With all the COVID-19 misinformation and quackery that I’ve been writing about over the last nearly year and a half, I realize that I don’t always cover the usual topics that I’ve covered for nearly 17 years to the degree that I am used to (and want to). As wild as the examples of COVID-19 misinformation, disinformation, and quackery that I’ve discussed, though, I’m hard pressed to think of an example of a COVID-19 quack as despicable as Kerri Rivera, who was featured several times on this blog (pre-pandemic) for her rather—shall we say?—novel idea that she can treat autism by feeding autistic children bleach. Even worse, her protocol involved bleach enemas, which frequently led to such irritation of the colon that sloughed intestinal lining could be seen in these children’s stools, leading their misguided parents to think that “parasites” were being eliminated. Unsurprisingly, when the pandemic first hit early last year, it took Rivera only a month or so before she was recommending bleach to treat COVID-19.
So it was with much rejoicing that I noted the other day that the law might finally—finally!—have caught up with Rivera:
Messages posted to a Telegram group run by Kerri Rivera, a pseudo-medical expert who advocates for the use of a dangerous bleach solution to “cure” autism and other serious illnesses, say she’s being criminally charged as a result of advice she gave to a parent. A person who said they were speaking on Rivera’s behalf posted a message, ostensibly written from her perspective, to her Telegram group on July 21; the message said that her home was raided by police on July 13 and that she is accused of causing bodily harm to a child whose parent she advised on Telegram. It also called the claim that she’d harmed the child “impossible.”
Rivera is a longtime advocate for the use of chlorine dioxide, a substance that, when mixed with citric acid, forms a powerful and dangerous bleaching agent. She has falsely claimed it can “cure” autism and, more recently, suggested it can treat COVID-19. (Chlorine dioxide is also marketed under the name Miracle Mineral Solution, or MMS, most infamously by the Genesis II Church in Florida, run by a man named Mark Grenon. Grenon and three of his sons were recently indicted on charges related to their sale of MMS.)
Good. I hope that this is true and that German authorities throw the book at her.
Before I discuss this development further, let’s take a brief trip down memory lane, as it’s been a while since I’ve actually written about (or even mentioned Rivera), nearly a year before the pandemic hit, actually, when I wrote about how “moles” on various “autism biomed” Facebook groups had exposed the depths of the sorts of quackery to which parents were subjecting their children. Rivera featured prominently in that post. To recap, Rivera uses something called “Miracle Mineral Solution” or “Miracle Mineral Supplement” (usually abbreviated MMS), which is in reality a form of bleach, specifically chlorine dioxide (ClO2). I’ve described over the years how the cult of MMS, led by the Genesis II Church, its founder Jim Humble, and its secular celebrant Kerri Rivera, the last of whom single-handedly brought bleach enemas to the autism biomed movement.
I’ve also described how quacks have persuaded parents to feed bleach to their children and give their children bleach enemas and how Rivera has long advocated subjecting autistic children to bleach enemas and has made videos touting this as a biomedical treatment for autism. To the best of my knowledge, advocacy of using MMS, either orally or by enema or both first bubbled up from the underground autism “biomed” quackery movement in 2012 (at least in the US, given that Rivera had been plying her quackery in—where else?—Mexico before that). At that year’s edition of the yearly antivaccine autism quackfest Autism One, Kerri Rivera gave a talk touting how she supposedly “recovered” 38 autistic children in 20 months. At the time, Rivera was running a clinic in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico that she called AutismO2 Clinica Hyperbarica.
Even worse (if that were possible), Rivera advocated “fever therapy” and characterized fevers after bleach enemas to be a good thing, a sign that the treatment is “working,” much as Jim Humble gives MMS to treat adults in increasing doses until they start to feel ill. (Personally, as a physician, I would be very concerned at a child becoming febrile after having ingested bleach or had it shot up his rectum. Not Kerri Rivera, apparently.) Indeed, Rivera has even exulted about how much she loves “fever therapy” and how it “wakes up the immune system.” In addition to the bleach enemas, she recommends a “72-2″ protocol that involves making children drink dilute bleach every two hours for 72 hours.
For her efforts, Rivera was a frequent invited speaker at the yearly autism biomed quackery conference Autism One, a presence that in 2014 led to an event that I referred to as bleach enema karaoke. In 2015, facing legal action from the Illinois Attorney General, Rivera was forced to sign an assurance of voluntary compliance under which she was barred in Illinois from (a) selling chlorine dioxide or similar substances to Illinois residents and (b) presenting at future Illinois conferences concerning the use of such substances to treat autism. Given that Autism One, until recently, was always held in the Chicago area, that assurance has effectively barred her from presenting there ever since.
