"Our time has come!" Kerri Rivera exulted recently, in one of several Telegram groups she uses to promote her brand of health advice to desperate parents. The product she's promoted for years was finally being given its due.
"Why has it been vilified by the media?" Rivera wrote in the Telegram group. "What is that they don't want us to know? Would it destroy Big Pharma's profits since it's an abundant mineral?"
Rivera is one of the best-known promoters of chlorine dioxide, also known as Miracle Mineral Supplement, or Miracle Mineral Solution, a potent, extremely dangerous form of bleach that she and others have promoted drinking since 2010 as a "cure" for autism and other serious conditions. MMS was first marketed by a Florida-based outfit called the Genesis II Church and its founder Jim Humble, who claims he discovered MMS in 1996 on a "gold mining expedition" to South America. (Humble, incidentally, is an ex-Scientologist who also claims to be a billion-year-old god from the Andromeda galaxy.)
As you likely know by now, MMS and other fringe cures are experiencing a fairly stunning moment in the spotlight after President Trump pontificated on April 23 about the possibility that injecting disinfectants could cure COVID-19. After his comments, The Guardian reported that Genesis II's current leader, "Bishop" Mark Grenon, had previously written a letter to Trump promoting MMS as a potential coronavirus cure; Grenon claimed that 30 of his supporters had done the same, and that MMS had also been sent to the White House. A few days later, Trump made his comments promoting disinfectants as a potential cure.
Do you know anything we should know about people peddling dangerous "cures" for COVID-19 or other illnesses? We'd love to talk to you. Contact the reporter at email@example.com.
There's currently no proof that the president saw Grenon's letter, or was motivated to make those comments because he's suddenly familiar with MMS. But, whatever the reason, Trump's timing could hardly be worse: fringe cures, scams and hoaxes of all kinds are surging to prominence as a panicked world tries to make sense of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and people seem to be more vulnerable than usual to absorbing and acting on bad information. Trump's claim that disinfectants could potentially be a COVID-19 cure was all the encouragement they needed. In an editorial in the New York Times, a group of women who are all mothers of autistic children—and who monitor social media groups for bunk, dangerous autism "cures"—wrote that Trump's comments were "taken as a beacon of hope."
Meanwhile, the promoters of those fake cures are, in a word, delighted. On the day Trump made his comments, Jordan Sather, a prominent QAnon fan and frequent promoter of chlorine dioxide, tweeted, "The day after YouTube cans two of my videos for talking about using a disinfectant to kill coronavirus (chlorine dioxide)…. President Trump says they are looking at using disinfectants inside the body to kill coronavirus. That timing though. Can't make it up." Larry Cook, a major promoter of vaccine misinformation on Facebook and the operator of the biggest anti-vaccine group there, also promoted chlorine dioxide the day after Trump's comments, along with a laundry list of other specious cures:
The only exception to the widespread celebration over the new prominence of MMS is the Genesis II Church itself.
"Things have been happening, folks, in the last week or two that is not good," Mark Grenon said ominously on April 24, on a Genesis II broadcast titled "This INSANITY HAS TO STOP!! An Urgent Message to the World from Bishop Mark Grenon 4-26-20."
Grenon said he'd recently written the Department of Justice and the FDA—the people, as he put it, "who are really trying to take away our freedoms"—to protest their treatment of Genesis II. Three U.S. marshals, Grenon told his son and co-host Joseph Grenon, had put "a restraining order on our church door."
The experience, Grenon said, is like "fighting a monster." But he has a plan. "We're in a time of prayer. At the end of that, if the Lord tell us to keep going, we'll keep going." Genesis II followers don't want mainstream medical care, he added, or vaccines. "We want freedom."
All of this feels like an unpleasant form of deja vu. MMS pops up regularly every few years, despite the FDA, CDC, and the Justice Department making some efforts to police it. The FDA has been warning people since MMS first appeared that it can make users extremely sick, causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and life-threateningly low blood pressure. (At the time, the product was being marketed as a cure for the H1N1 flu, which, again, it's not.)
