A group calling itself “America’s Frontline Doctors” held a press conference in Washington, D.C. on Monday, falsely declaring that there is a cure for covid-19 — hydroxychloroquine — and it was was being suppressed by the world’s leading health experts. The group’s videos were seen by millions on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, before they were pulled down overnight for spreading misinformation. But who are these people and what do they want?
In short, they’re pro-Trump ideologues who are pushing unproven science during a pandemic that’s so far infected over 4.3 million Americans and killed more than 148,000.
Strangely enough, “America’s Frontline Doctors” also appear to have ties to the Trump regime. In fact, one person who spoke at the press conference on Monday was at the White House for a roundtable discussion just a couple of weeks ago and Trump promoted multiple videos from the group on his Twitter account. It’s also no surprise that many of them have appeared on Fox News in recent months, the president’s favourite TV channel.
“America’s Frontline Doctors” want American medical professionals to use hydroxychloroquine to treat covid-19 patients, something that they insist will save lives. In reality, the drug has seen only mixed success and some studies show that it can actually harm people with the disease. Remdesivir has shown more positive results as a therapeutic drug but it’s not being touted by President Donald Trump in the same way for some unknown reason. Trump even told reporters in May he took the drug as a preventative measure. As the FDA has established, the drug does not cure covid-19.
Below, we have a rundown of some of the people who spoke at yesterday’s press conference for “America’s Frontline Doctors” and how they make their living during this pandemic. Most are actually doctors, but not all of them are currently practicing medicine — like the guy who currently makes his money promoting bitcoin. Seriously.
Dr. Stella Immanuel
Dr. Stella Immanuel is a doctor in Texas who has, let’s say, unorthodox views on just about everything in life. Immanuel received her medical licence as recently as November, according to the Washington Post, and believes in a conspiracy theory that world leaders are secretly lizards who are dressed up in human suits.
As the Daily Beast reports today:
Immanuel, a paediatrician and a religious minister, has a history of making bizarre claims about medical topics and other issues. She has often claimed that gynecological problems like cysts and endometriosis are in fact caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches.
She alleges alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. And, despite appearing in Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress on Monday, she has said that the government is run in part not by humans but by “reptilians” and other aliens.
That alone should tell you how seriously to take this astroturf group, but there’s more.
(We were unable to contact Stella Immanuel for this piece.)
Dr. James Todaro
Dr. James Todaro may have a degree in medicine, but he’s pretty far from the frontlines of the pandemic right now. In fact, he hasn’t seen a patient since 2018, according to his own biographies online. What’s Mr. Todaro doing these days? He’s promoting bitcoin. Well, he’s promoting bitcoin and hydroxychloroquine, it would seem.
Todaro is largely credited with creating President Trump’s obsession with hydroxychloroquine in the first place, co-writing a paper on Google Docs with his friend and lawyer Gregory Rigano about the use of chloroquine in China on March 13. The paper went viral on right-wing Twitter and eventually made its way to Fox News, as often happens.
From Vanity Fair:
On March 16, Elon Musk tweeted a link to the Google Doc, writing: “Maybe worth considering chloroquine for C19.” On March 18, right-wing websites Breitbart and The Blaze picked up the story. On March 19, Rigano went on Fox News and told Tucker Carlson that a chloroquine study had shown “a 100% cure rate against coronavirus.”
From there it was a short leap to the biggest bullhorn of all. That same day Donald Trump declared at a press conference that chloroquine was a possible “game changer” and that the FDA had approved it. “We’re going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately,” he promised.
Trump would subsequently promote the drug whenever he had the opportunity, despite the fact that trials were still very early. The problem, of course, is that the drug doesn’t help in the ways that Todaro initially promised. (Gizmodo reached out to James Todaro for comment.)
Jenny Beth Martin
Jenny Beth Martin was the only person who wasn’t wearing a white lab coat during Monday’s press conference in front of the U.S. Supreme Court’s steps but she certainly looked to be in charge. Martin is the co-founder of an anti-tax group called the Tea Party Patriots Foundation and an alternate delegate to the Republican National Committee convention.
