The Feds Are Going After Bogus Coronavirus Products. Should Alex Jones Be Worried?

The FDA wouldn’t comment on Jones’ effort to sell “stopgap” supplements.

Jose Luis Magana/AP

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As concern over the coronavirus continues to grip the world, misinformation is spreading almost as quickly as the epidemic itself. And some companies are trying to turn that misinformation into profit. Case in point: The US Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission sent letters last week to companies warning them to stop selling products advertised to treat or prevent coronavirus.

According to the FDA, at least seven online companies were selling teas, essential oils, tinctures, and colloidal silver—which the FDA had previously warned was neither effective nor safe for treating any condition—falsely marketed as prevention and treatments for COVID-19. “There already is a high level of anxiety over the potential spread of coronavirus,” FTC chairman Joe Simons said in a statement released Monday. “What we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims.”

On the website of one firm, a company called Quinessence Aromatherapy, the FDA found marketing for “essential oils to protect against coronavirus” and the claim that “there are a wide range of essential oils that have been clinically proven to possess antiviral properties.” Another company, N-Ergetics, was advertising colloidal silver as “a home remedy…that has worked effectively on coronaviruses successfully for the last 123 years.”

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, there is currently no known vaccine to prevent coronavirus, and though pharmaceutical companies and medical scientists are hard at work on the problem, some caution that a vaccine will probably take months—or even years—to develop.

Since the letters were issued, the companies that were allegedly selling fake coronavirus products have all complied with the FDA’s concerns and removed the offending language from their websites and social media accounts. Three of the businesses—GuruNanda, LLC, Vivify Holistic Clinic, and Herbal Amy LLC—told Mother Jones that they immediately addressed FDA’s concerns upon receiving the letter. Quinessence Aromatherapy, N-Ergetics, and two other companies did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

The FDA says that warning letters are “just the first step” and cautions any business that might try to do the same thing that the agency is “prepared to take enforcement actions against companies that continue to market this type of scam.”

But that hasn’t stopped other efforts to profit from the panic over coronavirus: Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones used his platform Tuesday morning to hawk supplements for sale on the Infowars website that he claimed were “literally a stopgap” against coronavirus. 

But for Jones, who was arrested Monday night on charges of driving while intoxicated, selling supplements he claims will help combat coronavirus appears to be in tension with other rhetoric he’s been spouting about the viral outbreak. For weeks, Jones and Infowars have been peddling the conspiracy theory that the “hysteria” surrounding coronavirus is another deep state ploy to destroy the country. 

A spokesperson for the FDA said he could not comment on whether Jones was violating law by advertising nutritional supplements as a “stopgap” for preventing coronavirus. Mother Jones also reached out to the FTC to see if Jones’ comments about the products—including one called “DNA Force Plus”—were a violation of law, but that spokesperson also declined to comment, stating that any such investigation would be “nonpublic information.”

The FDA said that it will continue to monitor social media, online marketplaces, and any complaints it receives for instances fake coronavirus treatments and notes that it has established a “cross-agency task force” solely dedicated to identifying fraudulent coronavirus products. “The FDA is particularly concerned that products that claim to cure, treat or prevent serious diseases like COVID-19 may cause consumers to delay or stop appropriate medical treatment, leading to serious and life-threatening harm,” the agency said in a press release.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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