Who is Rebekah Jones, the ‘Covid whistleblower’ challenging Matt Gaetz in Florida?

Scientist became a cause célèbre in Florida after claiming she had been forced out of her job for refusing to manipulate data

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Thursday 25 August 2022 12:29 BST
Former DOH employee Rebekah Jones receives whistleblower status

When Representative Matt Gaetz won the Republican primary for Florida’s 1st district, an overwhelmingly conservative district, he all but guaranteed that he will win re-election in November.

But he will not run unopposed. That same night, Rebekah Jones won the Democratic nomination in the 1st district. Ms Jones has become something of a cause célèbre in Florida politics.

For some, she is a considered a brave whistleblower for risking her career and imprisonment by speaking out against Governor Ron DeSantis during the Covid-19 pandemic. But to others, she’s a fabulist who has made herself into a martyr.

Mr DeSantis fired Ms Jones during the coronavirus pandemic, for what she said was her refusal to manipulate data about Covid-19. Ms Jones launched her own dash board and said at one point that “I’ve independently verified they’ve deleted at least 1,200 cases in the last week.”

Given that Mr DeSantis refused to take aggressive measures to combat the pandemic and largely kept the state open, it became a plausible narrative. For their part, Florida’s government said that she was fired for manipulating government data on her own, as WFSU reported.

In late 2020, state police raided Ms Jones’s home and seized her computer equipment. Ms Jones characterised it as “sending the Gestapo” out for her. The judge who approved the raid was a DeSantis appointee, though Mr DeSantis said he did not have any knowledge of the raid.

Ms Jones later turned herself in to Leon County Detention Facility, tweeting that she did so as a means to “protect my family from continued police violence, and to show that I’m ready to fight whatever they throw at me.”

Eventually, Ms Jones’s Twitter was suspended in June of last year, though it is unclear why. Last year, she announced that she would run to challenge Mr Gaetz. At first, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled that she could not be on the ballot because she had not been a registered Democrat for the past 365 days but an appeals judge allowed her to run.

But the district has little chance of flipping. In 2020, almost 66 per cent of the district voted for Donald Trump, and that number is likely to grow in a midterm election at a time when President Joe Biden is incredibly unpopular.

Similarly, in the time since she became a vaunted hero to some, certain parts of her narrative have cracked. A report from the The Department of Health Inspector General found that she had made “unsubstantiated” and “unfounded” claims that the department terminated her for refusing to manipulate data, NBC News reported earlier this year.

It also found “insufficient evidence” or no evidence at all that she was asked to do manipulate Covid-19 data.

The Independent has reached out to Ms Jones for comment.

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