When angry protesters showed up at the Florida home of a pro-mask school board member to accuse her of mass child abuse, one yelled out, “Randy Fine says hello!”
When two men confronted a disabled Army veteran at a park, they allegedly invoked Randy Fine’s name before beating him unconscious.
These people were referring to Florida state Representative Randy Fine, a Republican who has turned his Facebook page into a ragefest where he posts his enemies’ personal details and provides his followers with a roadmap to channel their hate.
The Daily Beast reviewed communications showing that the local district’s prosecutor, State Attorney Phil Archer, initially received two cases and referred both to the state’s police agency. Special agents in FDLE’s public integrity unit are now investigating.
“It’s sick and twisted. The irony of thinking he’s above the law—let alone one he brags about cosponsoring—is insanity. It’s not the fact that he shared my phone number. That’s not the illegal part. It’s that you share my name, phone number and incite people to harass me and threaten me,” the Brevard County School Board member, Jennifer Jenkins, told The Daily Beast.
“He acts like Trump. He knows it’s successful for the extremists here in Brevard. That’s just his playbook,” she added.
Fine declined to answer The Daily Beast’s questions on the record Thursday. Instead, he sent a statement warning against giving voice to the assaulted veteran by repeating some of the same defamatory claims about the man’s criminal record that he’s often made on Facebook.
“If you want to print the claims,” Fine said, listing a litany of unproven and slanderous allegations, “…be my guest.”
The 18th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office declined to “confirm or deny the existence of any ongoing criminal investigation,” and FDLE did not respond to requests for comment.
It’s unclear how closely Fine was involved in crafting Florida’s “Combating Public Disorder” bill, a knee-jerk reaction by conservatives in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests. But he was one of 26 cosponsors of the legislation, which received national media attention because, among other things, it allows pissed-off drivers to run over protesters.
The law created a “cyberintimidation” provision that makes it illegal to “electronically publish” someone’s “personal identification information”—even something as simple as their name or phone number—if the intention is to incite violence, threaten, or harass them.
Seven locals told The Daily Beast that Fine doesn’t just fit the bill. The law describes what he’s been doing for months.
Jenkins is a speech pathologist who worked at a Brevard County public elementary school and is married to a teacher as well. She was elected to the Brevard County school board last year and has since found herself in the uncomfortable position of advocating for requiring masks in a state where the governor is in a full-blown war against mask mandates in schools.
In her complaint to State Attorney Phil Archer, she details how Fine took to his campaign’s Facebook page and posted her personal cellphone number on July 29, directing pissed off anti-maskers to flood Jenkin’s phone line immediately.
“COVID is neither highly transmissible in school AND has nominal effect on children. If you want to stand up for your rights, call Jenkins RIGHT NOW and let her know exactly how you feel,” read his post, which has since been deleted.
Her complaint to investigators claims she got furious text messages from 70 different phone numbers, including one calling her a “psychotic nazi.” One of the men who attended the next day’s heated school board meeting later drove past her home slowly several times while staring her down.
Fine’s rhetoric has only grown more caustic in recent weeks, posting angry memes with her face or name, repeatedly saying that “there’s a special place in hell” for Jenkins, and labeling her pro-mask stance “literally government-sanctioned child abuse.”
Things got especially heated on Sept. 1, when anti-mask protesters rallied outside Jenkins’ home. At least one waved the famous “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden flag, a symbol that’s been widely adopted by the gun-toting right-wing fringe. A Satellite Beach police detective was called to investigate after receiving a report that one of the protesters, Janice Crisp, coughed in Jenkins’ face as a kind of pandemic-era biological assault. A video appears to show Crisp yelling, “Randy Fine says hello!”
Two days later, Fine posted on Facebook: “I had nothing to do with it, fwiw. But when you use your home as your place of business and post the address on the Internet, not sure you should be surprised when unhappy ‘customers’ show up.”
Crisp, a loyal Fine supporter, got herself arrested for trying to disrupt the school board’s decision to extend its mask mandate later that month. (She had previously filmed herself heading to the violent Jan. 6 insurrection with her brother, but has not faced criminal federal charges as others in the mob have been.)
Jenkins finally took the step on Nov. 3 of seeking an emergency restraining order against the politician citing “stalking/cyberstalking,” after an anonymous caller sent a Florida Department of Children and Families investigator to her home to address a fake allegation of child abuse. Jenkins told The Daily Beast she suspects it was Fine or one of his associates. A court hearing is set for Tuesday.
“He just thinks he’s above the law. He is a bully,” Jenkins told The Daily Beast. “He thinks he’s going to intimidate me and harass me into resigning, and it’s never going to happen. He’s now going after people that I’m close to, to get me to resign.”
Jenkins is talking about her friend, Robert Burns, an Army veteran who served as a medic in Iraq. Burns has made a name for himself as the perpetual thorn in Fine’s side, running a website that constantly hounds the politician for his policies and serving as the campaign manager to the Republican that unsuccessfully tried to oust Fine in the primary last year.
