The Perfect Enemy | COVID Misinformation Group America’s Frontline Doctors Implodes Over Dr. Simone Gold’s Extravagant Spending
December 1, 2022

COVID Misinformation Group America’s Frontline Doctors Implodes Over Dr. Simone Gold’s Extravagant Spending

COVID Misinformation Group America’s Frontline Doctors Implodes Over Dr. Simone Gold’s Extravagant Spending  The Daily Beast

Read Time:10 Minute

When employees at leading COVID pseudoscience group America’s Frontline Doctors tried to log in to work last week, they found themselves locked out of their email accounts. The nonprofit quickly fell into factions, with employees holding rival Zoom meetings to plot who would take over the group.

The organization’s exiled founder, Dr. Simone Gold, tried unsuccessfully to gain access to a private Zoom call, only to find herself stuck in a waiting room. In internal emails, the group’s accountant worried about who could still access the $7 million locked in its bank accounts.

The war for the right’s most prominent COVID quack group—and the millions of dollars it has raised through relentless fundraising and prescriptions for bogus coronavirus cures—had begun.

For months, AFLDS has been split between its board and Gold, the group’s charismatic founder and convicted Capitol rioter, over an internal audit into Gold’s personal spending. That dispute spilled into the open on Nov. 5, when the board sued Gold to try and force her to stop representing the organization, in a lawsuit first reported by Vice News. Now the lawsuit’s outcome could determine the fate of the group driving much of the medical disinformation on the pro-Trump right.

AFLDS is tearing itself apart in a fight over what Gold’s rivals describe as her extravagant spending using the group’s funds. The alleged purchases include $100,000 on a single private jet trip and $50,000 a month in Gold’s personal expenses. Much of the controversy has centered on AFLDS’s purchase of a $3.6 million mansion in Naples, Florida., where Gold lives with her boyfriend: a much younger underwear model and fellow Capitol rioter.

Gold isn’t backing down, penning threatening emails to board members and describing herself, alternately, as a “popular folk hero,” a “rainmaker,” and an avenging “lioness.”

“It’s really a mess, and I’m really sorry that it’s come to this,” said Richard Mack, an AFLDS board member and far-right former Arizona sheriff.

As AFLDS’s leadership squabbles, the group’s rank-and-file employees are struggling to fulfill the organization’s basic functions, like connecting their supporters with prescriptions for ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. In the end, AFLDS staffers are able to do just one thing, according to a signed affidavit filed in court recently: cancel their fans’ donations.

“None of us really know what’s going on, and pretty much we’ve all lost the ability to do our jobs,” said Amanda Kaiser-Johnston, an AFLDS employee who was locked out of her email account amid the feud and has been accused by her coworkers of being a “spy” for one faction.

Gold declined a request for comment. AFLDS’s board referred media requests to its lawsuit and a press release.

The group’s potential demise marks a drastic low after its pandemic high. A Los Angeles emergency-room doctor, Gold shot to fame in the MAGA movement during 2020 after she started prescribing hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug some on the right wrongly embraced as a COVID cure.

Gold teamed up with other doctors with controversial takes on the virus to create America’s Frontline Doctors as a nonprofit. As the Trump administration looked for a quick fix to the pandemic in mid-2020, Gold organized her doctors into a “White Coat Summit”—a widely covered press conference in Washington that earned them a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence. The event was only slightly marred when The Daily Beast reported that the event’s breakout star, Dr. Stella Immanuel, also believed that dream-sex with demons could cause dangerous medical conditions.

Dr. Simone Gold speaks to a large crowd during a Frontline Doctor’s Uncensored Truth Tour event in 2021.

John Clanton/Tulsa World via AP

AFLDS received at least $10 million in donations, and millions more by facilitating prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. But Gold derailed her path to right-wing stardom when she entered the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot with John Strand, an underwear model roughly twenty years her junior who had become her boyfriend and an AFLDS employee. According to prosecutors, Gold stood by as a police officer was attacked by rioters, opting not to use her medical training to help the man.

Gold was arrested a few weeks after the riot and charged with disorderly conduct and other criminal charges. As her legal case loomed in February 2022, Gold—according to emails and affidavits the board’s lawyers have added to the court record—resigned her position on the AFLDS board. Joey Gilbert—a former professional boxer turned Nevada lawyer who was once suspended from the sport after testing positive for steroids and amphetamines—was voted onto the board.

According to the board’s lawsuit, Gold tried to negotiate a position as a fundraising consultant for the organization with a hefty $1.5 million signing bonus and $600,000 annual salary. Gold ultimately agreed to stay on as a consultant—though it’s not clear what financial deal she received.

Michael Thatcher, the CEO of charity evaluator Charity Navigator, told The Daily Beast that Gold’s proposed payment would likely be unusually lucrative, considering the amount of money controlled by AFLDS.

“That sounds like a high amount, particularly for a consultant,” Thatcher said.

Almost as soon as she resigned, according to Gold’s detractors, she began attempting to control the organization. Her replacement as AFLDS’s executive director resigned herself just a month later, after being what AFLDS operations director Kristine Lutzo described in an affidavit as “visibly shaken due to receiving hateful emails from Gold.” In Lutzo’s telling, Gold also tried to give a sizable raise to her boyfriend, proposing that Lutzo cut another doctor’s annual pay in half from $144,000, with the extra $72,000 given to Strand.

