The House of Representatives is opening an investigation into a network of right-wing organizations that have pushed anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and anti-parasitic drug ivermectin, which have become a right-wing cause célèbre as discredited alternatives to vaccines or conventional treatments for COVID-19.
The Intercept reported Monday that the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis has requested documents from the right-wing group America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLDS) and the telemedicine provider SpeakWithAnMD about their business practices. The committee also “wrote to the Federal Trade Commission requesting that the agency investigate whether these companies are in violation of federal laws.”
“Attempts to monetize coronavirus misinformation have eroded public confidence in proven treatments and prevention measures and hindered efforts to control the pandemic,” committee chair Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) wrote in his letter to AFLDS. “Some Americans who have been influenced by misinformation have chosen not to get vaccinated, delayed receiving evidence-based treatment, and ingested unapproved substances in harmful quantities.”
The Intercept previously reported two months of leaked patient records that showed the partnership between AFLD and SpeakWithAnMD had pulled in millions of dollars from over 70,000 customers. Such proceeds could not have been possible without the long history of right-wing media outlets like Fox News first pushing discredited alternative treatments for COVID-19 such as hydroxychloroquine throughout 2020 and ivermectin in 2021.
Two major fixtures of right-wing media have set up this medial grift: Capitol riot participant Dr. Simone Gold — whose organization AFLDS has multiple links to the QAnon movement — as well as far-right conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi who set up SpeakWithAnMD.
Gold’s long political involvement in the COVID-19 pandemic began with an organization, “A Doctor a Day,” started in May 2020 in coordination between the Trump campaign and the right-wing Council for National Policy to create an astroturf organization of doctors to support the Trump administration’s plans for a premature economic reopening. The was immediately promoted on Fox News, which also gave positive coverage to AFLDS’ continued activities in promoting hydroxychloroquine, which Gold claimed was a “cure” for the virus.
Right-wing media personalities also fervently defended another AFLDS figure, Dr. Stella Immanuel, after videos and online posts surfaced in which she had made various statements “regarding the medical use of alien DNA and the gynecological effects of having sex with demons and witches while sleeping.” More recently, she's pushed QAnon related conspiracy theories while attending a QAnon conference.
Gold also appeared on Newsmax in December 2020, ahead of the wider public vaccine rollout, and discouraged viewers from getting the vaccine: “Do you want to be part of an experimental medical trial? Do you want to be tracked and traced?” (The vaccines, of course, had already undergone rigorous testing.)
Gold later participated in the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and was seen on video reading a speech from inside the Rotunda in which she denounced the “experimental, biological agent deceptively named a vaccine” and the “massive medical establishment.” She was later arrested and indicted and is currently charged with multiple counts including obstruction of an official proceeding and disorderly conduct. (She told The Washington Post she regrets being there.)
Time reported in August that SpeakWithAnMD had been set up by Corsi, a longtime peddler of far-right conspiracy theories, including the QAnon movement and racist “birther” theories against former President Barack Obama. In 2020, Corsi started making false claims against the development of the COVID-19 vaccines and in favor of discredited alternative drugs.
Time further reported that hundreds of customers had reported paying the $90 fee through America’s Frontline Doctors, only to never actually receive the promised drugs or consultation services. Time also found that while booking a consultation directly through SpeakWithAnMD cost $59.99, the referrals linked through AFLDS cost $90, implying a possibility that Gold’s group could’ve been pocketing $30 per patient. (AFLDS declined to comment to Time on this question.)
And while SpeakWithAnMD claims that it has “Over 20 Years in Business,” NBC News also reported that the site was “created in March 2020.” The website also appears to have only one purpose in mind — to peddle debunked drugs for COVID-19 instead of the vaccines or other legitimate treatments: “On a SpeakWithAnMD.com intake form viewed by NBC News, prospective patients are asked, ‘What medication do you prefer?’ The user is then presented with three options: ‘Ivermectin,’ ‘Hydroxychloroquine’ or ‘Not sure.’”