Dark money and coordinated push to ‘reopen’ PAC behind doctors’ hydroxychloroquine viral video

A dozen doctors delivered speeches outside the United States Capitol on Monday to a small crowd, claiming without evidence that the coronavirus could be cured and that widely accepted efforts to curb its spread were unnecessary and dangerous.

It was the last video to go viral by apparent experts, quietly endorsed by dark-money political organizations, evangelizing treatments or opinions about the coronavirus that most doctors, public health officials, and epidemiologists have roundly criticized as dangerous misinformation .

Donald Trump Jr. was unable to tweet for 12 hours on Tuesday morning after Twitter took punitive action on his account for tweeting the video. “This is something you must see! So different from the narrative everyone runs through! Trump Jr. tweeted Tuesday at 8:13 pm The Twitter news account tweeted that Trump Jr.’s tweet broke the social media company’s policy of “sharing misinformation about COVID-19”.

“We have removed this video for sharing false information about cures and treatments for COVID-19,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement to NBC News. Stone also noted that Facebook is directing users who have interacted with the removed content to a World Health Organization website to discredit misinformation related to COVID-19.

YouTube and Twitter followed Facebook, deleting the video as it accumulated thousands of visits.

President Donald Trump also retweeted a clip of the video Tuesday night. The tweet was later removed, and no action was taken on his account.

The popularity of the video underscores the difficulty of moderating misinformation surrounding the coronavirus, as treatments and public health responses have become increasingly political, helped in part by right-wing Facebook and Super PAC groups secretly leading the conversation on social networks.

Dressed in white coats with “America’s Frontline Doctors” sewn onto their chests, the Facebook video stars claimed that no business and school closings, social distancing, and even masks were needed, because hydroxychloroquine, a commonly Used to treat malaria, it could prevent and cure coronavirus. In fact, the FDA warned against the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, citing serious health effects and the conclusions of randomized clinical trials that have shown little benefit from the treatment.

“We don’t need masks. There is a cure! said Dr. Stella Immanuel, a licensed pediatrician from Houston. In one of the event’s hottest speeches, Immanuel, who claims to have effectively treated 350 patients with hydroxychloroquine COVID-19 outside of his medical clinic, but declined to provide data, referred to doctors who refused to treat the patients. hydroxychloroquine patients as “good nazis”. “And” bogus doctors, “and called the published research” bogus science. “

The United States has 4.3 million confirmed cases of coronavirus, and more than 149,000 Americans have died.

That Monday’s press conference call with more speakers than attendees was of little consequence. Broadcast live on the far-right website Breitbart News, the video spread quickly, initially through conservative, anti-vaccination and government conspiracy groups. Within hours, it had reached more than 20 million Facebook users.

The event was organized and funded by Tea Party Patriots, a right-wing non-profit political group led by Jenny Beth Martin, the group’s co-founder, who spoke at the press conference.

Fundraising through two nonprofit groups and a political action committee, the group has raised more than $ 24 million since 2014 to support Republican causes and candidates.

Tea Party Patriots have criticized measures taken to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Before America’s frontline doctors, the group launched Project Second Opinion, a website that hosted videos of doctors attacking state and local coronavirus efforts.

Videos of alleged experts opposing the public health consensus have been a recurring brand of misinformation during the pandemic. In April, viral Facebook and YouTube videos of two doctors in Bakersfield, California were removed, minimizing the risk of the coronavirus and spreading a conspiracy theory about doctors who intentionally attribute deaths unrelated to the coronavirus. Dan Erickson, one of the two doctors in the video, spoke at Monday’s press conference.

In May, a “Plandemic” video by a discredited scientist promoting conspiracy theories about the coronavirus and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, garnered 8 million views before it was removed.

Frontline Doctors of the United States is led by a group of 10 doctors from different specialties, according to its website, which was registered two weeks ago. The group’s leader, Dr. Simone Gold, is a “janitor with immediate needs,” offering private medical consultations, according to a file on her recently removed professional website.

Along with America’s front-line physicians, Gold has been the face of two other registered opposing medical websites since the coronavirus began to spread in the US, Thegoldopinion.com and adoctoraday.com, which publishes videos of physicians who criticize state government and public health responses to the disease. Gold was also the first of more than 400 doctors to sign a letter to the president in May warning that the state’s closure efforts would lead to “millions of victims.”

In recent months, Gold has been in the conservative media and in protests and rallies calling for reopening, and was on the panel recommending that the Orange County Board of Education reopen schools without masks or distancing.

In April, he made several videos answering questions about COVID-19 while standing outside Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, wearing a white coat with the “Emergency Department” logo. In a tweet, Cedars-Sinai said Gold was not on staff or affiliated with the hospital in any way.

The other members of the group also include doctors seen in recent protests and reopening rallies, often organized by anti-vaccine activists. Dr. Jeff Barke has been a part of such protests since April, where he has made several misleading and inaccurate claims, according to Politifact.

Immanuel has been a vocal advocate for Trump on social media since 2016, and used Facebook and Twitter to spread conspiracy theories, including that the coronavirus was made in China. He also operates the religious organization “Fire Power Ministries” from his Houston clinic, where he publishes videos expressing extreme beliefs, including the false attribution of medical problems such as miscarriage, gynecological problems and impotence as a consequence of the spiritual possession of demonic spirits.

Frontline doctors in the United States did not respond to an email request for comment.

The Associated Press reported in May that CNP Action discussed the recruitment of doctors who were willing to push forward narratives about reopening the economy before security benchmarks were met in a May 11 phone call.

CNP Action is part of an alliance of conservative expert groups called Save Our Country Coalition, which previously hosted viral Facebook “Liberate” events in April, urging protesters to demonstrate in states that have adopted restrictions on social distancing.