MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell is championing Trump sycophants' newest bogus miracle “cure” for COVID-19 -- oleandrin, an extract from the deadly toxic oleander plant. A recent Axios report documents how Lindell teamed up with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to promote oleandrin, which is being developed by a pharmaceutical company he has a stake in. There are no publicly available human or animal trials testing the efficacy of oleandrin as a treatment for COVID-19.
This lobbying campaign by Lindell and Carson, which reportedly involves a July meeting with the president, is not the extract’s first entrant into the snake oil economy of right-wing grifters.
Earlier in the year, it was touted by Fox News contributor and discredited conservative blogger John Solomon. (Solomon was named Media Matters’ “Misinformer of the Year” in 2019 due to his efforts to push disinformation regarding Ukraine; in fact, Fox News' own “Brain Room” described Solomon's 45 columns in The Hill as part of a “disinformation campaign” and further elaborated on it: "Focus on stories from disinformation campaign, non-disclosure of conflicts, use of unreliable sources, publishing false and misleading stories, misrepresentation of sources, and opaque coordination with involved parties.”)
In April, Solomon wrote an article claiming the drug is “a rising star in the biomedical world” and the subject of research at what he described as a “secretive biodefense lab at Fort Detrick,” located in Maryland.
And on April 23, Solomon promoted the unproven extract on an episode of Steve Bannon’s YouTube show War Room: Pandemic. During the segment, Bannon attacked Media Matters for criticizing his championing of a different debunked conspiracy theory, about the origins of the coronavirus. He said he was right about his past claim and implies -- based on Solomon’s “reporting” -- that they will be right about oleandrin too.
Fast forward to today, and a statement published in Axios from the very research facility highlighted by Solomon’s blog as well as reporting from other outlets demonstrate that there is no evidence to support Solomon’s claims about oleandrin -- a story he has not followed up on despite the hype.
In a statement to Axios, a spokesperson for the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases made clear that Solomon’s prediction about oleandrin has not come true, confirming that that “USAMRIID performed some preliminary testing of oleandrin against SARS-CoV-2” and “results were inconclusive.” The statement goes on to say that “USAMRIID was contacted by University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, indicating that they were also testing it,” and because of “inconclusive results, and having other high priority therapeutics to assess, we did not continue with this line of research.”
In an August 18 appearance on CNN with anchor Anderson Cooper, Lindell promoted oleandrin as an “amazing cure that works for everybody” but could not provide a single study demonstrating its effectiveness or safety. He also claimed he does “not care about the money” he stands to make if the extract is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and suggested Jesus is telling him to promote the drug. During the interview, Cooper pointed out that in 2016, Lindell’s company MyPillow was forced to pay a $1 million fine for false advertising because of claims that his pillows can cure various sleep disorders.
In an interview with Cooper following Lindell’s appearance with an emergency medicine physician, Dr. Jake Deutsch, who explained that making medical claims based on test tube evidence in an attempt to influence the FDA’s drug approval process is “far from scientific.”
Fox News also plays a role in this potentially fatal tornado of misinformation; MyPillow is the network’s largest advertiser by far. The company is single-handedly propping up Tucker Carlson’s show, which is so toxic there are virtually no advertisers remaining.
In fact, when advertisers fled Carlson’s show in December 2018 after the Fox prime-time host said immigrants make America “poorer, and dirtier, and more divided,” Lindell appeared on the program in a display of support, and Carlson praised his pillows and let Lindell promote an anti-abortion film he was involved in producing.
Lindell’s oleander con echoes Fox’s coverage of other unproven treatments for COVID-19, including the network’s relentless promotion of hydroxychloroquine. In March, an Arizona man died and his wife was hospitalized after the couple ingested the fish tank cleaner chloroquine phosphate, reportedly believing it would protect them against COVID-19 after seeing it promoted on television.
The highly toxic oleander plant is widely available across the southern and coastal regions of this country, so it’s easily accessible to someone who has been led to believe by the right-wing media that it contains an effective treatment against COVID-19. Spreading lies about it poses a significant threat to public health.