On Monday, a video falsely promoting hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19 and downplaying the efficacy of masks went viral on various platforms, including Facebook (where it racked up nearly 20 million views) and Twitter. The video footage captured by Breitbart News was boosted by various members of anti-vaccine groups, as well as Donald Trump Jr. and the President himself. It was later removed by Facebook for promoting misinformation, according to a spokesperson, who said it was removed “for sharing false information about cures and treatments for COVID-19.” It was also flagged by Twitter, prompting Donald Trump, Jr. to be temporarily suspended from the platform and sparking outcry among the far right for alleged social media censorship.
The 43-minute video featured a group known as America’s Frontline Doctors, staging a sparsely attended press conference in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. In the video, physicians in white lab coats — in between nodding ponderously and awkwardly shifting their weight between both feet — aggressively promote hydroxychloroquine as a “cure” for COVID-19, despite the fact that the World Health Organization has discontinued its recommendation of the drug, saying it was “unlikely to be beneficial for hospitalized patients.”
“This virus has a cure, it’s called hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and Zithromax,” one of the doctors in the video claims, referring to Pfizer’s azithromycin drug. “You don’t need masks, there is a cure.” (You do, and there is not.) Another doctor falsely claims hydroxycholoroquine is safer than aspirin and Tylenol.
But who are America’s Frontline Doctors, and what are their credentials for speaking publicly about hydroxychloroquine or the effects of COVID-19? As it turns out, none of the physicians featured in the video are epidemiologists or immunologists (i.e., those best qualified to speak on infectious diseases), and many have a history of aligning with right-wing interest groups and propagating COVID-19 conspiracy theories. Below, a guide to the Sassy Six, the starring cast of America’s Frontline Doctors.
Dr. Simone Gold: An emergency medicine specialist in Los Angeles, Gold has spent the past few months pushing for the country’s reopening, appearing as a signatory on an April letter from the right-wing Save Our Country coalition advocating for the end of lockdown, in conjunction with Tea Party Patriots Action (she has denied this was in coordination with Trump’s reelection campaign). Dr. Gold has also appeared on various right-wing talk radio shows and YouTube channels advocating for hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 and decrying studies speaking to its inefficacy.
Dr. Stella Immanuel: Houston-based pediatrician and religious minister, Immanuel has previously claimed that conditions such as endometriosis and ovarian cysts have been caused by having intercourse with demons, according to reporting from the Daily Beast; she has also suggested that alien DNA is currently being used in medical treatments. In response to footage of her speech being taken down from Facebook, she posted on Twitter (in a subtweet, presumably, directed at Mark Zuckerberg), “You are not bigger that God. I promise you. If my page is not back up Facebook will be down in Jesus’s name.” In a previous tweet, she requested that Dr. Anthony Fauci provide her with a urine sample to prove he was not taking hydroxychloroquine.
Dr. James Todaro: A Dearborn, Michigan-based ophthalmology specialist and cryptocurrency investor, Todaro is the founder of Medicine Uncensored, a rambling website in red and black Courier font that promotes hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 and generally propagates skepticism about the media’s reporting on the pandemic. He is perhaps best known for co-authoring a self-published Google Docs paper on hydroxychloroquine with New York City lawyer Gregory Rigano, who made the rounds on Fox News promoting the anti-malaria drug’s salutary effects. The institutions cited as being affiliated with the paper, such as the Stanford University School of Medicine and the UAB School of Medicine, disavowed any link to Rigano or the paper’s findings.
Dr. Dan Erickson: A former emergency medicine specialist based in Bakersfield, California, Erickson is no stranger to viral infamy: He’s one of two doctors who starred in an April news conference in which he downplayed the threat of the virus, arguing that testing samples proved it had already spread widely in the community and calling for society to reopen. (Public health experts quickly debunked this claim, stating that the sample was not representative.) Though the video was later taken down by YouTube for violating its misinformation policy, it garnered millions of views and was promoted by Elon Musk and on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show.
Dr. Robert Hamilton: Perhaps best known for creating the “Hamilton hold,” a technique for soothing a crying baby, Hamilton is a Santa Monica-based pediatrician who has recently pivoted to branding himself as an advocate for schools reopening. He has appeared on Fox News to discuss the emotional toll of school closures on parents and children, and he recently penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal claiming that COVID-19 is a “well-tolerated infection” for children. In the video, he erroneously claims that all children are asymptomatic and that there is not a single case in the world of teachers contracting it from students. (While it’s true that the effects of COVID-19 tend not to be severe for children, a small minority have developed serious side effects and even died from the illness, and the long-term effects on both children and adults are unknown.)
Dr. Joseph Ladapo: An associate professor of medicine and clinical researcher at University of California – Los Angeles (who states explicitly during the press conference that he is speaking for himself “and not for UCLA”), Ladapo has become an ardent proponent for the “open the economy back up” school of thought. At the start of the pandemic, he penned an op-ed for USA Today downplaying the lethality of the virus and advocating for the economy to stay open in lieu of lengthy shutdowns: “Can you imagine a United States in which children are forced to forgo proper schooling, unemployment and poverty decimate millions more lives, and our economy is strangled into a persistent depression? And all for a virus that, when all is said and done, most people will recover from — even the elderly,” he wrote. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, he accused Democratic political leaders of politicizing the response to COVID-19 in order to further their own agenda, accusing them of invoking “‘science’ to justify decisions manifestly guided by their personal preferences.”