“And Then There Were None:” How the suppression of truth-tellers heightens the validity of their work

By Abby Schneekloth

On the morning of December 7, 2020, former COVID-19 data scientist Rebekah Jones found her home raided by ten armed Florida police officers. The justification for this search came from a tip from Jones’ former agency that Jones had possibly accessed a state government messaging system without authorization to urge employees to speak out about data manipulation related to coronavirus deaths. This investigation came after the firing of Jones from her position as a state coronavirus data scientist for the Florida Department of Health in what she claims to be retaliation for her “refusal to fudge the numbers and minimize the scale of the COVID-19 outbreak.” Jones then came forward to blow the whistle on these actions publicly and filed a whistleblower complaint in July requesting to be reinstated with back pay.

Yet this past week her home was raided by a force of armed officers the size one would only expect to need for a James Bond-esque bust of a criminal mastermind’s lair. Even if there was reason to search Jones’ home and inspect her computers, flash drives, etc., in what scenario would ten officers with weapons be needed to ascertain information regarding the involvement of a coronavirus data scientist in an online message?

This incident, in which a bizarre amount of effort was put into silencing an individual, calls to mind the crime novel “And Then There Were None” by the great crime novelist Agatha Christie. As characters come closer to the truth of the identity of the killer within the story, we as an audience can expect said characters to be silenced. Like a character within “And Then There Were None,” Jones knew too much about a breach in scientific integrity, and this knowledge cost her: first her job and now the feeling of safety in her own home.

Although the treatment of Jones seems to derive straight from a murder mystery, the reality of her situation ought to be quite different. As a government employee who blew the whistle on wrongdoing at her workplace, she should have had much more protection than any character from a mystery novella will ever receive. Whistleblowing laws exist to protect those who witness wrongdoing, so that they may tell others about what they have discovered and not worry about being silenced.

This most recent raid on Jones’ home perhaps exemplifies too well how terrifying the truth can be to someone in a position of power who could stand to lose from the truth being set free. The very fact that such a drastic number of armed officers were used for a simple house search hints that there was an apparent attempt at silence by intimidation.

Our Executive Director and CEO Louis Clark was apt to highlight this bizarre attempt at silencing a whistleblower, commenting: “We condemn this extreme government action to terrorize a whistleblower and her family because her revelations about the COVID-19 pandemic have embarrassed the governor. There does not seem to be an acceptable reason for ten law enforcement officers to enter the home with guns drawn to carry out a search warrant for what looks like illegal political reprisal.”

So, how ought we to respond to these blatant attempts to suppress Jones’ voice? Unlike a mystery where all we as an audience can do is hope that a character will survive to tell others about what they’ve seen so the mystery can be solved, we actually can do something for whistleblowers such as Jones to protect them and the integrity of their work.

In order to support whistleblowers like Jones, you can help us strengthen the protections offered to whistleblowers through legislative reforms. By signing Government Accountability Project’s petition for stronger whistleblower protections, you can help us ensure that Jones and other brave whistleblowers like her can continue their work without fear of retaliation.

Another way we can react when we hear the whistle blown is to listen with open ears and continue the good work that whistleblowers have started. Jones recently tweeted: “Let’s stay focused on what really matters right now: the pandemic. The state would rather distract you with what they did to me, than have you look at what’s going on with this virus. They’ll drag this out as long as they can. Get the data. That’s all that matters.”

In true mystery-heroine style, Jones calls on all of us to listen to her plea and to look for the data clues to continue her good work until the crime is solved. Ultimately that is the intent of blowing the whistle, to help us all unravel the mystery together, to provide as many clues as possible for the public to have a chance at solving wrongdoing before it’s too late.