A battle has unfolded in southern Brevard County displaying politics in its basest form.
It’s not just completely stripped of niceties, but filled with — if not actual examples, certainly strong allegations of — anti-Semitism, bigotry, homophobia, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, and political abuses of power.
Republican Rep. Randy Fine and political consultant Robert Burns do not like each other.
Their year-long political feud has involved texts that Fine alleges Burns sent him with seemingly anti-Semitic insults and threats; a Facebook page called “Randy Fine is Not So Fine” that Burns set up that went on to feature, among many scurrilous posts, a meme depicting Fine and another Jewish Brevard official as mating lovebugs; a blog on which Burns published posts attempting to vaguely suggest connections between Fine and a ring of hookers and drugs; two Florida Department of Law Enforcement probes; a Brevard County Sheriff’s investigation into Burns’ activities; a press conference at which officials denounced Burns and Democrats while the Sheriff announced no crimes; Burns charges that the investigations represented abuses of power by Fine and his allies; a Mother’s Day threat from Burns to Fine’s mother; and more.
“He is a bigoted, sociopathic, anti-Semite who has no business in our political environment,” Fine said.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Burns replied. “Because he is Jewish, if I say, ‘Randy Fine is a bad person,’ he’s going to say it’s anti-Semitic.”
Fine is seeking a third term representing House District 53, which covers part of southern Brevard County.
Burns is the lead political consultant for Fine’s Republican primary opponent, Marcie Adkins.
Fine contends that Atkins hired a consultant with a long history of repulsive rhetoric, writing and actions, mostly, though not exclusively, targeting him. Burns disputes it, and Adkins stands by her consultant.
Two recent incidents sparked the latest round.
Someone posted offensive remarks in early May about Fine on Adkins’ campaign Facebook page, including one stating that he should “go back to Israel,” which Adkins and Burns denounced but did not remove.
Then Fine’s mother and Burns exchanged comments on Burns’ blog, with Burns’ offering to show her a video of her son with prostitutes, a video that Fine says is nonexistent.
“Political campaigns are often nasty, but rarely do we see this type of candidate-funded bigotry and harassment. Ms. Adkins — I ask that you do the right thing and denounce these tactics and offer a public apology to my mother for the harassment she received on Mother’s Day from your campaign,” Fine declared in a news release.
Adkins has twice responded this past week, disputing Fine’s allegations, countercharging Fine with illegally deleting posts from his campaign webpages, and essentially standing by Burns.
In one statement, Adkins said that because the page is public, she felt a freedom of speech issue was at play, and decided she was wrong in her initial reaction to take it down. “We were also wrong to state ‘anti-Semitism will not be tolerated’. That was too strong. I think we are allowed to say we do not like anti-Semitism or anti-gay or anti-anything, and would prefer that anti-everything is not posted. But we cannot ban anything.”
In another release, issued Thursday, she followed up with, “Specifically, I asked him (Fine) to call me in the future any time he has any concerns with any anti-Semitism or anti-anything or any insults of his mother. None will be tolerated but, to my knowledge, none exist except for the aforementioned anti-Semitic and anti-gay comments on 5/7/2020 which were previously denounced.”
In Fine, Burns and Adkins have made an enemy of someone with a record of never looking the other way when insulted or offended. Fine also is a crusader against anti-Semitism. He’s also a rising power in Tallahassee, chair of the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, with powerful allies in Tallahassee and in Brevard political circles.
Fine has gone after not just Burns and Adkins, but the leadership of the Brevard County Democratic Party, charging, by name, that Chair Stacey Patel and Communications Chair Mel Martin were using Burns to attack Fine.
In fact, Burns is a registered Republican and has been since 2004, though he has consulted for Democratic candidates.
Patel unequivocally denied any dealings with Burns by her or the Brevard Democratic Executive Committee.
Burns denied it, too.
In Robert W. “Bobby” Burns III, Fine has found an enemy who contends he is fearless, at least of Fine. Burns, who grew up in Melbourne and Palm Bay, is an 18-year Army veteran who survived battle injuries in Iraq and who said he has suffered from bigotry himself — he is biracial. Burns contends Fine does society great disservice by loosely calling out bigotry where Burns says it does not exist.
For now, Adkins is Burns’ only client. He previously represented a Democratic congressional candidate, Jim Kennedy. But Kennedy’s campaign against Republican Rep. Bill Posey in Florida’s 8th Congressional District has never gotten into gear. Burns left the campaign in late March.
The origins of the feud between Burns and Fine are unclear. Burns said it dates to the 2019 Legislative Session, when Burns posted objections to a bill that Fine was running, leading, Burns said, to a back-and-forth of angry texts, and to Fine blocking Burns from his campaign Facebook page.
Fine doubted it, saying he does not recall anything like that.
By the spring of 2019 a Facebook page called Randy Fine is Not So Fine was up and running. Burns, who also runs an internet marketing company called The Social Wizards, acknowledges creating the page. But he said he did so for clients whose identities he will not disclose but whom he described as “conservative Republicans” who do not like Fine. Burns contends he’s had nothing to do with the page since setting it up for his clients, and the content is all theirs.
