Part 2: “It’s Like a Cult” – The War on Farmers and Clean Energy

February 28, 2023

Note: Make sure you watch Part 1 of this series if you have not yet.

15 years ago when I started talking to climate scientist on a regular basis, it was clear they were under coordinated attack.

Onerous FOIA requests, legal intimidation, bogus “investigations” to get them in the media in an unflattering way, along with a steady stream of abuse, slander, and bald threats. One scientist had a dead animal placed on his doorstep. See the ABC News item below for more details.

Behind the scenes, manipulating and coordinating the attacks were a number of shadowy, dark money funded “think tanks”, but prominent among them was the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which later became the American Traditions Institute, (ATI) which and eventually rebranded as E&E Legal, which remains today.

In 2012, leaked documents described a event in Washington DC, organized by ATI, which invited a number of right wing activists to be trained as opponents of clean energy, which at the time was, for the most part, a rapidly growing wind industry.
The “wind warriors” were indoctrinated in climate denial by a real estate speculator and self styled “Physicist” John Droz.


“These documents show for the first time that local Nimby anti-wind groups are co-ordinating and working with national fossil-fuel funded advocacy groups to wreck the wind industry,” said Gabe Elsner, a co-director of the Checks and Balances, the accountability group which unearthed the proposal and other documents.

Among its main recommendations, the proposal calls for a national PR campaign aimed at causing “subversion in message of industry so that it effectively because so bad that no one wants to admit in public they are for it.”

It suggests setting up “dummy businesses” to buy anti-wind billboards, and creating a “counter-intelligence branch” to track the wind energy industry. It also calls for spending $750,000 to create an organisation with paid staff and tax-exempt status dedicated to building public opposition to state and federal government policies encouraging the wind energy industry.

more Guardian:

The proposal was reviewed by John Droz Jr, a senior fellow at ATI, for discussion at the Washington meeting, which he also organised. ATI’s executive director, Tom Tanton, said Droz had acted alone on the memo, although he confirmed he remains a fellow at the thinktank.

Droz is a longtime opponent of wind farms, arguing that the technology has not yet been proven and that wind technology should not receive government support. He claims 10,000 subscribers to his anti-wind-power email newsletter.

In a telephone interview, Droz said the Washington strategy session was his own initiative, and that neither he nor any of the participants had been paid for attending the session.

Their main priority was co-ordinating PR strategy. “Our No 1 reason for getting together was to talk about whether there should be agreement to talk about a common message.”

The strategy session is the latest evidence of a concerted attack on the clean energy industry by thinktanks and lobby groups connected to oil and coal interests and free-market ideologues.

ATI is part of a loose coalition of ultra-conservative thinktanks and networks united by their efforts to discredit climate science and their close connections to the oil and gas industry, including the Koch family. Those groups include the Heartland Institute, the John Locke Foundation, and Americans for Prosperity, the organising arm of the Tea Party movement.

The anti clean energy coalition sought to position clean energy as a culture war issue, to exacerbate racial and political resentments against the effort to decarbonize our grid. They created a stream of images and memes designed to shoehorn clean energy into an existing right wing narrative.

In areas where wind farms were proposed, messaging took on a dark tone. This one from the “Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition”, located in southern Michigan and Ohio.

The latest video was drawn from a series of interviews with Farmers and local officials in Montcalm County, Michigan.
What snapped into focus as I spoke to these folks in quick succession, were the eerie but undeniable parallels between the attacks on climate scientists that I documented 10 years before, and what small town local officials are seeing today.
The connecting point is that training session in 2012, where local activists came into close coordination with the professionals working to wreck climate scientists.
I show how those tactics have become closely associated with a particularly active leader in the upper midwest, and how that has lead to the tearing apart of communities across the Heartland.


5 Responses to “Part 2: “It’s Like a Cult” – The War on Farmers and Clean Energy”

  1. ubrew12 Says:

    “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” Translation to the present crisis: You can prevent climate action for 40 years, and in 40 seconds fill out your “Get Out of Jail FREE” card, and you’re on your way. Perfect Moral Teflon.

    It’s sad about those lowlanders losing their homes to the ocean, though. They must have done something to tick off God…

  2. gmrmt Says:

    If anti-wind groups really wanted to stop turbines being put up then maybe they should match the fees being paid to landowners and the taxes being paid to local communities.

  3. Roger Walker Says:

    Thank you for this, Peter.

    I failed to bookmark Part I and now I can’t find it. But I sincerely hope it attracted more – and more pertinent – comments than these two facetious non-contributions from people who clearly have not been following.

    Decidedly, democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others, as Churchill said. And he might have added: especially when its inherent weaknesses are deliberately exploited by a tiny, well-organised and unscrupulous minority.

    You’ve written about this phenomenon before, but these two posts provide a much more detailed picture. We have to assume that the same playbook is being used all over the country. And it works. And it scares me shitless.

    But what, in real terms, can be done to stop it? As your interviewees point out, no one wants it on the table – for the most base of political motives: it’s a vote-loser. Never mind the General Good and the law of the land; never mind common sense and individuals’ rights; tackling mob rule is a vote-loser. So expecting politicians to do their job is pointless. Top-down ain’t gonna happen. Therefore, bottom-up must happen.

    That said, for what it’s worth, here are some suggestions:

    ―Townships must communicate with each other and develop a common strategy. Set up a dedicated website.
    ―They must organise, make a noise and make sure their message gets through to the mainstream media: This is a thing, it’s a real problem and IT NEEDS TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY.
    ―Law enforcement officers must be present at all sensitive board meetings. Not state police but local deputies. And they should be actively encouraged to intervene when necessary. Arresting and prosecuting trouble-makers should become the norm.
    ―All such meetings should be filmed, archived and shared. Costs to be covered by a national township protection fund.

    It all adds up to a hell of a lot of work and hassle. Sure, But consider the stakes. Not only resilience in the face of climate change, but the very survival of a just and equitable society.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      states are working on siting reform to address this issue, but it will be a pitched battle to get it done.
      Illinois just passed such a law, we’ll see how it works

      • Roger Walker Says:

        That’s good to know. But townships can’t wait for/count on states to get it done. They have to organise – that’s always been the key word – and make a lot of noise. Get that website up and running. It’s too important and too urgent.

        In France things have got so bad that a large Région in the north has voted a €100,000 subsidy for an association whose sole declared objective is preventing the construction of wind turbines!

        More strength to your arm!

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