Fringe Pro-Trump Pastor Briefly Arrested After Flouting COVID-19 Order

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.”

This post has been updated.

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

TPM Staff
Latest News
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: