The Rev. Jim Bakker, a televangelist and salesman, has long promoted “Silver Solution” – a scientifically dubious medication made from the precious metal – to cure all sorts of ailments.
On Feb. 12, just as the novel coronavirus was starting to make worldwide headlines, Bakker asked a guest on his TV show whether the silver tonic he sells on his website just might cure this new illness as well.
“It hasn’t been tested on this strain of the coronavirus, but it’s been tested on other strains of the coronavirus, and has been able to eliminate it within 12 hours. Totally eliminates it, kills it, deactivates it, and then it boosts your immune system,” said guest Sherrill Sellman, as Bakker interjected, “yeah, yeah.”
Other panelists on the TV set murmured their approval as well. One exclaimed: “That’s so good!”
As they talked, an advertisement was plastered across the screen: Those seeking a cure for coronavirus or another illness could get four tubes of Silver Solution gel for $80 at JimBakkerShow.com. Or, for $125, they could buy a variety pack of two bottles of Silver Solution liquid, two tubes of gel and three lozenges.
That was false advertising, New York’s top prosecutor’s office claimed in a cease-and-desist letter to Bakker this week.
Calling herself “extremely concerned” about the clip from the show, Lisa Landau, the chief of the attorney general’s health care bureau, sternly told Bakker that there is no known medical treatment for the coronavirus disease, which has sickened patients around the world, including in New York.
“Your show’s segment may mislead consumers as to the effectiveness of the Silver Solution product in protecting against the current outbreak. . . . Any representation on the Jim Bakker Show that its Silver Solution products are effective at combatting and/or treating the 2019 novel coronavirus violates New York law,” she wrote.
Landau said any future claims promoting Silver Solution as a cure would violate laws against false advertising.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, said in a statement Thursday that her office is on the alert for other scams about coronavirus, though the letter to Bakker was the only action she mentioned taking thus far. “In addition to being mindful about our health, we must also beware of unscrupulous actors who attempt to take advantage of this fear and anxiety to scam or deceive consumers,” she said in a statement, which warned New Yorkers about unproven treatments, excessive prices for health-care products and fake charitable solicitations.
Bakker has been in trouble with the law before: He served more than four years in prison on federal fraud charges in the 1990s. He has since rebuilt some of the televangelism empire he had created with his wife Tammy Bakker.
On Thursday, Bakker’s staff insisted that Silver Solution isn’t a fraud. An assistant manager at Bakker’s store directed a reporter to a statement about the medication and coronavirus. The statement described Sellman, the guest who said on the show that Silver Solution treats other illnesses in the coronavirus family, as an “integrative naturopathic doctor and mind-body psychotherapist.” It also quoted the chief executive of the company that manufactures Silver Solution, who claimed researchers have studied his product’s effectiveness at treating viruses including HIV.
Bakker’s show said it would provide links to those studies “soon.”
“We believe in Optivida Silver Solution . . . because of the research and the advice from medical professionals that we respect. What has cemented that belief comes from the countless testimonies of its benefits and what we have seen and experienced ourselves,” the show’s statement said. It encouraged viewers to get health information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization as well as its own broadcasts.
U.S. government experts have warned patients about Silver Solution and similar tonics for years. The National Institutes of Health says that colloidal silver – tiny particles of silver metal suspended in a liquid meant for drinking as a dietary supplement – has not been proved effective as a medicine and can be dangerous.
Colloidal silver can make other medications, including antibiotics, less effective. And drinking silver can cause patients’ skin to turn grayish-blue, often forever.
Nevertheless, Bakker frequently promotes Silver Solution on his show, which is a mix of end-times prophecies and vigorous salesmanship for products such as a “90-meal bucket” meant to feed a family in an emergency, with a shelf life of 30 years and a price tag of $3,000.
Bakker sells Silver Solution as a mist that can be sprayed into the mouth or onto the skin, as a spray for the nose and the eyes, a drop to go into the ears, a gel for the skin, and a liquid for drinking up to three times a day. “By resonating at just the right frequency, Silver disrupts foreign elements without disturbing the body’s natural environment,” his website says. And: “Silver has natural, God-given actions unlike any other metal or element that exists. There are many other elements that have value, but none has been blessed with the medicine chest of medicinal effects that silver has.”
Landau, the New York prosecutor, told Bakker that all Silver Solution products on his website should come with a disclaimer: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
Not complying within 10 business days could mean the show would face a lawsuit, she wrote.