Martin attended a White House roundtable with President Trump on July 7 about reopening schools. During the roundtable she explained that she spearheaded a letter to President Trump with Dr. Simone Gold about the need for reopening schools during the pandemic. Gold also spoke during the press conference and has been all over conservative media since lockdowns began to argue that the country needs to open up.
Martin, among other things, dislikes Dr. Anthony Fauci’s scepticism of hydroxychloroquine and insists that he could change his opinion if he only met with this group of right-wing health workers.
“My message to Dr. Anthony Fauci is to have a meeting with these frontline doctors who are seeing real patients,” Martin said on Tuesday. “They’re touching human skin, they’re looking people in the eye, they’re diagnosing them, and they’re helping them beat the virus.”
Strangely, Martin sometimes gets billed first and foremost as a regular concerned citizen when she appears on TV. For example, this post from Yahoo describes her as “Jenny Beth Martin, a mother who attended the White House meeting on reopening schools.” And while Fox News quickly mentioned she’s with Tea Party Patriots during her an appearance earlier this month, the text on screen at times only described her as a “mother of rising seniors.”
While many of the videos from yesterday have been deleted from YouTube and Facebook for spreading harmful misinformation, the Tea Party Patriots YouTube account is still active and is flooded with videos of doctors insisting that the country shouldn’t be locked down in any way.
Martin did not respond to an email from Gizmodo sent Tuesday morning.
Dr. Simone Gold
Dr. Simone Gold is a doctor and lawyer in Los Angeles who publicly takes credit as the founder of “America’s Frontline Doctors,” a group whose website was set up 12 days ago, and amusingly appears to be down right now.
Gold has been a regular on the right-wing media circuit during the pandemic, appearing on Fox News on May 21, arguing that patients are being harmed by the shutdowns taking place across the country.
Gold also appeared on PragerU’s YouTube channel back in May, insisting that more people will die from the lockdowns than from the coronavirus pandemic, and has done YouTube videos for the Tea Party Patriots Foundation, the nonprofit co-founded by Jenny Beth Martin. (Gizmodo reached out to Simone Gold for comment.)
Dr. Daniel W. Erickson
Dr. Erickson is an urgent care doctor in Bakersfield, California who has been touting many of the same ideas about the pandemic that President Trump has been spewing for the past few months.
Back in April, Erickson promoted the idea of “herd immunity” on local TV news in San Diego, pointing to Sweden as a model. Erickson pointed to Kern County, California at the time, saying that the ICUs in the area had “very few patients.” Today, Kern County has 17,394 confirmed cases and 123 deaths. Cases in the county have increased by 161% in the past two weeks.
By the end of April, even Fox News’s Laura Ingraham had Erickson on to talk about his opinion on how to deal with covid-19, questioning the stay-at-home order in California. During another Fox News appearance in May, things took a weird turn when Erickson started spouting conspiracies involving George Soros trying to censor his message on herd immunity, according to the Washington Examiner.
“Look at what George Soros said about Facebook back in February,” Erickson told Fox News. “He said Mark Zuckerberg should no longer have control of Facebook. Well, YouTube, you’re going to be next. Soros will say that you should no longer have control, and government should have control of Facebook, according to George Soros.”
Sounds like a very normal, level-headed guy.
Dr. Robert C. Hamilton
All things considered, Dr. Robert “Bob” C. Hamilton appears to have the most normal looking online presence of all the people that spoke on Monday. That is, if you don’t count his somewhat peculiar baby-hushing technique.
Hamilton’s a paediatrician in Santa Monica, California and in one of his YouTube videos the good doctor shows how to “calm a crying baby” by using “the hold.” As Hamilton explains, he uses “the hold” to quiet down crying babies when he’s trying to talk with their parents.
Hamilton appeared on Fox News back in 2015 but it doesn’t seem he’s shown up on the disinformation network since.
Hamilton recently started a new podcast called the Hamilton Review, which has included guests like Cara Natterson, author of a book on raising boys, and Kate Julian, a senior editor at the Atlantic. (Gizmodo reached out to Robert C. Hamilton for comment.)
Our advice to the group if it wants to keep peddling bullshit about covid-19? Maybe leave the lizard person conspiracy theorists at home. The baby whisperer is much more sympathetic, even if he’s wrong about the pandemic.