Even as a local Democratic Party official threatens to call for his removal from public office, Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola said he will not delete his Twitter account or stop sharing articles promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19.
Arriola, a Democrat serving on a nonpartisan city commission, was criticized on social media last Friday for using his public Twitter page to share an opinion article, which called for jailing of White House adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci for calling the antimalarial medication ineffective against the virus.
Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Steve Simeonidis told the Miami Herald that he would support recalling the commissioner from office if he continues to promote “dangerous disinformation.”
“The man needs to be disavowed publicly,” Simeonidis said. “He is an elected official that people seemingly trust based on his position. He’s feeding them extremely dangerous disinformation.”
Miami Beach Commissioner @RickyArriolaMB: you’re an embarrassment to our Party and county.— Steve Simeonidis (@stevesimeonidis) August 7, 2020
Take down this dangerous misinformation and then delete your account.
Just because you have three years left until you’re termed out, doesn’t mean you can’t be recalled before then. https://t.co/LQr1ddCfDG
He asked Arriola to delete his Twitter account, which Arriola called an attempt to censor him. Arriola, whom former President Barack Obama appointed to his Committee on the Arts and Humanities in 2009, said Simeonidis was not a “relevant” voice in the party. He called him a “Bernie Bro,” a disparaging label for supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“I have been involved in Democratic politics since he was in diapers,” Arriola wrote in a text Wednesday. “He’s never crossed my path. He wanted me to take down my post and to delete my Twitter account. That’s endorsing censorship. For a Democrat, that’s against party values.”
Arriola said he has not personally promoted the use of the politically divisive drug, but he sees “merit” in discussing its possible efficacy. Studies have shown that the drug had no benefit for hospitalized COVID-19 patients and does not prevent COVID-19 infection once exposed.
“Last time I checked, this is America and we are allowed to speak our mind,” Arriola said. “If we fear censorship from party leadership, then maybe we need new leadership.”
Arriola has been critical of restrictive COVID-19 countermeasures, like restaurant closures, which he said have led to “incalculable human suffering and financial loss.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has come out against taking the drug outside a hospital setting or clinical trial, citing possible health risks. The FDA revoked the drug’s “emergency use authorization” in June, meaning hospitalized COVID-19 patients would no longer receive doses of the drug from the Strategic National Stockpile.
Doctors can still prescribe the drug. Arriola said some of his friends who contracted COVID-19 took hydroxychloroquine and reported positive results, he said.
“I have no idea whether hydroxychloroquine works or not,” he said in an interview Thursday. “I am questioning the censorship at a national level. I think it has merits to be put in the national discourse.”
President Donald Trump, who said he took the drug himself in May, continues to promote its use.
On the same day that he tweeted the article calling for Fauci’s arrest, Arriola also picked a fight online with a Florida International University infectious disease professor who has advised Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County in their response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Aileen Marty said that the percentage of positive cases in Miami-Dade was far greater than in Wuhan, China, where the virus was first reported.
“Numbers don’t lie Ricky. We are not ‘just like’ Wuhan, rather, unfortunately, we are many times worse,” Marty wrote on Twitter. “Be part of the solution, join us in fighting the virus, not fighting each other. #SARSCoV2 is the enemy, we should be allies against the virus.”
Arriola accused her of spreading misinformation and using her advisory role to get on TV.
“I know [you] want your own TV show but this isn’t the way to do it,” Arriola wrote on Twitter. “You’ve single-handedly killed the Dade County economy.”