Rodney Howard-Browne, a fringe pastor, outspoken Trump booster and conspiracy theorist was briefly arrested Monday after flouting public health orders and holding services the previous day.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said at a news conference that he’d obtained an arrest warrant for Howard-Browne, of The River at Tampa Bay church, for two second-degree misdemeanors: Unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules.
Jail records from the Hernando County Detention Center on Monday subsequently showed Howard-Browne being booked at 2:20 p.m. and released at 2:58 p.m.
Howard-Browne held two services Sunday despite a county order to residents to stay at home and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The pastor, who’s lived in Florida for decades but maintains a slight South African accent, laid hands on President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in 2017 and led several other evangelical leaders in praying for Trump. He frequently veers into the hare-brained and conspiratorial, such as when he asserted that the Christchurch mosque shooting massacre, in which a white nationalist murdered 49 Muslim worshipers, was a “false flag” event. In 2017, he claimed in a sermon that Hollywood elites “drink blood of young kids.”
“Because of the reckless disregard of public safety and after repeated requests and warnings, I worked with our state attorney, Andrew Warren, to obtain a warrant for unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, both of which are second degree misdemeanors,” Chronister said, per The Tampa Bay Times.
“Our goal here is not to stop anyone from worshiping, but the safety and well-being of our community must always come first.”
Howard-Browne has openly flouted government COVID-19 orders. On Monday, he retweeted a reporter who posted about the sheriff’s arrest warrant against him. Responding earlier in the day to a reporter who pointed out that the crowd in his church was packed in, shoulder-to-shoulder, Howard-Browne wrote: “Now do Walmart, Costco, Home Depot!”
On Sunday, he dismissed the county rule barring gatherings of more than 10 people, saying, “Suddenly we are demonized because we believe God heals, that the Lord sets people free, and they make us out to be some sort of kooks,” the Times reported.
Howard-Browne bragged of having installed machines in his church that would “basically kill every virus in the place.”
“If they sneeze, it shoots it down, like, at a hundred miles an hour,” he said last week, adding: “We have the most sterile building in, I don’t know, the whole of America.”
Rodney Howard-Browne will continue to hold services because his church is the most sterile building in America, as it contains 13 machines that can instantaneously kill any virus: "If they sneeze, it shoots it down at like 100 mph. It'll neutralize it in split seconds." pic.twitter.com/Z5PLFXlPfp
— Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) March 27, 2020
This post has been updated.