Republican Rep. Jennifer Gross of West Chester

By Jake Zuckerman and Ohio Capital Journal

Columbus, Ohio – After a discredited doctor’s conspiracy theories involving COVID-19 vaccines, magnetics and 5G towers made a mockery of the Ohio House of Representatives, the Health chairman blamed the sponsor of anti-vaccination legislation for inviting the doctor to testify before the committee.

House Health Committee Chairman Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, said in an interview that fellow Republican Rep. Jennifer Gross of West Chester personally requested that Cleveland area physician Dr. Sherri Tenpenny testify in support of Gross’ bill, the “Vaccine Choice and Anti-Discrimination Act.”

Lipps said he warned against Tenpenny, but Gross “vehemently” overrode his objections.

Tenpenny is a prominent anti-vaccination advocate who was deemed “unreliable” by a special master in federal court, who forbade her testimony as an expert witness in an alleged vaccine injury case. 

Gross also personally invited Fremont attorney Tom Renz to testify at the hearing. A federal judge similarly blasted as “incomprehensible” a federal lawsuit Renz filed alleging “tyranny” from Ohio’s government regarding the pandemic.

Lipps said Gross and Stephanie Stock, president of anti-vaccination advocacy group Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom, were adamant.

“We did not include Tom Renz or Sherri Tenpenny on our agenda,” he said. “They protested, called me personally, and said they wanted Renz and Tenpenny.”

Renz and Tenpenny both testified in support of Gross’ House Bill 248, which would prohibit colleges, insurers, hospitals, nursing homes, employers and others from requiring, incentivizing or asking about vaccination — all vaccines, not just for COVID-19. Public health experts have said in previous interviews the legislation would suppress Ohio’s vaccination rates against a number of diseases and increase the likelihood of outbreaks of infectious disease.

The bill drew huge public interest, prompting the committee to allow only certain, invited witnesses to testify.

Tenpenny, one of the few invited witnesses, unleashed a torrent of inaccurate and bizarre claims about purported dangers of the vaccine. She alleged that vaccinated people become “magnetized,” as evidenced by pictures on the internet of them with forks and spoons sticking to their persons.

“There has been people who have long suspected there was some sort of an interface, yet to be defined, an interface between what’s being injected in these shots, and all of the 5G towers,” Tenpenny said.

See footage of Tenpenny’s comments to the committee here

The comments, which are not accurate, would soon drag the Ohio House through lampooning national media coverage and ridicule from late night comics like John Oliver and Stephen Colbert.

At 1:47 a.m. the day after Tenpenny’s comments, the doctor emailed Gross to thank the lawmaker for being “strong and brave” and allowing her to testify, according to an email obtained in a public records request.

In the email, Tenpenny sent a largely unrelated article from the Journal of Nanobiotechnology examining the biochemical functionality of magnetic particles as nanosensors, which are used in cancer diagnosis and treatment. Tenpenny seemed to claim it as proof of her comments regarding COVID-19 vaccines.

“Don’t let them bully you or disparage me,” she wrote. “We’re on to something here… and the LOUDER they scream, the more they are trying to hide. I stand by everything I said today. I put out FACTS and HYPOTHESIS (points to ponder).

God Wins,

Dr. Sherri Tenpenny.”

The day after the testimony, with the comments going viral online, Gross came to Lipps’ office and said she needed help with “damage control,” according to Lipps’ remarks in an interview. 

Gross declined to confirm or deny Lipps’ account or answer emailed questions. She said she’s busy and considers the questions “old news.” However, she claimed Lipps praised Renz’s testimony and alleged he thought Tenpenny “sounds great.”

Ohio House Health Chairman Scott Lipps. Source: Ohio General Assembly.

Lipps denied saying this.

“I would expect nothing different from Rep. Gross,” he said in a text message to the Capital Journal. “I have quickly learned she [accepts] no responsibility for her actions or decisions and is quick to blame anyone and everyone. Also, the first agenda we [put] out for proponent testimony had NO Renz and NO Tenpenny. Rep. Gross vehemently objected.”

When the House Health Committee met a week after the comments went viral, Lipps defended the practice of bringing in witnesses like Tenpenny, even if doing so made people “uncomfortable.” He emphasized the importance of hearing from those one disagrees with.

