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Anti-vaccine doctor behind COVID misinfo pleads guilty to Jan. 6 riot charge

Pro-Trump supporters storm the US Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.
Enlarge / Pro-Trump supporters storm the US Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.

Dr. Simone Gold, a prominent anti-vaccine doctor who founded a group notorious for widely peddling COVID-19 misinformation, pleaded guilty on Thursday to joining the insurrectionists who violently attacked the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021.

Gold is the founder of America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLDS) and has spent the pandemic downplaying COVID-19, promoting unproven treatments, such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, and casting doubt on the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

According to her guilty plea, Gold entered a restricted area around the Capitol on January 6, joining part of the mob outside the East Rotunda door. There she stood directly in front of a law enforcement officer as the officer was assaulted and dragged to the ground, the plea notes. Shortly after, she entered the Rotunda with rioters and began giving a speech against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and government-imposed lockdowns, while co-defendant John Strand video-recorded her remarks. Multiple law enforcement officers had to intervene before Gold stopped her speech, then she and Strand left the area.

In an interview published in The Washington Post days later on January 12, Gold said that she did regret going into the Capitol because it could distract from her “advocacy” work but that “it emphatically was not a riot.” She denied seeing any violence. “Where I was, was incredibly peaceful,” she told the Post.

The offense to which she pled guilty is a misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of six months. Her sentencing is scheduled for June 16. Meanwhile, Strand, the communications director for AFLDS, has pleaded not guilty to charges against him, according to the Associated Press. His trial is scheduled to start July 18.

Demons and misinformation

The AFLDS is among the most prominent groups to spread COVID-19 misinformation amid the pandemic. A September 2021 report by the Intercept revealed data that AFLDS and partner organization have made at least $6.7 million by offering online COVID-19 consultations that involve writing off-label prescriptions for ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine and prescribing other unproven treatments.

A month after that report, Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat and chair of the House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, announced an investigation into AFLDS. In a letter Clyburn sent directly to Gold, he wrote:

I am deeply concerned that AFLDS is profiting from its deliberate spread of misinformation about the coronavirus. AFLDS’s promotion of falsehoods about coronavirus, questionable treatments, and vaccines is dangerous and may be putting American lives at risk and setting back our nation’s efforts to end the pandemic.

Gold has used her medical credentials to bolster her pandemic falsehoods and misinformation. However, she told the Post last year that she was no longer working as a doctor. She said she had been “promptly fired” from jobs as an emergency room physician for two hospitals after participating in a July 2020 event, in which she and other AFLDS doctors spread COVID-19 misinformation. The event made headlines for including Stella Immanuel, who has a history of blaming diseases on demons. The event was organized with the support of the Tea Party Patriots group and livestreamed by the conservative media outlet Breitbart, the Post reported.

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