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Woman Who Smeared DeSantis Administration Accused Researcher Who Challenged Her Of Sexual Harassment: Report

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MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 29: Governor Ron DeSantis gives a briefing regarding Hurricane Dorian to the media at National Hurricane Center on August 29, 2019 in Miami, Florida. Hurricane Dorian is expected to become a Category 4 as it approaches Florida in the upcoming days. (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)
Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images

A blistering report in National Review delineates how Rebekah Jones — the former COVID dashboard manager for the Florida state health department who falsely claimed that higher-ups in the DeSantis administration instructed her to input different COVID data than what they received — allegedly turned to spurious claims of sexual harassment to target a Ph.D. candidate at the Florida Atlantic University College of Business who challenged the way that news media was reporting COVID-death numbers.

Jon Taylor, 37, a Ph.D. candidate at the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) College of Business, noted publicly that the media was “conflating the actual number of Floridians who had died of COVID on a given day with the number of COVID deaths that had been entered into the system on that day — a total that included deaths that had occurred days and sometimes weeks before the entry date,” as Jack Crowe wrote in National Review.

Taylor joined his academic adviser to create their own COVID tracker, which wound up showing that media reports on Florida COVID deaths were exaggerated. He issued a blog post in early August 2020 explaining how the way the state presented COVID numbers elicited an overstatement of the true data.

That triggered Jones to call Taylor a “quack” and a “fraud” on Twitter. After a quiet period, in October Taylor started to appear on local news shows and podcasts, and one of his tracker tweets went viral. Jones then accused Taylor and his adviser of sexual harassment, while tagging FAU, the president of FAU, and university police.

“Jones deleted the tweets, but Taylor preserved them as screenshots on the advice of a prominent academic who had previously been subjected to a characteristic Jones smear campaign,” Crowe reports. “Jones makes a habit of deleting past tweets before arguing that she had never sent them in the first place, the academic told Taylor. Reached for comment, Jones also denied defaming Taylor and his adviser.”

Jones also emailed the dean of the FAU College of Business accusing Taylor and his adviser of sexual harassment. “The dean of the business school, Daniel Gropper, then escalated the complaint to the vice president of the university and the chief of the FAU police department, who asked Jones to substantiate her claims. Jones never did,” Crowe reported.

In one email, Jones accused Taylor of making “jokes that he would put his penis in my mouth to shut me up.” Taylor told Crowe, “That crossed the line to me. I would never say that to somebody. . . . I know the consequence of saying that to somebody. And it’s not just the consequence. I’m just a good person. I would never do that anyway. I don’t talk like that; it’s ridiculous.”

With no evidence to support her accusations, Jones then claimed Taylor or his adviser issued the threats through burner accounts or urged their followers to threaten Jones for them.

Taylor denied the lurid claims, adding that he was frightened the student board that would consider the charges would take Jones at her word. He stated, “They don’t have to have proof. There’s no burden of proof; the mere suspicion that it could be true is enough to expel me from the university. If I get expelled, I’m never finishing my doctorate. That’s the true cost of what’s going on here. And that’s exactly what she tried to do.”

Meanwhile, still not producing any hard evidence, Jones urged her followers to contact the university about Taylor, prompting numerous followers to do just that.

Crowe related other cases in which Jones had attempted to harass people who questioned her claims about COVID numbers, noting that the academics Jones targeted wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution.

But Peter Wood, who graduated from the Florida State University geography doctoral program in 2016, was not as reticent; he stated, “I know people who refuse to even be anonymously involved in conversations about her because they’re afraid she’ll harass them. I’m in a decent position. I’m not afraid of her; I don’t have much to lose.” He pointed out Jones had falsely represented herself as a Florida State geography Ph.D. on Twitter and that she had been expelled from the FSU program for having sex with an undergraduate and lying about her criminal record.

Crowe wrote, “Far from being ostracized for her role in making frank discussion of an immensely important topic near impossible, Jones has profited immensely. She’s raised more than $600,000 on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe; her conspiracy theories about Florida’s COVID cover-up have been endorsed by Florida congressman Charlie Crist, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, and the president of one of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions; and she’s now teasing a run for Congress herself.”

In January, Jones was arrested for allegedly getting unauthorized access into the state’s emergency messaging system. If she’s convicted, the felony charge carries a sentence of up to 5 years in prison.

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