“Please step outside your own little world and understand that people are not all the same, and they don’t all believe the same,” he said. “You are not always right.”

Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom helped draft Gross’ HB 248 legislation and has paid for a spread of radio ads to gin up support for the bill, according to disclosures with the Federal Communications Commission.

Stock — president of the group, which researchers found to be the fourth-largest purchaser nationwide of anti-vaccination ads on Facebook — declined to answer questions for this report.

So who is Sherri Tenpenny?

Most Ohioans had probably never heard of Tenpenny before video of her June 8 testimony went viral.

In anti-vaccination corners of the internet, however, she’s something of a celebrity doctor. 

She is close with Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist and media figure who is facing libel lawsuits after claiming the Sandy Hook school shooting that left 20 young children and six adults dead at a Connecticut school was a “giant hoax.” The two have been friends for 20 years, they both said in a recent interview on Jones’ show.

On a recent episode of her podcast, Tenpenny interviewed pillow magnate Mike Lindell, who is among the loudest backers of former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was rigged. Lindell and his company are also facing libel suits related to these claims

While Tenpenny has repeated similar claims of election fraud, her primary focus is vaccines and wrongfully depicting them as dangerous. 

“Vaccines are now, and people, listen to this closely, always have been a method of mass destruction, a method of depopulation,” she claimed earlier in 2021.

Tenpenny’s anti-vaccine activism has generated multiple related revenue streams for her. She hosted a “boot camp” this year for $623, training people to convince others to refrain from vaccination. In May, she hosted a live streaming training event to explain the “20 mechanisms of injury from the shots” — platinum package tickets went for $199. Her 2008 book, “Saying No to Vaccines: A Resource Guide for all Ages,” isavailable on Amazon for $877.95, one of several similar titles she has authored.

Despite this work, Tenpenny does not follow acceptable scientific methodology, her testimony is “unreliable” and she is “unqualified” to address vaccine injury, according to Special Master Richard Abell, appointed by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Abell made these remarks in a 2010 ruling that blocked Tenpenny’s testimony on behalf of a man who alleged a hepatitis B vaccination gave him Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare side effect of vaccination.

The legal standard, he wrote, calls on judges to presume admissibility of testimony of an expert witness. However, he found her methodology “so divergent from the scientific method as to be nonsensical and confusing,” prompting his ruling.

“Her ideas on vaccine injury have not been exposed to any critical analysis of those in the relevant field, let alone peer-reviewed medical journals,” he said. “There is no way to ascertain whether Dr. Tenpenny’s opinion is credibly accepted by those who would know; there are only the patent defects in her report that militate for the opposite.”

Tenpenny did not respond to repeated phone calls.

Tom Renz speaks to the House State and Local government Committee Feb. 17. Source: Ohio Channel.

Who is Tom Renz?

After Tenpenny wrapped up her testimony on June 8, Fremont attorney Tom Renz addressed the committee.

Renz obtained his law license shortly before the pandemic began and his legal career has since wrapped around it. (He says he previously clerked for an Indian Supreme Court justice but doesn’t remember when.)

He is currently representing clients in COVID-19 related lawsuits against:

The lawsuits are sprawling, some stretching over 100 pages, and are rife with claims that the COVID-19 death count is “inflated,” that asymptomatic spread of disease is a “fallacy,” that masks don’t work and a deluge of other inaccurate and often debunked claims.

No cases have yet received any significant rulings. U.S. District Judge James Carr described the first lawsuit against DeWine as “a jumble of alleged facts, conclusory and speculative assertions, personal and third-party allegations, opinions, and articles of dubious provenance and admissibility.”

Renz withdrew the lawsuit and has since filed a similar case that awaits a ruling. Ohio Stands Up, a citizens group that acts as plaintiffs in the cases, created a crowdsourced legal fund to pay Renz and his partner, Robert Gargasz. The fund has raised nearly $140,000 since it launched around September 2020.

Earlier this year, Renz testified before a separate committee regarding a pandemic-related bill. YouTube ultimately removed footage of the hearing from its site for violating its COVID-19 misinformation policy

Renz didn’t respond to an email.

Ohio Stands Up recently posted on Facebook a flier for an August fundraiser: “An Evening With Dr. Sherri Tenpenny and Attorney Thomas Renz.” Tickets cost $75. 

Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.

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