Ed. note: Third of a three-part series.
On July 19, Mark Grenon and his sons, Jonathan, Joseph and Jordan, were convicted in Miami on four counts of conspiracy to defraud the United States as well as two counts of criminal contempt. The men ran Genesis II, a company that had earned nearly a $1 million peddling MMS (“Miracle Mineral Solution”), a form of bleach. The Grenons’ claim: that MMS could treat COVID-19, AIDS, cancer, autism and a host of other conditions.
In building the case against Genesis II, U.S. agent Jose Rivera, using a pseudonym, purchased MMS from Genesis II online, claiming it was for his wife, who was battling cancer. When Rivera wrote to the Grenons saying his wife’s cancer was not improving after three weeks of taking the product, Genesis II representatives told the agent that she needed to take the MMS for a longer period to get results.
Marketing to families of individuals with serious health conditions was part and parcel of the operation, according to Melissa Eaton, an American activist who has been leading the campaign to stop MMS.
“While the victims can be any age, parents of children with disabilities are targeted, as are the elderly who have incurable conditions,” says Eaton. “They are often on fixed incomes. They invest what little they have in the promises the Grenons make them about the ‘miracle’ of MMS.”
The Florida trial was not the first case against MMS sellers. Canada was the first country to convict an MMS dealer. In 2018, Stanley Nowak received a two-year conditional sentence and two years’ probation from a British Columbia Provincial Court. The conviction built on years of actions to stop MMS, including Health Canada warnings and letters dating back to some of the first complaints, such as one from 2008 in which a 60-year-old man was hospitalized after a life-threatening response to MMS.
The 2018 case was a victory for regulators, but more challenges lay ahead, with a burgeoning social-media market for fake health products. However, as online markets for MMS have expanded, so has the loosely organized teams of online sleuths who flagged MMS content on platforms like Facebook. Unfortunately, MMS-related posts were seldom taken down by the companies, which mostly use Artificial Intelligence, not human reviewers, to decide on flagged content. So, activists also began dropping tips and files to authorities. These files, together with investigations and sting operations by authorities like the U.S. Justice Department, have enabled investigators to untangle the marketing machine on social media groups that target the most vulnerable patients.
In late 2019 and early 2020, the case against Genesis II began to accelerate when, according to Eaton, one investigator at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dedicated more energy toward the case than activists had seen before.
“He took it seriously and he took action,” she told me.
When the pandemic hit, MMS dealers quickly added COVID-19 to the list of their purported cures. U.S. authorities quoted a video shared on social media in early 2020 in which Mark Grenon told viewers: “The coronavirus is curable, you believe that? You better … it’s wicked good stuff, Joe,” with his son replying: “MMS will kill it [COVID-19].”
“While the victims can be any age, parents of children with disabilities are targeted, as are the elderly who have incurable conditions.”
The Grenons had been ignoring injunctions and subpoenas for court appearances throughout early 2020, much like they had ignored numerous warning letters from the FDA. Shortly before his arrest, Mark Grenon even penned a letter in May of 2020 in which he petitioned President Donald Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr to help promote the cause, writing:
“We as a church are having our rights violated and need relief immediately from this unlawful attack against our church and the first amendment.”
In May of that year, authorities swept in, recovering and destroying 50 gallons of muriatic acid, 22 gallons of MMS and 8,300 pounds of sodium chlorite from the Grenons’ home in Bradenton, Fla. Jonathan and Jordan Grenon were arrested that day. Mark and Joseph were later found and arrested by Colombian authorities near Bogota.
Fast forward three years to a federal courthouse in Miami, where the Grenons sat through the early days of their July 2023 trial silently, heads bowed, reading their Bibles. On July 17, the first day of the trial, U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga instructed jurors that the Grenons could not use religious freedom as a defence because Genesis II is not actually a religious entity. The trial was brief but filled with disturbing moments.
“Members of the jury stifled laughter at times,” reported ABC 7 Los Angeles, “but visibly recoiled when they passed around and smelled bottles of MMS that had been shipped to the undercover federal agent.”
Anti-MMS advocates told me that Genesis II leaders have continued to communicate with followers since their arrests, professing the righteousness of their product. It remains to be seen whether they will continue to use social networks to promote the product and whether they will appeal the decision.
“It’s draining,” says Eaton, who, like other activists I spoke with, continues to see and report other MMS sellers on platforms such as Telegram. Although COVID-related sales have shrunken as the pandemic recedes, the market for other false health claims continues to flourish in social media groups, which Eaton describes as “an unchallenged echo chamber.”
The Grenons’ conviction doesn’t bring a definitive end to Genesis II. In early July, a Canadian pled guilty to offences under Canada’s Food and Drug Act and was fined $12,000 for selling MMS under the auspices of “Genesis II Church Chapter #291.” MMS sales also continue to proliferate globally.
Canadian and U.S. policymakers have begun to address the problem of health disinformation and harmful products on social media, signaling hope that it could become easier to stop operations like Genesis II. But without a customer base, of course, these dealers wouldn’t be selling anything to begin with. Regulation and enforcement are crucial, but so is addressing the isolation and despair that leads people to consider these kinds of products.