Trump, Cruz, and the Gullibility of Climate Deniers
February 21, 2016
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain
Climate deniers Donald Trump and Ted Cruz know their audience. If you believe climate denial, you’ll believe anything.
Below the news item, some context.
GREENVILLE, S.C.—Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump finished his South Carolina campaign on Friday night by praising a mass murder of Muslim prisoners in the early 1900s.
The murder never actually happened: Trump, it appears, was credulously repeating an online hoax. Regardless, his words represented yet another escalation of his open Islamophobia and his explicit support for war crimes.
Trump is running on a proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country. He made the new remarks near the end of his speech in North Charleston on the eve of the crucial South Carolina primary in which he leads in the polls.
Speaking in his usual extemporaneous style, he vowed to go “much, much, much further than waterboarding,” the torture tactic defended by some conservatives. He said: “I read a story. It’s a terrible story, but I’ll tell you. Should I tell you or should I not?”
The crowd asked for the story.
Trump described the late U.S. general John Pershing, a “rough” man. He then claimed, approvingly, that Pershing had summarily executed 49 Muslim prisoners during the U.S. occupation of the Philippines in the early-1900s — and had added religious insult to the supposed killings by dipping the bullets in the bloods of pigs, which Muslims are forbidden to consume.
“This was a terrible problem. They were having terrorism problems just like we do,” he said. “And he caught 50 terrorists who did tremendous damage and killed many people. And he took the 50 terrorists and he took 50 men and he took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs’ blood. You heard that, right? He took 50 bullets! And he dipped them in pigs’ blood.
“And he had his men load his rifles, and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person, he said, ‘You go back to your people and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years there wasn’t a problem, OK? Twenty-five years there wasn’t a problem.”
He concluded by linking the story to present-day problems for a second time.
“So we better start getting tough and we better start getting vigilant, and we better start using our heads or we’re not gonna have a country, folks,” he said.
The myth-busting website Snopes found no evidence to support the story, which has circulated by email since at least 2001. Snopes found anecdotal accounts that Pershing or other military leaders had threatened to bury Muslims along with pig carcasses.
Back when he was a mere Reality TV star, Donald Trump published a less-than-140-character dissertation on climate change. “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” That tweet from Election Day, 2012, drew 40,000 retweets or likes.
His Republican presidential rival, Senator Ted Cruz, sees a climate conspiracy as well. But it’s a different conspiracy, with different perpetrators, for different reasons. His culprits? “Liberal politicians, who want government power over the economy, the energy sector and every aspect of our lives.”
There has been so much lunacy, bombast, and ideological hair-pulling and eye-gouging in the current presidential campaign that the madness of these conspiracy theories has been overlooked. And even with the multitude of debates, the journalists who moderate them have almost totally avoided mentioning the issue at all.
May I offer two suggestions?
First, the ideal climate question for a Republican debate would be to ask Trump about Cruz’s conspiracy theory, and vice versa. They can’t both be right, though there’s ample opportunity for both to be wrong. And if past is prologue, they can’t possibly not disagree with each other.
It would be the kind of catfight that the debate producers have come to rely on for high ratings. Have at it, lads.
Second, I’d counsel the pundit class now covering this sorriest of presidential elections to seek the wisdom of the man whose multiple presidential runs were built on a fortress of wild conspiracies. Now mostly forgotten, 93 year-old Lyndon LaRouche was a candidate in every presidential election from 1976 to 2004, either as a Democrat, an Independent, or under the flag of his own U.S. Labor Party.
In 1992, he ran his campaign from a federal prison in Minnesota following his conviction on credit card fraud and obstruction of justice. For a time, fate conspired to give him disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker as a cellmate. In his autobiography, Bakker wrote, “to say that Lyndon was slightly paranoid would be like saying the Titanic had a bit of a leak.”
Oh, could Lyndon LaRouche spin conspiracies. Queen Elizabeth, Henry Kissinger, and the World Wildlife Fund, he said, controlled the worldwide heroin trade. Her Majesty has also held every U.S. President since Harry Truman by the short ones, as if the Brits never really surrendered at Yorktown. And popular culture, represented by The Beatles, Harry Potter and Pokémon among others, is a vast and centralized mind control effort to steer the world’s youth into either violence or torpor.
While dismissed as both a political theorist and a candidate, LaRouche did draw widespread attention. In the 1984 election cycle, he dropped millions of dollars on primetime network TV buys, giving rambling hour-long speeches to a national audience. LaRouche’s presidential aspirations peaked that year at about 78,000 general election votes.
Lyndon LaRouche is worth mentioning here because what Cruz and Trump have said about climate change is competitive with his lunacy. Unlike LaRouche, these men have a genuine shot at leading America and setting its climate agenda.
As his star continues to rise, Trump has uncharacteristically mellowed on climate denial, telling a gullible Fox News interviewer last year that the Chinese line was a joke. But he still deploys the word “hoax” on a regular basis, and drops a soundbite and a tweet on every cold weather day to refute climate change.
Cruz has doubled down, comparing himself to the persecuted Galileo and adding a parallel conspiracy theory about climate scientists, saying they’re only in it for the money. “In the debate over global warming, far too often politicians in Washington – and for that matter, a number of scientists receiving large government grants – disregard the science and data and instead push political ideology,” he told NPR. This is particularly ironic, given Cruz’s deep financial support from oil and gas men.
Either way, it’s chilling. The kind of paranoia and delusion that once resided on the fringe is winning presidential primaries and caucuses. And in case you may think we don’t have Lyndon LaRouche to kick around anymore, his think tank, the Schiller Institute, published a paper last September accusing the still-prolific Queen Elizabeth of strong-arming the Pope into stumping on climate change as a population control measure – despite the Catholic Church’s singular stance against population control even on a personal level.
So Lyndon LaRouche is a has-been, an ex-con, a tinfoil-hatted crackpot who was quadrennially laughed off the national stage. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are serious contenders for the presidency. Other than that, on climate change, I’m not sure I can tell the three of them apart.
A new study has examined the comments on climate science-denying blogs and found strong evidence of widespread conspiratorial thinking. The study looks at the comments made in response to a previous paper linking science denial and conspiracy theories.
Three years ago, social scientists Lewandowsky, Oberauer, and Gignac published a paper in the journal Psychological Science titled NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science.
The paper detailed the evidence the scientists found that, using survey data provided by visitors to climate blogs, those exhibiting conspiratorial thinking are more likely to be skeptical of scientists’ conclusions about vaccinations, genetically modified foods, and climate change. This result was replicated in a follow-up study using a representative U.S. sample that obtained the same result linking conspiratorial thinking to climate denial.
This shouldn’t be a terribly shocking result. When confronted with inconvenient science, those in denial often reject the evidence by accusing the experts of fraud or conspiracies. We saw a perfect example of this behavior just a few weeks ago. When scientists at NOAA published a paper finding that there was no ‘pause’ in global warming, one of the most common responses from those in denial involved the conspiratorial accusation that the scientists had somehow fudged the data at the behest of the Obama administration.
Nevertheless, nobody likes being characterized as a conspiracy theorist, and so those in the denial blogosphere reacted negatively to the research of Lewandowsky and colleagues. Ironically, many of the attacks on the study involved conspiratorial accusations, which simply provided more data for the social scientists to analyze. For example, the authors were accused of everything from faked data to collusion between Lewandowsky and the Australian government.