A visibly emotional Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker detailed his family’s Thanksgiving plans on Tuesday, saying that his wife and daughter will spend the holiday in Florida after the family received a series of “hateful and threatening” messages after a debunked photo purporting to show the governor’s daughter dining at a Chicago restaurant went viral.
Pritzker had previously been asked about his family's plans on Monday, but said he was "taken aback" by the question because of the ongoing discussions among his family members on how to celebrate the holiday.
"I was taken aback by yesterday’s question about my family’s holiday plans, in part because my wife and I were in the process of making the very hard decision that we may need to celebrate Thanksgiving apart from one another for the first time ever, and it was weighing heavily on my mind," he said.
Pritzker says that those discussions came about after a “parody Twitter account” posted a photo of a group of individuals eating at a restaurant and falsely claimed that one of the individuals was his daughter. Although his office quickly issued a statement to that effect, the story exploded on social media anyway.
“The picture falsely identifying her started making the rounds on social media, helped along by the trolls who permeate these social media platforms these days,” he said. “My office put out a statement making clear that this wasn’t my daughter, but that didn’t stop 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.”
Pritzker says those stories on social media ended up leading to a variety of “threatening messages,” and led to the family’s decision not to get together for Thanksgiving.
“A well-known lawyer who cares more about headlines than winning cases posted a bounty on his Facebook page, offering money to harass my family at Thanksgiving,” he said. “An actual cash bounty, including my kids, harassing them.
Pritzker, pausing for a moment at the lectern, blasted those who sent the messages and those who spread the story.
“Put yourself in the shoes of a high school girl who is being weaponized against her father by his political opponents,” he said. “Put yourself in my shoes. We have threats that stream into my office daily, while we have watched the kidnapping plot against (Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer) unfold just a state away.
“I can handle people throwing my face up on anti-Semitic picket signs likening me to Hitler. This kind of vitriol is apparently what I have to deal with to keep the state and its people safe, but my kids are off-limits,” he added.
Pritzker says it was that situation that ultimately led the family to decide against celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday together, with his wife and daughter now in Florida and with the governor observing the holiday in Chicago with his son.
“Our state is at a crisis point when it comes to the COVID pandemic, and as a leader, I believe that the situation is simply too grave for me to be elsewhere,” he said.
During his press conference Monday, Pritzker was asked about his Thanksgiving plans, and was asked whether he would adhere to new guidance by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot advising against non-essential travel to 46 different states, including Florida.
Pritzker said he did not know the details of the advisory, then said that he would “let reporters know” of his plans at a later date.