Conservative radio host Larry Elder, who is running to be the next governor of California in the upcoming special election, has repeatedly used his platform to spread COVID-19 misinformation and downplay the severity of the virus.
California will be holding its recall gubernatorial election on September 14, and Elder announced his candidacy for the position on July 12, joining a lengthy list of candidates. Though Elder initially failed to qualify for the ballot, a court ruling in his favor secured his place.
Elder has previously used his radio show to embrace right-wing narratives about police violence, denigrate the Americans with Disabilities Act, dismiss working mothers, and spread election fraud conspiracy theories. Throughout the pandemic, Elder has also used his platform — including his radio show, Facebook page, and YouTube show with fringe outlet The Epoch Times — to spread misinformation about COVID-19 precautions and downplayed the virus’s fatality rate:
- Elder hosted a doctor who attributed former President Donald Trump’s recovery in part to the drug hydroxychloroquine during the November 17 edition of The Larry Elder Show. Elder asked why hydroxychloroquine is so “controversial,” and his guest Dr. Jeff Barke insisted because Trump supported it. (There is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine has any helpful effect on COVID-19 patients.) The doctor went on to state hand sanitizer is actually bad for your immune system, with no pushback from Elder.
- During the December 29 edition of his show, Elder tried to claim people who “never had” COVID-19 were “being diagnosed as having had it.” He went on to baselessly claim the number of people dying from COVID-19 “could be inflated as much as 40%.” Multiple conspiracy theories about an inflated number of COVID-19 deaths across the country have since been debunked.
- Elder derided the decision to “shut down our economy” during the June 10, 2020, edition of his show, and insisted Trump did it only because he was “overwhelmed.” Elder went on to say, “This is one of the many instances in which he should not have listened to the experts. They were consistently wrong.”
- During the April 17, 2020, edition of his radio show, Elder accused liberals of “obsessing over this [racial] disparity because they can somehow link this to some alleged structural racism in our medical health care system. But when it comes to disparities like dropout rates, like the percentage of Black kids raised without fathers, like the percentage of Black people who are victimized by homicide despite the relatively low percentage in the population compared to the 50% or so of the people who are Black victims. The same people concerned about the disparity regarding coronavirus don’t seem to be concerned about those disparities.”
- While discussing vaccine hesitancy among Black Americans during the December 15 edition of his radio show, Elder said liberals talking about “microaggressions” and those who “invented words like underrepresentation” are causing more distrust of government in the Black community.
- During the March 31, 2020, edition of his show, Elder again defended Trump and said he downplayed the coronavirus initially only because “he felt that the media was making a bigger deal out of this than was really the case” because they “had been looking for something, anything, to browbeat him with” and not because “of real concern about the spread and the level of contagiousness … of this disease.”
Beyond his radio program, Elder has also repeated misinformation about COVID-19 on his Facebook page and YouTube show.
- On Facebook, Elder repeatedly shared content implying that COVID-19 was not causing a spike in national death rates, and cited the misleading statistic, debunked by the Associated Press, that COVID-19 has a 99% survival rate.
- Elder also accused anyone who pointed out the racism behind the phrase “Chinese coronavirus” of having “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” including CNN’s Jim Acosta. During the February 27, 2020, edition of Elder’s tri-weekly YouTube show with fringe outlet The Epoch Times, Elder asked, “Which is more disturbing, the coronavirus or Trump derangement syndrome?”
- On Facebook, Elder has downplayed the safety and efficacy of vaccines. In an August post, Elder claimed that “natural immunity” is more effective at protecting people than vaccinations. In another post, he encouraged followers to seek exemptions from workplace vaccine mandates, sharing a link that said, “There are major moral and ethical questions that are linked to the experimental COVID-19 vaccines.”
- On Facebook, Elder has posted several times claiming that COVID-19 is no worse than the seasonal flu. In April 2020, Elder shared an article claiming that a new study found that “COVID-19 Lethality Not Much Different Than Flu.” In a post from July 2020, he shared a link to an article on Medium stating that the novel coronavirus is “merely a seasonal cold virus that mutated and disappears in summer, as all cold viruses do.” The post has since been removed.
- Elder has also claimed that masks are ineffective in protecting people from the spread of COVID-19. On Facebook, he has posted that as governor he will not tell people to wear masks, and that he “will not falsely claim that mask wearing protects kids.” He has also shared a clip from Fox News in which Fox contributor Dr. Marty Makary claimed that “we have no studies at all to support … mask guidance” for schools. (In reality, masks are extremely effective in slowing the spread of the coronavirus.)