Does anyone remember Dr. Simone Gold and the group of COVID-19 contrarian physicians who early in the pandemic branded themselves “America’s Frontline Doctors” (AFLDS) even though none of them were ever truly pandemic frontline doctors? The first time I ever wrote about these grifters was in July 2020, when they held a news conference that went viral in which they promoted the unproven (and at that time increasingly disproven) COVID-19 hydroxychloroquine. The group consisted of founder Dr. Simone Gold and a motley crew of misfit grifters including Dr. Stella “demon sperm” Immanuel and Dr. Joseph Ladapo, a pandemic minimizing antivax doctor who is now, unfortunately, Surgeon General in Florida, where he is making his COVID-19 denial and antivax disinformation official state policy. By 2021, America’s Frontline Doctors were suing over a “coverup” of deaths due to COVID-19 vaccines. Not long after that, AFLDS was caught in grift involving a prescription mill for ivermectin, which is about as effective as hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19, as in not effective. (As I like to say, ideology or not, it’s always also about the grift. Grifters just can’t resist.)
Now, a year later, there’s more hilarity going on at AFLDS that shows grifters turning on each other, which is particularly amusing for this quack group that shills for right wing COVID-19 denial and opposition to public health. In particular, it involves a power struggle between the founder of AFLDS, Dr. Simone Gold, and AFLDS counsel Joey Gilbert. Dr. Gold, as you might or might not be aware of, is also known for appearing at QAnon rallies and all manner of right-wing “anti-lockdown,” antimask, and antivax rallies. Moreover, her Arizona nonprofit, Free Speech Foundation, was started last year with a million-dollar annual budget and fiscal sponsorship from the Tea Party Patriots Foundation.
I first became aware of this power struggle a few days ago, thanks to a Twitter thread that revealed that the group’s attorney was suing America’s Frontline Doctors for misuse of funds, defamation, and more. I’ll embed the first four Tweets in the thread, but it goes on and on, and I’ll discuss it, particularly in light of how this lawsuit over competing grifters has made the news:
America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLDS), the pseudo-medical group that rocketed to pandemic infamy by spreading bad information about COVID, advocating for discredited treatments, fearmongering about vaccines, and attempting to influence state legislation, is suing one of its founders in federal court, months after her release from prison.
Oh, did I forget to mention that Dr. Gold went to prison for having taken part in the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol? Unfortunately (and predictably), she was greeted as a hero upon her release a couple of months ago by people like Rep. Louie Gohmert. I would have preferred that she go to prison for fraud, but better a little prison than none at all for her. In any event, her fellow grifters at America’s Frontline Doctors think she’s trying to take back control of their group:
AFLDS filed suit on November 4 against Dr. Simone Gold, accusing her of misappropriating AFLDS funds to buy a $3.6 million home, rent another property, purchase three luxury vehicles, and fund a housekeeper, personal security detail, and thousands of dollars a month in other, unspecified personal expenses. The suit also accuses Gold of tortious interference, claiming she’s seeking to “to take back control of AFLDS and restore herself into a leadership role with the organization.” In September, Gold finished serving almost 60 days in prison on a trespassing charge after she entered the U.S. Capitol during the January 6, 2021 insurrection.
The suit was filed by AFLDS and top official Joseph Gilbert, a former boxer and current attorney who, according to the lawsuit, took over as the group’s chair, CEO, and “Director of Strategy” in February 2022. It offers an unusually frank and detailed look at how much money AFLDS has made pushing discredited COVID cures and bad science, and how much is at stake for those currently fighting for control of the organization.
Quack fight! Quack fight!
Clearly, whatever is going on, this appears to be a power struggle over which set of grifters would run the organization. Dr. Gold, fresh off her martyrdom fighting for “freedom” on January 6, seemed to think that she could take back control of the quack organization that she had founded. After all, why wouldn’t she, given the most excellent lifestyle the group had afforded her?
The suit also accuses Gold of using AFLDS funds to buy “a Mercedes Benz Sprinter van, a Hyundai Genesis, and a GMC Denali” for her personal use, as well as paying a personal security officer $12,000 per month and a housekeeper $5,600, “and otherwise spending money for personal items on AFLDS credit cards at a rate of nearly $50,000 per month.” The suit also alleges the home was used by GoldCare employees; GoldCare is a telemedicine service founded by Gold that charges $1,000 per year for individual memberships, and—of course—does not accept insurance.Righteous bucks for personal security and a housekeeper! Of course it was in Florida, too.
