Federal investigators are taking steps to stop a company linked to Steve Bannon from misleading consumers about the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Former Trump adviser and former Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon does not radiate 'pinnacle of health.' The portly, cigar-smoking, possibly former alcoholic is not known for his workout ethic. But like many a far-right media figure, including Trump himself (once upon a time), Bannon is now hawking vitamins as a 'Wellness Warrior.' People have called Bannon a lot of things over the years. Wellness Warrior is not one of them. Yet Bannon now appears in ads on his website for 'The War Room Defense Pack,' a collection of zinc and Vitamin D3, with the slogan, 'You can't fight if you're sick!' Anyone ordering a free sample is treated to a complimentary 'War Room Viral Defense Guide,' which doesn't come right out and say it's offering a COVID cure, lest Bannon run into trouble with the FDA. But the savvy consumer will be able to read through the lines," Mother Jones reported in March.
That advertising is now the focus of a federal crackdown.
"The Department of Justice, together with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), today announced a civil complaint against defendants Eric Anthony Nepute and Quickwork LLC, doing business as Wellness Warrior, in the first enforcement action alleging violations of the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act," the Justice Department announced on Monday.
"According to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, the defendants advertised that their vitamin D and zinc nutritional supplements could prevent or treat COVID-19 without competent or reliable scientific evidence to support their claims. Further, the defendants allegedly advertised without scientific support that their supplements were equally or more effective therapies for COVID-19 than the currently available vaccines. The complaint seeks civil penalties and injunctive relief to stop the defendants from continuing to make deceptive advertising claims," the magazine reported. "The COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, passed by Congress in December 2020, prohibits deceptive acts or practices associated with the treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation or diagnosis of COVID-19."
Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton announced why the action was being taken.
"The Justice Department is committed to preventing the unlawful marketing of unproven COVID-19 treatments," said Boynton. "Deceptive marketing of unproven products discourages consumers from following health and safety guidelines provided by public health officials. The unlawful spreading of COVID-19 misinformation to sell a product will not be tolerated."
Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, the acting chairwoman of the FTC, focused on one aspect that was "particularly troubling."
"The defendants' claims that their products can stand in for approved COVID-19 vaccines are particularly troubling: we need to be doing everything we can to stop bogus health claims that endanger consumers," Slaughter said. "With this case, the Commission has quickly put to use its new authority to stop false marketing claims related to the pandemic."
Wellness Warrior ad.Screengrab.