Best Villain

Jim Bakker

Staff Pick

If there’s one thing that isn’t lacking in 2020, it’s villains, whether it’s coronavirus itself or Rex Sinquefield trying to privatize St. Louis’ airport or even the St. Charles election authority, which got caught instructing poll workers who don’t want to wear masks to just “act surprised” and pretend they’d simply forgotten to wear one if anyone complained. Indeed, 2020 has many worthy entrants to this odious podium of infamy — but none seemed to embrace the role of cartoonish skullduggery more than Missouri televangelist Jim Bakker, whose not-so-righteous marketing of a “Silver Solution” as a coronavirus treatment led the FDA to respond with a gentle reminder that it considers “the sale and promotion of fraudulent COVID-19 products to be a threat to the public health.” (On Bakker’s show, one guest had explained, ludicrously, that the solution, “has been tested on other strains of the coronavirus and has been able to eliminate it within twelve hours.”) Then came the cease-and-desist letters from multiple states’ attorneys general along with a restraining order filed by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt. Thereafter, Bakker’s ministry deleted its webpage dedicated to COVID-19 and “the benefits of Silver Solution” — only to start marketing a Silver Solution-based hand sanitizer. Now, Bakker didn’t invent this kind of snake oil spirituality, but he built a ministry on the idea that the apocalypse is at hand and that physical salvation is just several dabs of Silver Solution away. When the real-life coronavirus’ doomsday arrived, Bakker held up a bottle of hokum for the camera while a guest raved that the substance “totally eliminates it, kills it. Deactivates it.” And despite the legal pushback, Bakker’s solution to the pandemic — making a buck off it — seems to be working: In April, Bakker’s ministry was approved for up to $1.7 million in government funds from the Paycheck Protection Program, a program intended to lessen the pandemic hardships faced by businesses. And what of the hardships of Bakker’s flock? In September, the ministry started advertising a $10,000 “Joseph’s Storehouse” survival food package that comes in 115 bunker-ready buckets. Even with the world actually on the brink, Bakker’s business remains the same: shilling for salvation and making a profit. — Danny Wicentowski

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