Antivaccine nonsense Medicine Quackery

Antivax quacks: It’s always (also) about the grifter and grift

When it comes to the behavior of antivax quacks, I like to say: Come for the quackery and ideology, stay for the grift. A Washington Post story this week confirms this characterization.

One of my favorite sayings about antivax “influencers” and “leaders” is some variant of this: Come for the quackery and ideology, stay for the grift. Alternatively, I like to say something along the lines of: It’s always (als0) about the grift and grifting grifter who engages in the grift. There are exceptions, but the typical leader or influencer in the antivax movement didn’t start out as a grifting quack.

For example, I like to cite the example of Dr. Joe Mercola, a longtime antivax “entrepreneur” (and quack) whom I now often call a quack tycoon because his net worth is north of $100 million—and likely a lot more since the pandemic turbocharged his business. He didn’t start out as a grifting quack tycoon. Rather, in the late 1990s, before there was social media other than Usenet and BBSs, he was a “pioneer” in the new world of Internet dissemination of information in that he ran an email list and website in which he promoted his “natural health” beliefs. He soon found that hosting charges were becoming onerous and started selling supplements, books, and the like online. It was this business that ultimately ballooned into his very profitable online empire, during which time he appeared to undergo audience or customer capture, becoming more radically antivax and quacky, until he became the man he is today, believing in a psychic channeling a “high vibrational” being and that he is the “new Jesus” who will save the world.

To repeat: Come for the “natural health”/ideology/quackery/antivax, stay for the grift.

The Washington Post published an article demonstrating that, in the age of COVID-19 at least, my characterization is spot on. Reported by Lauren Weber and entitled Tax records reveal the lucrative world of covid misinformation, the report is a deep dive into just how lucrative antivax quackery can be (and has been) for four of the biggest COVID-19 disinformation spreaders, which include two organizations that had been formed years before the pandemic and two new pandemic-era orgs:

I have, of course, long been writing about RFK Jr. and Del Bigtree; to a lesser extent I’ve written about FLCCC and America’s Frontline Doctors. What’s depressing about reading Weber’s report is that it shows just how profitable antivax and COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation have been:

Four major nonprofits that rose to prominence during the coronavirus pandemic by capitalizing on the spread of medical misinformation collectively gained more than $118 million between 2020 and 2022, enabling the organizations to deepen their influence in statehouses, courtrooms and communities across the country, a Washington Post analysis of tax records shows.

Children’s Health Defense, an anti-vaccine group founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., received $23.5 million in contributions, grants and other revenue in 2022 alone — eight times what it collected the year before the pandemic began — allowing it to expand its state-based lobbying operations to cover half the country. Another influential anti-vaccine group, Informed Consent Action Network, nearly quadrupled its revenue during that time to about $13.4 million in 2022, giving it the resources to finance lawsuits seeking to roll back vaccine requirements as Americans’ faith in vaccines drops.

Two other groups, Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance and America’s Frontline Doctors, went from receiving $1 million combined when they formed in 2020 to collecting more than $21 millioncombined in 2022, according to the latest tax filings available for the groups.

Combined, these groups are getting into Mercola-level territory in grift. You might remember that America’s Frontline Doctors made their first big splash in 2020 during that dark first summer of the pandemic when they made national news pushing an ineffective repurposed drug, hydroxychloroquine, as the solution to the pandemic in the form of a highly effective treatment with low toxicity. You might also remember that the current Surgeon General for the State of Florida, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, was a member of America’s Frontline Doctors, his grifter past making it no surprise that he has basically devastated public health in Florida, parroted antivax disinformation and made it into state policy, and altered a study to make COVID-19 vaccines seem dangerous by lying with statistics, among many other assaults on science. Most recently, he published a letter telling parents that keeping unvaccinated children home during a measles outbreak from their school was optional and voluntary, not mandatory:

With a brief memo, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo has subverted a public health standard that’s long kept measles outbreaks under control.

On Feb. 20, as measles spread through Manatee Bay Elementary in South Florida, Ladapo sent parents a letter granting them permission to send unvaccinated children to school amid the outbreak.

