On the evening of January 6, 2021, the day of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, former coal mining executive Don Blankenship, who ran against Donald Trump as a third-party candidate in the 2020 election, began an all-caps Twitter thread.
“Why is it that American politicians and the American media support citizen uprisings in China, Poland, South Africa, and throughout the world, but when an American citizen is killed during an uprising against a corrupt American government the citizens are at fault?” @DonBlankenship posted on Twitter.
“Members of the media and the government are all saying what we saw today doesn’t work — but that is only because they don’t want it to work,” the thread continues. “What we saw today is what freed Americans from King George and England.”
Blankenship at one time served as the CEO of Massey Energy Company, a coal mining company that at one time was Appalachia’s largest coal producer. He later served a one-year prison sentence after he was convicted of conspiracy to violate mine safety standards, causing the 2010 deaths of 29 coal miners at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia.
The former coal CEO is, to be sure, no stranger to Twitter controversy. In 2013, for example, Rolling Stone ranked one of Blankenship’s tweets number three on its list of the top 10 “dumbest things ever said about global warming.”
Blankenship was also hardly alone among white-collar climate science deniers in expressing support for the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
A review of social media posts and online publications by DeSmog found dozens of prominent climate deniers — both individuals and organizations — posted messages supporting the insurrectionists, spread debunked claims about election fraud, hinted at civil war, or, in one case, suggested that Twitter’s effort to remove online disinformation about the election should be viewed as “worse than 9-11.”
Not all of those profiled in DeSmog’s Climate Disinformation Database supported the insurrection on January 6. A significant number of organizations, like the Cato Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers, immediately condemned mob violence.
But the events on January 6 and its aftermath appear to have created sharp divisions among those opposed to climate action, with many individuals (and a small number of organizations) posting pro-insurrection messaging before, during, and after the failed storming of the Capitol as Congress was preparing to certify the presidential election results. Some disavowed the violence that day, while others markedly did not.
DeSmog collected insurrection-related messaging from dozens of those profiled in our Climate Disinformation Database. Those profiles have been updated to include their statements surrounding the insurrection, including a number of posts that have since been deleted or removed.
“Be a Shame if They Misplaced Him”
A number of the more striking social media posts and comments collected came from individuals affiliated with the pro-fossil fuel Heartland Institute, which calls itself an “’action tank’ as well as a ‘think tank.’”
One American Petroleum Institute consultant and Heartland Institute policy advisor, Tom Tanton, wrote on Facebook on the morning of January 6 that he wished he was in D.C. for the coming march.
That evening, after the insurrection was over, Tanton’s social media account circulated an article claiming “antifa” had “infiltrated” the Capitol insurrection. “In fact, many of the Trump supporters who stormed into the Capitol openly boasted about their participation, live-streaming as they forced their way past police and bashed the building’s doors and windows,” The Washington Post reported on January 7, 2021, in response to similar claims.
Steve Milloy, who posts under the Twitter handle @JunkScience and who joined the Heartland Institute’s board of directors in 2020, gave a January 13 interview on the OAN Network in which he suggested that perhaps the police and military “just let this happen so that they could set President Trump up for this impeachment.”
“People laugh when you say ‘Deep State,’” he added. “No, it’s real. There’s something going on here.”
On January 6, 2021, the day of the Capitol insurrection in the U.S., William Briggs, a Heartland Institute policy advisor, posted “Now is the time Mr. President,” adding that there were 100,000 to 200,000 “patriots” in the Capitol.
Writing in response to a tweet that read “CSPAN (via HuffPost) reports that Nancy Pelosi is safe,” Briggs commented, “Win some and lose some.”
Briggs, whose Twitter bio indicates that all of his tweets “DIE FROM CORONAVIRUS AFTER 7 DAYS,” has since removed those messages from Twitter.
As of press time, the Heartland Institute had not responded to questions from DeSmog.
Claims Trump Won in 2020
Several prominent opponents of climate action also circulated false or unsupported claims about the 2020 elections before or after January 6.
Angela Logomasini is listed as a senior fellow by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a conservative policy group that opposes climate action and has received fossil fuel industry funding. She was a co-author of a 2016 CEI report urging the incoming Trump administration to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the international climate accord. Her Twitter account — now removed — posted multiple times about the 2020 election, including a retweet of a January 5 call to “FIGHT BACK w @RealDonaldTrump.”
After the insurrection, @alogomasini also tweeted out a call to move away from “big tech” social media. “Don’t trust Congress! Don’t trust bureaucracies! They will shut down free speech permanently. Don’t fall for it,” her January 9 tweet reads.
As of press time, Logomasini had not responded to questions from DeSmog about the posts.
Others in DeSmog’s database circulated false or incendiary claims about election fraud, both before and after Joe Biden’s inauguration.
John Droz, founder of the Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions, published a two-page report on February 5 claiming that Trump, who lost 61 of the 62 lawsuits he and his allies filed seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election, had actually “WON the majority of 2020 election cases fully heard, and then decided on the merits.” His report, signed “John Droz, physicist, North Carolina,” was covered in articles by Christianity Daily and the Epoch Times.
The headline-driving claim made in the report, however, utterly fails to withstand scrutiny. “Trump and his allies have won one lawsuit related to the results of the 2020 election, and that case did not prove that widespread voter fraud affected the outcome,” PolitiFact wrote in a piece rating the claim false. “Judges across the political spectrum have rejected dozens of other cases filed after November 3 that sought to overturn the election. Just because a case is dismissed on procedural grounds does not mean it wasn’t duly considered.”
