pushaw and her harassment network even unsuccessfully tried to get events I was invited to speak at cancelled.
Pushaw impersonated federal officials while trying to hack my email, claiming to represent the US State Department’s Women of Courage awards program and instructing me to click on a link to accept my prize. I reported her to the feds for both fraud and impersonation of a federal official (case #210013008).
The threats online intensified, and I was granted a restraining order against registered foreign agent Christina Pushaw, a woman I had never met nor spoken to. She then continued to harass, threaten and dox me, and was criminally charged with violating the restraining order, though both cases would ultimately be dismissed months later.
Pushaw tried and failed to get a retaliatory protective order against me after I went to the police, but it was denied outright. In court she admitted to coordinating with the other attack accounts stalking me, then tried to cry and pretend she was the victim because people were being mean to her online because she was stalking and harassing me.
Only after she was criminally charged was she hired by the DeSantis administration to be the new press secretary for the Governor- a position she was ousted from once the DOJ began investigating her failure to register as a foreign agent while working on the taxpayer's dime.
Before the raid, I actively avoided politics or going beyond reporting COVID-19 issues. I thought being a limited-purpose public figure shielded me from full public figure status, at which point claims of harassment became more difficult to prove.
Whatever illusions I had about maintaining my privacy while being a public scientist went up in smoke when armed men stormed into my house and pointed guns at my children.
DeSantis’ COVID-19 narrative continued to fall apart as other state officials spoke out and leaked documents proving my embattled former employer was misleading the public, denying public access to data, and hiding the true extent of death in the state.
With Florida’s COVID-19 response exposed as a complete failure, I turned my focus to two other, much larger projects.
I agreed to work on a documentary with my very good friend and Academy Award nominated director Josh Fox in April 2021. I also began mulling a run for public office, though moving back to Florida still seemed too dangerous for my family at that point.
On May 13, 2021, the first day of filming for our documentary, an op-ed on a far-right blog called the National Review began circulating on the internet.
The blog post made demonstrably false claims easily debunked by other media outlets and evidence long in the public eye, but it also raised my profile as a target among the far-right circles with its openly sexist attacks and claims of a massive media conspiracy.
The entire blog post was based on a single anonymous source who did not work on COVID-19 at FDOH and was later revealed to be William "Parker" Hinson -- the man whose job I took at FDOH in August 2019.
"Parker" Hinson also began harassing me on Twitter despite being a named party of my whistleblower complaint.
Hinson even helped Pushaw's stalker network put together an attack guide called "Rebekah Jones Talking Points 2020" in which he listed nearly every conspiracy theory and lie invented by the DeSantis administration when I was fired.
The document itself was part of large shared drive used by the stalker cult to brainstorm new ways to attack me, generate memes, and log my activities. The document referred to here was authored by "Parker" Hinson, and written from his perspective.
Hinson took it further and even claimed to be a "victim" himself, listing his own initials in the document, along with other alleged "victims," including Laurie Garrett (who had shared Pushaw's work in the past and was suspended from Twitter for spreading COVID disinformation), economist Emily Oster (who was caught fabricating data about COVID-19 in schools and whose small platform was birthed from telling white suburban women that it's ok to drink while pregnant), and Rebel Cole's graduate student, Jon Taylor, though notably he did not list Rebel Cole.
Excerpt from harassment document showing the last two names on "Parker" Hinson's "victims" list:
The entire article was built off the word of a person who was not a part of the COVID-19 response, but who had not even worked at FDOH for more than six months before the pandemic even started because I took his job.
Among the article's most absurd claims, the National[ist] Review falsely claimed:
I never had access to data I managed and published by myself
I crashed the dashboard I created upon being taken off the project, although sworn affidavits and email/text communications proved otherwise
I had a "history" of "insubordination even though not a single document pr communication supporting this claim existed until the day I was taken off the project
The Governor's office parroted these false claims on the same day the blog post was published, even though they claimed to have no prior notice of the author's pending story and were not involved in writing it. The governor's office would be exposed for peddling those lies a year later.
I debunked the article myself, but mostly waited for reinforcements already in the works via The Miami Herald.
Two weeks after the defamatory National Review hit piece, the Public Health Accreditation Board reprimanded the FDOH for failing to properly report COVID-19 statistics in schools, for not supporting their policies with publicly available data, and for violating multiple policies that come with accreditation.
Two days later, I received official whistleblower protection from the state.
Whistleblower status granted me certain protections under Florida law, and it was the day I received that letter that I decided to run against Matt Gaetz in the 2022 election.
Less than a week later, after six months of work, the Miami Herald published this explosive investigative piece, using sworn affidavits from state officials, interviews with my former colleagues, and a trove of data and communications.