The Department of Health “is deferring to parents or guardians to make decisions about school attendance,” wrote Ladapo, who was appointed to head the agency by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose name is listed above Ladapo’s in the letterhead.

Ladapo’s move contradicts advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I note that this has been a longtime antivax wish, that their unvaccinated children not only not be excluded from school, but not even excluded from school in the middle of an outbreak of a highly transmissible disease. Indeed, it’s a policy that they tried to pass as law in Michigan back in 2017; fortunately, they failed.

Back to the four grifting organizations, though. RFK Jr. has been raising money off of antivax misinformation since 2005, while Del Bigtree discovered the grift in 2015 or so, going all-in with Andrew Wakefield in 2016 to make the antivax conspiracy film disguised as a documentary, VAXXED. Meanwhile, the FLCCC has really taken antivax quackery to a new level, thanks to Drs. Pierre Kory and Paul Marik.

But wait, you might say. Why do you say this is grift? Aren’t these people true believers, albeit deluded? This is a fair question. However, get a load of the typical grifter executive compensation! No, seriously. These are nonprofits, and these people are paying themselves some pretty impressive sums of money relative to the income of their orgs:

As the groups’ coffers grew, so did the salaries of some top executives. Children’s Health Defense paid Kennedy, then chairman and chief legal counsel and now an independent candidate for president, more than $510,000 in 2022, double his 2019 salary, tax records show. Informed Consent Action Network paid Executive Director Del Bigtree $284,000 in 2022, a 22 percent increase from 2019. Bigtree now works as communications director for Kennedy’s presidential campaign.


America’s Frontline Doctors paid the group’s founder, Simone Gold, $581,000 in 2022, more than 17 times what she was paid by the group in 2020, according to tax filings. Gold’s lawyer, Jimenez, said she was released after serving 48 days of an original 60-day prison sentence in 2022 for trespassing in the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection by supporters of Donald Trump.


The salaries of Kory and Paul Marik, chairman and chief scientific officer of Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance, also rose significantly. In 2022, Kory earned $368,815 from the FLCCC — nearly 60 percent more than his 2021 salary — and Marik earned $400,000, eight times his 2021 earnings, according to tax records. (The FLCCC reported that it did not pay the men in 2020.)

When asked about the increase, Kory told The Post that he and Marik had left their jobs as “full-time practicing physicians and medical educators” to “dedicate their full attention to the FLCCC.”

FLCCC didn’t pay Drs. Kory and Marik in 2020? Big deal. FLCCC was an embryonic organization then, formed in the middle of the year. Notice how fast they ramped up the executive pay in 2021, the year after the org was formed and then again in 2022. I bet that they raked in even more bucks hand-over-fist in 2023, but we don’t have the numbers yet. As for their excuses, well, yes, physicians can make in the range of $400,000, but not most of us. Generally, it’s the high-powered specialists who make that much or even more. For example, I don’t make anywhere near that. Even if I were not in academics, it would be difficult for a breast surgeon to approach that level of income, at least in my area. You could argue that Drs. Marik and Kory were trying to replace their full-time clinical income with positions that require far less work, but more importantly far less accountability, need for continuing medical education, and sticking to science-based medical practice. Of course, Dr. Marik let his medical license lapse to inactive status nearly two years ago and currently holds no medical license; he did this after having resigned from his faculty position at Eastern Virginia Medical School to “dedicate more time to multiple causes.”

As for Dr. Simone Gold, although it’s possible that she did, I highly doubt she’s ever made that much money as a clinician in her life. Of course, there’s been a great quack fight over whether or not she is still in charge of America’s Frontline Doctors in the form of a power struggle between the founder of AFLDS, Dr. Simone Gold, and AFLDS counsel Joey Gilbert, complete with accusations against Dr. gold of misappropriating AFLDS funds that Ms. Weber elaborates on:

In a November 2022 lawsuit, America’s Frontline Doctors accused Gold of using nonprofit money to fund her lifestyle. It alleged that Gold purchased a $3.6 million home in Naples, Fla., and a fleet of luxury cars, and hired a housekeeper and security officer. The lawsuit also alleged that she used the organization’s employees to work at her for-profit wellness company, GoldCare.

