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Diving Into a Rabbit Hole of Disinformation: 'America's Frontline Doctors'

Edited by, Reginald Finley, Ph.D.(c).

As early as late 2019, a group was created with the apparent purpose of seeding doubt into the minds of people about Covid-19 and medical treatments. This group, America's Frontline Doctors, which gained prominence in February of 2020, has since spread misinformation, disinformation, and dangerous propaganda which has negatively impacted public health.

What is America's Frontline Doctors?

America's Frontline Doctors (AFLDS) is an astroturf group and Conversative think tank created, promoted, and/or funded by various conspiratorial groups under the guise of "being credible" due to being doctors. These groups include the conservative advocacy group the Council for National Policy (CNP), and the far-right group the Tea Party Patriots.

A grassroots movement is a movement based on being started and spread by the average citizen. For instance, an individual that thinks something must be done about a particular issue, so they start up a group or movement from the ground up. This is akin to new grass growing from the ground. Astroturf, on the other hand, is when a group that is well funded creates a group that is meant to mimic the look of a grassroots movement. Just as astroturf (fake grass) is meant to look like real grass from a distance.

According to Wikipedia, the parent organization of AFLDS is the Free Speech Foundation, an organization that seems to have been inactive for over a decade. There does not seem to be any information regarding updated financials on the IRS website either. This foundation also appears to have had a deep connection with conservative groups as well.

Here is a video by Dr. Benjamin Neuman, a virologist who has spent the past 24 years studying coronaviruses in particular. In the video below, he discusses just one of the videos put out by AFLDS in relation to Covid-19.

The AFLDS constantly touts misinformation about Covid-19, and even sells their own brand of snake oil claiming that it cures the virus. This group is also anti-vaccine, and despite complaining about "big pharma" earning profits off medicine, the AFLDS offers a telehealth appointment with their own physicians for 90 dollars. They have these consultations to prescribe fake and unproven medical treatments such as hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin, which can be as high as $150 a month. Remember, none of this would be covered under health insurance. So, for a group claiming to be against pharmaceutical companies, they seem to be making a lot of money off of this. It is easy to claim to be against big pharma while you ARE big pharma. This can also cost lives as people will pursue alternative treatments instead of getting evidence-based medical treatments.

To top it off, hundreds of people (possibly thousands at the time of writing this) have reported being scammed by the organization. According to Time:

"Hundreds of AFLD customers and donors have accused the group of touting a service promising prescriptions for ivermectin, which medical authorities say should not be taken to treat or prevent COVID-19, and failing to deliver after a fee had been paid. Some customers described being charged for consultations that did not happen. Others said they were connected to digital pharmacies that quoted excessive prices of up to $700 for the cheap medication."

To be clear, there are no known alternative medications (at the time of this post) that will cure or prevent SARS-Cov-2 virus infection. Only the FDA-approved vaccines that were developed recently aid in preventing infection and transmission of the virus. There is no substantial medical evidence that hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin produce positive coronavirus outcomes. There is even evidence that it can be harmful.

Below is a video by Aaron E. Carroll, M.D., M.S. who is a Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics as well as the Chief Health Officer at Indiana University. He is also well known for writing many books that debunk basic health claims, such as 'Don't Swallow your Gum' and 'Don't Cross Your Eyes' (both of which I own). This video discusses how Ivermectin is ineffective against Covid-19, and can even be harmful.

Thankfully, the US federal authorities have been cracking down on telemedicine scams, and schemes like the ones AFLDS are perpetuating. Unfortunately, selling BS products to people is legal provided the product is registered as a supplement and doesn't overtly claim to treat or cure any known diseases, even though their marketing may give the appearance of such.

The Doctors Mowing the Astroturf

When it comes to the doctors that are a part of this group, you may be surprised to learn that many of them are real doctors. For example, Dr. Lee Merritt is an orthopedic surgeon (someone who focuses on bones and muscles), and Dr. Joseph Ladapo is a Physician at UCLA. That said, their credentials mean very little if they are going to ignore the science and spout or support dangerous claims. So let's check out these doctors and find out more about them.

Heading the AFLDS is Simone Gold, a medical consultant and conspiracy theorist who was imprisoned for her role in the violent January 6th terrorist insurrection at the Capitol building. She has, to this day, been indicted on 5 counts. This caused her to be fired from many of the clinics she worked for.

She has been the mouthpiece of the group from the very beginning, but out of that mouth comes a lot of unverified and untrue statements in regards to Covid-19 and any treatments, preventions, or cures. This includes promoting the use of the ineffective and dangerous medications mentioned above for Covid-19, as well as being against the use of face coverings to prevent Covid-19 from spreading.

