In April 2020, Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp threatened to withhold lifesaving emergency COVID-19 support from a large Atlanta hospital system because one of my Tweets showed the world how murderously stupid he is.
Here’s a screenshot of the Tweet, and a YouTube link to the video included in the Tweet.
That people can spread COVID-19 without symptoms was published and widely reported more than 8 weeks before Kemp idiotically presented it as a “game changer” at a press conference.
Videos go viral because they’re surprising or shocking. This was both. The man in charge of a public health response for 10 million people proudly announced to the world that he’s murderously incompetent. It’s as if a fire chief went on TV to say “I just learned that gasoline is flammable and have asked the fire department to stop spraying it on houses. Game changer, y’all.”
Instead of apologizing or promising to try harder not to kill Georgians, Kemp’s office responded to his Internet infamy in the style of petty tyrants everywhere – he attacked the messenger. Specifically, he threatened me and my employer.
Why should you care? Because my employer at the time was Emory University, which operates the largest hospital system in Georgia.
On the morning of April 3, 2020, 36 hours after my Tweet, a senior Emory executive called me. She explained that the governor’s office had contacted her and told her my tweet jeopardized Emory’s cooperative relationship with the state. In case I didn’t quite understand the subtleties of the “Nice hospital you got there. Shame if anything happened to it,” mafia threat she’d just received, she spelled it out for me. She said she thought my Tweet could complicate Emory’s efforts to get desperately needed masks, gloves, PPE and ventilators for its hospitals. If I kept my Tweet up, Kemp’s office was threatening retaliation that would risk the lives of healthcare workers and patients. Deleting my Tweet, she reasoned, would reduce that deadly risk, or so one of Kemp’s goons implied to her.
So I deleted the tweet. The governor’s stupidity had already spent 24 hours on cable news repeat, so my duty as a concerned loudmouth citizen was done.
I was annoyed, and honestly more than a little rattled that the governor was behaving like a gangster. In the middle of a public health emergency would go on to kill nearly 40 times as many Georgians as died in World War II, Kemp and his staff were petty enough to go after me. How far would they go to make my life miserable?
Using the power of elected office to punish a private citizen for free speech is immoral (quaint, I know), a violation of his oath of office (also quaint these days), and also a criminal offense (assuming you live in a state where the attorney general isn’t a partisan hack). Calling executives at my office because I tweeted a video of Kemp’s speech on my personal Twitter account is the governor saying he wants my employer to punish me. They never reached out to me personally even though I’m easy to find.
I shared the threat at the time with a handful of people I trusted. And there was a third person on the call who heard it. I would have shared it publicly, but I calculated (I think correctly) that it was all risk for me and no chance of the Trump Justice Department or Georgia’s Trumpy Attorney General sticking up for the rule of law. Not my most principled or courageous moment, but unlike Kemp my decisions don’t kill people.
Why mention this 2.5 years after it happened? Because earlier today I read about yet another study quantifying how Republicans are the party of COVID death and it reminded me. Also, early voting starts in a week and Georgians deserve better than Brian Kemp.