Even with the total debunking of the DeSantis narrative, another plan to render my fame useless was already in progress.
Four things happened all at once that first weekend in June 2021, on the one-year anniversary of when I launched my alternative state dashboard:
A US Supreme Court case (Van Buren vs the United States) invalidated the law police in Florida used to charge me with for having the contact roster of my former colleagues.
The state killed all the data feeds I built, including the dashboard, and stopped publishing COVID-19 data.
The Miami-Herald published their story about my whistleblower complaint.
I got banned from Twitter for “over-sharing” the Miami Herald article about my whistleblower complaint.
Officially, Twitter claimed I was banned for over-sharing the Miami Herald article vindicating my whistleblower claims.
Despite Twitter's public statement to the contrary, Pushaw (newly appointed at this time as DeSantis' newest spokesperson) and her paid allies started conspiracy theories about a secret scheme to buy a small number of followers for my Twitter handle.... which already had 400,000+ followers.
Twitter had a history of falsely claiming "platform manipulating" when suspending high-profile accounts of liberals, but plainly stated I had "spammed" people harassing me on my own timeline by copying and pasting the direct link to the Miami Herald article too many times.
However, my Twitter account would not be restored for another 18 months, re-activated under Elon Musk’s reversal of accounts suspended for political speech.
The entire time I ran for Congress, I was not allowed access to Twitter – making me one of only two congressional candidates in the nation banned from the site.
In July 2021, I announced my run for Congress against Matt Gaetz.
A week later, my lawyer submitted a motion to dismiss under the recent Van Buren ruling, which was denied without reason, adding to the highly-politicized nature of the “misuse of computer systems” charge.
I planned and filed to run for Congress as an independent, but under a Florida law passed the same year, I had to run as the party I was registered with one year before the filing deadline. I had been a registered Democrat since age 18, and switched from an independent campaign to democrat after being informed of the new law.
I did not know at the time that my Twitter stalker brigade was already bragging about having changed my voter registration on Twitter, expecting the change to disqualify me from running altogether (it almost did).
After all, I had been doxxed by them and even FOX News online for months - my home address, driver's license number, date of birth, and other personal data. I stopped paying attention to what they did, especially after being kicked off of Twitter. That was a mistake.
I kept campaigning, having moved back to Florida just six months after leaving with a renewed sense of purpose. DeSantis let his online operatives and Pushaw lead the attacks, and took his advisors’ advice on staying away from me, but not for long.
The Summer of Death, Part II brought the Delta wave to Florida, and with it the highest case and death rate in the nation, and renewed scrutiny on how Florida was improperly reporting data.
My stock, as they say, continued to go up while DeSantis' continued to plummet.
In November 2021, I was named as one of the few nominees for the John Maddox Prize, the "Nobel Prize" for science advocacy in the face of adversity. A Florida professor on the nominating committee submitted my name among the pool of about 100 fearless scientists from all over the world.
Perhaps the only quiet months, if you could call it that, in the past three years came between December and March 2022.
I was able to work and carry on, albeit handicapped without Twitter, doing good in my own community. My campaign was breaking records, but no one wrote about it.
I was the first Democratic congressional candidate to qualify via ballot petition in the state for 2022. And I was the first candidate in Florida history to qualify with voter petitions from every one of Florida’s 67 counties. Those stories never made headlines.
I drew a primary challenger who lived in another Congressional district, either duped by the internet trolls or promised payment for peddling their lies. Either way, the sham campaign had no chance of winning so I mostly ignored it.
The short period of peace ended in April 2022.
In early April 2022, my landlord said she needed to come take pictures of the house we were renting “for insurance purposes.” Of course we agreed, and she came by, we discussed extending the lease when it was up in June of that year, and then she left.
Those photos – which included photos of the bedrooms, the location of security cameras, and even where in the house my kids slept – ended up on Twitter and Facebook, shared by a stalker who had repeatedly doxxed my family. I confronted the landlord via text, asking her why on earth she would share pictures of where we were sleeping to my internet stalkers. She did not respond.
My stalker used the pictures to lie and say we had “trashed the place,” even though they were taken months before we moved out and were still living there (and I of course took video of the state of things when we moved out). My stalker took it even further, claiming we had been “kicked out,” even though we were given the opportunity to and declined to renew our lease. These photos are still on twitter today.
Between April and May, a flurry of investigations published by the state of Florida spun off into conflicting narratives about the state’s handling of COVID-19 and my whistleblower case.
