- Florida police brandishing guns conducted a raid Monday morning on the home of Rebekah Jones, a former data analyst for the Florida Department of Health who created and ran the state’s COVID-19 dashboard before being fired in May.
- Jones, who claimed she was fired from her role after refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data to support the state’s broad reopening plans, accused Gov. DeSantis of being behind the raid and sending the “Gestapo” to silence her. DeSantis denied the claim.
- Law enforcement said they conducted the raid while serving a warrant as part of an investigation into whether Jones illegally hacked into a state email system and sent a message to employees.
- Jones denied having any involvement in that incident and claimed that the hardware seized in the raid had “evidence of illegal activities by the state” as well as legal proof that state officials had lied to the public.
The Saga Rebekah Jones
Florida state police officers on Monday raided the home of Rebekah Jones, a former Department of Health data analyst who built the state’s COVID-19 dashboard and accused officials of firing her because she refused to manipulate data.
Jones first came out with her story shortly after she was terminated from her role in May. At the time, Jones, who had been widely praised for both creating and managing the tracker, told local reporters that she had been ordered to censor data, but refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”
According to emails obtained by The Tampa Bay Times, Jones had “objected to the removal of records showing people had symptoms or positive tests before the cases were announced.”
“Department staff gave the order shortly after reporters requested the same data from the agency on May 5,” the emails showed.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) denied the accusations, called Jones’ removal a “nonissue,” and claimed she was fired because she was insubordinate. He also downplayed her role in developing the COVID-19 dashboard while casting doubt on her credentials and painting her as a disruptive employee and a criminal.
DeSantis specifically pointed to unrelated charges of cyberstalking and cyber sexual harassment from July 2019. The latter charge has been dropped, though DeSantis falsely claimed it was still open. He argued that these other factors were also part of the reason Jones was fired.
But Jones, who disputed DeSantis’ account, continued to fight back. In June, she launched her own dashboard of Flordia coronavirus data that she bills as a more transparent and independent alternative to the state’s tracker.
In July, she filed a whistleblower complaint against the Health Department asking for her job to be reinstated with pay. She has also reportedly been very vocal on social media, posting criticisms of DeSantis and his state agencies.
Jones’ Home Raided
The news of the raid on Jones’ home was first made public in a now-viral video of the incident she posted on Twitter.
In the video, Jones opens the doors and is escorted out of her home by an officer while several others enter brandishing firing arms. They ask who else is in her house and she responds that her two children and husband are inside before the officers point their weapons at the staircase and call for them to come downstairs, saying they have a search warrant.
“Do not point that gun at my children! He just pointed a gun at my children!” Jones can be heard yelling over the officer’s calls.
In the tweet where she shared the video, Jones also claimed that the officers, who were “serving a warrant on my computer after [Department of Health] filed a complaint” pointed the gun in her face took all her hardware, including “evidence of corruption at the state level.”
“They claimed it was about a security breach. This was DeSantis. He sent the gestapo,” she wrote.
“This is what happens to scientists who do their job honestly. This is what happens to people who speak truth to power. I tell them my husband and my two children are upstairs… and THEN one of them draws his gun. On my children. This is Desantis’ Florida.”
Shortly after Jones shared the video, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) confirmed in a statement that they had seized Jones’ computer equipment while executing a search warrant.
The spokesperson also claimed that when the agents arrived, they first knocked on Jones’ door and called her “in an attempt to minimize disruption to the family.”
“Ms. Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung up on agents,” the spokesperson said. “After several attempts and verbal notifications that law enforcement officers were there to serve a legal search warrant, Ms. Jones eventually came to the door and allowed agents to enter.”
In an interview with The Times, Jones said it was not true that she refused to open the door. She claimed the delay was due to the fact that she was taking her time getting dressed because she believed she was going to be arrested.
In a separate statement, the FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen told reporters that the agents had “entered the home in accordance with normal protocols and seized several devices that will be forensically analyzed.”
Swearingen also disputed Jones’ claim that guns were pointed at her and her children, claiming that “at no time were weapons pointed at anyone in the home.”
As for why the FDLE was serving that warrant, according to an affidavit by an investigator with the department, it was in connection to an investigation the agency launched after the Health Department reported that an unauthorized person had illegally accessed a state government emergency management system to send a group text message to government officials encouraging them to take action.
