Notable pandemic denier Alfie Oakes, who says he would rather give children heroin than a COVID-19 vaccine, has promised to donate $100,000 to Ron DeSantis’ reelection if the Governor meets about auditing the 2020 election.
The politically influential Naples businessman is in the midst of a public pressure campaign to persuade DeSantis to sit down and talk fraud.
The idea, Oakes tells right-wing outlets, is to prove through an election audit that in the 2020 election nearly a million votes were stolen in Florida, a state former President Donald Trump won by more than 370,000 votes. Show that’s possible even in a state where Republicans control state government and it will prove that in some states won by President Joe Biden, the fix was in. Lawmakers in other states will then feel empowered to check the math and prove Biden didn’t win his term.
Oakes, who also claims masks make COVID-19 patients more likely to die, has turned to fringe media to push his message.
He appeared this month on Infowars, Alex Jones’ infamous online show that has been used to suggest 9/11 was an inside job and the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax. Oakes encouraged that audience to email DeSantis and recommend a meeting of minds.
“All I want is two hours with the experts that are with me,” Oakes said. “After two hours, he will realize the amount of fraud that happened even here.”
It’s an insistence that’s giving Republican leaders across Florida headaches — not about the outcome of the 2020 election, but the future of the party.
Many, who don’t want their names used, say that after Trump’s loss, the party must move forward. Many place no credence in accusations by Trump’s campaign the election was stolen, a case rejected in more than 60 court battles last year. Worse, they fear constantly raising the issue will hurt GOP candidates and associate anyone who entertains the plan with pro-Trump rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Oakes, meanwhile, enjoyed electoral success in 2020 even as he undermined the state of U.S. democracy. He won a post in August as a Republican state committeeman, an elected office in Collier County, unseating Douglas Ranks and winning 60% of the vote.
Oakes’ grocery store, Seed to Table, turned into a routine political gathering and campaign spot last year for Republican candidates in a deep red county. The store regularly hosts Trump Tuesday meet-and-greets expressing support for the former President. Oakes said he will host a DeSantis fundraiser in the next month.
King of the anti-vaxxers
Oakes also developed a reputation as a champion for business amid last year’s pandemic response, urging many companies to keep their doors open even when the state went into lockdown under DeSantis’ order.
To this day, Oakes, who also owns Oakes Farms in Immokalee, continues to say his own businesses won’t comply with any COVID-19-related restrictions and the pandemic is chiefly a hoax. Last year, an NBC News video went viral showing no employees and few customers in his grocery store wearing masks. On Infowars, he said of his 3,200 employees, few ever contracted the virus.
“We never masked, never shut down,” Oakes said. “Nobody died. Hardly anyone has gotten sick. The few people that did get sick got the right treatment with hydroxychlorine and ivermectin and they are back to working in four or five days. We know the worst thing you can ever do. If you contract COVID, it would be lethal to put a mask on.”
Broad medical consensus challenges much of that. The National Institutes of Health conducted a study on hydroxychlorine last year after many, including Trump, promoted use of the lupus drug as a COVID-19 treatment, but researchers found it serves no use for hospitalized patients. “By June, the study was stopped because interim results showed the drug neither caused harm nor improved patient outcomes,” an NIH release states.
More recently, some doctors have started prescribing ivermectin, but the Food and Drug Administration has recommended against it. Officials have also sounded alarms on individuals who could not or did not try to obtain a prescription and instead chose to buy over-the-counter ivermectin intended for deworming large farm animals, a practice so popular it has ravaged Florida agriculture’s supply of the product.
Meanwhile, repeated studies have debunked assertions masks will physically harm those who wear them.
But while Oakes promotes rejected treatments for COVID-19, he has spoken against what officials say is the most effective way of preventing infections, vaccination.
“Over my dead body will anyone ever get a vaccine that works for me,” Oakes told Infowars. “I’ll shoot heroin in my kids’ veins before I ever put that in them, and I will never do it.”
After Biden’s recent edict requiring companies to mandate vaccinations or regular testing for the unvaccinated, Oakes said that’s unconstitutional. But more important, he won’t enforce the mandate at his businesses. He figures based on the President’s threatened fines, his businesses would be charged $44.7 million. Good luck collecting.
“When they come in to levy that fine, they will be met with the utmost resistance,” he said. “Let me put it this way: The framers of our Constitution put in there the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment was not for going hunting. The Second Amendment was to use against a tyrannical government.”
Seeking DeSantis’ ear
Notably, DeSantis has also called Biden’s vaccine mandates unconstitutional and vowed to fight them — though through legal remedies. But he hasn’t questioned the medical value of vaccines and took the Johnson & Johnson vaccine himself.
“Regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, the Governor himself is vaccinated, so he believes it was the safest choice for him. Studies show that the approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for most people 12 and older. Some people have medical conditions that prevent them from getting vaccinated, and anyone with questions about the safety of the vaccine for themselves should talk to their doctor about their concerns in order to make an informed choice,” Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary, said in an email to Florida Politics.