She claims to be a victim of "Medical Cancel Culture" because she spouted false and and misleading information and was called out on it. For instance, she claims to not be against vaccines, while also claiming the Covid-19 vaccine is harmful, or "experimental".

Many clinics have distanced themselves from her for these views and actions.

Dr. Lee Merritt, also known as her pseudonym The Medical Rebel, is an orthopedic surgeon (that I hope I never have to use). Merritt claims to be "against medical tyranny", which to me resonates as someone averse to safe, evidence-based lifesaving procedures and medications. I certainly would not want to fall victim to infection because my doctor was fighting against the tyranny of germ theory.

Otherwise, Dr. Merritt seems to be a good spinal surgeon, so it makes little sense to me why she would be against evidence-based medicine. She even landed on InfoWars with Alex Jones to endorse Covid-19 as a bioweapon, attacked vaccines, and even compared vaccination with Nazi-era Germany.

Her claims are so ridiculous and so misleading and dangerous to the general public, that most videos with her in them have been banned from YouTube for violating their Terms of Service. These videos have since gone to smaller video platforms that host a lot of conspiratorial and violent content that is otherwise not allowed on YouTube.

Dr. Stella Immanuel, despite having a small medical practice that is run from a strip mall in Texas, she has posited some extremely out-of-this-world conspiracy theories. For instance, she believes that “[The medical community] using all kinds of DNA, even alien DNA, to treat people.”

Another thing she has preached is that "spirit wives and spirit husbands" (which are claimed to be incubi and succubi), are responsible for"breaking marriages, hatred by earthly spouse, serious gynecological problems, Marital distress, miscarriages, impotence, untold hardship, financial failure and general failure at the edge of breakthrough."

And yes, I said "preach," as she runs the Fire Power ministry, where she spouts a lot of these bogus and unfounded claims constantly. She also believes that hydroxychloroquine can be used to cure coronavirus despite a complete lack of evidence.

Dr. Joseph Ladapo is a Physician at UCLA as well as a clinical researcher. As a result of this, you would believe that he would know better when it comes to citing accurate information due to him taking the Hippocratic Oath. Sadly, he seems to be willfully ignorant of the evidence he disagrees with.

While his opinions at least are not batshit insane, they are nonetheless still dangerous. He believes that the economy reopening is more important than the safety and well-being of humans. He also claims that masks are not effective despite clear evidence that they work at preventing the spread of Covid-19.

Edit: Just 4 days after this post was published, new information came to light about Dr. Lapado. He was made Surgeon General in Florida, and immediately started downplaying Covid-19 in the state that has the highest number of cases in the country. He said in an interview:

"Vaccines are up to the person. There is nothing special about them compared to any other preventative measure," Said Dr. Ladapo. "...It's been treated almost like a religion and it's senseless".

Oh boy...

Dr. Robert (Bob) Hamilton being on this list saddens me even more, as he went viral in 2015 for what he refers to as the "Hamilton Hold", a technique used to calm crying babies. However, his channel has recently devolved into interviewing conspiratorial right-wing groups like the non-university Prager U.

Hamilton also sought to reopen schools early, believing that kids dying and spreading Covid-19 was not as big of a threat as staying indoors. Although he did say that he disagreed with other speakers' views on face masks being ineffective and the use of Hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19. However, the fact that he blindly offered support to a group spouting these claims makes his rebuttals less trustworthy and no less damaging.

He also went on a screed to the LA Times in 1993, comparing gay people to schizophrenics and stating that people are "repulsed" by gay sex.

Dr. Dan Erickson does not seem to be in the news a lot lately, but he is still ranting about topics he does not understand with various alt-right propagandists. This includes places like Fox News and the Family Research Council.

When Erickson first came into prominence, he would make claims that Covid-19 was no worse than the common cold, that the numbers of people infected and dying were being overblown, and that we can get to herd immunity without a vaccine so Covid-19 vaccines are unnecessary. These claims were so dangerous that the American Academy of Emergency Medicine made a statement condemning him by name.

He was also admonished for creating a pretty bad study with regard to the prevalence of the virus. The study has since been thoroughly debunked by biostatisticians, doctors, and other medical researchers.

Dr. Richard G. Urso is an ophthalmologist, which means he focuses on diagnosing and treating people with eye and vision issues, so not someone who would regularly see Covid-19 patients. Despite that, he still saw it necessary to prescribe hydroxychloroquine to patients to treat symptoms of the virus. Oddly, this is something that the Texas Medical Board found to be a "standard practice of care". Which it clearly isn't.

He also believes that face masks don't work against viruses, despite mountains of evidence claiming they do.

Dr. James Todaro was also an ophthalmologist but is no longer so as his medical license expired in 2019. He has not practiced medicine since. Despite this, he was still willing to don a white coat in 2020 and play the part of a Front Line doctor.