Since then, unsurprisingly, Rivera has, as pretty much all quacks have done, seen the profit opportunity provided by the COVID-19 pandemic and effortlessly pivoted to claim that her bleach protocol can treat COVID-19:
As the novel coronavirus started to spread around the world, the administrators of a fringe medical group on the encrypted app Telegram claimed to be in possession of a cure that was being suppressed by mainstream science.
The substance is chlorine dioxide — which they called CD, and is also known as MMS, or Miracle Mineral Solution. The group, however, offers no proof that it works.
“How many drops of cd a healthy person or pregnant woman should take to avoid carona virus?” one member of the group asked.
“There is no max dose,” an administrator replied. “There is only a tolerated amount. I have seen people to be best with 24 to 80 drops over the day.”
The effort to promote MMS as a COVID-19 cure was successful, too, particularly in Mexico and South America, where last summer:
And in a shocking development in Bolivia on Tuesday, it became clear how successful advocates of the bleach there have been in exploiting the pandemic: Lawmakers in the national legislature ignored a warning from the country’s own health ministry against taking MMS and legalized it as a treatment for COVID-19.
A year later, the movement is still going strong, unfortunately, pushed by a quack named Andreas Kalcker and, of course, Kerri Rivera:
Andreas Kalcker, a self-described biophysicist, is a longtime associate of Genesis II. For years he has promoted chlorine dioxide treatments — which he calls CDS — on his website and social media.
He has no medical credentials, and has used fake certificates bought online to pass himself off as an expert, the Irish broadcaster RTÉ reported in 2015.
Last year Insider documented how he played a key role in popularizing the substance during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Bolivia in TV appearances and on Facebook.
Kalcker has found so much success in hawking the substance in Bolivia that the left-wing MAS political party approved it as an official COVID-19 treatment last year, in an effort to politically capitalize on the popularity.
It’s not just in Bolivia where toxic bleach has champions at the highest political levels. In May, Peru’s congress launched an official inquiry to establish if the substance can cure COVID-19, Vice News reported.
But it’s in Mexico, the second-most populous Latin American country, that the movement is spreading most quickly, said the founder of Anticlo2, an activist group tracking the spread of COVID-19 misinformation in Latin America on the Discord app. Insider is withholding the activist’s identity because of threats to their security.
It goes beyond that, though, such as when a model and DJ named Natalia Paris hosted a party on a private yacht in January in violation of COVID-19 rules and claimed that the MMS that she had consumed protected her and her guests. In Mexico, actor Verónica del Castillo and an army officer, Coronel Pedro Chavez Zabala, have recommended taking the bleach at press events and on social media. Then, in Argentina, this happened:
Yep. A TV host named Vivíana Canosa drank from a bottle of the bleach live on air last August. You get the idea. Bleach quackery, once reserved mainly for autistic children and whatever Jim Humble claimed it was good for, is now a big deal in COVID-19 quackery, at least in Latin America.
So what happened in Germany? According to Anna Merlan, by the time Rivera had been forced to sign her agreement with the Illinois Attorney General:
By that time, she was already living in Mexico, but she’s believed to have relocated to Germany about two years ago. Over the years, she began marketing a variety of dubious supplements and products, which she’s eagerly adapted for the COVID-19 era. In September 2020, she received a warning letter from the FDA saying some of her products “misleadingly represented them as safe and/or effective for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19.”
Why would Rivera have moved to Germany, after having had so much success with her autism quackery clinic in Mexico? The reasons are unclear, although certainly parts of Germany are very friendly to quackery. In any event, it appears that German authorities moved rather slowly, as the complaints about Rivera that finally resulted in action came from Fiona O’Leary, an activist whose activism against quacks like Rivera have been legendary:
Two activists, Fiona O’Leary and Melissa Eaton, both say they reported Rivera to German authorities. Eaton, a U.S.-based activist who’s gone undercover in Facebook groups where parents are discussing giving their kids chlorine dioxide, told Motherboard that she reported Rivera to German police and consumer protection agencies.