Fine’s social media is littered with claims that Burns is a “serial rapist,” “child abuser,” and “wife beater,” along with photos of Burns’ arrest record. The feud has gone on for years, with the politician accusing the veteran of being antisemitic and offering to show Fine’s mother a video of her son with prostitutes that doesn’t exist. But the inflammatory online rhetoric there has also escalated.
On the same day Jenkins filed her stalking case against Fine, the state representative posted a paparazzi-style photo of Jenkins and Burns outside the veteran’s home, showing a license plate and house number. Fine credited “citizen journalists” and linked to a blog post on an anonymously authored blog.
But a closer look hints that Fine is involved. One article features a screenshot of Burns’ social media activity, taken from Fine’s own personal Facebook account. As most people know, your Facebook profile picture follows you wherever you go on the site, so if you took a Facebook screenshot while on your account, the post will show that near the share button.
Minutes after Fine made that post, Burns was allegedly confronted by two men while he walked on a nature trail at a small nature preserve called Turkey Creek Sanctuary. According to Burns, the interaction went like this:
“Are you Robert Burns?” one man asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Are you Randy Fine’s Robert Burns?” he followed.
“Yeah, unfortunately,” he replied.
“Oh OK, so you like to rape and abuse women and children?”
A fight ensued, and while Burns said he struggled with one man, another swung a heavy object and slammed it against the back of his head. Burns, who suffered multiple traumatic brain injuries while in combat in Iraq, woke up on the ground dazed minutes later. He spent the evening in the hospital, his ribs bruised from what he can only guess was violent kicking while he was down. A person who witnessed the beginning of the assault confirmed some of those details to The Daily Beast. Palm Bay police would not provide details of the attack to avoid harming the investigation.
He’s cruel and vindictive.
Burns is now in contact with a Palm Bay police detective investigating that attack. He has also filed a complaint to the local prosecutor and is in touch with a special agent at FDLE.
“He is making this the new normal. He’s making people think this is OK, that this is how politics works. He’s grooming the Brevard Young Republicans, aspiring politicians about how to campaign,” Burns said. “He’s also committing the infractions, because he thinks he’s immune. He thinks he’s untouchable because he’s doing press conferences with the governor and with law enforcement.”
Their actions have inspired others who feel like they’ve been bullied by Fine to report him as well.
In October, attorney Andy Lannon filed a complaint to FDLE, according to an email reviewed by The Daily Beast. It’s not about left-right politics, said the attorney, who describes himself as a devout Roman Catholic and lifelong Republican. Fine targeted Lannon when he quit his Palm Beach city attorney job and a week later checked himself into a mental health facility for a few days.
Fine, in a since-deleted Facebook post still available on Google, publicly called for him to be removed from a committee that nominates judges and called him “unfit.” Lannon wants state inspectors to investigate what he considered Fine’s illegal attempt to tarnish his reputation to destroy his credibility as a witness, given that Lannon was set to testify against Fine’s associate, who last month pleaded guilty for his role in a corruption scandal.
“He’s cruel and vindictive,” Lannon told The Daily Beast.
Lannon, who has since gone into private practice, said three clients dropped him or refused to pay legal bills because of Fine’s post. He added that the politician’s wrath was the primary motivator for his decision to leave the area and move his family to Orlando in 2019.
“His attacks made it hard to make a living for three years. It was really hard on my family. They were devastated. Justice needs to be served,” he said.
For others, the attacks predate the cyberintimidation law by years. Palm Bay Councilman Kenny Johnson was 27 and was just three months into his first term when Fine posted his personal cellphone on Facebook, urging residents to “call [him] today and demand he stop the corruption!” Johnson insists that his city-owned cell number was on the municipal website, so Fine had to go out of his way to target him this way. Johnson, a personal trainer at his own gym, kept picking up calls for a week in case they were potential clients but eventually had to get a new line.
His intentions were to intimidate me one way or another, for me to do whatever he says. To keep me in my place.
Palm Bay Councilman Kenny Johnson
“His intentions were to intimidate me one way or another, for me to do whatever he says. To keep me in my place,” Johnson told The Daily Beast. “During my campaign, I saw mudslinging, but not to this level. I expect it from residents, but not elected officials. We’re supposed to hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
Meanwhile, one of Fine’s own tales of harassment appears to be in doubt. Earlier this year, when faced with criticism that his online behavior posed a danger to Jenkins and Burns, Fine came forward with his own story about feeling threatened. On Sept. 3, Fine publicly claimed that his office received a threatening call from “a man claiming he was ‘representing Jennifer Jenkins.’”
“I’d like to thank the Police Departments of the City of Melbourne, City of Palm Bay, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the House Sergeant at Arms for immediately responding to a credible threat made against me yesterday,” he wrote.
However, The Daily Beast checked with all four law enforcement agencies to see if such a threat was reported. The Florida House Speaker’s office said the Sergeant at Arms “did not receive a call” that matches that description. The Melbourne Police Department reported that it “never received a call” from Fine’s district office, which is outside its jurisdiction anyway. And while FDLE did notify the Palm Bay Police Department about the incident, the matter didn’t rise to the level of even meriting a report.
“It was determined that a subject made a comment to one of Mr. Fine’s staffers. No threat was made to Mr. Fine,” a Palm Bay public information officer told The Daily Beast.