People For the American Way

“Trumptastrophe”: Disinfectant Disinformation Edition  

News and Analysis
“Trumptastrophe”: Disinfectant Disinformation Edition  

Welcome to our weekly “Trumptastrophe” series that serves to remind us of the destructive policies, decisions, and actions we encountered during the Trump presidency and the threats that he and others in the MAGA movement still pose – and to keep those moments clear in our memory as we fight to defeat Republican extremists during the upcoming elections.

This week’s Trumptastrophe brings into focus the dangerous – and deadly – misinformation that was spread by Trump and his right-wing allies during the COVID-19 pandemic:

On April 23, 2020, Trump put on a notorious display at a press conference about the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus, musing about using light and disinfectant as potential treatments. From the New York Times coverage:

Experts have long warned that ultraviolet lamps can harm humans if used improperly — when the exposure is outside the body, much less inside. The link between ultraviolet light and skin cancer is well established. Bleach and other disinfectants may kill microbes but they also can kill humans if swallowed or if fumes are too powerful. That is why bottles of bleach and other disinfectants carry sharp warnings of ingestion dangers.

Mr. Trump’s comments prompted an explosion of warnings about the dangers of any improvised remedies. Emergency management officials in Washington State posted a warning on Twitter. “Please don’t eat tide pods or inject yourself with any kind of disinfectant,” they wrote, before urging the public to rely only on official medical advice about Covid-19. “Just don’t make a bad situation worse.”

Those fears were not unwarranted. A month earlier, an Arizona man died after eating a fish tank additive that included chloroquine, which Trump had falsely called a potential “game-changer” in a White House briefing.

As COVID-19 spread in the spring of 2020, Trump’s allies feared that the pandemic and the economic disruptions it was causing could harm Trump’s re-election chances. A few weeks after Trump’s speculation about injecting disinfectant, the secretive right-wing Council for National Policy had a phone call to strategize about minimizing the threats to Trump’s political prospects. They schemed to activate “extremely pro-Trump doctors” to shift the public conversation. More from TIME magazine:

Eight days later, conservative groups publicized a letter signed by more than 500 doctors calling the lockdowns a “mass casualty event.” The lead signatory was Dr. Simone Gold, a licensed emergency-room physician and Stanford-educated lawyer who was working as a part-time, independent contractor in a hospital in Bakersfield, Calif. Ten weeks after the letter’s release, Gold was standing on the steps of the Supreme Court as the founder of [America’s Front Line Doctors] as Rep. Ralph Norman, a South Carolina Republican, thanked the white-coated physicians for coming to “tell us the truth.” The event was hosted and funded by the Tea Party Patriots, a pro-Trump right-wing group.

Trump re-tweeted video of the press conference, and right-wing media amplified the message by interviewing the doctors. America’s Frontline Doctors and their founder Simone Gold downplayed the severity of the epidemic, promoted unproven cures like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, spread anti-vaccine disinformation, and rallied opposition to vaccine and mask requirements in workplaces.

America’s Frontline Doctors partnered with right-wing activists like Tea Party Patriots. That July, Gold spread her message even further in an appearance on TPUSA founder Charlie Kirk’s show. Other Trump-aligned groups, like the religious-right Liberty Counsel, promoted AFLD misinformation.

The disinformation spread by America’s Frontline Doctors and its allies was deadly; the daughter of one man who died after postponing treatment and self-medicating with ivermectin called it “death by deception.”

But, like Trump himself, Gold reportedly figured out how to live large on the donations she raked in from MAGA activists, including private jets and a mansion purchased with millions in AFLD funds.

Gold spoke at a “Stop the Steal” rally in D.C. on the eve of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, and was eventually sentenced to 60 days in jail for entering the U.S. Capitol that day. When she got out of jail, she re-joined the never-ending MAGA movement grift parade and fought for control of AFLD.

Trump’s notorious press conference may in the end have contributed in some way to his rejection by voters six months later. As former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs said later, “This was the moment where we knew without any doubt that the government was in way over its head, and its ability to both respond effectively and educate Americans about what to do was not going to be anywhere close to meeting the moment.”

At the time of Trump’s April 2020 remarks, comedian Sarah Cooper’s viral send-up brought Americans much-needed laughter at a difficult time. But Trump’s press conference was evidence of the serious danger posed by the self-serving disinformation that he and his MAGA movement spread relentlessly—about everything from science to election fraud—which threatens Americans’ lives as well as our democracy.

These are just some of the reasons we need YOU in this fight. So, find your favorite way to unwind after reading through this week’s recap, and then make a plan for how you will fight back this week, this month, this election cycle.


disinformation, Donald Trump