Violence “Too Profitable to be Ignored”
On January 7, one day after the Capitol insurrection, the trade group Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, which, according to its Twitter bio, has been “representing the manufacturing sector in Pennsylvania public policy since 1909,” retweeted a thread by a Breitbart author on the topic of political violence. The retweeted series of messages begins by saying that “political violence is always wrong” but ends with the message that “if we decide the tolerance level for political violence will not be 0.0, then all that remains is for our armies to meet in the streets. Violence is too powerful, too USEFUL, and too profitable to be ignored when it is indulged. /end”
“The only acceptable level of political violence is zero,” David Taylor, president of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association said on February 12 in response to questions from DeSmog about the retweet. “That was the essence of the author’s message as I understood it at the time, which I thought was worthy of further consideration by readers.”
Pro-violence social media posts by Marc Morano, communications director for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, were previously reported by DeSmog. “Striking fear in politicians is not a bad thing,” Morano’s @ClimateDepot account tweeted on the afternoon of January 6 in a message describing the Capitol as then “under siege.” He added a quote from Thomas Jefferson that has been cited in support of other violent rebellions (including, for instance, Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh): “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
On January 20, podcaster Brian Sussman suggested that his audience consider arming themselves in anticipation of more political violence to come. He warned his listeners that Biden’s inauguration would bring a wide arrange of calamities over the next two years in a podcast titled “Inauguration Day: Predictions, Final Warning and Advice.”
“Hopefully Red states will rise in defiance and challenge the new federal mandates,” he said as he described events he expected to happen under the Biden administration. “The question is how long will they be able to hold out. I don’t know what that looks like. Are we talking civil war? I don’t know what that looks like.”
A few minutes later, he advised his listeners: “Additionally, consider your Second Amendment rights while they remain intact,” referring to the Constitutional amendment establishing the right to bear arms. “And if you do, please be well-trained.”
“Worse than 9-11”
For some of those who reject mainstream climate science, the most ominous events linked to the Capitol insurrection seem to have been the moves made by tech giants to reduce the amount of disinformation and calls to violence that their sites publish.
Economist Robert P. Murphy has worked for the Pacific Research Institute and the Institute for Energy Research — two organizations that have received considerable funding from the fossil fuel billionaire Koch family — and appeared as a speaker at the Heartland Institute’s First International Conference on Climate Change in 2008.
On the morning of January 7, 2021, Murphy posted a reply to a tweet by Anang Mittal, a former “creative director” for Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Murphy wrote, “The reasons yesterday’s events were tragic is that one person was shot, and it will be used as an excuse to further erode people’s rights. Not because the headquarters of professional liars and war criminals was desecrated.”
In reply to an announcement that Citibank would “pause contributions” to Republicans who had objected to the electoral college results, Murphy wrote, “Sooner rather than later, those of you saying ‘omg you crybabies, this is just about banning actual terrorists’ will be saying ‘alex jones was an optimist.’”
Some, including Heartland Institute co-founder Joseph Bast, Turning Point USA founder and Stop the Steal rally organizer Charlie Kirk, and Ben Pile, the UK-based co-founder of the Climate Resistance blog, indicated that they planned to move to social media sites associated with the far right, like Parler and Gab. (Although Amazon later knocked Parler offline after removing it from its web servers.)
One of those who decried Twitter’s crackdown was Canadian Patrick Moore — whose Heartland Institute bio claims that he “is a co-founder” of Greenpeace (a claim that Greenpeace denies, adding that Moore has been “a paid spokesman for a variety of polluting industries for more than 30 years.”)
The social media giant had, by January 9, ejected thousands of accounts linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory and other disinformation.
“@Twitter has sent > 5,000 of my Followers to the Gulag in the past 28 days,” Moore tweeted on January 9. “It’s worse than Pearl Harbour or 9-11.”
A “Mass Radicalization” Wave on the Right
The U.S. has recently experienced a wave of so-called “mass radicalization” that security experts say has blurred the lines between what’s considered mainstream and fringe on the right, a wave whose high-water mark to date was the January 6 insurrection.
Climate denial, a fringe view among scientists, remained remarkably popular on the right in the U.S. in recent years, even as most of the rest of the world has increasingly rejected it as unsupported by evidence. (Researchers have also separately linked conspiratorial thinking to both climate denial and to U.S. right-wing politics.)
As the mass radicalization wave surged, some individual opponents of climate action may have been swept along by its broad rightward push, propelling them closer to endorsing political violence.
On Saturday, February 13, the Senate voted to acquit Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, falling 10 votes short of the 67 necessary for Congress to convict the now-former president of inciting the insurrection. Criminal and civil trials and other fallout over the events of January 6, however, are only just beginning.
“It’s also really important to recognize that while many people were emboldened by what happened on January 6, many were demoralized and demobilized,” Michael Jensen of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism told Politico recently.
Jensen cautioned that there are not a lot of recent historical precedents for easy or simple shifts away from mass radicalization — but added that he saw some hope in looking to the methods of science, with its insistence on demonstrable evidence and facts.
“I hope that we elevate science and evidence and fact to the position that it used to have,” he added, as he reflected on what could promote mass de-radicalization, “and that these narratives are not as prevalent, because it is bad for our democracy and our communities.”