Donald Trump has praised as “spectacular” a doctor who wrongly dismissed the use of face masks to combat the coronavirus as well as reportedly claiming that alien DNA is used in medical treatments and some gynecological problems are caused by people dreaming about having sex with demons.
A group of lab coat-wearing doctors posted an online video on Monday to make a string of inaccurate assertions about the coronavirus that contradicted official government guidelines. Among them was a woman who identified herself as Dr Stella Immanuel and said: “You don’t need masks. There is a cure.”
The US president tweeted a version of the video, which rapidly gained tens of thousands of views on Facebook and YouTube before both companies took it down for containing false public health information. The president’s son Donald Trump Jr had his Twitter account restricted by the company for 12 hours after calling the video a “must watch”.
At a White House press conference on Tuesday, Trump expressed puzzlement over why the so-called “America’s Frontline Doctors” video had been removed, noting that Immanuel claimed to be treating hundreds of Covid-19 patients with the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which he has long championed despite federal public health advice that it is ineffective against coronavirus.
“I don’t know why,” he told reporters. “I think they’re very respected doctors. There was a woman who was spectacular in her statements about it and she’s had tremendous success with it.”
But Kaitlan Collins, White House correspondent for CNN, challenged the president. “The woman that you said was a ‘great doctor’ in that video that you retweeted last night said that masks don’t work and there is a cure for Covid-19, both of which health experts say is not true,” she said.
“She’s also made videos saying that doctors make medicine using DNA from aliens and that they’re trying to create a vaccine to make you immune from becoming religious.”
Looking increasingly agitated, Trump replied: “Maybe it’s the same [person], maybe it’s not, but I can tell you this. She was on air along with many other doctors. They were big fans of hydroxychloroquine and I thought she was very impressive in the sense that, from where she came – I don’t know which country she comes from – but she said that she’s had tremendous success with hundreds of different patients.
“And I thought her voice was an important voice, but I know nothing about her.”
Collins followed up but Trump abruptly wound up the press conference, talking over her by saying, “OK, thank you very much, everybody,” and departing the briefing room.
Immanuel is a registered doctor in Texas, according to the Texas Medical Board, and runs a clinic in a strip mall next to her church, Firepower Ministries, the Daily Beast reported.
“She has often claimed that gynecological problems like cysts and endometriosis are in fact caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches. She alleges alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious,” the Daily Beast added.
Trump himself has frequently touted hydroxychloroquine and last month said he was taking it himself. But the US Food and Drug Administration revoked its emergency-use authorisation for hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 after several studies cast doubt on its effectiveness.
On Tuesday morning, the leading public health expert on the White House coronavirus taskforce, Anthony Fauci, once again squashed claims that the drug is a useful treatment for Covid-19.
“The overwhelming prevailing clinical trials that have looked at the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine have indicated that it is not effective in coronavirus disease,” he said.
At the Tuesday presidential briefing, however, Trump continued to defend it. “Many doctors think it is extremely successful, the hydroxychloroquine,” he said. “Some people don’t. Some people, I think it’s become very political. I happen to believe in it. I would take it. As you know, I took it for a 14-day period and I’m here, right? I’m here.”
Last month a New York Times/Siena College poll found that 67% of Americans trust Fauci, who is also the country’s top infectious diseases expert, for accurate information about the coronavirus, whereas only 26% trust Trump.
The president mused: “He’s got this high approval rating. So why don’t I have a high approval rating with respect – and the administration – with respect to the virus? We should have it very high. So it sort of is curious, a man works for us, with us, very closely, Dr Fauci and Dr [Deborah] Birx also, very highly thought of – and yet, they’re highly thought of, but nobody likes me? It can only be my personality, that’s all!”
The Democratic National Committee condemned Trump for rejecting federal health experts and promoting Immanuel. Lily Adams, its war room senior spokesperson and adviser, said: “Trump spent today’s coronavirus briefing promoting snake oil doctors and unsafe, unproven treatments because he is incapable of acting decisively to get the coronavirus under control as we near 150,000 deaths, cases spike nationwide, and millions of Americans remain unemployed.
“There’s no new tone – this is who Trump is and always will be: a conspiracy theorist content to gamble with the lives of others. We need a president who listens to real medical experts and can be trusted to make decisions that will keep Americans safe.”