In late March, Hoggwatch.com suddenly showed up in Google results for Parkland survivor David Hogg. Hogg has been the subject of conservative vitriol and conspiracy theories—that he’s a “crisis actor,” for example—for his gun control advocacy, so Hoggwatch.com, which smears Hogg and other Parkland activists, might seem like an inevitable development in a mounting right-wing campaign. But the website is notable for something other than its bile: It’s the latest project of a notorious alternative medicine grifter. Mike Adams, aka The Health Ranger, aka the owner of NaturalNews.com, has turned his attention to Parkland.
As NBC News reported on April 2, Hoggwatch.com appears to be written entirely by Adams and senior NaturalNews.com writer J.D. Heyes. Where NaturalNews.com rambles about the dangers of tap water and vaccines and GMOs, Hoggwatch is exclusively focused on attacking the survivors of the Parkland massacre. Longtime critics of Adams tell me that his new fixation doesn’t surprise them. Rather, it fits into an older pattern, defined by wild conspiratorial thinking and a tendency to harass selected targets. And it has been fueled by the destabilizing, ubiquitous presence of a truth-averse Donald Trump.
As grifters go, Adams has always been what the kids these days would call Very Online; there are examples of his fear-mongering that go back to 1999, when he jumped feet-first into Y2K hysteria. At last count, Adams also owned HealthRanger.com, CounterThink.com, FoodInvestigations.com, HealingFoodReference.com, HonestFoodGuide.org, and TruthWiki.org. There may well be more. In practice, these websites serve dual purposes: They advertise Adams’s work as “The Health Ranger,” and they’re stones to sling at his enemies. Mostly, they’re histrionic, self-contradictory whirlpools of misinformation, pseudoscience, and venomous personal attack. If the internet’s fake news problem has a coherent genealogy, its lineage runs through Adams’s body of work.
Adams did not respond to a request for comment sent through NaturalNews.com. But it’s possible to glean some insight into his motivations from his sprawling online presence. In his own mind, he’s an expert on all manners of topics. He can speak Mandarin and Spanish; he was a musical prodigy; he’s an investigative journalist. “Adams is well trained in hand-to-hand combat, firearms, and self defense. He has authored numerous courses on self defense and personal protection,” his bio adds. Adams is preoccupied with the idea that vaccines cause autism and injury, that heavy metals poison our food and water supplies, and that alternative medicine is safer than the traditional Western approach. These concerns are all bound up in a vaguely anti-establishment political philosophy.
“He’s always had that libertarian bent, but that’s kind of true about a lot of alternative medicine promoters,” said Dr. David Gorski, who has debunked Adams’s work at sciencebasedmedicine.org. “Like, ‘Oh, you can’t tell me what to put in my body and you can’t force me to vaccinate my kids.’”
Skepticism of Western medicine and the scientific community is not, of course, an exclusively right-wing phenomenon. Vaccine refusal became mainstream largely because celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Bill Maher amplified myths about how vaccines work. Adams’s work initially appealed to conspiratorial elements present within both the right and the left. But Adams recently drifted rightward, a trend Gorski credits to Trump and to his expressed vaccine skepticism. Whatever left-wing tendencies Adams may have once possessed have been abandoned, and he is firmly in line with the InfoWars point of view. NaturalNews.com is littered with Seth Rich conspiracy theories, and while Adams repeatedly insists that the website has never “covered” Pizzagate, it certainly flirted with the idea of Pizzagate’s validity.
As the Seth Rich saga demonstrates, the conspiratorial right-wing is eager to hound and harass its chosen victims. Hogg is hardly Adams’s first target. In 2014, the FBI reportedly investigated him after he published a post on NaturalNews.com that targeted journalists who have criticized anti-GMO campaigners and suggested that readers begin to “actively plan and carry out the killing of those engaged in heinous crimes against humanity.” Shortly after Adams published his post there appeared a mysterious new website, MonsantoCollaborators.com, that provided a list of journalists alleged to have promoted Monsanto’s evil activities. Adams has claimed, doggedly, that the site was not his work, though some evidence contradicts his claim.
