Prominent climate science deniers moved rapidly to spread false and misleading conspiracy theories online during and after the attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters this week.
Some climate deniers, including some with ties to the Heartland Institute and other organisations that have historically helped to create the false impression that there is sizeable scientific disagreement on climate change, also directly expressed support for the attackers and called for more violence.
'Striking fear in politicians is not a bad thing,' the @ClimateDepot Twitter account tweeted on the afternoon of January 6 in a message describing the Capitol as then 'under siege'.
The thread continued, referring to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
“What's needed next is mass protests to storm state Capitols and the CDC to end COVID lockdowns once and for all.”
The @ClimateDepot Twitter account, created in April 2009, is held by Marc Morano, the communications director for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) — a Washington-based think-tank with a history of receiving funding from ExxonMobil and the conservative dark money organisation Donors Trust.
Morano serves as the executive director of CFACT’s climatedepot.com website, which as DeSmog’s database profile puts it, 'regularly publishes articles questioning man-made global warming'.
Morano has for many years played a prominent role in the climate denial movement. The Heartland Institute currently maintains a biography of Morano under its “Who We Are” section, noting his prior role as a 'climate researcher for U.S. Senator James Inhofe', who has regularly made speeches rejecting mainstream climate science.
Rolling Stone once called Morano 'the Matt Drudge of climate denial'. He more recently authored a book titled, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change. CFACT’s most recent tax filings show Morano was its highest-compensated employee, bringing in over $209,000 in pay and benefits in 2018.
On January 6, after the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) — whose board of directors include senior officials with ExxonMobil and numerous other fossil fuel companies — posted a statement condemning the violence at the Capitol Building, @ClimateDepot retweeted a reply to that statement reading:
'NAM has always been a bootlicking organisation grovelling at the booted feet of their governmental masters.'
Many fossil fuel industry groups immediately condemned the insurgency in statements or social media posts and some long-time climate deniers did as well. But Morano was not the only prominent science denier to express support online for the mob attack in D.C.
William M Briggs, described by the Heartland Institute as one of its policy advisors, published a post on January 7 headlined, 'We fought the good fight and we lost — this battle'. In the piece, Briggs claims that 'Congress had an unarmed Air Force veteran shot and killed' and misleadingly claims that 'the crowd, by doing very little, by remaining inside the tourist ropes inside the building, even, forced the startled regime into hiding'.
Briggs' post goes on to describe Republican politicians' later condemnation of Wednesday’s attack as 'the most disgusting display of cowardice and abject surrender we’re likely to see in our lifetimes'.
Briggs's post continued:
'Some of us will be in deep kimchi because of this, but there are no regrets. One thing is certain. They will be coming for us.'
DeSmog reviewed numerous accounts during and in the wake of the Capitol attack. Social media posts show that several other climate science deniers, like the UK-based columnist James Delingpole and Steve Milloy, publisher of the JunkScience.com website, joined many on the far-right in circulating false information. They suggested that it was not the visible pro-Trump participants who had been planning online for weeks to “occupy the Capitol", but instead members of their opposition — the loose, left-wing movement known as Antifa — that actually invaded the building.
On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that there was 'no substantive evidence' that any Antifa supporters had participated in the pro-Trump insurrection, adding that many claims of Antifa involvement had cited a source that had, in fact, reported neo-Nazi participation.
Others in DeSmog's Climate Disinformation Database, like the conservative media organisation Prager U, used their social media presence to share messaging that sought to shift focus to last summer's Black Lives Matter uprisings.
Detailed information about precisely what happened inside the Capitol Building on Wednesday — and what led to those events — is still continuing to emerge. But what is clear is that neo-Nazis and long-time far-right Trump supporters were documented, and in many cases documented themselves, participating in the mob violence inside the Capitol Building.
Melissa Ryan, author of the Ctrl Alt-Right Delete weekly newsletter covering the alt-right and CEO of CARD Strategies, told DeSmog:
“The goal isn’t necessarily to convince anyone of anything. The goal is to sow so much confusion that it’s actually hard for people to tell the truth from fiction.”
That misinformation benefits the far-right, she said.
Said Ryan, who has previously written about interactions between climate deniers and QAnon conspiracy theorists:
“They did the same after Charlottesville. They do the same after any of their protests that cause violence. The goal is to cause confusion amongst viewers, those amongst their audience that might have a little trepidation about being associated with violent extremist groups, so ‘both sides’ is sort of how they neutralise that.”
Several accounts associated with climate science deniers focused in particular on pictures of Jake Angeli, who wore face paint and a horned helmet on January 6, with these accounts suggesting that Angeli was a member of Antifa. Angeli, however, is better known as “the QAnon shaman".
“He’s absolutely a QAnon right-wing follower,” said Ryan.
Attempts to shift blame away from those visibly participating in the invasion and to Antifa were later also spread in Congress by Republican Matt Gaetz of Florida. He was met with audible boos on the House floor when he suggested that the Capitol attack was by people “masquerading” as Trump supporters — a word choice made all the more ironic by the fact that many participating in the apparent coup attempt were not wearing masks, despite the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
And, of course, President Trump himself may perhaps be the world’s best-known climate science denier. Earlier in the day on January 6, he had addressed members of the soon-to-be mob in person, calling on them to “walk down to the Capitol” and adding that “you will never take back our country with weakness”. Later that day, in a recorded video, he told them, “We love you. You’re very special. Go home."
On Thursday night (7 January), in a tweeted video message lasting less than three minutes, President Trump said that the “demonstrators” — the same individuals whom he had personally addressed before the attack — had “defiled” the Capitol and called for their prosecution. *Today (8 January), he resumed using his Twitter account to praise and encourage his base.
Today (8 January), Trump faces renewed calls for his impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment. But the disinformation-fueled movement backing him is extremely unlikely to simply fade away — and may in fact be further emboldened by the images of Trump and Confederate flags that were waved inside the Capitol Building.
“I feel like it’s a very clear end of the Trump Administration, but what’s terrifying is what it is the birth of.”
Far-right organisers have already reportedly posted calls to gather again on January 20 — inauguration day. On Thursday (7 January), USA Today quoted from a “white-supremacist Telegram channel” that called for “Pro-Trump and other nationalist crowds” to gather in D.C. that day.
* Donald Trump's Twitter account was permanently suspended on 8 January.
Sharon Kelly is an attorney and freelance writer based in Philadelphia. This article was originally published by DeSmogBlog under the title 'Climate Deniers Moved Rapidly to Spread Misinformation During and After Attack on US Capitol.'