Pseudohealth

Conspiracy theorists are already pushing Trump’s dangerous coronavirus treatments

The suggestion that disinfectant and UV light could treat Covid-19 cases has been promoted by radical pro-Trump conspiracy groups

Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

After President Trump suggested injecting disinfectant and using UV light as treatments for the coronavirus during a White House press conference on Thursday, confusion and shock reigned in the medical and scientific communities. 

“I couldn’t believe it when I checked the news this morning,” said psychologist and conspiracy theory expert Daniel Jolley at the University of Nottingham. 

Trump now falsely claims he did not suggest looking into disinfectant injections as a coronavirus treatment. “I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” he told journalists in the Oval Office.

But over on Facebook, in a group for followers of the notorious pro-Trump conspiracy theory movement QAnon, users jumped to the president’s aid. “DID EVERYONE GET THE PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE TONIGHT?” wrote one user. Another posted pictures of newly purchased chemical agents with the caption “Suck it, Big Pharma.” “It seems far fetched but he is spot on,” wrote another. “He just revealed one of the greatest secrets in medicine and nobody even noticed.”

The use of disinfectant agents as a potential treatment for Covid-19 have been circulating among conspiracy groups for months, and was heavily re-promoted on Friday. In particular, disinfectant agent chlorine dioxide, dubbed by QAnon followers as the “miracle mineral supplement,” has been the chemical of choice for the group’s followers. “It kills all pathogens, bacteria, virus, fungus in your body,” wrote Facebook user Irene Klaver, 52, from the Netherlands. Klaver only joined the QAnon Facebook group, which has more than 86,000 members, on Tuesday, but said she had followed the movement for much longer.

Klaver told me she had been self-administering chlorine dioxide since February, taking three to four drops twice a day. When I asked her about Trump’s words, she said: “your President is absolutely right about all those treatments. It is effective, cheap and will save lots of people from dying.”

For years, chlorine dioxide has been promoted as a potential cure for conditions as diverse as autism, diabetes and cancer by internet cult leader Jim Humble, alongside Andreas Ludwig Kalcker, a German hero of the QAnon movement with a large online following. In April, Kalcker released an 8-minute video claiming the compound also worked against Covid-19. 

In a statement in August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s acting commissioner said of chlorine dioxide: “Ingesting these products is the same as drinking bleach.” 

President Trump’s other suggestion that Covid-19 could be treated with ultraviolet light also garnered praise from supporters. “He is now officially my hero, I actually teared up,” wrote one QAnon user, while others posted links about “the healing powers of ultraviolet rays” and “ozone therapy” – a toxic pseudoscientific treatment banned by the FDA but heavily promoted in anti-science groups.  

The rush to explain and support Trump’s claims is still underway, according to disinformation specialist Samantha North at Washington cyber security company Nisos. “There’s a very tribal dynamic,” she observed. “People cling at all costs to the narrative that comes from their “in” group,” she said, adding that she had observed online conspiracy theorists “trying to present all these complicated explanations for what Trump was doing.” 

The scramble to explain Trump’s intentions was also reiterated by the far-right outlet Breitbart news, who posted a “fact-check” article claiming “No, Trump didn’t propose injecting people with disinfectant.”

Irene Klaver, the Dutch QAnon recruit who’s been taking chlorine dioxide, felt Trump’s proximity to expert medical advisors meant he was well-placed to highlight potential treatments for Covid-19. “He has the right people to study all this and give us the people the best advice,” she said, adding: “If that is a possibility and it is safe, why not?”

This morning, Reckitt Benckiser, the British owner of Dettol and Lysol released a statement warning of the dangers of injecting their products. “Dettol” and “#disinfectant” were both trending Twitter topics for most of the day.

Isobel Cockerell

Isobel Cockerell is a reporter and filmmaker with Coda Story. A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, she has also reported for WIRED, USA Today, Rappler, The Daily Beast, the Huffington Post and others.

Get in touch via [email protected] Follow @isocockerell

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