Rebekah Jones’ Viral Claims About Her Son’s Arrest By ‘Fascist’ DeSantis Don’t Match Available Evidence

April 7, 2023 Off By Claire Woodcock

This week, the teenage son of Rebekah Jones, a former Florida government employee, was arrested on charges of making terrorist threats to shoot up his former school. 

In 2020, Jones was fired from the Florida Health Department after claiming that she was asked to alter COVID data, and is currently suing the state. She has claimed on Twitter that the arrest was politically motivated, and that her son was “taken on the gov’s orders,” was arrested “for non-threatening snapchat memes,” and said that the arrest was “retaliatory rule by a fascist [Ron DeSantis] who wishes to be king.” She stated “they kidnapped my son.” (After Jones’ firing, it is perhaps worth noting, an investigation by the Florida inspector general found “insufficient evidence” to support her claims of a cover up. Jones also ran for Congress in 2022.) 

Jones’s tweets have been viewed tens of millions of times, and on Thursday she was asking for donations from her followers to help her stand up against what she described as an unjust arrest, retaliatory action against her family, a frivolous arrest over joking memes, and a government conspiracy. (About $7,000 had been donated to her through an old GoFundMe to which she’d pointed to the public as of Friday afternoon; it is not possible to see how much money came in through a PayPal link where supporters are also able to send donations.) On Twitter, Jones has alleged that Elon Musk is “delegating the news and spreading debunked conspiracy theories about my 13 year old autistic son…..full Qanon level now.” Jones has also taken issue with the timeline of the arrest, suggesting that police waited six weeks to arrest him, and stated that the arrest happened three weeks after she filed a lawsuit against the state.

Police documents and warrant service reports, however, suggest that multiple students at her son’s former middle school reported him to teachers because they were worried he would shoot up the school. (Jones' son is now homeschooled.) Snapchat messages obtained by the police as part of a search warrant do indeed return memes that joke about school shootings sent by her son. But they also show legitimately concerning messages he allegedly sent that appear to be specific threats against a specific middle school. The police report also shows in detail how the investigation was carried out, and the timeline of the investigation. The Snapchat messages in question were sent roughly six weeks ago, but police only became aware of them after students reported them to teachers on March 20. The documents show that police began questioning students immediately and attempted to question Jones's son within a day of being alerted.

“I want to shoot up the school,” one message said. Another referenced trying to obtain a gun. “Okay so it’s been like 3-4 weeks since I got on my new on my new [sic] antidepressants and they aren’t working but they’re suppose to by now so I have no hope in getting better so why not kill the losers at school,” another said. “I always keep a knife on me so maybe I’ll just stab ppl idk,” another said. “Nah if I do kill people I’ll just kill myself,” a fourth said.

Jones has tweeted that she believes her son did not send these messages—which, again, were obtained directly from Snapchat by the police and traced to the same account that posted the memes. She has also tweeted that some of the police “specifically hid [that the] messages sent came [sic] from an account that was NOT my son’s,” and cited a Miami Herald article stating that “the threatening messages were sent by a username that was different than the one Jones’s son used to send the memes. The document does not say how authorities determined both usernames are linked to the same account.”

This appears, though, to be a misreading of the unredacted police report by Jones and by the Herald, and also a misunderstanding of how Snapchat works. The unredacted report, which was also obtained by Motherboard, states “it should be noted Snapchat uses a name to ID the account to other people ([redacted by Motherboard]) and the actual username ([redacted by Motherboard]).” 

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A screenshot of the warrant service document. Redactions have been done by Motherboard to protect the screennames of minors.

On Snapchat, users are able to have a display name and a username. A user can change their display name at any time, but the username will stay the same. The police report does not mention multiple accounts; it simply states what the display name was and what the username was. The memes and threatening direct messages came from the same account, according to the warrant service documents. Jillian Durkin, a spokesperson for the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office, told Motherboard: “I can confirm that per our investigation, there was only ONE account.” (The Herald initially wrote only that Jones's son was "arrested over memes" and was based on only a partial version of the police documents. It did not include the alleged DMs but was later updated.) 