Adams still runs Truthwiki.org, where the interested reader can learn about Jimmy Kimmel, “a dogmatic pro-vaccine, anti-Trump television ‘funny guy’” who wants to “exterminate American Blacks and the Chinese.” George Soros contributes “massive funds to eugenics programs and population control through toxic food and toxic vaccines.” Other attacks seem more personal. Gorski is subjected to particular venom. “Gorski is far out-of-bounds with his pseudo-scientific religion and the INSANE rants that further damage the conversations, concerns and legitimate investigations going on to further prove that the chemicals and toxic adjuvants in vaccines are causing diseases and disorders rather than preventing them,” Adams rants.
Gorski suspects Adams posted false patient reviews of his work; Gorski is a surgical oncologist. The reviews coincided with the times when Adams attacked Gorski. The doctor’s bio page on his own site now includes a disclaimer for potential patients who find misinformation in a Google search.* “I did pretty much ride it out,” Gorski told me. “But one problem is that he’s poisoned my Google reputation beyond repair. I joke a little darkly that if I ever decided I needed to find a new job it might be an issue.”
Yvette d’Entremont, who blogs as Scibabe, became another Adams target. She has her own TruthWiki page. “It’s a doozy of an article!” she said. “It starts off by saying, she’s not even worthy of an entry on this page and then it goes on. For not being worthy of an article on this page, you spend a lot of time ripping me to shreds!”
Adams’s attacks don’t always land. Nobody’s firing Jimmy Kimmel because of an entry in TruthWiki. While NaturalNews.com stories still often go viral, it’s difficult to gauge the level of Adams’s real influence, as Gizmodo’s Tom McKay noted in March. That’s when YouTube terminated Adams’s account, much to the Health Ranger’s chagrin. (NaturalNews.com currently features a banner that says censorious YouTube employees brought the recent mass shooting at their headquarters upon themselves.) Google also briefly delisted NaturalNews.com in 2017. Despite YouTube’s ban, traces of Adams’s presence there remain, like his 2011 music video “Vaccine Zombie.”
It’s difficult to avoid reading professional envy in the tenor of Adams’s attacks. D’Entremont has a degree in chemistry. Gorski is an accomplished doctor. So is the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Paul Offit, another Adams target for his work on vaccines. Adams’s bio, meanwhile, is void of any detail that could possibly confirm his professional claims. And David Hogg and his fellow Parkland survivors have achieved the mainstream credibility and influence that Adams clearly craves.
“He claims he has this laboratory, and that he’s done all these forensic experiments,” d’Entremont said. “And I’ve emailed him a few times asking for these results, saying, ‘I’m a scientist, I would love to verify your results.’ And he’s never replied. He claims there are all kind of nefarious scary things in the food supply. And if that’s true, that should be investigated, but if it’s not, you’re just fear-mongering. You need to show your work.”
Adams is also a semi-regular guest on Infowars. Adams and Alex Jones possess obvious, conspiratorial commonalities, but d’Entremont thinks one key difference may separate the two: Adams seems to believe what he says. Jones, who referred to his work as “performance art” during a heated custody battle, may not. Regardless of their independent motivations, both men represent the nexus where distrust of scientific fact intersects with distrust of the press and of government. True believers know they’re being hoodwinked; they simply don’t realize who’s doing it.
“At some point you think you can’t trust anyone,” d’Entremont says of conspiratorial thinkers. “When you get that far off the map, is it a political ideology or is it just off the map? It’s hard to tell. Mike Adams doesn’t seem to have a true north at this point. He’s made himself so crazy that I think the people who used to go to his site, because he’d spout info about GMOs being bad, aren’t going there anymore.” Adams could replace one audience with another. The age of Trump is also the age of conspiracy. From false flags to fake news, the nation’s tin foil hats are ascendant.
*This article originally stated that Adams posted fake patient reviews of Gorski’s work. Gorski has strong reason to believe that Adams posted the reviews, but there is no definitive proof he did so.