State lawmakers in Tennessee were considering a bill to put “natural immunity” on equal footing with vaccinated immunity for COVID-19. Health care workers and anyone else required to have COVID-19 vaccination for work or school could be exempt from vaccines, as long as they’d already been infected with the coronavirus and recovered.
That week in early March, Idaho pathologist Dr. Ryan Cole spoke to members of the Tennessee House and Senate. It was at least his fourth trip to Nashville since August 2021 to make unfounded claims to legislators and the public.
“He speaks so fast, it becomes a blur of lines, blur of lines, and I’m taking notes like, ‘No, this is far out,’” said Tennessee state Rep. Sabi “Doc” Kumar in an interview with the Idaho Capital Sun. Kumar, a Republican from Springfield, is a licensed but retired surgeon and sits on a subcommittee that heard from Cole in March.
Cole testified, based on data he misrepresented, that COVID-19 vaccines killed 1,200 people in a single month. In an interview with the Sun last year, Cole indicated he hadn’t read the reports that are aggregated by the data source he references. The Sun informed him that those individual vaccine adverse event reports did not support — and in most cases disproved — his claims. He has continued to misrepresent the data.
Cole and his attorney did not respond Tuesday to an email from the Sun.
“Some of these people are counting any death that happens if a person (previously received the) vaccine,” Kumar said. “I mean, heart attacks and strokes have existed before the vaccine was invented.”
Brandishing his credentials as a pathologist and, now, as a member of the Central District Health public health board, Cole became a fixture on the national and international speaking circuit for COVID-19 skeptics and deniers.
Cole gave talks and presentations in at least four foreign countries — England, France, Brazil and Ireland — and at least 15 states including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Idaho, as well as in Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. In addition, Cole has done more than 70 online presentations, podcasts and video interviews since early 2021.
His presentations include disproven and false claims that coronavirus vaccines are deadly, experimental and cause disease, infertility and other problems. He downplays the risks of COVID-19 and claims to have treated hundreds of patients with no hospitalizations or deaths, according to hours of public speeches and presentations reviewed by the Idaho Capital Sun, and a letter from his attorney in defense of his medical license in Washington.
Further, he advocates for suing doctors over COVID-19 vaccines and calls for “Nuremberg trials” — a reference to trials of Nazi war criminals — against those involved in vaccination efforts.
Never mind humanity and the Nuremberg trials and the noose that should be around the neck of these jerks that just did this to our generation.
– Dr. Ryan Cole, Idaho pathologist, at an October 2021 event in Alaska
His presentations claim to offer evidence that the vaccine causes an array of serious ailments. However, a Sun analysis found that, in these presentations, he shows images not from his own microscope but from journal articles about the harmful effects of the coronavirus and COVID-19.
For example, one slide in his presentations comes from an October 2020 journal article on the causes of heart condition myocarditis, which is a known but rare adverse reaction to some COVID-19 vaccines and a known but much less rare complication of COVID-19 disease. The article’s only mention of vaccines was to propose, “Develop vaccines against viruses related to myocarditis.”
Cole frequently cites another journal article, on damage from the coronavirus spike protein. But Cole uses the paper to illustrate a conclusion that was disputed in May 2021 by the study’s lead co-author, Salk Institute scientist Uri Manor. Manor said on Twitter that the small amount of spike protein a person’s cells produce from mRNA vaccines “would not be nearly enough to do any damage.”
The “mRNA vaccine is waaaaay safer than COVID19 and everyone should get it – I did and everyone in my family did as well!” Manor wrote on Twitter. “Our paper just shows this disease really sucks.”
Now, Cole is moving beyond COVID-19 in his talks.
Dr. Ryan Cole: ‘The K in monkeypox is silent’
In a recent webinar hosted by a religious Jewish group, Cole took aim at another disease now spreading in the U.S. and worldwide.
He implied that public health officials are exaggerating the risks of monkeypox to make money. He suggested that a 2021 simulation of a monkeypox outbreak made the current health emergency suspicious. He said public health authorities are “going forward, just trying to scare people again.”
The 2021 pandemic preparedness exercise, led by global security nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative, was one of many tabletop exercises that governments, disaster responders and others use to prepare for public health threats. There is no evidence that the monkeypox outbreak was planned, according to a fact-check article published by Reuters more than a week before Cole’s comments.
'So I think, you know, anybody who has a little bit of suspicion can clearly see they're playing a fear game here. ... The (National Institutes of Health) put $10 million into monkeypox research recently; (Dr. Anthony) Fauci is NIH.
– Dr. Ryan Cole, Idaho pathologist, speaking on monkeypox in a webinar June 2, 2022
Cole said in June he would not take a monkeypox vaccine, nor would he recommend it. He suggested herbal remedies and an anti-parasitic drug for the disease.
A few days earlier, he said on a podcast, “I already know the treatment for monkeypox.”
“I mean, our government just spent $190 million on several million doses of monkeypox vaccine,” he said. “It’s fascinating. There are around 180 cases in about 11 or 12 countries right now, total. And yet, the media is fear mongering over it.”
There are now nearly 9,500 cases in the U.S. and more than 31,000 confirmed worldwide in 89 countries. There are eight confirmed monkeypox cases in Idaho as of Aug. 9 and 40 in Tennessee as of Aug. 4.
Cole said, accurately, that most of the cases so far have been in men who have sex with men, but went on to say that was “for certain reasons that I won’t expound upon.”
Most people who caught monkeypox in the current outbreak are believed to have been infected through close physical contact and intimate skin-to-skin contact. It is possible but less common to catch the virus in other ways, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cole visits the Tennessee Legislature
Cole’s first speaking engagements in Tennessee were in June 2021, when he visited Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga over three days.
He was a guest speaker with America’s Frontline Doctors, according to a résumé he submitted with his application for the Central District Health public health board. America’s Frontline Doctors is an organization that makes unfounded claims about COVID-19 and vaccines, and makes money from peddling bogus treatments, according to reports from The Intercept and TIME.
Cole visited the Tennessee capital again in August 2021. He was the featured speaker at a breakfast event organized by a Tennessee state senator. Although the event took place in a government building, a reporter from The Tennessean newspaper arrived and was told to leave.
“The group that was gathered Wednesday quickly disbanded upon the reporter’s arrival and announced they were relocating to (the state senator’s) office. They did not answer questions about why the subject matter being discussed was secretive,” the Tennessean reported.
Cole then visited Nashville in December 2021 with his speaking group that produces events under the name “Global Covid Summit,” hosting the daylong events mainly in churches and charging for admission and more expensive VIP tickets.
Then, in March, Cole testified in the Tennessee legislature in favor of the “natural immunity” exemption.
After the Sun reached out to Kumar to schedule an interview, he went back and watched the video of the Tennessee House Health Subcommittee hearing in which he questioned Cole.
Kumar was struck by the scientific language Cole used — language unfamiliar to most Tennessee residents — and by the flood of false and unproven statements Cole made in a short period of time.
It made Kumar think: When someone makes dubious claims to the people who create Tennessee laws, should they have to produce some evidence to back up their claims as a statement of fact?
“Can we do something to give more credibility and truthfulness to the testimony that is presented before the Legislature?” he said. “We need to do better.”
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.