As Trump Scorned Covid-19 Precautions, Climate Deniers Echoed and Expanded that Message

Late Thursday night, President Trump said on Twitter that he and first lady Melania Trump had both been diagnosed with Covid-19. The news came on the heels of reports that senior aide Hope Hicks had been symptomatic and tested positive for the virus that causes Covid-19.

Just two days earlier, on Tuesday night, Trump had mocked mask wearing during a debate with Democratic candidate Joe Biden, saying “I don’t wear masks like him.” Members of Trump’s delegation at that debate, including his family members, reportedly removed their masks on arrival and were photographed without masks at the debate.

Earlier on Thursday, researchers at Cornell University released a study finding that President Donald Trump was linked to nearly 38 percent of the misinformation they identified in 38 million articles about the pandemic. “The biggest surprise was that the president of the United States was the single largest driver of misinformation around Covid,” Sarah Evanega, the study’s lead author, told The New York Times.

DeSmog has been tracking connections between opponents of climate action and the so-called Reopen Movement and today is publishing archives of comments by individuals and groups that historically have circulated messages that denied or downplayed climate change and who also pushed for inaction on Covid-19 or circulated misinformation about the virus.

Back on March 16, DeSmog reported on ways that organizations opposed to climate action “are now spreading misinformation on the coronavirus, with potentially deadly consequences.”

On that day, nearly 4,300 people in the US had contracted the virus, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. Since then, more than 200,000 people in the US have contracted the virus and died, and the US has become the most Covid-afflicted country in the world, accounting for roughly one out of every five of the world’s reported deaths.

Since then, in many instances, climate deniers have continued to promote inaction on Covid-19. Some displayed deep misunderstandings of the science on the virus, promoted a business-as-usual model with little regard to mounting costs in human lives, or simply mangled the facts as they pushed against moves meant to slow the spread of the virus.

Take, for example, the approach of an organization called the Tea Party Patriots, on masks.

Tea Party Patriots is a member of the Save Our Country Coalition. Many of the individuals and groups in DeSmog’s archive on the reopen movement are members of the coalition, which was launched in April with support from FreedomWorks Foundation, American Legislative Exchange Council, the Tea Party Patriots and others.

Wearing masks at this point, in my opinion, with what I’ve read about the transmission of the virus through the mask both ways is more harmful in terms of our society and getting back to normal than it is protective,” Jane Hughes, an ophthalmologist and an ophthalmic surgeon from San Antonio, Texas, said in a video posted on YouTube by the Tea Party Patriots on June 9, 2020.

Hear the tragic stories from these medical experts on the front lines about the dangers of letting the Covid-19 coronavirus paralyze us with fear and the medical consequences that are being overlooked by focusing solely on the coronavirus,” a teaser for the video says. “It is time for our country to end the restrictions and the lockdowns.”

Another video posted by the group’s “Second Opinion Project” bore the title “Masks Don’t Make Any Sense.” In it, a plastic surgeon named Dr. Joel Singer says, “Masks, for this virus, don’t make any sense. OK. Why? Because it’s not an aerosolized virus. It doesn’t go through the air. It’s droplets. So the droplets land on a surface. We touch it with your hands and then you touch your face and gets into your body that way. And that’s how it spreads. It doesn’t spread through the air.”

The TPPatriots’ YouTube channel has over 22,000 subscribers.

Today, Tea Party Patriots re-tweeted a message wishing Donald Trump “a speedy recovery.”

In other cases, prominent advocates for inaction on climate change decried action intended to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the US.

Take, for example, Alex Epstein, author of a 2014 book called “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.”

In 2016, Epstein said that he thought climate change was occurring but that humans have only “very mildly” impacted the climate. “No. It’s all climate prediction models that can’t predict climate,” he said. “Anyone can make stuff up.” (He has more recently said that he “agrees” that climate change is real but that he does not concede that climate change is catastrophic.)

This year, Epstein spoke out against actions intended to curb the spread of Coivd-19. “It’s just an incredible example of…it’s almost fascism, you could call it, in terms of like supposedly we own our lives and we own our property,” said in a May 20 interview posted on YouTube, “but we’re not allowed to use it when the government decides that the virus is a significant enough threat.”

DeSmog also found that:

A group identifying themselves as America’s Frontline Doctors created a video that was removed from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube after going viral on July 27. One version of the video was published by Breitbart News. It features a group in white lab coats staging a press conference in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC.

Tea Party Patriots co-founder and national coordinator Jenny Beth Martin, a member of the Open our Country Coalition, introduced the segment. America’s Frontline Doctors seems closely affiliated with another Tea Party Patriots group titled the Second Opinion Project profiled later in this report. Simone Gold, a prominent voice in the Frontline Doctors video, is also an Open our Country Coalition member. Her name appears on the Second Opinion Project’s letter to Dr. Fauci urging to end shutdowns due to COVID.

A version of the video is still available at the Tea Party Patriots Action website, where it is now promoted for being  “censored” by social media.

President Trump shared the video to his Twitter followers despite the claims running counter to those of public health experts including “you don’t need masks” to prevent spread of the coronavirus, and that recent studies showing hydroxychloroquine is ineffective for the treatment of Covid-19 are “fake science” sponsored by “fake pharma companies.”

The video was taken down by social media sites, but Trump later defended his sharing of the video.

The Daily Beast was the first to note that one of the most prominent voices in the video, Stella Immanuel, has a history of “making bizarre claims about medical topics and other issues” including “that gynecological problems like cysts and endometriosis are in fact caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches” and that “alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious” and that “the government is run in part not by humans but by ‘reptilians’ and other aliens.”

Trump isn’t the only politician who’s urged inaction on both climate and covid. There’s also, for example Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, who recently made headlines for calling efforts to transition to renewables “silly solutions.”

In July, Crenshaw was slammed by more than 100 Houston-area medical professionals for his response to Covid-19. “Dan Crenshaw, on the other hand, has spewed lies for the past four months — minimizing the threat we face and spreading dangerous disinformation for self-indulgent headlines,” the letter charged, adding that Crenshaw often refused to wear a mask. “And he’s undermined the advice of our public health experts at every turn — enabling millions of his followers to do the same.”

Get well and stay strong @POTUS and @FLOTUS!,” Crenshaw tweeted today, in the wake of the President’s statement on his diagnosis. “You’ve got this.”

Main Image: Then-candidate Donald Trump spoke at an oil and gas industry conference in Pennsylvania in 2016. Credit: Laura Evangelisto.
As Trump Scorned Covid-19 Precautions, Climate Deniers Echoed and Expanded that Message
Sharon Kelly is an attorney and freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She has reported for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Nation, National Wildlife, Earth Island Journal, and a variety of other publications. Prior to beginning freelance writing, she worked as a law clerk for the ACLU of Delaware.

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