“This is incredible,” O’Leary said. She’s an Irish advocate for autistic people who’s frequently campaigned against Rivera and other chlorine dioxide and MMS peddlers for the better part of a decade. She says that she reported Rivera to investigators in Bremerhaven two years ago, and that the Telegram case Rivera appears to be referencing is one that she alerted German authorities to at the time. O’Leary is autistic herself, as are some of her five children. Campaigning against Rivera and people like her, she said, “has been eight years of my life.” In 2019, O’Leary says, she received a letter from a German lawyer, identifying themselves as representing Rivera and her husband, threatening to sue O’Leary for disclosing “both personal and private data of our clients as well as wrong allegations about them.” (O’Leary provided screenshots of the letter to Motherboard.) “I told them to go to hell,” O’Leary recalls, “and I never heard back.”
I also note that O’Leary has been targeted many times for her activism. Indeed, according to The Irish Times, she’s actually being criminally investigated after she accused an ultra-conservative religious group, the Society of Saint Pius X Resistance, of fomenting hatred against Jewish people, given how Richard Williamson, the Society’s founder and an ex-Catholic Bishop, “recently gave a sermon in Cork linking Jewish people to the start of Covid-19 and calling them “master servants of the devil.”:
The group, which is part of a loose worldwide network called the Society of Saint Pius X Resistance (SSPX Resistance), was founded by an ex-Catholic bishop who recently gave a sermon in Cork linking Jewish people to the start of Covid-19 and calling them “master servants of the devil”.
SSPX Resistance has made a complaint to gardaí alleging incitement to hatred, harassment and trespass by Cork resident and campaigner Fiona O’Leary, who lives close to the church.
Ms O’Leary has written about the group on her blog and visited its compound to take pictures and question its leaders. She also photographed and published pictures of two of its priests after spotting them in the supermarket.
Incitement to hatred is a rarely prosecuted offence which makes it a crime to publish material “likely to stir up hatred” against a group or individual.
I’ve actually written about Richard Williamson and the SSPX (not the SSPX Resistance) before on at least two separate occasions, such as when then Pope Benedict XVI revoked the excommunication of three other bishops and Williamson (all of whom, I noted, had been excommunicated by Pope John Paul II, no liberal he) and when, embarrassed at how Williamson was reported to have spewed Holocaust denial mere days before the announcement of the reversal of his excommunication, then demanded that Williamson recant his Holocaust denial. Basically, SSPX is a thoroughly antisemitic Holocaust-denying group of retrograde Catholics, and Williamson was soon excommunicated again after a conviction in a German court of Holocaust denial. More recently, amusingly, Williamson founded SSPX Resistance because, just as he had founded SSPX because he thought that the Catholic Church had become “too liberal,” he now thinks that SSPX has become “too liberal.” One wonders how long it will be before he concludes that SSPX Resistance has become “too liberal.” This scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian comes to mind:
I had heard about the Irish authorities having arrested O’Leary and had been meaning to write about it. Merlan reports an update:
O’Leary told Motherboard that she’d had her DNA forcibly taken from her and had been detained, adding: “I’m not charged yet, but they treated me like a criminal.”
Truly, I’m gobsmacked that Irish authorities would do this, use at the behest of Holocaust deniers a rarely enforced law that allows for a rather broad interpretation, and use it for the targeted harassment of an antiquackery activist, the intent clearly being to shut her up about Williamson’s Holocaust denial. (Talk about real “cancel culture”!) It rather suggests to me that the Williamsons of the world are far too influential there. I sincerely hope that O’Leary prevails. It will be a travesty of justice and an indictment of Irish authorities if she does not.
I will finish by contrasting O’Leary’s very real persecution by authorities to Rivera, who, unsurprisingly, is crying “Persecution!” and playing the victim:
The message on Telegram indicated Rivera recently appeared before a judge. “The judge says that since I have done so much harm to these 2 people that the statute of limitation is 10 years and not the 5 years of minor crimes and misdemeanors. They have no proof. These are hearsay and accusations. Yet, having all of my computers, hard drives and phones, there is no telling what creative thing they will try. I am certain that they want to shut me up because I have excellent solutions for the issues plaguing society today.” It also suggested that she believed she would be murdered in jail: “If the judge decides to put me in jail as I await trial who knows what might be done. They suicide people like me in jail.” It then linked to a fundraising page for her legal expenses, which now appears to be offline.
There are two things I’m sure of about this story. Fiona O’Leary does not belong in prison and really is being persecuted by Irish authorities, and Kerri Rivera is not being persecuted by German authorities and definitely does belong in prison. Here’s hoping that this is how things ultimately turn out.