Televangelist Jim Bakker is fighting the state of Missouri—and now a class-action lawsuit—for the right to continue peddling a phony COVID-19 “cure.”
The Missouri Attorney General sued the 80-year-old Bakker to stop him and his company from promoting and selling Silver Solution, a product his TV show falsely claimed could cure coronavirus, HIV, SARS, and other illnesses.
On Monday, Bakker filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds of First Amendment and religious freedom. That filing included a declaration from one of Bakker’s employees, who said the TV pastor feels “divinely inspired” to bring the silver mixture to the masses.
But Bakker is also battling a class-action lawsuit over his sale of the concoction, The Daily Beast has learned. The complaint, filed in late March by Missouri resident Ronnie Karin, accuses Bakker and his Morningside Church Productions of common law fraud, unjust enrichment and of violating consumer protection laws.
Karin said he purchased Silver Solution from December 2019 through March 2020 after Bakker’s TV show claimed the product could treat not only COVID-19, but also SARS, H1N1, and cold and flu symptoms.
“It makes it all the more egregious,” Tim Dollar, a lawyer for Karin, told The Daily Beast. “You have a situation where a product is already on the market and you seem to pivot its use to whatever the fear is, regardless of the scientific evidence.”
Karin relied on the bottle’s “all natural” and “clinically tested” labels. But, according to his lawsuit, “Silver Solution cannot treat or cure any disease, has not been clinically tested for its capacity to do so, and is not ‘all natural.’”
The Silver Solution bottle indicates it’s made of purified silver (50 mcg per 1 teaspoon serving) and deionized water, which Karin’s lawsuit claims is not “all natural” because it is “artificially created through a process of distillation or reverse osmosis.”
In answer to the lawsuit, Bakker’s legal team denied Karin’s accusations and said his claims are barred in part by the First Amendment. Reached by The Daily Beast, the lawyers declined to comment on Karin’s complaint.
Bakker’s church isn’t the only one facing government crackdowns over dubious COVID-19 treatments. A federal judge issued an injunction against the Florida-based Genesis II Church of Health and Healing for its “mineral miracle solution” (MMS) which the FDA said “has a chlorine dioxide content equivalent to industrial bleach.”
Genesis II “archbishop” Mark Grenon claimed he wrote to President Trump about chlorine dioxide before the president floated bizarre, dangerous treatments during a press conference, suggesting that injecting disinfectants might fight COVID-19. On Tuesday, Australian media reported the country’s health officials are also warning about the dangers of MMS, as an international chapter of Genesis II Church continues hawking the “miracle cure.”
As for Bakker, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sued him in early March to stop his TV show and website from promoting the supplement as a coronavirus cure and from selling bottles in exchange for $80 to $125 donations.
Bakker also received a warning from the Food and Drug Administration and a cease and desist letter from New York Attorney General Letitia James—weeks after “naturopathic doctor” Sherrill Sellman appeared on his show and claimed Silver Solution could “eliminate [the virus] within 12 hours.”
This week, Bakker’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss Schmitt’s case, saying the TV preacher’s religious freedoms are being violated. That court filing included a declaration from Maricela Woodall, the president of Morningside Church Productions, which operates the preacher’s The Jim Bakker Show.
“Our sincerely held religious beliefs require us to encourage our partners to prepare spiritually, mentally, and physically for the second corning of Christ, and assist them in doing so by bringing experts to our broadcasts to teach how to accomplish this goal,” Woodall stated in the declaration.
According to Woodall, Bakker’s ministry believes products like Silver Solution “have been made available to this generation by God.”
“Each of the products offered on The Jim Bakker Show, including Silver Solution, are products that Pastor Bakker and Morningside feel divinely inspired to offer to the world,” Woodall added. “Such offerings are an integral part of Morningside’s mission and a vital part of how we interact with our partners to spread the Word of God.”
“God gave us this product, I believe,” Bakker said on his show in February, before asking whether the concoction would be effective against COVID-19. Sellman told Bakker the product had successfully been tested on other strains of coronavirus. (It has not, according to the FDA, which warned “colloidal silver is not safe or effective for treating any disease or condition” in a notice targeting Bakker and other silver companies. It’s not clear, however, whether Bakker’s product is specifically “colloidal silver.”)
“Silver Sol has been proven by the government that it has the ability to kill every pathogen it has ever been tested on including SARS and HIV,” Sellman said. (Silver Sol does not kill SARS or HIV, previous FDA notices show. In 2003, the agency warned “colloidal silver” could not ward off SARS, and in 2009, issued similar warnings about “ionic silver” treatments for H1N1. Last year, the FDA warned a company its “colloidal silver” was not approved to treat HIV.)
“People say, ‘Well, we don’t want you to get panicked.’ Well, the thing of it is, I want you to be prepared. Order it now,” Bakker concluded, according to one chilling mashup of the interview with Sellman.
One of Bakker’s lawyers, former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, said the televangelist “is being unfairly targeted by those who want to crush his ministry and force his Christian television program off the air.”
“The video recording of The Jim Bakker Show clearly shows the allegations are false. Bakker did not claim or state that Silver Solution was a cure for COVID-19. This case is about religious freedom,” Nixon said in a statement.
“Similar silver products are commonly sold health supplements, available at Walmart, Amazon, CVS, and GNC,” Nixon added. “Targeting a Christian pastor, who has been using and offering the product for the past 10 years, is not supported by the facts or the law.”
In response to Nixon’s claim, Dollar told The Daily Beast, “Freedom of religion protects the government from interfering in your theological beliefs. It does not allow you to commit consumer fraud.”
While a page on Bakker’s website still has a spot for “Silver Sol Specials,” the product is no longer being sold online or on his show.
Derek Ankrom, a lawyer for Bakker, told The Daily Beast that while Attorney General Schmitt has requested an injunction, the court has not entered one against Baker or Morningside Church Productions.
“Nevertheless, Morningside has removed all references to the Silver Solution products from its television broadcasts, website, and social media pages, and has suspended any plans to offer those products as it awaits further direction from state and federal agencies,” Ankrom said in an email.
Bakker and his ex-wife Tammy rose to fame in the 1970s and ’80s after building a multimillion-dollar Christian empire that included their PTL Club show—short for “Praise the Lord”—and Heritage USA theme park.
But in 1987, their high-rolling world came crashing down, after Bakker resigned from his ministry following reports that he raped his then-21-year-old secretary and paid her $279,000 to keep quiet. (Bakker claimed the sex was consensual.)
One year later, Bakker was indicted for wire and mail fraud, accused of diverting millions in church donations to bankroll a luxurious lifestyle that included multiple houses, cars and a private jet. He was convicted and served five years behind bars.
After the controversy with the silver snake oil, Bakker begged his flock for funding in the form of cash or check lest he and his wife, Lori, be forced to file for bankruptcy. He claimed his credit card companies have cut him off.
“You can’t use credit cards if you do give to our ministry at this time because there’s a situation,” Bakker said on air in April, according to the Kansas City Star.
“Your products are going to come to you,” Bakker added. “Every one of them will come to you, come right to your house, and if we can’t, we are going to refund. I will sell the buildings, parts of the buildings at Morningside in the long run if you give me a chance.
“Don’t let me have to file for bankruptcy.”