“It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead,” the message said. “You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.”
The investigator claimed in the affidavit that he had traced the message to an IP address associated with Jones’ house.
However, as IT experts explained to the Tallahassee Democrat: “An IP address identifies the location that an Internet connection was made but doesn’t prove that Jones sent the text message.”
Jones Denies Hacking Accusations
Jones denied the allegations while speaking to reporters later on Monday. In an interview with The Times, she said that she was not a hacker and would not have known how to enter the system and send the message.
“DeSantis publicly said I’m not a data scientist, I’m not a computer scientist and I wouldn’t even know what to do if I saw a database, and now he’s accusing me of hacking one,” she said. “It’s a real 180 there. I’m not a hacker. I don’t hack. I don’t know s— about computers. I know how to do statistics.”
In another interview with CNN, Jones claimed that the language in the unauthorized text message did not match the way she talked and contained obvious errors that she would not make.
“The number of deaths that the person used wasn’t even right,” she noted. “They were actually under by about 430 deaths. I would never round down 430 deaths.”
Jones also told CNN that she has not had access to any Health Department systems for six months and that all information she had was accessed legally from reports or sent to her from other people still working for the government.
She additionally claimed that some of the drives taken by the police contained legal “proof that (state officials) were lying in January about things like internal reports and notices from the CDC,” as well as “evidence of illegal activities by the state.”
“This is what happens when you challenge powerful and corrupt people,” she said, again accusing DeSantis of orchestrating the raid. “If he thinks this is going to scare me into silence, he’s wrong.”
DeSantis, for his part, has denied any involvement in the raid.
“The governor’s office had no involvement, no knowledge, no nothing, of this investigation,” In a spokesperson for his office said Monday, adding that the FDLE launched the investigation before anyone knew about Jones’ alleged involvement.
See what others are saying: (The Tallahassee Democrat) (The Tampa Bay Times) (CNN)
Florida School Says Students Vaccinated Against COVID-19 Must Stay Home for 30 Days
The school falsely claimed that people who have just been vaccinated risk “shedding” the coronavirus and could infect others.
Centner Academy Vaccination Policy
A private school in Florida is now requiring all students who get vaccinated against COVID-19 to quarantine for 30 days before returning to class.
According to the local Miami outlet WSVN, Centner Academy wrote a letter to parents last week describing COVID vaccines as “experimental” and citing anti-vaccine misinformation.
“If you are considering the vaccine for your Centner Academy student(s), we ask that you hold off until the Summer when there will be time for the potential transmission or shedding onto others to decrease,” the letter reportedly stated.
“Because of the potential impact on other students and our school community, vaccinated students will need to stay at home for 30 days post-vaccination for each dose and booster they receive and may return to school after 30 days as long as the student is healthy and symptom-free.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has debunked the false claim that those newly vaccinated against COVID-19 can “shed” the virus.
According to the agency’s COVID myths page, vaccine shedding “can only occur when a vaccine contains a weakened version of the virus,” but “none of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.”
In fact, early research has suggested that vaccinated people are less likely to spread the virus than unvaccinated people.
Beyond that, unvaccinated people are more likely to spread COVID in general because they are much more likely to get the virus than vaccinated people. According to recently published CDC data, as of August, unvaccinated people were six times more likely to get COVID than vaccinated people and 11 times more likely to die from the virus.
Centner Academy Continues Spread of Misinformation
In a statement to The Washington Post Monday, Centner Academy co-founder David Centner doubled down on the school’s new policy, which he described as a “precautionary measure” based on “numerous anecdotal cases that have been in circulation.”
“The school is not opining as to whether unexplained phenomena have a basis in fact, however we prefer to err on the side of caution when making decisions that impact the health of the school community,” he added.
The new rule echoes similar efforts Centner Academy has made that run counter to public health guidance and scientific knowledge.
In April, the school made headlines when its leadership told vaccinated school employees that they were not allowed to be in contact with any students “until more information is known” and encouraged employees to wait until summer to get the jab.
According to The New York Times, the following week, a math and science teacher allegedly told students not to hug their vaccinated parents for more than five seconds.
