When the Zeta Beta Tau chapter at the University of Florida was accused of spitting on wounded veterans and urinating on American flags during a spring break retreat in Panama City Beach, the world was quick to condemn both the brothers and the existence of fraternities as a whole. The brothers were eventually found innocent of the heinous crimes, but the damage was already done. In the weeks following the allegations, the chapter was shut down and some brothers were expelled. Even worse, members feared for their lives. The chapter received over 70 death threats, and one veteran even camped outside of their house.
After an investigation conducted by the PCB Police Department, the ZBT nationals, and the University of Florida, the brothers were found guilty of popping a bottle of champagne on a balcony, causing some of the liquid to spill onto a party of veterans below. But Linda Cope, founder of Warrior Beach Retreat, told reporters at a press conference following the champagne spillage that the veterans in her party were spat on and brutally harassed by the brothers.
Soon after, PCB banned alcoholic beverages from their shores, ending the city’s status as a premiere college spring break destination.
But why would Linda Cope craft a lie so harmful to the lives of innocent young men? And why would Panama City Beach allow such egregious and outright false claims to be made?
Evidence suggests the ZBT incident may have been falsified as part of a broader scheme to abolish college spring break from the city. By weaving spilled champagne into a tale of spitting on wounded veterans, the city could make a better case for removing college spring breakers, a plan that would open up their beaches to higher-paying customers.
During the PCB City Council meeting on July 11, a resident named Clay Musgrave took the podium to discuss how the fraternity brothers became innocent victims of the city agenda. Musgrave cites an article from the Gainesville Sun, noting PCB media would not report the truth.
“Investigations conducted by both the Panama City Beach Police Department and the University of Florida confirm no evidence of disrespect or harmful or offensive conduct towards any of the veterans that weekend, but that doesn’t matter to abolitionists,” he says. “We were told by a recent transplant to PCB in an attempt to justify the abolition of college spring break that ‘snowbirds tip more than spring breakers.’”
The video of Musgrave speaking at the council meeting can be found here at the 15:00 to 18:00 minute mark. By “snowbirds” he means retirees who migrate to the south wishing to avoid the snow and cold temperatures of the northern winter — retirees with fatter wallets than typical college spring breakers.
The ban of alcohol on PCB beaches is not only the first step towards rebranding the destination as a shoreline retirement community, but it will help to mend Florida’s bruised image in the public eye. The state’s reputation as a Mecca for rowdiness and debauchery has made it the brunt of internet memes and ridicule, like this recent list which ranks Florida dead last in comparison to the other states, or the popular “Florida Man!” page on Reddit.
Cope and the Warrior Beach Retreat benefitted from the lie, too. Ridding PCB of college kids has made the location more suitable for wounded vets. She’s also raked in a ton of pity cash by splashing her organization’s name on headlines across the nation. While raising money for wounded vets is a beautiful thing, demonizing innocent college kids for an atrocity they did not commit is far from the best way to go about it.
Let’s look at how Cope went about accusing the UF chapter of ZBT. The Emory University chapter of ZBT was also staying at the hotel at the time of the incident. Cope accused both chapters of the crimes. When no evidence was found, Cope was asked by The Emory Wheel if she would still like an apology from the Emory University chapter.
“Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t participate, but I’d rather err on the side of caution.”
The Emory University chapter of ZBT did not take the bait and issue an apology. The chapter from the University of Florida did. Cope now had a smokescreen of forced apology to hide behind.
So, why did the UF chapter apologize while the Emory chapter did not? Because ZBT nationals forced them to. ZBT nationals told the chapter if they apologized, the national organization would do everything in their power to protect them. Instead, they threw the innocent young men to the wolves and pinned them for the entirety of the false allegations.
From an op-ed about the false allegations in The Washington Post by Jared Blinderman, a member of the UF chapter of ZBT:
But the university and ZBT forced our chapter to immediately issue a public apology to the woman who had accused us, effectively ending our ability to defend ourselves against these false allegations.
Our chapter was suspended, and then closed, by both the university and ZBT before their investigations were complete.
Witnessing the tears and anguish of my brothers at the moment school officials clarified that our chapter had been officially closed was indescribably painful.
ZBT leaders sent an e-mail to every chapter in the nation titled, “The acts of a few do not represent the sentiments of the many” and called our conduct “despicable.”
This was a far cry from their earlier promises to us that if we cooperated, we would be protected. We were comforted to know ZBT had hired an investigator and a public relations firm, only to later discover they were protecting ZBT, not us.
Both Cope and ZBT nationals had found their scapegoat. ZBT nationals could protect themselves by allocating all of the misconduct to one chapter. Cope could get her money and lead the charge towards ridding the city of college spring breakers.
We aren’t the first to call Cope out for her lies, either. Marc Nolen, a former marine, says Cope’s false accusations go against what he served our country for.
“Linda’s group does a great cause, and actually, I’ve helped them in the past and as a marine myself I think what really upset me the most was those young kids down there that really weren’t really given the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ part and that’s what I served our country for,” said Nolen.
I leave you with this: Go-Pro footage of the ZBT chapter from the University of Florida playing on a makeshift slip-n-slide with members of the Warrior Beach Retreat. The footage, provided by Craig Blinderman (the father of Jared Blinderman) and shot by Mikhail Cunill, a brother of UF ZBT, was captured on April 18, the day after the brothers allegedly spat on the veterans they are seen having fun with. The man with tattoos on the slide is a member of the Warrior Beach Retreat, Blinderman says.
Neither Cope nor ZBT nationals have issued an apology to the chapter..