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Religious Right Radio Network Broadcasts Lethal Lies About Coronavirus

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Religious Right Radio Network Broadcasts Lethal Lies About Coronavirus

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Bryan Fischer, American Family Association

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

As the U.S. coronavirus death toll passes 1000 and the World Health Organization warns that the country could become the next epicenter of the global pandemic, hosts of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group American Family Association’s (AFA) radio network have been promoting dangerous misinformation about the virus, including by telling audiences to stay away from doctors’ offices and to instead buy vitamin packs. 

Articles on AFA’s website and figures on its radio network American Family Radio (AFR) have disregarded CDC guidelines and endangered their audience’s health by falsely claiming that people infected with coronavirus who are asymptomatic “are not contagious” and that there is an existing cure and vaccine to the virus.

AFR is a right-wing evangelical radio network that regularly spreads anti-LGBTQ misinformation and bigotry. It broadcasts more than 50 shows to nearly 200 stations and affiliates across 35 states and airs 24/7 as a part of AFA’s larger media apparatus, which also includes news website OneNewsNow

AFA’s Bryan Fischer lied that people infected with coronavirus who are asymptomatic are not contagious 

Bryan Fischer — a prominent AFR host who has spewed virulently anti-LGBTQ rhetoric as an AFA employee since 2009 — falsely claimed that people who are infected with the coronavirus and do not exhibit any symptoms “are not contagious.”

In reality, CDC guidance on the transmission of COVID-19 states that “some spread might be possible before people show symptoms,” and several studies “have shown that people without symptoms are causing substantial amounts of infection.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, has also said, “I don’t think there’s any question that someone who is without symptoms and carrying the virus can transmit the virus to somebody else.”

During the March 23 episode of Fischer’s show Focal Point, he falsely claimed that “if people are asymptomatic, they don’t have the cough, they don’t have the respiratory issues, they don’t have a fever, they are not contagious.” Fischer also repeated this claim in an article posted to AFA’s website.

From the March 23, 2020, edition of American Family Radio’s Focal Point:

BRYAN FISCHER (HOST): Now people that are asymptomatic — you might have heard this, asymptomatic transmission, people that don’t have the symptoms — they aren’t contagious. If people are asymptomatic, they don’t have the cough, they don’t have the respiratory issues, they don’t have a fever, they’re not contagious. And so they don’t need to be tested.

Fischer also promoted a claim about an unproven coronavirus cure originally spread on Fox News and later endorsed by Trump

Fischer also made reckless and unproven claims that the antimalarial drug chloroquine is a “vaccine” and a “cheap cure for coronavirus.” There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19, and it is projected that one won’t be widely available until at least the middle of next year. Though chloroquine could eventually be effective in treating COVID-19, it requires more testing, and there are some indications that using it can be harmful, including by limiting access to it for those who need it to treat other medical conditions. Fischer’s promotion of chloroquine treatment follows the drug being touted on Fox News and by President Donald Trump.

After a lawyer named Gregory Rigano went on Fox News multiple times to tout the unproven benefits of chloroquine, Fox hosts embraced the treatment and promoted its use to an audience whose health has already been put at risk by the network’s propagandist coronavirus coverage. Fox News falsely identified Rigano as an adviser to Stanford University School of Medicine, which he is not, and Rigano based his claims on a study with serious limitations. According to HuffPost, Rigano’s “claims about chloroquine are unproven, often overstated and potentially harmful.” 

Following Fox’s unfounded promotion of the drug, Trump embraced the treatment and falsely claimed that the Food and Drug Administration had approved it to treat COVID-19. Fauci, who has been attacked by pro-Trump media for allegedly harming the economy, stated that while it could be effective, chloroquine requires further clinical study to “show it is truly safe and effective under the conditions of Covid-19.”

In addition to concerns from medical professionals about its effectiveness, a man in Arizona died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate because he thought it would prevent him from contracting coronavirus. There has also been a shortage of the drug for people who use it to treat lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

During the March 19 episode of Focal Point, Fischer claimed that the drug “keeps you from getting coronavirus, and if you’ve got it, it cures it.” He then repeated this claim during the March 23 edition of AFR’s Life & Liberty Minute and in an AFA article titled “A Cheap Cure for Coronavirus Is Here”; in both, he falsely claimed that researchers discovered chloroquine “cures folks of the virus and acts as a vaccine for those who haven’t yet been infected.”

From the March 19, 2020, edition of American Family Radio’s Focal Point

BRYAN FISCHER (HOST): The good news is that we may have found the silver bullet to stop the coronavirus. It’s a cheap generic antimalarial medication. This thing has been around since 1944. It’s chloroquine phosphate. That’s what it’s called. 

If we can get this into the hands of assisted living facilities, they can inoculate their entire roster of patients with chloroquine. And it’s preventive. It’s prophylactic. It keeps you from getting coronavirus, and if you’ve got it, it cures it.

