Hit Lists and Harrassment: Right Wing Targets Climate Science
August 10, 2016
Recent news from the campaign trail underlines Climate denier’s light-hearted approach to character assassination, intimidation, and threats.
In a comment on an August 3rd post at the Wattsupwiththat website, Patrick J. Michaels of the conservative Cato Institute said that there has been a “hit list” apparently targeting climate scientists, and that he had influence over who was on it.
At this point, it is unclear exactly what this list was about. But from what Michaels said, it looks like it consisted of scientists being targeted for termination from their jobs.
|Note: See the update below about an effort by ExxonMobil in 2001 to get the Bush Administration to oust Robert T. Watson as chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change |
Considering the salience of global warming in the presidential election, and the unsettling nature of these comments, I decided to depart from my usual coverage of the science of our planet here at ImaGeo and try to shine a light on this.
Michaels, past president of the American Association of State Climatologists, and current Director of Cato’s Center for the Study of Science, is one of the most highly quoted doubters of mainstream science on climate change.
The Wattsupwiththat post to which Michaels responded concerned an announcement that Thomas Karl, director of the National Centers for Environmental Information, was retiring. NCEI is the part of NOAA that releases monthly updates on the global climate.
The post by Anthony Watts at the Wattsupwiththat website did little more than reproduce a copy of the press release announcing Karl’s retirement. Then, on Aug. 4th, Michaels wrote his response in the comments section of the post. Rhetorically addressing Karl, Michaels said:
I saved your job in 2000. You were on a hit list and I had you taken off because I thought you were a straight shooter. Seven months later what is detailed above happened.
Click on the image (above) to see a screenshot of Michaels’ entire comment, including what he says convinced him that Karl was not a “straight shooter.” In those comments, Michaels alleges that Thomas Karl engaged in unethical scientific behavior.
I called the Cato Institute earlier this morning to ask for elaboration from Michaels on this. I have not received a response from him yet; if and when I do, I will update this story.
I have also contacted several prominent climate scientists to get their responses.
Given that Michaels says he “saved” Karl’s job by taking him off “a hit list” in the year 2000, this could have had something to do with the incoming George W. Bush administration. Bush, a Republican, took office on Jan. 20, 2001.
In response to a National Academy of Sciences study finding that global warming was occurring due to human activities, President Bush said not long after taking office:
We do not know how much our climate could or will change in the future. We do not know how fast change will occur, or even how some of our actions could impact it.
For the past few months, when they dare venture out to the supermarket, to church, or to a climate rally, Bill McKibben, Tom Steyer, and other climate activists are being stalked by a team of GOP-trained camera operators. The so-called “trackers” with the cameras are working for a group called America Rising Squared (aka America Rising Advanced Research or AR2), and publishing the occasional “embarrassing” display of alleged hypocrisy on a website called CoreNews.org.
DeSmog first covered this new “creepy” campaign back in May, and since then, the harrassment has only gotten worse, as Bill McKibben writes in Sunday’s New York Times. In his op-ed, “My Right Wing Stalkers” (the web headline is: “Embarrassing Photos of Me, Thanks to My Right-Wing Stalkers”), McKibben describes what it’s like to live under surveillance, and the psychological toll that it takes on him and his family. (One particularly infuriating detail: McKibben’s daughter believes that she, too, is being filmed in public.)
To be watched so much is a kind of never-ending nightmare. And sometimes it’s just infuriating. I skipped the funeral this summer of Patrick Sorrento, an important mentor to me at my college newspaper, because I didn’t want my minder to follow me and cause a distracting spectacle. When my daughter reports someone taking pictures of her at the airport, it drives me nuts. I have no idea if it’s actually this outfit; common decency would suggest otherwise, but that seems an increasingly rare commodity.
Almost as startling as the tactics of the campaign is how closely it is tied to the mainstream Republican establishment. Core News (and by extension, America Rising Squared) might have the look and feel of a Right Wing lunatic fringe campaign funded by the darkest of oil and gas money. But in actuality it’s a foundational block of a prominent GOP opposition research firm, the heads of which have collectively spent decades working for big name Republicans like Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, John McCain, and even the National Republican Congressional Commitee and the Republican National Committee itself.