In the 2020 press conference in front of the Supreme Court, he claims that there is an "orchestrated attack" on the use of Hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19. They also claimed that doctors are being censored for discussing these topics, without mentioning that the claims being "censored" are false and misleading.

Below is a video by Christy Risinger, MD, who is an inpatient internal medicine physician. She has a YouTube channel dedicated to debunking many of the false claims made by people who spread false and misleading claims about Covid-19 or medicines surrounding the topic. In this video, she is debunking the AFLDS' claim about hydroxychloroquine.

Antivaxx are Anti-Facts

Despite claiming to be pro-vaccine, the AFLDS is well known for spouting absolute nonsense when it comes to the Covid-19 vaccines that are currently on the market. So let's look at a couple of these claims and see if they even make sense, let alone are true. First of all, yes, the vaccines ARE effective. Public Health England found that the Pfizer vaccine has a 96% effectiveness rate against not only Covid-19 but also the recent Delta variant. Other studies show that these vaccines are significantly effective in preventing Covid-19 even if one only gets a single dose. There is no real debate as to the effectiveness of the current vaccines.

Also, the vaccines ARE safe! AFLDS and others try to make the vaccines out to be "harmful" and "experimental", but there isn't any evidence to back these points up. Studies have shown that these vaccines are safe for pregnant people, and they do not cause miscarriages.

On top of this, many people, including those in the AFLDS, claim that vaccines cause death due to reporting by the U.S. government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). While some adverse effects may occur regardless of vaccine, medicine, or hair product, there is no evidence that thousands of people are dying as a result of vaccination. Gooood!!!!

This is because VAERS requires reporting of adverse effects after administration of the Covid-19 vaccine, regardless of the effect or if it has any connection at all with the vaccine. This means if you got a vaccine, and then died in a car crash on the way home, it is marked on the VAERS (see our other article on this).

The End Result

Despite these doctors all spouting complete nonsense, which is putting hundreds of thousands, if not many millions, of lives in danger, not one of them has been punished or sanctioned by medical review boards. One review board in Texas even exonerated an eye doctor after claims that he prescribed alternative medications to Covid-19 patients even though there was no evidence that they work.

It could be argued that they are also all engaging in fraud, as none of them are even close to the "front lines" of fighting the pandemic, as noted by MedNews (which has its own fact-checking issues). It is easy to claim all sorts of things while wearing white lab coats when your practice deals in tattoo removing, diagnosing vision problems, or on-call medical consulting.

But even if they were front-line emergency care doctors, it would not make a difference. Someone with a Ph.D. in biology can be a Young Earth Creationist or someone with a Ph.D. in geology can be a Flat-Earther, this doesn't mean they have evidence supporting their fringe position. They are still wrong, they are just wrong and also have a degree.

Meanwhile, the people who are fighting the pandemic on the actual front lines, such as emergency room doctors, urgent care physicians, and ambulance medical professionals are ignored or shunned. In fact, people like those of AFLDS are claiming that health care workers are either in on the conspiracy or being pressured to lie in order to hide real data or something. There does not seem to be any evidence at all for this conspiracy.

Here are a couple of videos showing many of the doctors and nurses on the actual frontline of the pandemic, seeing patients in critical condition and dying. This video is also showing the psychological toll this is having on many of the doctors and nurses as well, who have little to no time to decompress between patients who are in critical condition or dying as a result of this virus.

The AFLDS and the doctors therein have helped to perpetuate a culture of confusion and misinformation. As a combined result of their actions, hundreds of thousands of Americans have died and many more have probably been harmed and disabled for the rest of their lives due to long-haul Covid symptoms.

This pandemic did not need to go on as it has. Granted, some parts were confusing at the beginning of the pandemic as researchers and professionals learned new facts and evidence; but, a lot of the basic recommendations never changed. Staying inside if possible, washing your hands, using hand sanitizer, staying at least 6 feet apart from others, and wearing a face covering to reduce spreading particulate was never debated in the scientific community. The overall efficacy of masks might have required more evidence, but the scientific and medical communities were never confused on whether wearing a face covering would reduce the spread of disease.

As the picture below shows, 225 million people have been infected with this virus, as well as 4.6 million people dying as a result of it. The US tops the list of number of people infected and dead, at 43 million and 673 thousand people respectively. Any evidence-based action could have reduced these numbers significantly.

Organizations with agendas like AFLDS and others have worked to spreads seeds of discontent and be merchants of doubt when it comes to otherwise well-established science. It is my hope that this will at least be a learning tool to help guide people into ignoring organizations that are out to simply push an agenda and even fight back against them.

Critical thinking and skepticism are vital in this day and age, and this pandemic and astroturf groups like AFLDS remind us of why.



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