As the global death toll from an alarming new coronavirus surged this week, promoters of the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory were urging their fans to ward off the illness by purchasing and drinking dangerous bleach.
The substance—dubbed “Miracle Mineral Solution” or “MMS”—has long been promoted by fringe groups as a combination miracle cure and vaccine for everything from autism to cancer and HIV/AIDS.
The Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly warned consumers not to drink MMS, last year calling it effectively a “dangerous bleach” that could cause “severe vomiting” and “acute liver failure.” But those warnings haven’t stopped QAnon devotees—who believe in a world where Donald Trump is at war with shadowy deep-state “cabal”—from promoting a lethal substance as a salve for a health crisis that speaks to the darkest recesses of fringe thought.
“I’m going to have to get home, and MMS the whole state,” prominent QAnon promoter Jordan Sather told his audience in a recent video. “MMS the whole shit out of everything.”
“Chief Police 2,” a prominent anonymous QAnon account on Twitter, also pushed MMS as the coronavirus spread. On Friday, the account’s operator urged its nearly 18,000 followers to buy “20-20-20 spray,” an MMS concoction.
“New followers protect yourself with the 20-20-20 spray,” the tweet read.
QAnon, a conspiracy theory reminiscent of Pizzagate that started with a series of online posts in October 2017 from an anonymous figure called “Q,” imagines a world where Donald Trump is engaged in a secret war with a cabal of pedophile-cannibals in the Democratic Party, the finance industry, Hollywood, and the “deep state.”
Despite or perhaps in part because of such outlandish ideas, the theory has taken root with a segment of Trump’s base, with QAnon believers regularly appearing at the president’s campaign rallies. Trump has also routinely retweeted QAnon content, even though apparent devotees have been charged with murder and linked to other violent incidents.
Coronavirus’ spread was a perfect fit for QAnon conspiracy theorists and others on the fringe right, who have already adopted the idea that the disease has been manufactured by shadowy forces. Sather, for example, has cited a 2015 patent for a potential avian coronavirus vaccine to suggest that the human form of the disease was deliberately created. Conspiracy-theory hub Infowars, meanwhile, has promoted the false idea that Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates’ philanthropic efforts are just a cover for a “depopulation agenda” centered on the virus.
“In the conspiracy-theory community, Bill Gates is seen as this sort of budding eugenicist,” Mike Rothschild, a journalist who tracks the QAnon movement, told The Daily Beast.
While conspiracy theorists may disagree about what cabal is behind coronavirus, many of them agree on the “cure”: MMS. The substance, which becomes bleaching agent chlorine dioxide when combined with a citric acid like lime juice, has perhaps most prominently been promoted by a website linked to Jim Humble, a self-proclaimed archbishop who says he found MMS while on a gold-mining expedition in South America.
Through a Mexico-based church, the “Genesis II Church of Health and Healing,” MMS is offered for sale for $45. The church’s website claims it will eliminate coronavirus, among other ailments.
“ALL KITS HAVE THE 20-20-20 ESSENTIALS THAT CAN KILL THE CORONAVIRUS, OR ANY OTHER VIRUS JUST SPRAY YOUR MOUTH TWICE A DAY,” the church’s website reads.
Humble didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Despite the obvious dangers of consuming bleach, MMS has also been embraced by a wider non-QAnon fringe eager for various miracle cures. On Facebook, for example, mothers desperate for a cure for autism promote the baseless idea that MMS will cure the disorder.
Rothschild said QAnon personalities promote MMS in the same way that other right-wing figures sell vitamin supplements.
“It’s lucrative,” he said. “You can sell this stuff to people and make a mint off of it.”
In August, the FDA said it was “not aware of any scientific evidence” that MMS has medical properties. In 2009, a woman who took MMS to avoid contracting malaria died almost immediately after swallowing it for the first time.
“Ingesting these products is the same as drinking bleach,” FDA Acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless said in an August 2019 statement.
Meanwhile, more than 2,700 cases of coronavirus had been confirmed as of Monday, while the United States told travelers to “reconsider” Chinese travel. Despite the dangers associated with MMS, and despite the IRL consequences of the coronavirus outbreak coming into sharper focus, new Twitter accounts continued to pop up pushing MMS as the disease spread. One tweet advocated a bizarre anti-coronavirus regimen of MMS bleach and colloidal silver, a substance known to give people who take it a bluish tint to their skin.
Coronavirus is just the latest disease to be used to sell MMS, according to Rothschild. There was no reason to believe it would be the last.
“I don’t understand how people who promote this stuff can sleep at night,” he said.