In June, Dr. Simone Gold sentenced to 60 days in prison for taking part in the Jan. 6, 2021 US Capitol riot, an event where supporters of Donald Trump terrorized members of Congress, threatening to hang the vice president. and used American flagpoles to attack police officers. But when Gold left prison on Friday, she got out two weeks early and was greeted by a member of Congress – Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). Gohmert, who believes the false claim that Donald Trump is the legitimate winner of the 2020 election, then presented Gold with an American flag recently flown over the very building where she committed her crime.
“DR. Gold is the definition of what a political prisoner looks like — something I never thought I would see here in the United States,” Gohmert said.
Gold, an emergency room physician and Stanford-trained attorney, has made a name for herself on social media and Fox News over the past two years as an anti-vaccine activist and spreader of Covid misinformation. During the pandemic, she founded America’s Frontline Doctors, which has been an enthusiastic promoter of cocaine Covid cures like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. The group went so far as to set up a telemedicine operation to prescribe the drugs to people by mail, which is now the subject of a congressional investigation.
Gold was scheduled to speak at a “health freedom” rally near the Capitol on Jan. 6. Instead, she followed the mob into the building, picked her way over a fallen police officer, and delivered a speech on vaccines and state repression in the rotunda. In June, her former Stanford law school classmate, Judge Christopher Cooper, sentenced her to 60 days in prison after she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of illegally entering and staying in a restricted area of the US Capitol .
In the courtroom, Gold confessed great remorse for her behavior. But outside of court, she has never stopped defiantly portraying herself as a victim of state persecution, and she has raised funds for her arrest. Noting the fundraising at her sentencing hearing, Cooper said, “I find it inappropriate that your organization is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for its operations and salary based on your January 6 attendance. She’s doing the victims of this a really disservice.”
Gold celebrated her early release from a Florida federal prison near her home in Naples by holding a press conference and visiting Gohmert outside of prison, where she also slapped the sidewalk and did 35 push-ups for the cameras. The stunt marked the conclusion of another of her fundraisers, titled “Dr. Gold’s push-up challenge.” While she was clanging, supporters were invited to her website to guess how many push-ups she would be able to do after her release from prison, and of course to support her estimate with a donation. The winner will receive a “Free Dr. Gold” t-shirt and a copy of her book. I do not agree.
She posted the pushup video to Twitter after jail, but it doesn’t seem to have landed with the kind of splash Gold would have hoped for. Commentators were mostly critical of their form. “Um… those aren’t push-ups,” replied one viewer. “Terrible form but thanks for the effort,” wrote another. “Hint: to push up, you must first go down,” advised a viewer, who helpfully provided a link to a CrossFit instructional video.
That #FreeDrGold The push-up challenge is over!
— dr Simone Gold (@drsimonegold) September 9, 2022
But now that Gold has been released from prison, many of the issues that fueled her activism and rise to prominence are quickly fading. The martyr status she achieved in the MAGA world after her arrest for storming the Capitol will fade with her release. The Covid lockdowns and mask and vaccination mandates she risked her reputation against are now in the rearview mirror. Her criminal record could eventually see her lose her California license — and with it, her clout as an anti-vaccine doctor. And her vaccination stance might prove too lukewarm anyway: She has long claimed that as a doctor, she personally isn’t against all vaccines, just the mRNA versions. That stance could keep her out of the conversation circle of the mainstream anti-vaccination movement unless she’s willing to engage with the all-or-nothing anti-vaccination campaigners that have led to a measles outbreak at Disneyland and a resurgence of the whooping cough, and lately, a new polio outbreak could be fueled in New York. In the long run, Gold’s career prospects and fundraising efforts might have benefited from staying in prison just a little longer.
Before the pandemic, Gold was just an apolitical doctor in Beverly Hills. In just a few months, she became a right-wing media star and regular on the far-right talking circle, radicalized far beyond what one would expect of a Stanford-educated attorney. Initially, she stuck to the criticism of lockdowns, masks and vaccination mandates. But an extremism expert I spoke to last year when I was profiling Gold told me that once moderate professionals like her get radicalized and join a movement like the MAGA crowd, eventually they have to take over the whole agenda in order to to stay in the club. Will she turn to fighting gender-affirming medical care and trans-bashing? Take up the book ban? It seems unlikely given her background, but so does her role in the uprising.
“I think at that point she’s going to do anything to get attention,” Don Haider-Markel, a University of Kansas professor of political science who has studied extremism, presciently told me last year. “Whether it’s for financial reasons or her own ego prank, she has to keep feeding the beast somehow.”