He declined to comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit.

It’s really a mess, and I’m really sorry that it’s come to this.

AFLDS board member and far-right ex-Arizona sheriff Richard Mack

Soon after that, Lutzo herself resigned, later saying in her affidavit that she quit because she believed “criminal activity was happening financially.”

Gold ultimately pleaded guilty to one of her riot charges in June, and was sentenced to 60 days of incarceration. When she emerged from a federal prison in Miami this September, she was touted as a hero. As hard-right Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) welcomed her outside the facility, Gold made a heart sign with her hands.

“I’m back!” Gold declared, before knocking out dozens of push-ups in front of her cheering fans.

Gold soon returned to the conservative media and speaking circuit. In October, she appeared at one pro-Trump conference introduced to the words of Queen’s “We Are the Champions” (“I’ve done my sentence / but committed no crime.”). Former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn called her “absolutely brilliant.”

But the good feelings from Gold’s homecoming were short-lived. Soon after she left prison, Gilbert took her aside. While Gold was gone, AFLDS’s board had launched an internal audit of her spending before she resigned from the group.

Gold had benefited substantially from her position as a self-proclaimed “doctor-warrior,” according to AFLDS’s board. In November 2021, they claim she used AFLDS funds to purchase a $3.6 million, 3,300 square foot mansion in Naples, Florida, complete with a swimming pool.

While the board claims Gold didn’t have permission to make the purchase, a supporter of Gold provided The Daily Beast with meeting minutes that purport to show a recommendation to buy a Florida house “not as a headquarters (sic), but as an investment.” The minutes don’t list the specific house in Naples or a specific price. On corporate papers, the company that owns the Naples home lists its address as Gilbert’s Nevada office, which Gold’s supporters claim is proof that Gilbert and other board members knew about the mansion purchase.

Thatcher, the Charity Navigator CEO, said it’s unusual for a nonprofit that isn’t involved in housing to buy a house as an “investment.”

“Nonprofits are traditionally quite conservative,” Thatcher said. “It’s more about preserving capital, it’s not about trying to make a killing because the market’s hot.”

The audit investigated other expenses, including the purchase of three vehicles in Florida and Gold’s alleged spending of roughly $50,000 a month on personal expenses—including $5,600 a month on house cleaning. The board also alleges that Strand, who is awaiting sentencing in his Capitol riot case, spent roughly $15,000 a month on his own expenses.

The board has also cited Gold’s use of private jets, claiming that she spent as much as $100,000 on one trip without authorization. An ally of Gold’s provided The Daily Beast with a picture of Gilbert on a private jet with Strand, in an attempt to show that Gilbert knew about the expenses.

AFLDS also alleges that Gold is diverting the nonprofit’s resources for a business of her own. In addition to AFLDS, Gold has launched a medical “private membership association,” a concept popular with some on the right based on the theory that it can be used to skirt laws governing medical or insurance practices. Dubbed “Goldcare,” members of Gold’s new company rely on a complex token system to purchase their medical care.

“I believe that GoldCare would be a poor investment,” one skeptical reviewer who inspected the company’s plans wrote.

AFLDS claims Gold has been using the organization’s Naples mansion to house Goldcare employees, and diverting employees paid by AFLDS to work on her side project.

Gold has accused Gilbert of committing his own financial malfeasance, but declined to offer examples.

In October, Gold began to demand that Gilbert and the other remaining board members, former sheriff Richard Mack and pastor Jurgen Matthesius, resign. In a furious Oct. 12 email to the three men, she threatened to unleash her fanbase on them unless they stopped “murdering” AFLDS. In the email, Gold described herself as a “popular folk-hero” and compared herself to a vengeful lion.

“Just as the mother lioness will not let her baby lion be murdered, neither will I,” Gold wrote, according to an exhibit filed in the lawsuit.

The board members refused to resign, and the fight over AFLDS escalated. In an Oct. 15 email, the group’s accountant discussed who could access the group’s bank accounts, writing that they contained at least $7.3 million.

The fight reached a new intensity in November. Gold and her supporters within AFLDS began harassing employees to hand over the organization’s online accounts, according to affidavits filed by the board’s lawyers. In one November email, an AFLDS employee described how Gold had seized control of the nonprofit’s Microsoft email accounts. Gossip ran wild, with low-level employees stunned that leaders like Gold had been paid what one staffer called in an affidavit “absurd amounts of money.”

Another employee wrote in an affidavit that Gold had been pressuring her to hand over the password to the group’s 175,000-follower Telegram account, urging her to be on the side of “righteousness.” For now, Gold appears to control AFLDS’s website, which bears a press release accusing Gilbert of embezzlement.

The same employee alleged that right-wing activist Michael Coudrey, who has worked in the past with “Stop the Steal” figure Ali Alexander, had aligned himself with Gold and was “harassing me daily” for internal information that would help Gold’s camp. Coudrey declined to comment.

Amanda Kaiser-Johnston, one of the AFLDS employees who was cut off from her email, described the last week as “complete insanity,” saying AFLDS had become completely dysfunctional.

The AFLDS board failed to win an emergency court injunction blocking Gold from representing the nonprofit. They’ll try again at a court hearing later this week. For now, though, AFLDS’s role as the right’s leading pseudoscience medical group appears to be through.

“Their part in this bigger fight is probably done,” Kaiser-Johnston said.