Ah, grift! And this grifter beat the rap:

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, citing a lack of jurisdiction, in December 2022. U.S. District Judge Sheri Polster Chappell noted Gold’s previous comments that the group’s “most significant business operation is the creation of social media content” and said the location of the group’s headquarters was in dispute. “These vague descriptions of AFLDS’ purpose leaves the Court short of being able to define its ‘nerve center,’” the judge wrote.

Also, over at the FLCCC Alliance, even though Dr. Marik gave up his medical license, Dr. Kory has gone full quack:

Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance took in more than $8 million in contributions, grants and other revenue in 2022 — nearly 23 times as much as in 2020 — as it continued to tout the anti-parasitic ivermectin, which it also began promoting to prevent and treat flu and RSV. The CDC has said there is no clinical data to support the use of ivermectin for flu and RSV. Kory, the group’s president, said he and Marik frequently appear on shows run by Children’s Health Defense and Informed Consent Action Network. The latter group gave the FLCCC $210,000 in 2022, according to its tax filing.

Kory also used Twitter to encourage his hundreds of thousands of followers to visit his telehealth practice, which charges up to $2,350 for three video appointments.

Think of the FLCCC Alliance not just as a political advocacy organization, but as a promotional tool for Dr. Kory’s quack telehealth practice.

Of course, I always say that it’s always also about the grift. Every single one of these groups started out as true believers, but then their founders discovered how profitable their beliefs could be. This resulted in an ever expanding spiral of raising money, becoming more radical, and that increasing radicalness resulting in more money coming in, reinforcing ever more radical beliefs and quackery. With all that money coming in, it then becomes tempting for the founders of such organizations to reward themselves with more and more compensation. This trend predates the pandemic, but the pandemic turbocharged it. There’s no way that these four “nonprofits” would be raking in nearly as much cash as they are no. There’s no way the antivax grift would be as profitable.

It would be one thing if these groups were doing nothing more than selling quackery, but they have become politically influential:

Children’s Health Defense, which in 2020 had just two state chapters, in California and New York, has expanded to 19 states, as well as chapters focused on New England and the military. These chapters enable the organization to “spread misinformation” about vaccines in a more sophisticated way, with potential legislative consequences, said Becky Christensen, founder of the Safe Communities Coalition & Action Fund, which advocates for vaccines.

In January, the Tennessee chapter director of Children’s Health Defenseappeared at a routine legislative committee meeting that sets the procedural rules for the year, Christensen said.

“They’re a part of every step of the legislative process now,” she said.

Children’s Health Defense says its legal team works closely with state attorneys general to protect off-label use of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine to prevent or treat covid; attorneys general in six states have done so.

It’s very disturbing that these groups are now so embedded in the political process that they are “part of every step of the legislative process.” I note, however, that this is nothing more than the continuation and acceleration of a trend that started at least as far back as 2015, when the campaign against SB 277, the California law that eliminated nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates, united disparate antivax groups with conservative political movements to produce a new era of antivax activism and by the year before the pandemic had resulted in fascist militia groups marching arm-in-arm with antivaxxers.

In the end, a disturbing confluence of radical antivax beliefs, misinformation, and grift has brought us to where we are now, with antivax groups that would have been considered fringe even among antivaxxers now being not just mainstream antivax, but almost mainstream political groups. Come for the antivax quackery, stay for the grift indeed. It’s going to be the death of public health in the US.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

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16 replies on “Antivax quacks: It’s always (also) about the grifter and grift”

The biggest grifters (rrkjr, bigweed) have repeal of the NVICP as their goal with hoped for grift return in the millions to billions if they can seat a jury of scientifically illiterate Americans in a non-capped trial against vaccine manufacturers.

Not with good basis. When they brought a case against a doctor on autism and vaccines, they lost in February 2022.

At least a couple of the Gardasil lawsuit were dismissed already.