When reached by phone, Jones was adamant that her son did not threaten to shoot up his former school. She said that she read through his phone and did not see the messages, so she is confident he did not send them. She said that the police report “for some reason specifically covered up that there were two accounts.” She also said her son “should have known his social media would be monitored. God knows all of mine is.”

“He sent memes. Stupid, immature memes that I don’t approve of and I don’t like,” she said. “I’ve gone through all of his messages. I saw the memes. But I searched all of his messages for that specific text [of the threats] and none of that is in there.”

The meme that Jones tweeted was not specifically mentioned in the police report at all, though several other memes about school shootings were mentioned in the report.

“He has an account with all of his messages going all the way back to January. There are no gaps other than the periods where he was grounded and we took his phone,” she said, adding that she saw things in his messages that she believed were inappropriate but did not elaborate on what they were. 

When asked how it would be possible to know if anything was deleted, she said, “I don’t know that. I don’t know how that works on Snapchat. But to have only like five specific messages on this entire thread when there are other conversations that are not appropriate and make me uncomfortable?”

When asked where she believes the threatening messages in the police report came from, she said, “I don’t think I can speak to that right now given how much intense coverage of this there is and risking further retaliation against my kid.”

“But it is your belief that he did not send them, just to be clear,” Motherboard asked. 

“I know that he didn’t,” she said. “I checked it.”

The police report does not rely only on the content of the messages. Police also spoke to a 12-year-old girl who identified Jones’s son’s accounts and stated that had made threats to her on both Discord and Snapchat. The Snapchat records show that she was the recipient of some of the messages. The police report states that, on Discord, Jones’s son “stated he wanted to end [his] own life and shooting up the school with people that has hurt him in the past. [The girl] wanted to help Jackson by telling him to go talk to his parents or guardian … [the girl] then blocked him from discord and no further conversations have been had.” Several of the Snapchat messages threatening to shoot up the school and named in the warrant service documents were sent to her.

Snapchat is a social media company that rose to prominence because its messages automatically delete. But even when messages delete from a user’s phone, they do not always immediately delete from the company’s servers, and Snapchat retains messages for varying lengths of time in order to respond to lawful warrants and subpoenas. This differs from other platforms with disappearing messages like Signal, which encrypts messages end-to-end and doesn’t store any message data on its servers.

Snapchat has changed a lot over the years, but direct messages still delete by default: "Delete is our default 👻 This means most messages sent over Snapchat will be automatically deleted once they’ve been viewed or have expired," its privacy page states. The only two direct message options are to have messages delete immediately after being viewed or to have them delete within 24 hours. It is possible to save individual messages to a chat history, but they need to be specifically selected and saved. 

It is unlikely that Snapchat would respond to a police search warrant with bogus messages or messages that were never sent, and doing so would put it at great legal risk. "While it's true that we value ephemerality in our Snaps and Chats, some information may be retrieved by law enforcement through proper legal process," Snapchat's safety guide states. Snapchat's most recent transparency report states that between January 1 and June 30, 2022, it received more than 14,000 search warrant requests, and provided data to law enforcement for 82 percent of those requests.

Snapchat did not respond to a request for comment but referred Motherboard to resources on display names and usernames from its website. 

Jones also tweeted, "A week after we filed our lawsuit against the state, a kid claiming to be the cousin of one of my son's classmates joined their snapchat group. They recorded their conversations, and anonymously reported my son to police for sharing a popular internet meme."

The police report does not mention any anonymous informants. It does, however, include the names of at least four students, who are between 12 and 13 years old (and whose names are not being included by Motherboard because they are minors), who had seen messages or posts from Jones's son and were concerned about them. 

According to the arrest records, minors who alleged they were in contact with Jones’ son online or saw his posts were interviewed starting on March 21, 2023. Police spoke to her son on March 23. The next day, a judge signed off on the Snapchat search warrant. The warrant came back to the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office on March 27 with descriptions of three memes and eight messages the original reporting officer determined were in violation of Florida State Statute 836.10, which states that “Written or electronic threats to kill, do bodily injury, or conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism; punishment; exemption from liability.” The officer requested a warrant for Jones’ son’s arrest. 

While these events are traumatizing for the family and for students of the middle school, there is currently no evidence to suggest that the arrest of Jones's son is part of a broader vendetta against her by the DeSantis administration. Jones's son is due in court on May 3.