On January 6, 2020, we (the Florida Department of Health (DOH) Emergency Preparedness Team I was on) received the first email from the CDC issuing official guidance about the pneumonia outbreak the WHO was monitoring in Wuhan, China.
My husband – a biostatistician and perpetual hypochondriac – sent me an article a week earlier about the same topic, so this wasn’t the first I had heard of this outbreak, but the first time we at DOH received any official word about what to expect. Throughout January, we were told to begin planning for a pandemic, but we did not.
I spent the next year tracking and reporting on COVID-19 in my home state of Florida. That journey became a public affair in May when I was outed to the world by Ron Desantis (in front of the vice president) as a whistleblower before I even spoke publicly about what was happening or even officially filed my complaint with the state. I asked my boss for information on how to go about filing the complaint the Friday afternoon before I was told either to resign or be terminated the following Monday. I had until that Thursday to make a decision. Desantis went on his violent rant that Wednesday.
Since that time, my life has become somewhat of a public spectacle. I did my best to shield and protect my family from the threats and abuse hurled at me online. I never shared photos of my husband to protect his identity, as he was (and still is) working for the state. 99% of the feedback was positive and full of love and support.
I became an awkward and reluctant celebrity-of-sorts in the process, representing oppressed scientists across the nation. The accolades, awards, invitations to speak, news appearances, and the like came rushing in like a flood, and I worked as hard as I could to stay on message and make sure people had the information they needed to make informed decisions.
Then came the raid on my home. DeSantis’ goal of silencing me by threatening my children at gunpoint backfired splendidly. I went from a mostly Florida-centric sciencelebrity, to a national symbol with a major platform with which to challenge him for being the monster he is. He amplified my voice in a way I never imagined possible.
But I no longer felt safe in our home in Florida. My efforts to protect my own family failed. I watched the police go through my entire house, demanding several times to see the warrant and call my attorney, as I was told I had a right to do, but they didn’t have the warrant when they pointed a gun at my head and told me to open the door. It came several hours later. They handed the warrant to me as they were leaving. I had no rights.
I stood my ground. I defied a governor whose brittle ego made him obsessed with me and a handful of my outspoken and defiant friends (Dan Uhlfelder, Tom Kennedy, and Grant Stern to name a few). I paid a price for that.
Desantis engineered a smear campaign earlier this year designed solely to discredit me so that he wouldn't look like the evil man that he is for raiding my home. Though none of it was ever true, and some of it is flat-out ridiculous, a lie can travel halfway across the world before the truth even laces up its boots. Desantis has lied about the pandemic since the start. Attacking me felt like an extension of that. Though even I didn't realize how obsessed he had become with my success in standing up to his lies.
Last summer, my lawyers and I submitted a public records request to the Governor’s office for any emails about me between Desantis, his inner circle, and a handful of outside entities he used to fight his war or science (bloggers at the Nationalist Review, the FDLE agents involved in the raid, Twitter executives, and a few others). They have yet to provide those documents, but did give us a number on how many there were between May 2020 – June 2021. I asked my friend Grant to take a wild guess – he’s gone through countless rounds of records request and would have a good grasp on what was normal or not.
He guessed a few hundred.
The actual number?
That’s just the emails. It does not include texts, phone calls, in-person conversations, or anything else. Just the emails about me.
That averaged out to about 11 emails a day. Every single day. For more than a year.
If I had known how sick Desantis’ obsession about me had become, I would have sent my family away to protect them. If I had known he was so singularly fixated on silencing me, I would have taken steps to keep us safe.
We fled Florida and moved to Washington, D.C. as de-facto political asylum seekers just weeks after the raid.
We moved to the DC area on January 4, 2021.
Two days later, crazy followed us and a crowd of insurrectionists not only attacked the capital, but also put the entire city on lockdown. We thought DC was a war zone with the constant sirens, helicopters, and warnings to seek shelter inside due to possible terrorist attacks. Only after several months of living in refuge there did we realize how absolutely insane that day was.
Nearly six months later, much to the surprise of the entire nation, the Florida DOH Inspector General’s office found my whistleblower complaint credible and issued me full whistleblower protection. That would have been nice to have before armed police raided my home and pointed guns at my two-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son.
I realized the day I received that letter that this mysterious timeline for when we could come home to Florida (maybe after Desantis’ lost his re-election, maybe sometime after that) was now clear. We could move back home now.
I still don’t know how safe it is, though. While there would be serious repercussions for any continued retaliation against me because of my protected whistleblower status, we’re talking about a man devoid of morality and fear of consequence. Desantis continues to break the law, endanger and kill our people with his intentionally dangerous policies, and does so publicly, brazenly and without remorse.
Oddly enough, even my opponent, a man under investigation for a host of illegal activity, including sex trafficking minors, recognizes Desantis for the monster he is. Gaetz once acknowledged to a good friend of mine how Desantis is a “sociopath.” In Gaetz’ own words, “you can’t teach empathy.” Coming from a man who sexually exploits, drugs and traffics high school students, that’s a pretty strong statement of damnation. Of course Gaetz once called himself the Robin to Desantis’ batman, and asked Desantis to be his best man at his wedding (Desantis didn’t go to the wedding at all in the end), so I wouldn’t place bets on Gaetz standing by his own word on that.
Today, two years after the first formal notice of COVID-19, and one year from the insurrection and riots at our nation’s capital, and collectively we seem too exhausted, too disappointed, too un-eager to band together, stand our ground, and fight back.
I’m here to tell you that 2022 will be the year real Americans fight back. This will be the year we oust monsters like Desantis and Gaetz, and demand better from our leaders. This will be a year of action.
It has to be. Because we stand to lose too much if we don’t.
Join our fight.
Help us send a message that the radicalization of American politics will not be tolerated here in Florida, or anywhere in our great nation.
We are too great in number and too strong of character to let these atrocities go unanswered. The way we fight back is with our wallets and at the voting booth. So let’s get it done.