Telemedicine? That’s how AFLDS sold ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine prescriptions last year. It teamed up with a telemedicine company (SpeakWithAnMD.com), which uses Cadence Health as a platform. People who signed up then then paid $90 for a phone consultation with “AFLDS-trained” physicians (grifters) who would prescribe treatments such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin to prevent and treat COVID-19. There’s a caveat, though, namely if if patients ever got the consultation; many customers reported that they’d never received the call after paying. So, basically, a few months after AFLD’s telemedicine grift had been exposed, Dr. Gold apparently decided to start up her own telemedicine service. What could possibly go wrong?
The fight between grifters gets even uglier:
It gets even better. Over at MedPage Today:
Plaintiffs also allege that Gold “currently lives in this home with John Strand, rent free.” Strand is a former underwear model and boyfriend of Gold’s who was arrested with her in connection with the January 6, 2021 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol. She moved with Strand to Florida this year from Los Angeles, where she had been an emergency room physician.
Unsurprisingly, Strand was also a participant in the insurrection at the Capitol last year, as you can see in the image above and was reported in Rolling Stone:
The silver loafers he wore on Monday were typical for Strand, who seems to have put more thought into styling himself than his legal defense. He worked as a model and actor prior to the pandemic, scoring contracts with Wilhelmina Models and Envy Models, landing features in industry publications, and appearing in shows like Vanderpump Rules and Breaking Amish: LA. Strand and his abs also scored a spot on the cover of the erotic wolf romance novel Howl For It.
Strand’s focus seemed to have shifted to pushing Covid-19 conspiracy theories after the pandemic began. He served as the spokesperson and creative director for America’s Frontline Doctors, an anti-vax group founded by Simone Gold, who is also his former partner. Strand and Gold were in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, and were among the first throng of rioters to breach the Capitol. In a text message to his brother displayed before the court, Strand bragged that he and Gold were “with the first dozen patriots” to enter the building. “We literally made history just now,” he wrote. Gold, unlike Strand, accepted a plea deal for her role in the riot and in June was sentenced to 60 days in prison. She was released in September.You can’t make stuff like thus up. At least, Orac can’t. Howl for it, indeed!
Indeed, the grifters together are like a soap opera:
He testified that their relationship was “highly imbalanced” from the beginning, characterizing Gold, who is “quite a few” years older than him, as a bully.
And a grifter among grifters.
Since news of the lawsuit broke, open warfare has broken out over at AFLD, with the two sides issuing competing press releases on company letterhead.
For instance, here’s a press release from November 2 on the AFLDS website:
Dr. Simone Gold, Prominent Doctor, Lawyer, Founder of AFLDS and Challenger of the Covid Narrative, Presents Board Investigation and Review of Internal Safeguards to Ensure the Fiscal Health of AFLDS Going Forward
Tucson, ARIZONA – recently returning from a hyper-partisan political incarceration, Dr. Simone Gold reaffirmed her leadership role as Founder, President, and Board Chairman of America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLDS) at the company meeting this week. Due to the hostile environment that AFLDS was operating in because of Gold’s persistent challenges to the government’s coronavirus propaganda, in the Spring of this year Gold discussed with her fellow Board members the possibility of her transitioning away from the Board in the best interest of the organization.
Those discussions were never legally actualized, however, with Gold nevertheless admirably performing her professional obligations despite organizational assurances to her remaining unfulfilled, amidst increasing government and media opposition.
For months, as Gold worked through her numerous personal and professional challenges and subsequent imprisonment, the following scripture was one of two that sustained her – Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Although Gold continues to rely on most of her management team to continue the day-to-day operations of AFLDS as she returns to resume her role as Board Chairman, Gold regrettably announced today that Joseph Gilbert, Esq., a board member as well as a paid consultant at AFLDS for some time, was being investigated for directing inappropriate expenditures, hirings, and firings for his personal benefit. Gold stated: “It is with great sadness that I must announce that Mr. Gilbert has repeatedly acted unethically, exhibiting a clear pattern of inappropriate and damaging behavior…including numerous instances of self-dealing and threats made to employees of financial retaliation and termination if they failed to comply with his demands…AFLDS will not tolerate corruption, nor allow a culture of fear and bullying.” An internal audit and investigation are currently underway to review financial records and board actions taken while Gold was indisposed in prison.
“Prominent Doctor, Lawyer, Founder of AFLDS and Challenger of the Covid Narrative”? Quoting scripture as though God Himself had appointed her president of AFLD? Talk about a hyper-inflated sense of one’s own abilities and self-worth!