Marc Caputo, the disgraced former Politico blogger fired from MSNBC due to multiple ethics complaints, fabricated a story falsely claiming my whistleblower complaint was rejected and dismissed after a partially-redacted FDOH Inspector General report was leaked to him before we had even received a copy of it. This was the IG investigation we refused to interview with, the one started when our complaint with FCHR was forwarded to the IG office without our knowledge.
Even though the Inspector General’s report was mostly neutral, finding that they could “neither prove nor disprove” some of the most serious allegations, Caputo spun it as a dismissal, and most of the press followed his lead.
Few media outlets paid attention to the last finding in the report: I told the truth about being told to hide and remove data, but because there was no specific rule or policy making that illegal, DOH had not broken any laws in ordering me to do it.
This contradicted the FCHR statement that would come five months later saying that such orders were a violation of law that endangered public health, safety and welfare.
Exactly one year after the IG report was leaked to Caputo, FDOH was caught doing the exact same thing again, but this time with vaccine data.
A few weeks after the IG report, the Florida Auditor General’s (AG) report on gross mismanagement of COVID-19 data came out. Very few media outlets who misrepresented the IG report even mentioned the AG report.
By this point I had begun to notice a pattern: whenever reporting vindicating my claims was set to come out, DeSantis’ office would coordinate with far-right media outlets to pre-emptively poison the story. Reporters hate admitting when they got it wrong, and the general practice with the media always seems to be that whoever gets there first is right, even if they’re not.
They did it with The Daily Mail in 2020, the National Review in 2021, and with Marc Caputo in 2022. I beat them to it in 2023, which only made them lash out with even more insane conspiracies. It’s a crisis PR tactic incredibly useful when you have the privilege of knowing exactly what’s coming weeks ahead of time.
Back to our timeline…
In May 2022, I went to the Florida Young Democrats (FYD) annual meeting to speak and receive their endorsement. I made a mistake I never made even when in college, and let a stranger claiming to be a member of the FYD get me a drink.
He drugged it.
I may never show the photos of exactly whatever substance he put in my drink did to me, but I nearly landed in the hospital. Thankfully my campaign manager was with me and made sure I didn’t stop breathing that night. He almost forced me to go to the hospital.
I wanted to believe I had some freak allergic reaction, even though I wasn’t allergic to anything and the symptoms didn’t match. Only after getting an allergy test months later did I accept I had been poisoned, as my campaign manager and husband suspected all along. After speaking to my friend and fellow whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, he told me about the time Nixon’s plumbers tried to drug him. He told me “if they’re going that far, you’re scaring the hell out of them.”
July and August 2022 were dizzying months for my family and I.
We moved from Gulf Breeze to Navarre in June. I worked constantly, gaining endorsements from every major group I sought them from, and others I didn’t even ask, organizing women’s rights marches across the panhandle, hosting meet and greets three times a week in every small town in my district.
I caught COVID-19 for the second time at the Florida Democratic Party’s annual leadership conference in Orlando (which promptly spread throughout my house).
We received our first death threat via voicemail to my husband’s cell phone (which the twitter stalkers claimed was fake). After the FBI interviewed the caller - who did not even hide his number – the caller admitted issuing the threat, but the DOJ still declined to prosecute.
Then in late July 2022, the sham candidate from another district sued me to kick me out of my race after one of my internet stalkers changed my voter registration online.
I won on appeal August 22, 2023.
The next day, August 23, 2022, I won the primary, despite only being on the ballot for one day (Florida has two weeks of early voting and mail voting which make up most of the ballots cast in the state).
That same week, the state threatened to throw me in prison if I wouldn't drop my whistleblower complaint, and delete records the state falsely claimed I never had access to. Records kept as evidence in our case against the state. I told them to go fuck themselves.
On September 12, 2022, mere weeks after we refused to drop the complaint, the state finished its investigation and gave us the green light to sue. In their determination letter, the state found that the orders I was given to hide, delete and alter numbers constituted a violation of law that endangered public safety.
Of all the events of import in this timeline, the conclusion of the more than two-years-long investigation by FCHR got the least amount of coverage, except when Marc Caputo (the guy who fabricated the IG story six months earlier and was later fired by NBC) used a doctored version of the complaint to draw attention to anything other than what the letter actually said: the state ordered me to break the law.
In September and October, a man employed by the Republican Party of Florida at the time, Laurent “Larry” Hetu, began stalking my 12-year-old son. Hetu popped up on my radar months earlier, after he threatened to protest and shut down the bridge to the venue hosting one of my events. He sent me a harassing email, I told him to fuck off, and didn’t hear from or about him again for months.
He first followed my son at a health expo, taking pictures of him while I was bringing in supplies from my car. The event had not opened to the public yet, but since he was there with one of those fake alternative pregnancy centers, he had access to the facility.