DeSantis’ office, while questioning the value of masks in limiting the virus’ spread, did not call them physically deadly.
“There is insufficient evidence to assert that cloth masks prevent COVID-19 infection and transmission, particularly among children and young people,” Pushaw said. “The recently published RCT conducted in Bangladesh showed no statistically significant effect of universal cloth masking on COVID-19 prevalence among people under age 50. With that said, many people are more comfortable wearing masks, and that’s fine — but it may be dangerous when people who are at high risk for COVID complications overestimate the protection conferred by masks and do not take any other precautions to protect themselves.”
Pushaw said she was unaware of any campaign for DeSantis to meet with Oakes about auditing the 2020 election. She pointed to past comments from DeSantis expressing concerns about elections in other states, but defending Florida’s results.
“We had the best run election in this state (in 2020) that we probably ever have had. I’m proud of what they did,” DeSantis said in June at a St. Petersburg press conference. “Obviously we had to do some things at the state level. I mean, I had to make some changes when I first came into office. I think those were long overdue changes. I think they were effective changes. We did not throw out our whole system because of COVID. We basically continued with what we were doing.”
DeSantis also said Florida has banned private money being used to support elections operations, a response to contributions coming into elections officials from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation ahead of the election. And he criticized the practice of sending out unsolicited mail-in ballots.
“Some of this ballot harvesting that you see across the country is a huge, huge problem,” DeSantis said. “We were able to ban that. I think we did the best and I think that we’re staying ahead of the curve. So my message to Floridians is, your vote counts here. It’s important. And don’t let anyone tell you that your vote doesn’t count.”
Oakes, though, said he believes votes were switched in the 2020 election, and Democrats would have stolen the state’s electoral votes but for the fact Trump won by a much larger margin here than he did in 2016. He cited assertions made by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. Oakes has met with Lindell and with Gen. Mike Flynn, a former Trump administration official living in Englewood who this summer suggested a coup should occur to overthrow Biden. Oakes said he’s convinced Biden’s victory was not legitimate.
Oakes believes he has proof 921,404 votes were stolen from Trump in Florida in the 2020 election.
“Gov. DeSantis is in somewhat of denial this electronic fraud exists,” Oakes told Infowars.
Jones and Oakes said the same tricks nearly cost DeSantis his own win in 2018, when he defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum by less than 33,000 votes. Jones suggested DeSantis actually won by a landslide but for fraud, rather than by an amount slim enough to warrant a machine recount. If no audit occurs, Oakes fears it will cost DeSantis reelection in 2022.
“If the establishment Republicans are clever enough to talk him into not doing this, and say we’re going to put the wind at your sails when you run for President, and he buys into it, he’s not even going to win Florida,” Oakes said. “They’re going to steal Florida and he’s going to be out of the picture.”
Legislation has already been filed by Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Howey-in-the-Hills Republican, to audit Florida’s election. But leadership in the Legislature and Governor’s Office so far expressed little to no appetite for such an action.
Oakes did not return emails or calls on the subject, but he has advocated many of the same theories about the election and vaccines before. A video he recently sent to Republicans in the region was taken down from YouTube for promoting disinformation about the election results.
Republican leaders, at least on the record, walk carefully when discussing Oakes’ more outrageous accusations. Several spoke critically of Oakes on background with Florida Politics, but did not want their names associated with any criticism. Others, meanwhile, addressed Oakes’ claims and felt no need to deter the GOP state committeeman’s actions.
Frank Schwerin, chair of the Collier County Republican Party, stopped short of endorsing the notion the 2020 election was stolen, but he said there’s plenty to criticize about how it was managed. Indeed, he believes much good has come from tightening election rules since the vote.
“In terms of repairing the obvious problems we had in 2020 to prevent widespread use of a system like in California with vote harvesting, we have seen good legislation to tighten up the ability to do that,” Schwerin said.
However, he seemed reluctant about focusing on the Biden-Trump race moving forward.
“Everyone knows JFK (John F. Kennedy) lost in Chicago,” he said.
Kennedy won the presidency in 1960 over Richard Nixon and many questioned the validity of Illinois’ close vote, which gave Democrats the win.
“But it’s hard to overturn an election that’s certified after the Electoral College meets. We can prevent another disaster like that happening,” Schwerin added.
Meanwhile, plenty of wealthy Republicans in the region happily signed on to Oakes’ crusade. James Boatman, managing shareholder of Boatman Ricci, sent a letter to DeSantis encouraging him to sit down and hear Oakes out.
“Just show up with an open mind,” Boatman wrote. “What’s the worst thing that could happen? At worst you spend two hours and you hear nothing new or compelling, yet you appease millions of conservatives like me who are convinced there is a verifiable problem with the system. At best, you spend two hours and learn something new and/or compelling, which allows you to take action that could change the course of history for the country and, in fact, for the world.”