Trying to sort out the full story about FDLE’s, um, “visit” to Rebekah Jones’ home is important, of course. We’ll give it a shot, but the truth is, we may never know for sure which version of events is the most accurate.
I’ll get to that in a minute.
First, though, take a step back from what happened at her house and focus on why agents were there with search warrants in the first place.
Jones had maintained since the summer when she was fired from her job as a data scientist with the state after claiming that Florida citizens are routinely fed false information about COVID-19 infections and deaths.
The state claimed she was insubordinate (which, well, is believable). On her Twitter feed, she describes herself as “an insubordinate scientist…“
Maybe she needed to be insubordinate, though.
Jones started her own data site to track infections and deaths.
Since Dec. 1, the state reported 160 virus-related deaths.
Jones’ site reported 711 deaths from COVID-19 over the same period.
This thing isn’t going away any time soon, and the worst may be yet to come. At least that’s what many medical experts warn. Reliable data and transparency to a fully informed citizenry are key, and that brings us back to the search at Jones’ home.
“Our investigation began last month following a complaint by Florida Department of Health that a person illegally hacked into their emergency alert system,” FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said.
“As part of our investigation, FDLE agents served a search warrant (Monday) morning at the Centerville Court residence (in Tallahassee) where Ms. Jones lives after determining the home was the location that the unauthorized message was sent from.”
Jones said agents pointed guns at her and her children. She said one agent had a gun six inches away from her face.
Swearingen said that didn’t happen.
“Agents knocked and called Ms. Jones, both announcing the search warrant and encouraging her to cooperate. Ms. Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung-up on agents,” he said.
“After several attempts, Ms. Jones allowed agents inside. Agents entered the home in accordance with normal protocols and seized several devices that will be forensically analyzed. At no time were weapons pointed at anyone in the home. Any evidence will be referred to the State Attorney for prosecution as appropriate.”
The agents did draw guns, though. Video proves that. Whether they were directly aimed at anyone is hard to tell.
They didn’t arrest Jones – at least not yet.
That unauthorized message over the state’s emergency response system?
As first reported by the Tampa Bay Times, it urged employees to “speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be a part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.”
Jones denied sending the message. Whoever sent it, though, did commit a crime by hacking into the system.
Agents confiscated her cell phones and computers, and that’s where this story takes another troubling twist. Jones said her phone contains records of every person she kept in contact with at the Department of Health.
Anyone who spoke with Jones probably faces questions, and maybe the loss of their career.
For what, though?
Telling the truth about the pandemic that has killed more than 19,000 Floridians? Getting real information to the public?
That seems to fit the definition of what the late Congressman John Lewis called “good trouble.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ approach to the pandemic left him open to the kind of suspicion many feel now. He has fumbled, stumbled, and finally seemed to throw up his hands – kind of like his benefactor, soon-to-be-former President Donald Trump.
If we don’t trust the data, that undermines anything this administration does to deal with a virus that keeps coming.
Reaction around the state and country has been predictably harsh, probably none more so than from lifelong Republican Ron Filipkowski.
DeSantis appointed him to the 12th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission. He quit after reviewing the warrant the state used to seize Jones’ computers and phone.
“The recent events regarding public access to truthful data on the pandemic, and the specific treatment of Rebekah Jones has made the issue a legal one rather than just medical. I no longer wish to serve the current government of Florida in any capacity,” Filpkowski wrote in his resignation letter.
Transparency is the issue, and if this search is an attempt to punish those who spoke with Jones — as seems plausible — it’s more than disturbing. Rebekah Jones may be insubordinate, and she may bend the rules more than the Governor would like.
That doesn’t mean she’s wrong, though.