An emotional Gov. J.B. Pritzker clarified his family’s Thanksgiving plans on Tuesday, saying his wife and teenage daughter plan to remain in Florida “indefinitely” after a false social media post sparked “hateful, threatening messages” directed at the high school student.
Pausing briefly to clear his throat before discussing the matter at his daily coronavirus briefing, the Democratic governor said the posts falsely portrayed his daughter as flouting COVID-19 restrictions at an outdoor restaurant with friends, igniting a firestorm directed at the girl even after the governor’s office had made it clear she was not in the photograph.
“That was a lie,” Pritzker said. “It wasn’t her.”
Pritzker said he has become accustomed to the “vitriol” spewed at him — occasionally anti-Semitic in nature — as leader of the state but warned, “My kids are off limits.”
The governor said he had been “taken aback” by a reporter’s question on Monday about whether he’d be in Illinois for the holiday. Pritzker had told the reporter, “that is my hope, but I’ll let you know.”
A day later, after announcing the state would be under stricter coronavirus mitigations, Pritzker addressed that Monday answer, saying he and his wife had been in the process of “making the very hard decision” to celebrate the holiday apart for the first time.
With the state “at a crisis point” because of the COVID-19 storm, Pritzker said he planned to spend the holiday with his son in Chicago, while his wife and daughter stay in Florida.
The governor said his daughter “came under attack” last week by someone’s attempt to have “some political effect” on him.
The girl was falsely identified in a photo posted by a parody Twitter account that alleged to show her ignoring the city’s COVID-19 restrictions while dining outdoors, Pritzker said. His chief of staff identified the account as “@deuxmoiworld” in a Twitter thread posted hours after Pritzker’s briefing.
But “the trolls who permeate these social media platforms” spread the photo anyway, he said, and though Pritzker’s office put out a statement trying to clear things up, that didn’t stop some “Republican elected officials, a network of propaganda publications in the state and some radio shock jocks from telling people that the picture was of my daughter despite knowing that this was a lie.”
That prompted people to send “hateful, threatening messages” to Pritzker’s daughter, and lawyer Thomas DeVore – who has filed lawsuits seeking to overturn Pritzker’s COVID-19 restrictions — to offer what Pritzker called a “bounty” for photos of the governor out celebrating Thanksgiving.
It was all too much, Pritzker said.
“Put yourself in the shoes of a high school girl who’s being weaponized against her father by his political opponents — weaponized with lies,” he said.
“I’m an adult, and I can handle people throwing my face up on anti-Semitic picket signs likening me to Hitler,” said Pritzker, who is Jewish. “This kind of vitriol is apparently what I have to deal with to keep the state, and its people, safe, but my kids?
“My kids are off limits. ... I’m going to fight like hell to protect her privacy.”
During protests earlier this year calling for Pritzker to “re-open” the state, some carried signs with anti-Semitic language, including “Heil Pritzker” and the German phrase “Arbeit macht frei,” which translates to “work sets you free.”
Those words hung over the entrances of several Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz in Poland, where an estimated 1.1 million people were killed.
The “bounty” Pritzker was referring to related to a Sunday Facebook post by DeVore. The lawyer denied that characterization – even as he still described the social media photo from Twitter as being of the governor’s daughter.
On Facebook, the lawyer wrote, “I will pay $1,000 to the first journalist who provides me footage of Pritzker out celebrating Thanksgiving with friends and family!! Spread the word far and wide for this mission ‘Operation Thanksgiving Tyrant Track[.]’”
Reached after Pritzker’s briefing, DeVore said he doesn’t support or promote photos being taken of the governor’s children, agreeing Pritzker’s daughter is “completely off limits — she’s not anything but a child, she’s not a politician.”
But he insisted the governor mischaracterized his social media post.
“I think he’s probably frustrated because somebody posted a picture of his daughter, and I certainly understand that, but characterizing what I put out as a bounty on him and his family is completely ridiculous,” DeVore said.