He sent the pictures to Matt Gaetz, and both of them shared them and bullied my son on social media.
The owner of the event shot back, calling out Gaetz for lying about what the event was, misrepresenting his event, and for attacking my son.
Not long afterward, the man began stalking my son at the Okaloosa County Fair, even following him into the restroom. We called the police, whom my son begged to take action but did not. That was the first time I ever saw him angry and upset about being the focus of these politicized attacks.
The next week I filed for a protective order on my son’s behalf. During the hearing, the Judge stated that while “the court does not condone in any way the fact that a photograph of a political candidate’s child was used as propaganda,” he could not approve the restraining order because what Hetu did “must be analyzed in the context of a political campaign.”
The letter my son wrote to the judge pleading for protection meant nothing. The cops did nothing and the courts did nothing. And this was the third time my 12-year-old son had been victimized by bad actors and re-victimized by authorities in less than two years.
In October 2022, I forced Matt Gaetz into a debate so awful for him that it’s the only one ever done by WFSU not available on YouTube (we made copies before they took it down).
I outraised Matt Gaetz’ first Congressional run in 2016, and came in second for small-dollar donations in the state among all Democratic candidates (Maxwell Frost raised the most in small-dollar donations from individuals). Things were moving along smoothly into November.
The day before the election, one of my campaign managers – and closest friends – experienced a horrific incident.
Her husband shot an intruder in the middle of the night who had been breaking into their property and stealing from them for months. Shot once in the arm, the intruder fled, but was found by bloodhounds underneath a house he had been squatting in that was filled with my friend’s stuff. The state has since charged the man, who was out on bail for unrelated theft and drug crimes, with trespassing, felony burglary, and other charges stemming from the night of the break-in.
After initially clearing her husband under Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law, the police sent the report to the state attorney’s office for final approval.
They charged her husband with attempted murder later that night. For shooting a man in the arm. A man who was breaking into their property and stealing from them. A man who was armed. A man the state arrested for breaking in and stealing from them.
I was there when he turned himself in, and I either caught the flu there or weakened my immune system with the stress to the point that the flu flourished because the next day – election day – I was running a fever of 102.9 F.
On election day, a local reporter started falsely claiming I was avoiding her. It wasn’t the first time she lied about me being sick: she insinuated that summer that I was “faking” having COVID, even though I had to submit a positive lab result to the court to delay the initial hearing on the ballot lawsuit.
I lost the election November 8, 2022. I got myself out of bed, put on a mask, went to the party just to thank everyone for being a part of the campaign, and went straight to the emergency room.
I stayed in bed for the next five days, sick and trying to process all that happened.
Local news falsely reported that I plead guilty - the same local paper that “mistakenly” left me off their 2022 ballot guide months before. Others intentionally cut out parts of the document to remove the part about the case being dismissed.
A few days later Twitter restored my account.
Near the end of 2022/early 2023, I received a leaked copy of a harassment instruction guide assembled by Pushaw and the former supervisor whose job I took at DOH years earlier. It included a list of references to use to attack me - limited to articles by The Daily Mail, National Review, and Marc Caputo. It included different arguments based on the target’s gender and race, and guidance on how to manipulate people who seemed skeptical of their pro-DeSantis attacks.
They had folders for each period of my life - my undergrad and graduate studies, my husband, my kids, my previous jobs, and everything COVID-19 related. They made memes and developed talking points fed by conspiracy theorists on sites like 4Chan.
Seeing the proof of the well-coordinated campaign helps my lawsuit, but it also meant another level of vindication. I had been telling members of the media that Pushaw was engaging in coordinated online harassment campaigns, recruiting paid operatives, and dedicating state resources to silence critics. Though a few of them believed me, no one ran the story.
Until January 26, 2023, when The Daily Beast blew the lid off the “secret Twitter army” DeSantis and Pushaw used to stifle dissent and artificially promote the governor online. Though it missed vast swaths of their operations, people finally started paying attention. Chris Bouzy found that DeSantis' twitter handle was the recipient of nearly 100,000 bought and fake followers in spring 2022. And DeSantis' presidential aspirations seemed dead on arrival.
Over the next few months, I focused on working on investigative pieces, the podcast, and starting a political movement to oust insurrectionists from Congress in 2024, while also working on the final version of our whistleblower lawsuit and coping with a nation-wide Adderall shortage.
We filed our lawsuit against the state on March 13, 2023 - three years exactly from the day I launched the state’s dashboard.
One week later, my son was interviewed about memes shared on snapchat. I recorded the police in my home and they chalked it up to “teenager things.”
