Earlier this month, self-described “patriot” Jody Pendleton posted a TikTok video under the since-deleted username @canceledconservative.
In the clip, Pendleton brags about his unorthodox method of meeting Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines, which now require businesses with more than 100 employees to have a fully vaccinated workforce.
Rather than keeping all 138 of the employees at his restaurants, Pendleton claims that he’d fired “every motherfucking vaccinated employee we got” — a total of 46 people.
The clip was seized upon by Danesh, aka @ThatDaneshGuy, a controversial TikToker with over 544,000 followers who has fully embraced “accountability culture.” (Input is withholding the last names of Danesh and some of the other people in this article for safety reasons.) Using clues from Pendleton’s video, Danesh did some social media sleuthing and publicly exposed the South Carolina restaurants in question, a chain called Paparoni’s and an eatery called Countryside BBQ.
As a result, the restaurants were bombarded with hateful phone calls and negative reviews. By the end of the next day, Pendleton — whom Danesh dubbed the “Covid Goblin” — announced in a new video that he had been “terminated.” Danesh reacted with glee on TikTok, doing his best Arnold Schwarzenegger-as-the-Terminator impression: “Fuck around. Find out.”
Amid all this, it was revealed that Pendleton did not own the restaurants in question — he was a district manager — and that no vaccinated employees had in fact been fired. The restaurants are actually owned by a man named Michael Brown, who is now facing threats and harassment for a video he didn’t create. In turn, many people have publicly wished that something horrible would befall Danesh.
Danesh acknowledged that he’d been misled by Pendleton’s video, but it hasn’t swayed him. Like the Terminator, he is on an unwavering mission: To change the minds of America’s anti-vaxxers and vaccine-hesitant by making an example of anti-vaxxers who go public on social media. One of his videos, a TikTok in which Danesh says he reported a woman to the FBI for a fake vaccine card, has been viewed more than 17 million times.
And Danesh’s list of targets keeps growing. He reported Janene, “the coughing Karen,” to her employer after finding her LinkedIn page. He revealed the true identity of BlueGloves, a previously anonymous medical figure on anti-vax TikTok, who it turns out is a chef. Danesh also reported Megan, a graduate nurse posting anti-vax propaganda, to the Ohio Board of Nursing. The goal was to get them fired, which, based on the evidence he presents, he appears to have been successful at.
Danesh, who lives on the East Coast, is a former comedian who once toured the country and worked on Disney cruises. When the pandemic hit, he was unable to perform, so he turned to social media. Danesh started out with comedic TikToks, but they “didn’t do well at all,” he says.
Then he came across a TikToker trying to normalize beating children with a belt. Danesh, who tells Input he was beaten as a child, made a video in which he showed he’d reported the TikToker to Child Protective Services. Danesh’s clip has since been viewed 5.9 million times.
According to Danesh, many members of the public, exhausted from living through the pandemic, are hungry for vengeance — and his videos satisfy that hunger. “It’s almost karmic,” he says. “I don’t blame people who get a guilty pleasure out of it.” He adds that he gets a lot of support from the medical community: “They can’t speak on my videos publicly, but they love it.”
Hearts and minds
Some, of course, find all this cruel. “Sympathy is hard but this man was a victim of disinformation,” tweeted one person in reaction to Danesh’s post about an anti-vaxxer. “He’s an easy target. Can we all start going after the people giving these disinformation marching orders?”
Some commenters are more merciless, saying things like, “praying for your family to die from covid🥰.” Danesh has even been the subject of overt threats. “People have said they’ll put my children in body bags,” he says. “They’ve tried to dox my information and send people after me.”
One person who strongly disapproves of Danesh’s methods is Michael Brown, the real owner of Paparoni’s and Countryside BBQ. “We’ve been harassed nonstop since Danesh published his video,” he tells Input. The restaurant owner claims that Danesh’s followers have reported his business to the FBI, the IRS, the Small Business Association, and his local health department with false allegations. He also claims that his family members and staff have been doxxed and threatened.
The “Covid Goblin” drama has put Danesh’s techniques under scrutiny.
“Employees are quitting because of the hateful, threatening, and extremely stressful phone calls,” says Brown, who adds that he is now experiencing stress-related health issues. “We will likely have to rebrand and lose what we spent 12 years building.”
Danesh has been urging his followers to leave the restaurant and its staff alone. “Jody, the instigator in all of this, has been removed from his position,” says Danesh “There’s no reason for anyone to bug the business or its employees.”
He feels the continued hate aimed at both men comes down to politics, as evidence that Pendleton and Brown had both at the Capitol on January 6 was unearthed during the “Covid Goblin” debate. “This is simply a matter of two grown men that cannot take accountability for their actions,” Danesh says.
Although the “Covid Goblin” drama has put Danesh’s techniques under scrutiny, his videos do seem effective when it comes to winning hearts and minds. The comment sections of the influencer’s TikTok are full of testimonials from newly vaccinated people crediting him for their decision to get the jab.
“It was the straightforward, no-bull approach that pushed me to get vaccinated,” says one fan, 34-year-old Millissa from New Hampshire. Millissa had been avoiding vaccination due to past medical trauma. “He had plenty of people to talk about, and I didn't want to be one of them.” She went on to thank Danesh through a TikTok video of her own.
Danesh says that his TikTok presence has been a barrier to finding work. “If I get a job, they'll come for it,” he says. The influencer supports himself by selling “anti-vaxxer tears” mugs online and running his own business on the side. He also has a sponsorship from a company that sells children’s face masks.
But it’s testimonials like Millissa’s, Danesh says, that spur him on. He is determined to show the world that comedy, when aimed squarely at the right people, can be a force for good.
“When it comes to social issues, you can argue with someone until your face is blue,” Danesh says. “They’re not going to change their position if they’re dead-set on something. But if you can make them laugh, you can bring down those walls for a moment — and you can get something through.”