Simone Gold, the founder of America’s Frontline Doctors, a group notorious for questioning the safety and effectiveness of COVID vaccines and promoting unproven drugs, has pleaded guilty to participating in the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
As part of an agreement with the government, Gold pleaded guilty on Thursday to one count of entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds, a misdemeanor offense. She had been facing four other charges, including the felony of obstruction of an official proceeding.
In a hearing before US District Judge Christopher Cooper, held virtually because of the COVID pandemic, Gold admitted to entering the east rotunda door of the Capitol with other rioters, remaining for about 30 minutes, and giving a speech against vaccine mandates and lockdowns that her codefendant, John Strand, streamed online. Multiple law enforcement officers had to intervene to stop Gold’s speech.
“I plead guilty,” she said after a long pause.
Gold is set to be sentenced on June 16. The charge she pleaded guilty to has a maximum sentence of six months in prison, but her ultimate sentence is at the judge’s discretion.
As part of the plea agreement, Gold will also pay $500 in restitution and cooperate with additional investigations.
During her hearing on Thursday, Gold asked the judge to address her as a doctor, which he then did. “I never go by Ms. Gold,” she said. “I always go by Dr. Gold.”
Gold was arrested on Jan. 18, 2021, less than two weeks after the attack on the Capitol. The FBI received a string of tips about Gold’s participation, including videos and photos that showed her inside the building and using a bullhorn to address the mob. A few days before her arrest, the Washington Post published an interview with Gold where she admitted that she’d gone into the Capitol but insisted that it was “incredibly peaceful.”
She was charged along with Strand; Gold told the Post that Strand was with her on Jan. 6 to “ensure her safety.” A federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment against the pair just over a year ago, including one felony count for obstructing an official proceeding and four misdemeanors for illegally being in the Capitol, disorderly conduct, and parading.
The case against Strand remains pending. He’s tentatively scheduled to go to trial on July 18, but is considering a plea offer from the government, according to WUSA9.
Gold, a former emergency room doctor from Beverly Hills, California, who trained in medicine at the University of Chicago and in law at Stanford University, stood out among those indicted for their role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. She’s one of a handful of high-profile defendants who had a public platform before the riot. The previous day, she spoke at the “Rally for Health Freedom” near the Capitol, one of several events scheduled around the Jan. 6 certification of the Electoral College results.
In July 2020, Gold shot to prominence as the founder of America’s Frontline Doctors, which announced itself at a “White Coat Summit” held in Washington, DC. The group initially pushed for an end to COVID lockdown measures and promoted the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the disease. By then, the FDA had revoked an initial emergency authorization for the drug’s use as a COVID treatment, after clinical trial results showed it was unlikely to be effective. The agency had earlier warned of reports that hydroxychloroquine could cause “serious heart rhythm problems” in some patients.
Billing itself as a “civil rights organization,” Gold’s group is linked to the Tea Party Patriots, a right-wing activist group, and has launched legal challenges to vaccine mandates. She has downplayed the severity of COVID and questioned the effectiveness of vaccines. “The people who die from COVID-19 are people who are kinda destined to die in this period anyway,” Gold said at a speech in Florida posted online in January 2021, claiming that the “so-called” vaccine “actually changes nothing.”
On its website, America’s Frontline Doctors promotes telemedicine appointments costing $90 with doctors who will prescribe “early treatment” for COVID with drugs including ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine — neither of which have been proven to be effective. In September 2021, the Intercept revealed that data provided by a hacker indicated that America’s Frontline Doctors and its telemedicine partner, SpeakWithAnMD.com, had received at least $6.7 million for these consultations.
The House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis then launched an investigation, demanding documents and answers to its questions from America’s Frontline Doctors and SpeakWithAnMD.com. Writing to Gold in October, the committee’s Democratic chair, Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, said he was concerned her group is “endangering American lives” and has “profited from these abusive practices.”
America’s Frontline Doctors did not respond to requests for comment on its telemedicine and other activities. A representative of SpeakWithAnMD.com told BuzzFeed News by email that the company had no comment.