That was the one with Rolf Hazlehurst and his son Yates. I blogged about that in April 2022 and linked to your post on Skeptical Raptor.
Rolf’s crusade has done a lot of harm.
I’m going to say something, even though it’s likely to be considered s**t stirring, because I feel I must.
I suspect Rolf Hazlehurst is on the spectrum. Stubbornness is one autistic trait that isn’t much talked about, and Hazlehurst was stubborn enough to fight for literally decades. We know for a fact autism has a genetic factor. The reason Yates is autistic is because he got it from his father.

I’m thinking more along the lines of congressional repeal. I still think Trump is going to pick RFK Jr as his running mate if only to get votes in the election. But if RFK Jr is any position of power and both houses are Republican and Trump is president–then the 1986 act is in jeopardy. That’s a lot of ifs, but 2016 election should have taught us not to discount the impossible as long as it remains probable, especially if it’s being rallied behind by zealots.

Is VP constitutionally required? (I know I should know…) Seems to me that a typical Trump behaviour would be to declare that he is so fantubulousy indescribably wondrous a candidate that he doesn’t need a VP and will not bother with a running-mate at all.

Yes, a VP is required – at the very least they are next in line for succession – but they don’t have to be a “running mate” or even of the same party, since of course, parties don’t show up in the Constitution.

Ahh! Hit send too soon.
I should point out that for a long time the office of VP was not too prestigious, “not worth a bucket of warm [urine]” as my ancestor said.

In fact Teddy Roosevelt was installed there to keep him quiet, and then McKinley was assassinated…

I think their main impact is strongly bolstered by the interests of more established conservative groups using anti-vaccine group to promote other agendas. Like limiting the regulatory state or promoting freedom of religion. That’s where they had their (rare) successes in the courts – when they hitched themselves to these other, less fringe groups.

But as that connections deepen, they build on it, and as you point out, it’s been very lucrative.

Let me make the introductions. Demand, meet Supply. Supply, meet Demand. I’m sure you’ll be very happy together.

As long as there’s demand, there will be a supply. With effective advertising, the supply can further increase the demand. Marketing 101.

In this case, supply is driven by opportunity and demand is largely driven by fear. Fear of government, fear of the other, fear of invisible threats such as disease, fear for their children, fear of corporations, and fear of death. I fear that fear is the human condition. Grifters promote fear since fear is profitable and an infinitely renewable resource.

Reducing fear requires erasing ignorance with education. That’s really really difficult, but it is possible and must be continuous since many children grow to become fearful adults. Cure one human of fear and ignorance and another arrives to take their place. Sad, but that’s our world today. Grifters rejoice. Yet I do enjoy teasing them.

Learning requires a lot of time, effort, intellectual flexibility, and money. Hyper-stimulating amygdalas is cheap as dirt.

“With a brief memo, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo has subverted a public health standard that’s long kept measles outbreaks under control.”

I recently noticed that our government (not the US) has actually issued a travel advisory for Florida. That should do wonders for their tourism industry as more countries do so. No matter, the sunny, warm Caribbean is next door.

There are also non-governmental travel advisories from the NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign, advising Black and LGBTQ people to avoid Florida. Those were issued about a year ago.

That should not be taken to imply that visiting Florida is prudent for straight white people, even if they’re up to date on all their vaccinations.

And the Canadian government just warned everyone to make sure they’ve had two doses of the measles vaccine if they’re going to be traveling outside Canada. That’s good advice, which I hope doesn’t lead Canadians to assume that they don’t need to be vaccinated if they’re staying home, or traveling within the country.

Florida is fast on its way to becoming a hell hole (I’d say it’s there already). They just passed a bill that tries to ban social media use by minors under the age of 16.

I’m old enough to do a double-take seeing that Simone Gold’s lawyer is named Jose Jimenez. (I wonder if Del Bigtree is represented by Senor Wences… Topo Giggio perhaps?)

“Senor Wences”. (or Wenceslao Moreno Centeno) 🙂 S’alright

I would not be at all surprised to see them arriving in court with an aid spinning plates on sticks for distraction.

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