The page ran memes accusing Fine of such things as extramarital affairs, alluding to specific women, and memes depicting Fine as a hippopotamus, which Fine described as “fat shaming,” and as a lovebug. The latter, Fine charged, was both homophobic and an anti-Semitic offense because it depicted the only two Jewish elected officials in Brevard as mating lovebugs.
But what got the attention of law enforcement was that the Facebook page also included a reference that suggested the account was associated with Brevard County Commissioner Bryan Lober.
On Aug. 28, Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey, Lober, and Fine called a press conference to announce the Sheriff’s Office had investigated alleged identity theft from Lober, and traced the page to Burns’ home but could not prove that Burns committed a crime.
Burns said no one from the Sheriff’s Office questioned him except for a parking lot encounter during which he told deputies he would not comment. Burns has since denied the Lober reference or any of the Facebook page’s content was from him.
At the press conference, Fine accused Patel, Martin, and Brevard Democrats of sponsoring Burns to “perpetuate a fraud” against voters in Brevard County. Fine also brought out that Burns had arrest records in four states, including Florida.
Video archived by Space Coast Daily, shows Ivey then making the announcement.
“The information narrowed the search to a residential business where the Facebook page was created, but not the person sitting on the keyboard. The high bar that is set for us to prove, we need to be able to prove who was using that keyboard in order for a prosecution to be successful.
“Everybody in this room is a very intelligent person. I’ll allow you to draw your own conclusions. I’m just giving you the facts of this case,” Ivey added.
Consequently, Ivey said, the case was closed.
“Why are you here?” inquired an incredulous reporter, who, when pressed, clarified he wondered why a non-partisan, elected Sheriff had called a press conference to announce that no charges would be pursued, while officials at the conference openly suggested the matter was a partisan one, tied to Democrats.
“That’s exactly why I don’t talk to Florida Today,” the Sheriff replied.
That event was followed a few weeks later by a series of texts sent anonymously to Fine’s phone, which he calls threatening and anti-Semitic.
“Looks like you are having a bad week Mr. Fine,” an Oct. 10 text declared.
“It’s about to get worse, Expect some calls today buddy.”
A couple of days later, Oct. 12, more texts arrived, including one that read, “You should be careful where you park your car at Tina house.”
Fine replied by inquiring who and what the texter was talking about.
“Lol. Don’t worry. We will post a pic to refresh your memory and a couple of text messages.”
Fine then expressed sarcasm that he was sure those messages would come in with the calls he’d been previously threatened with, which never came.
“Lol. Fake ass Jew. You ain’t a Jew you just Jew-ish” stated a reply.
Later, another text arrived, which declared, “Wayne won’t be helping you any longer baby doll, You’ve burned that bridge.”
Fine said he showed the texts to the House Sergeant at Arms, who then contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which investigated.
Just as the Sheriff’s investigation did, the FDLE traced the “burner number” where the texts originated to Burns’ possessions. And as the Sheriff had concluded in the previous incident, the FDLE could not prove Burns was at the keypad.
Burns denied sending the texts.
No charges were filed.
There was some question from the start of whether a crime been committed.
In referring the case, Sergeant at Arms Russell Hosford wrote, on Oct 14, “I was notified a week or so back this individual was texting Rep. Fine and at the time I didn’t see anything that was really a direct threat however in reviewing the below text message sent today there are some pretty strong references to the Representative as being a ‘fake ass or fat ass Jew’ that I think are anti-Semite statements that are unacceptable in our society. At the very least this person should have a visit from a law enforcement officer.”
Burns contends that investigation, and the Sheriff’s press conference in August, were examples of Fine abusing his power, pressuring law enforcement into baseless probes against political enemies. Fine strongly disputes that. He insisted that in neither case did he start the investigations; nor did he direct investigators toward Burns.
Burns also launched a blog called the “Space Coast Rocket” to write about Brevard politics, and the blog has consistently gone after Fine. Under a pen namle, Burns posted several articles in February seeking to make connections between Fine and an FDLE and FBI investigation into prostitution and drugs in southern Brevard County. Burns has since acknowledged being the writer behind that pen name.
It was a Space Coast Rocket blog item that led Fine’s mother to encounter Burns on the internet, on Mother’s Day. The post had been boosted through Facebook advertising and showed up on Fine’s mother’s Facebook feed. She commented on the Facebook post, “Fake news.” Burns then responded to her Facebook comment with one of his own: “Harriet Fine, know your son likes prostitutes? Would you like a video?”
Adkins’ press release characterized it this way: “Mrs. Fine found that article and posted her own public comment, ‘Fake News’ and attached her comment to the article. My campaign consultant responded and the two of them conducted what could be deemed as a public argument. Regardless, I do not characterize their argument as anything more than an argument and Mr. Burns did not name call, harass, or insult Mrs. Fine.”
Rep. Fine charged his opponent with putting out a false statement, asserting she never looked for or found the article; it just appeared on her Facebook page, and she denounced it there.
“The moral of the story is: Don’t steal people’s identities. And don’t make memes of Jews looking like insects. And don’t send messages to people’s mother saying,’ Your son likes prostitutes, would you like a video?'” Fine said. “He admitted later he was just gaslighting my mom. He has no such video.”
“Robert Burns is a repulsive human being,” Fine said.