Jennifer Jenkins is an educator and Brevard County, Fla., school board member who supports mask mandates in schools. A video of an Oct. 12 board meeting, at which she she spoke about calculated efforts from people who threatened, harassed and intimidated her and her family because she supports COVID-19 mitigation efforts in school, went viral. Jenkins spoke to Yahoo News about the threats and what she believes started the tension within her community after she defeated a well-known Republican incumbent by a slim margin.
JENNIFER JENKINS: I was elected to keep our students and staff safe. And because I'm doing the job I was elected to do, I am now a part of these calculated efforts to threaten, harass, and intimidate.
Yeah, I've actually asked you to leave multiple times.
JENNIFER JENKINS: So go ahead.
- Are we--
JENNIFER JENKINS: Bye bye.
- --are we allowed to leave yet?
JENNIFER JENKINS: Or did I stop you? Because I'm pretty sure that officer told you to leave, too.
I don't reject people coming here and speaking their voice. They do it all the time. We don't stop them from doing that. I don't reject them standing outside my home. I reject them following me around in a car, following my car around. I reject them saying that they're coming for me, that I need to beg for mercy.
I reject that, when they are using their First Amendment rights on public property, they're also going behind my home and brandishing their weapons to my neighbors, that they're making false DCF claims against me to my daughter, that I have to take a DCF investigator to her playdate to go underneath her clothing and check for burn marks. That's what I'm against.
I have kind of been the target of the hate and vitriol within my community from the day I was sworn in. I am in a very Republican state, in a very Republican county and a very Republican district. And when I ran my election, I ran against a well-known Republican incumbent. And I ended up defeating this person significantly. And that person went on to form an organization. And that organization's focus from the beginning was to focus on me personally. That, to me, was the match. It created this tension within our community, an uprising of parents who probably would have never even known who I was in the first place.
I had a local state House representative dox me, put my personal phone number up there because of something that I said that upset him. But not only-- you know, it's OK, my phone number is public record. But he knew that wasn't my work phone number. He posted it with the intent of people to harass me when it came to the mask mandate.
The recent protests at my home, there was about 25 individuals who stood outside my home with flags and signs and bullhorns. Honestly, what was really sad was, you know, they had their children with them. I went outside to record them because it's what I'm advised to do by law enforcement. But one of the sad moments was my daughter had asked me, you know, can I play with those kids. And I thought, wow, you know, this is so sad for such a small person to have to explain to them, no, no, you can't, you know, they're not going to want them to come over here.
Olive just asked me why I'm still being nice to these people. And I thought that was a really good life lesson for her. And what did we say, Olive? We said sometimes, when people aren't mean, we still have to show them how to be nice. Right, baby girl?
It went on for a long time. It was dark out. I was putting her to bed, and as I'm reading her a story, you know, they're still in front of my home, shouting. And so I got angry. I finally-- you know, I've been dealing with this for months and months. And so I went outside, and I wanted to watch them walk to their cars and leave, because nobody was watching them leave. And they saw me coming down the street. They turned around, they came up in my face. One person coughed in my face, saying she was going to give me COVID. Another person swung their flag. It probably missed me by, like, three inches.
Finally, an officer had turned around the corner and pulled up. And there's a video of them, you know, recording me, trying to instigate me. And I am totally comfortable with everything that happened. You know, I'm literally standing beside my daughter's bedroom at 8:30 at night arguing with people. Those are things I can't necessarily report, because if there is no officer there to see it, it doesn't really mean anything. It means it doesn't happen. It's all hearsay.
The next day, I woke up to vandalizing of my home. They had chopped up plants. They had burned F U in the grass with weed killer on the side of my house. I had installed a security camera in the front of my home that week because I just-- I knew we were voting on masks, I knew it was going to be a hot topic, but unfortunately, they had just gotten right outside the perimeter of all of that.
I had went down to the police department to try and file charges against the person coughing in my face.
- Oh, I have a cough. [PRETENDS TO COUGH]
JENNIFER JENKINS: That was the day that I was contacted by DCF. And I had established this relationship with the detective and the officer there that day, and they knew exactly what was going on. I told them the history of everything else that was going on. And so when DCF went to the police department, they said, no, no, no, no, we need to talk about this. This is not a real claim.
And so they came to my home together. My daughter had just been dropped off at a playdate with kind of a new friend from school. And I had to go through the process, like any person. Even though they knew it was false, they knew that the name wasn't real and the email that was used was not actually the person who typed it in, they still had to go through the process.
And I had to answer questions about beating my daughter and burning my daughter and using drugs and how do I discipline her. And then I had to drive a DCF investigator to a playdate with an acquaintance of mine and, you know, lift up her shirt and, you know, pull back her pants.
And to the detective at Satellite Beach Police Department had sent subpoenas to the state to get IP addresses and to try and resolve proving that this was not submitted by the name and the email address that was put on the claim. I can't approve a resolution that essentially says your local law enforcement can handle this when we're at a point now where I think they're basically telling me we've done all we can do.
- We will find you--
JENNIFER JENKINS: I finally had this realization after reading the National School Board Association letter and seeing the examples that were in there of the things that are happening nationally, I agree it's domestic terrorism.
I wholeheartedly agree with that statement because it is calculated and it is contrived. It is intentionally based on irrational fears of people, and stoking those fears. And it is taking people and turning them into enemies, into villains, into threats. It's asking the federal government to investigate someone who has broken the law. It is not asking them to investigate people who come to give a public comment.
I realized the things that were happening to me were equal or worse than what was in that letter as a form of evidence. And I realized I had become desensitized to continuous harassment and threats and hate. I blame a lot of people for what is happening to me, both at the federal level, the state level, the-- my local legislators, and certain individuals in the community. I absolutely blame them.
And I see where this virus started, and I see it spreading. And this has become a culture that is accepted. And this is something that was breeding locally, and it has now gone national. And it's not OK.