This is a story about Rebekah Jones, a former dashboard manager at the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), who has single-handedly managed to convince millions of Americans that Governor Ron DeSantis has been fudging the state’s COVID-19 data.
When I write “single-handedly,” I mean it, for Jones is not one of the people who have advanced this conspiracy theory but rather is the person who has advanced this conspiracy theory. It has been repeated by others, sure: by partisans across the Internet, by unscrupulous Florida Democrats such as Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist, and on television, by MSNBC in particular.
But it flows from a single place: Rebekah Jones. To understand that is to understand the whole game. This is about Jones, and Jones alone. If she falls, it falls.
And boy does it deserve to fall!
Jones’s central claim is nothing less dramatic than that she has uncovered a massive conspiracy in the third most populous state in the nation, and that, having done so, she has been ruthlessly persecuted by the governor and his “Gestapo.” Specifically, Jones claims that, while she was working at the FDOH last year, she was instructed by her superiors to alter the “raw” data so that Florida’s COVID response would look better, and that, having refused, she was fired.
Were this charge true, it would reflect one of the most breathtaking political scandals in all of American history.
But it’s not true
Indeed, it’s nonsense from start to finish. Jones isn’t a martyr; she’s a myth-peddler. She isn’t a scientist; she’s a fabulist. She’s not a whistleblower; she’s a good old-fashioned confidence trickster. And, like any confidence trickster, she understands her marks better than they understand themselves.
On Twitter, on cable news, in Cosmopolitan, and beyond, Jones knows exactly which buttons to push in order to rally the gullible and get out her message. Sober Democrats have tried to inform their party about her: “You may see a conspiracy theory and you want it to be true and you believe it to be true and you forward it to try to make it be true, but that doesn’t make it true,” warns Jared Moskowitz, the progressive Democrat who has led Florida’s fight against COVID.
But his warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Since she first made her claims a little under a year ago, Jones has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through multiple GoFundMe accounts (and, once she realized that she was losing a percentage to credit-card fees, through paper checks); she has become a darling of the online Left; and, by pointing to her own, privately run dashboard, which shows numbers that make Florida’s COVID response look worse than it has been, she has caused millions of people to believe quite sincerely that the state’s many successes during the pandemic have been built atop fraud. S
Stephen Glass, the famous writer-turned-liar who spent years inventing stories but got caught when he pushed it too far, could only have dreamed of such a result.
Jones’s journey began on May 18, 2020, on which day she was dismissed by the Florida Department of Health. Today, she claims that she was fired because she had refused to take part in a massive cover-up. But as her personnel file shows, not only was there no cover-up but the agency did everything it could to de-escalate the situation around this employee before it eventually became untenable.
Indeed, as the records clearly show, indulging Jones had been its approach from the outset. At the time she was hired, the state government knew from its background check that Jones had completed a pre-trial intervention program in Louisiana in 2018, thereby securing a “no conviction” record for “battery of a police officer,” and it knew that she had entered into a deferred-prosecution agreement with the State of Florida in 2017 after being charged with “criminal mischief.”
And yet it hired her anyway. Had she applied for a more important role, the forest of red flags that Jones leaves wherever she goes might well have prevented this mistake—especially given that she did not mention any of them in her application. But Jones wasn’t there to fill an important role. She was there to run a website.
That matters, for, with the enthusiastic help of the press, Rebekah Jones has unremittingly inflated the prominence of the position she held. And yet when one reads through the FDOH documents that chronicle the affair, one is struck by how dull and unheroic the whole thing really was. There are no “whistleblowers” anywhere in this story. There is no scandal. There is no grand fight for truth or justice. There is just a replacement-level government employee who repeatedly breaks the rules, who is repeatedly mollycoddled while doing so, and who is fired only when she eventually renders herself unworthy of the department’s considerable grace.