A seemingly obscure Capitol Hill press conference by a fringe group of self-proclaimed medical experts quickly became on Monday the most widely seen propaganda video about the coronavirus after Breitbart News livestreamed it on Facebook. The post racked up tens of millions of views across social media in a matter of hours, far surpassing the traffic of the infamous “Plandemic” disinformation video. It grabbed the attention of President Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr., who had his Twitter account partially suspended for sharing a link to the video.
The video featured a string of right-wing talking points that criticized lockdown measures, demonized public health officials, called for schools to reopen and urged Americans not to wear face masks. The speakers, who were all portrayed as doctors, often declared hydroxychloroquine a “cure” for COVID-19. (No legitimate medical organizations have recognized any “cure” for COVID-19, and multiple clinical trials have shown hydroxychloroquine is not beneficial in treating the virus.)
One of the main characters in the clip was a religious minister and pediatrician who has previously warned against having sex with demons — so at first glance, it would be easy to characterize the video as just another random conspiracy crank finding a massive audience thanks to Facebook.
But in fact, a conservative dark-money group was behind the press event that created this viral propaganda moment. The group featured in the video, “America’s Frontline Doctors,” sprang from nowhere only days ago and appears connected to groups involved in the Save Our Country Coalition, which was a driving force behind the “reopen” protests in April that lobbied for America’s rapid reopening, even as death tolls spike in hot spots across the country.
As Donald Trump’s reelection prospects dwindle amid his administration’s disastrous response to the pandemic, right-wing politicians and media figures have aggressively downplayed the threat of the virus and echoed Trump’s disproven claims about the efficacy of hydroxychloriquine, an anti-malarial drug. This week’s episode, bolstered by Republican operatives, recklessly amplified by social media giants and promoted by the president himself, is a flashing warning about their ability to disseminate dangerous propaganda quickly and widely.
Monday’s livestreamed event featuring the America’s Frontline Doctors group was organized by Tea Party Patriots, a wealthy Republican donor-backed nonprofit that, in partnership with FreedomWorks and other right-wing dark money groups, launched the Save Our Country Coalition in April to push for America’s rapid reopening. Jenny Beth Martin, TPP’s co-founder, spoke at the conference alongside the self-proclaimed frontline doctors, urging people to call their elected officials to demand access to hydroxychloroquine.
Simone Gold, the founder of America’s Frontline Doctors, has been a go-to source for Fox News on the so-called dangers of strict coronavirus measures and has spoken at several reopen rallies.
It’s not clear to what extent the Save Our Country Coalition was behind Monday’s press event; the America’s Frontline Doctors website discloses no affiliation to any other group, nor does it proclaim itself a 501(c) nonprofit.
But Tea Party Patriots is clearly involved in both efforts, and the Monday press conference was directly in line with SOC’s push to downplay the pandemic. FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
One of the people spearheading SOC’s efforts is GOP operative and Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore, who last year withdrew from consideration for a job with the Federal Reserve and joined a group of entrepreneurs seeking to create a cryptocurrency central bank.
Moore had encouraged lockdown protests earlier this year, stating on a conservative YouTube program in mid-April that he heard from a “big donor in Wisconsin” who would pay the legal fees for anyone who gets arrested for rallying against stay-at-home orders at the State Capitol.