A few weeks after that, my son was arrested for those memes and messages he received from a friend under a Florida anti-terrorism law that Matt Gaetz should be spending time in prison for breaking, as even jokes and memes are violations.
The case became the most publicized event of 2023 aside from Trump’s indictment. The conspiracy theories ignited online almost instantaneously; my twitter stalkers were furious that despite their efforts I beat them to the punch.
I let them hang themselves - they posted selectively edited videos to promote their lies, which I easily shot down because I film everything.
I unmasked the worst of the trolls, including a failed, far-right school board candidate from Kokomo, Indiana named Robert Andrew McGimpsey, a Hollywood wanna-be sound guy named Dan Goldwasser, a "psychic medium" named Jane Flowers, an obsessed crazy woman named Cheryl Renaud from Port St. Lucie, Florida, and others.
And I started planning on how I was going to get myself and my family the hell out of Florida.
Two weeks after they want after my son, a new report on widely-condemned FDOH vaccine report exposed the agency for again hiding and removing key data to make it appear the evidence supported an anti-vaccine policy.
In an almost perfect parallel to what happened in May 2020, FDOH specifically removed data from their public reporting that contradicted the policies they wanted to enact.
Two days after the news of the manipulated report was released, the Republican Florida legislature voted to give the scandal-ridden surgeon general another four-year term.
Every step of the way, the circus of the events of the last three years became a public spectacle, whether I wanted it to be or not.
A mix of politics and the usual culprits plaguing modern media yielded disparate versions of who I am across the internet, stretched, molded and reassembled into various iterations of hero and villain.
In between headlines, the things that never made it into the news - in part because I was silenced on Twitter while others were kept quiet- were equally awful.
Death threats. A Matt Gaetz employee stalking my son. A poisoning that nearly put me in the hospital. A dedicated troll army spreading disinformation and vile personal attacks with no basis in reality. The Governor rewarding my internet trolls with positions in state government. So much unwanted drama.
All along, I watched the media fumble with covering my story, lending ink and airtime to alt-right blogs, and failing to connect dots that were all but a straight line. Even the media in my favor would inaccurately report the timeline of events and key details.
A champion for the first amendment, I know how difficult and expensive suing the media would be. The closest I came, and am still debating, concerned two news outlets local to my area in Florida - one falsely claiming I plead guilty to a crime and another for publishing my son’s legally-protected photo.
Getting Marc Caputo fired and kicked out of the media circuit for good was one of the few successes I've had in dealing with malicious reporters who fabricate stories for personal and political gain. Caputo infamously fabricated articles falsely claiming my whistleblower complaint had been dismissed (it was not), and engaged in personal attacks that landed him in the office of NBC's ethics board more than once.
While I've learned much about the news industry, the media seems to have learned nothing about taking police reports at face value or questioning government statements - lessons you’d think George Floyd’s case would stick in the newsroom.
There is no glory or gain in going viral when dealing with tragedy. Being a celebrity without wealth or power is completely useless.
I'm not interested in being a Ben Shapiro type figure, who takes home a large paycheck for spreading division and profiting off hate. I don't promote products or put ads in my podcasts. I even offer the audio for free.
I had no idea what I was doing when thrust into the spotlight three years ago.
I wanted to use my newfound celebrity for good, to fight against censorship and disinformation, and hold those who targeted me and my family accountable.
My role as a public figure only ever served one purpose - to educate Americans, and advocate for evidence-driven policy, open data access, and government transparency and accountability.
I'm not a villain blinded by vengeance. The truth conservatives need to confront is that I'd have nothing to be vengeful for if I had not been wronged. I hate DeSantis for what he did to my family, but you must acknowledge that blaming my hatred alone and not the governor's actions that led to it is tantamount to blaming a rape victim for hating here rapist.
I'm no hero, either. In moments of difficulty I may have acted in ways that people see as heroic, but a police officer can rescue a baby from a burning building and still use excessive force while on the job.
The truth exists in the gray matter between these competing narratives.
I'm self aware enough to know my flaws. I'm impulsive. I'm stubborn. I'm somehow still naïve about the depravity people are capable of.
But I'm also highly intelligent, gifted with communication, and, at times, am capable of rising to the challenge against powerful men and impossible odds.
I've also lived the worst moments of my life in the lens of a camera.
And I would trade my massive platform and following for my normal life back in heartbeat. If it meant securing my family's safety and getting my life back I would not hesitate to surrender my voice. But I tried that once, and all it did was make everything worse, embolden the liars, and hurt my family.
They created this monster they fear so much. Now they’re stuck with it.
Special to Big Mouth Media from Miss Informational. Originally published on April 17, 2023. Please see original for all graphics.