Then,, three days ago, this appeared on the AFLDS website:
AFLDS President and Board Chairman Dr. Simone Gold Continues to Direct Board Investigation and Formal Response to Recent Legal Complaint Based on Demonstrably False Claims
Tucson, ARIZONA – after returning from a hyper-partisan political incarceration, Dr. Simone Gold remains a target of attacks against her credibility and leadership as Founder, President, and Board Chairman of America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLDS). A result of Gold’s outspoken opposition to government propaganda and abridgments to civil liberties, the latest in a continual stream of disparaging press includes a legal complaint filed by a disgruntled Board member who was recused from their position pending an internal investigation of ethics complaints filed weeks earlier.
The legal complaint is founded on several demonstrably false claims and reveals why AFLDS must separate itself from the persons perpetrating this action. Online reports of this complaint have misrepresented the action as being initiated by AFLDS against Gold, whereas the persons filing this complaint are improperly representing themselves as active agents of the organization.
Again, all I could think was: Quack fight! Make no mistake, there are few things that I like more than a good quack fight, particularly when the quacks involved are such grifters. Meanwhile, Dr. Gold has been keeping up the attacks, for instance, in an article on the AFLDS news site entitled America’s Frontline Doctors founder again tyrannized – in staged embezzlement. It’s not credited to anyone by name, just to Frontline News Staff, whoever that is.
The whole thing is quite amusing to read, particularly the end, which finishes with a flourish of “questions” about Gilbert designed to portray him as so Machiavellian that he had entrapped and tricked Dr. Gold:
Did Gilbert plan all along to purchase a property for AFLDS and recommend that Dr. Gold live in it as part of her compensation package only to later claim that he discovered that Dr. Gold embezzled funds to purchase that property?Sounds…plausible, (Not really.)
My favorite, however, is:
Why did Gilbert try to remove the doctor who founded America’s Frontline Doctors and replace her with a board of non-doctors when the very name of the organization indicates that it is run by doctors?
If man evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?
I don’t know who’s telling the truth and who’s lying here, and it really doesn’t matter because both sides are awful and AFLDS is a quack medical group designed to spread (and profit off of) COVID-19 disinformation. Most likely, both sides are lying about some things and telling the truth about others.
Another thing that I don’t know for sure is where the balance between belief in ineffective “miracle cures” for COVID-19 and grift falls. I’ve been writing about quacks for nearly 20 years now, and my experience has led me to believe that most, if not all, quacks at least start out believing in their quackery. Sure, there are exceptions, such as Kevin Trudeau, who wrote Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You To Know About and almost certainly was in it for the grift all along. However, most quacks do tend to start out believing. Look at Stanislaw Burzynski, for instance. In the early 1970s he started out doing research that led him (falsely) to believe that he had discovered peptides that were part of the body’s natural anticancer defense system and that he had discovered a highly effective cancer treatment. In 1976 left his university and started practicing, using his “antineoplastons” to treat cancer patients because he was rash, impatient, and disgusted with the slowness of the process of clinical research necessary to determine whether his antineoplastons were effective and safe or not. Over the 45 years since then, he charged more and more for his “cure,” becoming wealthy in the process. He still believed (after all, he kept trying to do clinical trials—badly—to show that his treatment worked) but he also profited.
So it appears to be with America’s Frontline Doctors. I have little doubt that many of them, probably including Dr. Gold, started out believing that hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, and all the other “miracle cures” for COVID-19 that they were pushing worked. Also, as I just mentioned, they were prone to believing such things for the simple reason that, if miracle cures for COVID-19 existed, it would help them argue that neither lockdowns nor mask and vaccine mandates are necessary. So when did belief turn into grift? Who knows? In retrospect, I now suspect that it didn’t take long after their infamous hydroxychloroquine press conference in the summer of 2020. Now, they give every appearance of being all about the grift, with belief being secondary. For snake oil salesmen, it usually is about the belief (or at least starts out that way), but it’s also always about the grift, and Dr. Gold is a grifter who loves the product of her grift.
What I also know is that this sort of conflict is to be expected whenever an organization made up of grifters starts to make real money. It’s very clear to me that America’s Frontline Doctors started out being primarily about the politics. It was a group designed to provide a patina of medical credibility to cover right wing ideologues who wanted to block nonpharmaceutical public health interventions against the pandemic, such as “lockdowns” (although nowhere in the US was ever under a true lockdown) and masks. Then, being grifters, they discovered that their grift based on ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, and other unproven and ineffective remedies was highly profitable, while their alignment with right-wing pundits and politicians greatly facilitated that grift and profit.
Now, as grifters often do, they’ve fallen into conflict, dividing themselves into factions, and have started to consume themselves and the organization they formed. I will admit that it’s glorious to watch in the short term. However, I fear that the result will be more grifter groups splintering off from the original.