In recent years, Rivera—who claims she first discovered MMS after buying it from a pediatrician in Mexico in 2010—has been pushed further and further to the margins, though she's never stopped selling chlorine dioxide products. In 2015, she signed a voluntary agreement with the state attorney general of Illinois which barred her from promoting the product there. Many YouTube videos she's made with various fringe hosts promoting chlorine dioxide have been pulled down. Last March, Amazon banned her book Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism. Rivera's Facebook groups have gradually been shut down over the years, though she still maintains a sparse personal page directing people to her website. Earlier this month, her last group, KetoKerri, which marketed MMS to a Spanish-speaking audience, quietly changed its name to KetoLife and scrubbed most of its contents. (A Facebook spokesperson previously did not respond to a request for comment from VICE about that group.)
Despite these setbacks, Rivera has, from from her home in Mexico, continued to busily market chlorine dioxide through Telegram and by offering consultations via Skype. (Skype and Telegram did not respond to requests for comment from VICE.) In her Telegram groups, as Business Insider recently reported, she and a few apparent assistants instruct parents about how to give the substance to their children, and offer testimonials, supposedly from satisfied parents. (Rivera has a pinned message on at least two of those Telegram groups warning members not to respond to DMs from anyone apparently trying to warn them about her products. She writes, "There are trolls. Answer no one in a private message. They like to destroy families and send in CPS. Be careful. Social media is full of sickos.")
Rivera did not respond to two emails from VICE. In a general response to the press, posted on her personal website, she accuses many journalists of being in league with those "trolls," writing:
A private investigator with military intelligence experience and a career at a three letter agency volunteered his services to put together a web page documenting the work of reporters who have been the most active in spreading misinformation to the public about what chlorine dioxide is – and isn't. (See link below.)
It appears that some of these reporters have been actively coordinating with abusive Internet trolls who have been caught harassing families of children with autism. We expect that when the details of these relationship reach public awareness – and they will – that some reporters will lose jobs and even careers over this.
Rivera's recent excitement on Telegram was due to the fact that former Reagan Administration official and conservative radio host Alan Keyes recently put out a self-produced documentary claiming MMS can potentially cure the novel coronavirus. (Keyes also had Rivera as a guest on his program this past fall.) The documentary, she wrote, could help awaken people who'd previously been curious about the effects of hydroxychloroquine, another specious coronavirus cure Trump has also promoted.
"He's asking all the right questions and waking people up," Rivera wrote of Keyes.
On Tuesday, Rivera's cautious joy turned to outright jubilation, when she directly addressed Trump's comments.
"Imagine my shock when I heard United States' President Trump getting slammed in the media for suggesting that there may be an effective Corona Virus [sic] therapy involving ingesting or injecting a "disinfectant," a message signed by Rivera posted to Telegram reads. "Did your ears perk up? While his detractors have flooded the airwaves to warn people to not drink Lysol or shoot-up [sic] with bleach, *I* wonder if Trump knows about our little secret. Three separate individuals in my circle have reached out asking me exactly that."
On her website, Rivera went even further, telling her supporters that now is the ideal time to take disinfectant-curious Trump supporters and turn them on to chlorine dioxide—"piggybacking," as she put it, on his claims.
"But now, with all eyes on Trump as he discusses a mystery disinfectant, I can't help but hope that we will have more heads turning our way as people began to wonder what he might have been talking about," Rivera wrote. "Please, please, please, share this information with others, in whatever way is best for you. This is a MAJOR OPPORTUNITY to begin a discussion about a timely and interesting application of chlorine dioxide. Although it's controversial, people are beginning to trust less and question more. Help point them in the right direction. The louder 'they' scream, the more power those have who retain a level head and research-backed information."
In the meantime, she added, if anyone was having trouble sourcing ingredients, she was there to help.
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