The outlet also reported that the school’s other co-founder, Leila Centner, discouraged masking, but when state health officials came for routine inspections, teachers said they were directed in a WhatsApp group to put masks on.
See what others are saying: (WSVN) (The Washington Post) (Business Insider)
Katie Couric Says She Edited Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quote About Athletes Kneeling During National Anthem
Couric said she omitted part of a 2016 interview in order to “protect” the justice.
Kate Couric Edited Quote From Justice Ginsburg
In her upcoming book, journalist Katie Couric admitted to editing a quote from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 2016 in order to “protect” Ginsberg from potential criticism.
Couric interviewed the late justice for an article in Yahoo News. During their discussion, she asked Ginsburg about her thoughts on athletes like Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem to protest racial inequality.
“I think it’s really dumb of them,” Ginsburg is quoted saying in the piece. “Would I arrest them for doing it? No. I think it’s dumb and disrespectful. I would have the same answer if you asked me about flag burning. I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act.”
According to The Daily Mail and The New York Post, which obtained advance copies of Couric’s book “Going There,” there was more to Ginsburg’s response. Couric wrote that she omitted a portion where Ginsburg said the form of protest showed a “contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life…Which they probably could not have lived in the places they came from.“
Couric Says She Lost Sleep Making Choice
“As they became older they realize that this was youthful folly,” Ginsberg reportedly continued. “And that’s why education is important.“
According to The Daily Mail, Couric wrote that the Supreme Court’s head of public affairs sent an email asking to remove comments about kneeling because Ginsburg had misspoken. Couric reportedly added that she felt a need to “protect” the justice, thinking she may not have understood the question. Couric reached out to her friend, New York Times reporter David Brooks, regarding the matter and he allegedly likewise believed she may have been confused by the subject.
Couric also wrote that she was a “big RBG fan” and felt her comments were “unworthy of a crusader for equality.” Because she knew the remarks could land Ginsburg in hot water, she said she “lost a lot of sleep” and felt “conflicted” about whether or not to edit them out.
Couric was trending on Twitter Wednesday and Thursday as people questioned the ethics behind her choice to ultimately cut part of the quote. Some thought the move showed a lack of journalistic integrity while others thought revealing the story now harmed Ginsburg’s legacy.
See what others are saying: (New York Post) (The Daily Mail) (Insider)
Biden Administration Orders ICE To Halt Workplace Raids
The Department of Homeland Security will now focus on targeting employers who exploit undocumented workers, instead of carrying out raids that dissuade those workers from reporting labor violations.
DHS Reverses Worksite Raid Policy
The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it was ordering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop workplace raids.
The move marks a reversal from Trump administration policies that have been strongly criticized by immigration activists who argue the efforts created fear in immigrant communities and dissuaded them from reporting labor violations or exploitative employment practices.
In addition to stopping the raids, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a memo that the administration will refocus enforcement efforts to instead target “employers who exploit unauthorized workers, conduct illegal activities or impose unsafe working conditions.”
Mayorkas added that the immigration agencies housed in DHS will have the next 60 days to identify harmful existing policies and come up with new ones that provide better deportation protections for workers who report their employers.
In the Tuesday memo, the secretary argued that shift of focus will “reduce the demand for illegal employment by delivering more severe consequences to exploitative employers” and “increase the willingness of workers to report violations of law by exploitative employers and cooperate in employment and labor standards investigation.”
Labor Market Implications
The new policy comes at a time when the U.S. is experiencing a critical labor shortage, including in many sectors that rely on immigrant labor.
Some companies that use undocumented workers pay them wages that are far below the market rate, which is not only exploitative but also undercuts competitors.
According to Mayorkas, the pivot to employer-based enforcement will help protect American businesses.
“By exploiting undocumented workers and paying them substandard wages, the unscrupulous employers create an unfair labor market,” he said in the memo. “They also unfairly drive down their costs and disadvantage their business competitors who abide by the law.”
It is currently unclear how effective the new efforts will be, but historical precedent does not paint an optimistic picture.
The Biden administration’s efforts closely mirror a similar move by the Obama administration, which attempted to reverse workplace raids authorized under President George W. Bush by targetting those who employ undocumented workers rather than the workers themselves.
That effort, however, still led to thousands of undocumented workers being fired.