Even before news of these telemedicine activities emerged, members of No License for Disinformation, a group of doctors, parents, and disability advocates, had filed complaints with state medical boards against Gold and other physicians affiliated with America’s Frontline Doctors, calling for their licenses to practice medicine to be suspended or revoked for spreading false information about COVID.
These complaints gained little traction. In July 2021, after filing a complaint relating to Gold’s involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection and alleging that she “is pushing COVID19 vaccine disinformation,” Nick Sawyer, an emergency room doctor in Sacramento who is executive director of No License for Disinformation, was told: “Your complaint does not indicate there is a physician-patient relationship in California over which the Board would have jurisdiction to investigate and subpoena documents and witnesses.”
Last month, a bill that would specifically designate the “promotion of misinformation or disinformation” on COVID as unprofessional conduct providing grounds for medical disciplinary action was introduced into the California legislature. If passed, it would give the state medical board clear jurisdiction to pursue such cases.
In December, as pressure grew on the California medical board to take action against Gold and other physicians associated with America’s Frontline Doctors, the medical board’s president, Kristina Lawson, said that she had been “ambushed” in a parking garage by a group of men with a camera and microphone, identifying themselves as members of America’s Frontline Doctors.
Describing the incident as a “terrifying experience,” Lawson wrote on Twitter that there had been no request for an interview: “Instead, they ambushed me in a dark parking garage when they suspected I would be alone. The private investigator traveling with them told law enforcement they are producing a video about me that will include footage of my house and neighborhood, and, of course, me.”
“As soon as they confronted me in the parking garage I realized they had jumped out of the same car that had been at the end of my driveway earlier that day,” Lawson told BuzzFeed News by email. “I called 911 right away.”
Clips from this encounter, one showing Lawson on her cellphone, appear in a trailer for the video production Doc Tracy: Physician Investigator. As first reported by the Intercept, signing up for updates on the video on the America’s Frontline Doctors website triggers an automated email that states the group “is on a mission to expose the Mandate Mafia who are trying to hustle all of us.” It adds: “They’re going to cry crocodile tears like Kristina Lawson did.”
In a press release issued on March 16, America’s Frontline Doctors said: “Lawson’s claims she was ‘ambushed’ are utterly unfounded.” The release also stated that the group intends to file a defamation suit against the Intercept, claiming the publication had falsely labeled the group “disinformation doctors” and that it had run a hit piece “designed to interfere” with Gold’s medical license. "For this undercover series, we adhered to the highest ethical standards to uncover egregious wrongdoing by the medical establishment,” the release said.
“We can’t comment on a lawsuit we haven’t seen, but legal threats will not deter us from continuing to report on America’s Frontline Doctors,” Betsy Reed, editor-in-chief of the Intercept, said in a statement. America’s Frontline Doctors and Gold did not respond to requests for further comment from BuzzFeed News.
Gold’s license to practice medicine in California remains current and there is no record of any disciplinary action by the medical board. The Medical Board of California said it could not comment on specific investigations, which are confidential under state law until the board files an official legal complaint. “The Board is aware of the reports that have appeared in news media outlets and social media sites concerning Dr. Gold, and is looking into them,” spokesperson Carlos Villatoro told BuzzFeed News by email. “The Board has no further information to provide at this time.”
Criminal convictions can lead to subsequent disciplinary action from state medical boards. However, Gold’s guilty plea over her actions in the Jan. 6 insurrection may not trigger action against her medical license. The relevant section of the California code states that “the conviction of any offense substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of a physician constitutes unprofessional conduct which can be cause for disciplinary action.” Whether or not an offense is “substantially related” to a doctor’s medical practice is considered on a case-by-case basis.
Sawyer, the executive director of No License for Disinformation, said the California medical board should act against Gold irrespective of her guilty plea. “Even without her involvement with the Jan. 6 insurrection, and without her group sending a group of men to harass the president of the California state medical board, we thought she should be disciplined,” Sawyer told BuzzFeed News.