In June, Dr. Simone Gold was sentenced to 60 days in prison for taking part in the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, an event in which supporters of Donald Trump terrorized members of Congress, threatened to hang the vice president, and used American flag poles to assault police officers. But when Gold left prison Friday, she walked out two weeks early, and she was greeted with open arms by a member of Congress—Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). Gohmert, who believes the false claim that Donald Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 election, then presented Gold with an American flag that had recently flown over the very building where she’d committed her crime.
“Dr. Gold is the definition of what a political prisoner looks like—something I never thought I’d see here in the United States of America,” Gohmert said.
An emergency room doctor and Stanford-educated lawyer, Gold has made a name for herself on social media and Fox News over the past two years as an anti-vaccine activist and Covid misinformation spreader. During the pandemic, she founded America’s Frontline Doctors, which has been an enthusiastic promoter of bunk Covid cures like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. The group went so far as to set up a telemedicine operation to prescribe the drugs to people through the mail that is now the subject of a congressional investigation.
Gold was slated to speak at a “health freedom” rally near the Capitol on January 6. Instead, she followed the mob into the building, pushed her way over a fallen police officer, and gave a speech about vaccines and government oppression in the rotunda. In June, her former Stanford law school classmate Judge Christopher Cooper sentenced her to 60 days in prison after she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for unlawfully entering and remaining in a restricted area of the US Capitol.
In the courtroom, Gold professed great remorse for her conduct. But outside of court, she has never stopped defiantly framing herself as a victim of government persecution, and she’s been fundraising off her arrest. Cooper noted the fundraising at her sentencing hearing, saying, “I find it unseemly that your organization is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for its operations and your salary based on your participation in January 6. It does a real disservice to the victims of that day.”
Gold celebrated her early release from a federal penitentiary in Florida, near her home in Naples, with a press conference and the visit with Gohmert outside the prison, where she also hit the sidewalk and did 35 pushups for the cameras. The stunt was the conclusion of another one of her fundraising appeals, dubbed “Dr. Gold’s push up challenge.” While she was in the clink, supporters were invited to submit a guess on her website of how many pushups she would be able to do when she left prison, and of course to accompany their guess with a donation. The winner would receive a “Free Dr. Gold” t-shirt and a copy of her book, I Do Not Consent.
She posted the post-prison pushup video on Twitter, but it doesn’t seem to have landed with the sort of splash Gold might have hoped for. Commenters were overwhelmingly critical of her form. “Uhm….. those aren’t push-ups,” responded one viewer. “Horrible form but appreciate the effort,” wrote another. “Note: in order to push up, you first have to go down,” advised one viewer who helpfully provided a link to a CrossFit instructional video.
The #FreeDrGold push-up challenge has concluded!
The official count is 35! #FreedomIsGOLD https://t.co/uth6eyoU74 pic.twitter.com/dTYQhbu5kK
— Dr. Simone Gold (@drsimonegold) September 9, 2022
But now that Gold is out of prison, many of the issues that have animated her activism and her rise to prominence are quickly fading. The martyr status she achieved in MAGA world after her arrest for storming the Capitol will recede with her release. The Covid lockdowns and mask and vaccine mandates she staked her reputation on opposing are now in the rear-view mirror. Her criminal record may eventually result in her losing her California medical license—and with it, her clout as a doctor in the anti-vaccine space. And her vaccine stance may turn out to be too tepid, anyways: she’s long claimed that as a doctor, she is not personally opposed to all vaccines, just the mRNA versions. That stance might keep her off the talk circuit of the established anti-vaccine movement unless she’s prepared to throw in with the all-or-nothing anti-vaccine types, the likes of which have led to a Disneyland measles outbreak, a resurgence of whooping cough, and most recently may be driving a new polio outbreak in New York. In the long run, Gold’s career prospects and her fundraising efforts might have benefited from her staying in prison just a little longer.
Before the pandemic, Gold was just an apolitical Beverly Hills doctor. In just a few short months, she became a right-wing media star and a regular on the far-right talk circuit, radicalized far beyond what you might expect for a Stanford-educated lawyer. Initially, she stuck with criticizing lockdowns, masks, and vaccine mandates. But an extremism expert I talked to last year when I profiled Gold told me that when formerly moderate professional people like her become radicalized and take up with a movement like the MAGA crowd, they eventually have to adopt the whole agenda to stay in the club. Will she pivot to fighting gender-affirming medical care and trans-bashing? Take up book banning? It seems improbable given her background, but then so does her role in the insurrection.
“I would think at this point she’s going to do whatever she can to get attention,” Don Haider-Markel, a University of Kansas political science professor who has studied extremism, presciently told me last year. “Whether for financial reasons or for her own ego stroking, she has to keep feeding the beast somehow.”