COLUMBIA — A South Carolina congressman appeared in a viral live-streamed video on Monday that featured doctors downplaying the threat of the coronavirus and claiming to have found a cure. Major social media platforms scrubbed the video soon after it was posted due to what they said was misleading information.
U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, introduced the group called America's Frontline Doctors in a news conference outside the U.S. Supreme Court. In brief remarks, Norman encouraged schools to reopen for in-person instruction and thanked the doctors for coming to "tell us the truth," but he also described himself as a "strong proponent" of wearing masks.
Soon after Norman was finished, however, Dr. Stella Immanuel, wearing a white lab coat like others at the news conference, delivered a lengthy rant in which she claimed that people "don't need a mask" and "there is a cure" for the virus through hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said is "unlikely to be effective" and could pose health risks.
Immanuel, who received a medical license in Texas last year, called studies questioning the effectiveness and safety of hydroxychloroquine "fake science."
President Donald Trump, who initially promoted the use of hydroxychloroquine and even reported taking it himself, retweeted clips of the video overnight, but they were later taken down by Twitter. Facebook and YouTube also deleted the video posted by the right-wing news website Breitbart.
“We have removed the video for violating our COVID-19 misinformation policies," a YouTube spokesperson said.
According to an online copy of those policies, "YouTube doesn't allow content about COVID-19 that poses a serious risk of egregious harm" or that "spreads medical misinformation that contradicts the World Health Organization (WHO) or local health authorities’ medical information."
In a statement, Norman spokesman Austin Livingston said Norman appeared at the news conference to encourage schools to reopen in the fall and was not privy to Immanuel's comments in advance. The news conference was organized and sponsored by the conservative group Tea Party Patriots.
"While the Congressman does not agree with her statement on the use of masks, and certainly has no expertise in medications, he strongly believes that she has a right to say what she came to say," Livingston said. "Without being censored by big tech."
Norman was the only congressman in attendance and appeared to leave about 10 minutes in to the 45-minute news conference.
Moe Brown, the Democratic nominee challenging Norman in the upcoming November election, said the congressman's actions are "dangerous, disappointing, and literally a matter of life or death.
Brown, a former University of South Carolina football player, said that "1,500 South Carolinians are dead due to COVID-19, and Ralph Norman is using his elected office to hold press conferences in Washington peddling misinformation. Ralph Norman’s stunt is a slap in the face to our medical professionals, first responders, and other essential workers who have been trying for months to get this virus under control."
The incident is not the first time Norman, a member of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus, has been involved in some controversy since he was elected to Congress in a 2017 special election.
In 2018, Norman pulled out a loaded handgun during a meeting with constituents in order to make a point that guns are only dangerous in the hands of criminals.
A few months later, amid the contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, he joked during a debate with his Democratic opponent that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been "groped by Abraham Lincoln."