Fischer has come under fire for praising the global coronavirus pandemic, saying it “might create a fantastic, once-in-a-generation opportunity to reverse some anti-family trends” by protecting children “from being brainwashed into normalizing sexual deviancy, gender confusion, and Drag Queen story hours.” This attack continues right-wing media’s crusade against Drag Queen Story Hour, a national program in which drag queens read children’s books to kids at libraries and schools.

Fischer is a homophobic and anti-Muslim bigot. He regularly uses his AFR platform to disparage the LGBTQ community, including lying that Nazis had “no chance of advancing through the ranks unless you were a hardcore homosexual” and that only “effeminate homosexuals” were sent to concentration camps.

AFR host Bishop E.W. Jackson hosted quack doctor and anti-LGBTQ extremist Steven Hotze, who used the platform to advise listeners to “stay the heck away from doctor’s offices” and to instead buy immune packs from his “vitamin business.” Hotze also said that he is “right” about coronavirus treatment and prevention and “Harvard and all these CDC guys” are “wrong.”

Hotze is an anti-LGBTQ bigot, a disreputable doctor, and the founder and CEO of several bogus Texas-based wellness companies. He is also also a QAnon supporter who has theorized that the “deep state could have been the ones that orchestrated” the pandemic as part of its supposed war against “the patriots.” A damning 2005 Houston Press profile reported that he has inflated his credentials; that “leading experts in women’s health issues say Hotze’s methods are not supported by science and are potentially harmful”; and that “Hotze runs an expensive one-stop shop for thyroid disorder, hormone replacement, yeast infections and allergies, when no medical records show Hotze has training in any of them.”

On March 15, Fox News chose to give Hotze a platform twice in the same day, over any number of credible doctors, and Hotze used it to peddle his vitamins as a preventive coronavirus measure and to spread dangerous misinformation about the virus, including dismissing concerns about the pandemic as people going “totally crazy” and advising viewers to “conduct your life normally.”

During the March 19 edition of The Awakening with Bishop E.W. Jackson, Hotze also claimed that “Harvard and all these CDC guys” are wrong about the coronavirus and that “they don’t talk about how you can keep yourself from getting sick.” This claim, of course, goes against robust, evidence-based guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Harvard Medical School on how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

From the March 19, 2020, edition of American Family Radio’s The Awakening with Bishop E.W. Jackson  

BISHOP E.W. JACKSON (HOST): We don’t hear much about prevention since this is a disease that is opportunistic and attacks those who have a weakened immune system. Obviously, anything you can do to strengthen your immune system has got to be helpful. It can’t possibly hurt, and it certainly might also be able to help.

STEVEN HOTZE (CEO OF HOTZE VITAMINS AND HOTZE PHARMACY): Most importantly, if you want to get your vitamins, I am a vitamin business here, believe it or not. And I came in, I started vitamins back in ‘89 when my dad asked me about a health problem he’d read about a cure for. 

You can ask for a copy of one of my books, and just tell them you heard me on Dr. Jackson’s show. I’ll send you Hormones, Health, and Happiness or Do a 180 and Take Charge of Your Life. I’d be glad to help you out. I like, I admire, and have admired Bishop Jackson for years, and you’re part of his listening audience. And I’ll give you free, won’t charge you anything for it. We’ll ship it — just to help you guys get healthy and well naturally and stay the heck away from doctors’ offices. 

JACKSON: All right, well —

HOTZE: Because as my dad told me, don’t poison your patients like all the other doctors do, son.

From the March 19, 2020, edition of American Family Radio’s The Awakening with Bishop E.W. Jackson

STEVEN HOTZE: I ask myself, and I ask my team over here, my leaders, and I go like, “Am I crazy? Or are they crazy?” You know. “Could I be right, and Harvard and all these CDC guys be wrong?” Yeah. Because, guess what, they don’t talk — they’re all conventional. They don’t talk about how you can keep yourself from getting sick. What they are talking about, “Oh we’ve got a new drug. Oh, chloroquine.” Well, it’s not a new drug. “We could use chloroquine.” Which is fine if you’ve had the chorus virus — I’m sorry, the coronavirus, fine, get some chloroquine and take it. That’s all fine. But why don’t you just not get it. Why don’t you just stay healthy.

Hotze has an extreme anti-LGBTQ record. He has claimed that “‘Satanic cults’ were driving the ‘homosexual movement,’” compared LGBTQ people to “Nazis,” and said that Houston residents should “drive” LGBTQ people “out of our city.” He has also claimed that the movement for LGBTQ equality would give people “a free hand to come and have relations with a minor, molest a child.”

Jackson shares Hotze’s anti-LGBTQ views and often uses his AFR show to attack LGBTQ people, including saying that people who go by gender neutral pronouns are under the “possession” of “multiple demons.”

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