In his first column for the Atlantic, infamous right-wing troll Kevin Williamson calls the Democrats an “authoritarian” party on the basis of a phony smear about climate change lawsuits.
Williamson is also a climate science denier who peddled his anti-scientific nonsense at the right-wing National Review for many years.
In response to the initial criticism, Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg defended the hire in a staff memo (obtained by Slate). In it, he acknowledged that Williamson’s tweets have been pretty bad. “I don’t think that taking a person’s worst tweets, or assertions, in isolation is the best journalistic practice,” he says, later adding that he’d prefer “to give people second chances and the opportunity to change.”
So what does Williamson do with his second chance? He immediately goes back to trolling Democrats with a phony smear, claiming “they are dreaming up excuses to sue or jail people for their views on climate change, and the United States is for the moment left with two authoritarian populist parties” — referring to both the Republicans and Democrats.
Most of the piece focuses on arguing that the GOP is “authoritarian” for embracing Trump. The only example Williamson offers, however, for his false equivalency that the Democrats are also “authoritarian” is his false claim about the climate lawsuits.
To be clear, there are two kinds of climate lawsuits currently gaining attention — but neither involve suing or jailing people for their climate views. First, cities and attorneys generals are suing fossil fuel companies for their role in producing and selling fossil fuels while knowing they were a major cause of dangerous climate change, and do so while also often spreading disinformation about those dangers.
But a federal judge has already ruled the attorneys generals lawsuits do not infringe upon First Amendment rights.
The other lawsuits getting a lot of attention right now are kids suing the Trump Administration, claiming the federal government is endangering the plaintiffs’ right to a livable climate.
Instead, they offer two hyperlinks, one for the word “jail” and one for the rest of the sentence — as this screenshot of the HTML code shows.
The hyperlink attached to “jail” goes to a 4-year-old piece by Gawker (which shut down 2 years ago). In it, a Gawker blogger does propose charging and punishing people who are paid to spread misinformation on climate change. He quotes an assistant philosophy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
It isn’t by a Democratic politician, and it doesn’t cite any, so it does not provide any support for Williamson’s charge.
The second and longer link goes to a 3-year-old Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) op-ed in the Washington Post. It’s not about either suing or jailing people for their views, but simply raises the question of whether fossil fuel companies could be sued for “funding a massive and sophisticated campaign to mislead the American people about the environmental harm caused by carbon pollution.”
Whitehouse notes that these “activities are often compared to those of Big Tobacco denying the health dangers of smoking” and that “Big Tobacco’s denial scheme was ultimately found by a federal judge to have amounted to a racketeering enterprise.”
Whitehouse ends by saying “To be clear: I don’t know whether the fossil fuel industry and its allies engaged in the same kind of racketeering activity as the tobacco industry. We don’t have enough information to make that conclusion. Perhaps it’s all smoke and no fire. But there’s an awful lot of smoke.”
Pretty innocuous stuff — unless of course you’re a climate science denier like Williamson. As an aside, some libertarians think that suing fossil fuel companies is a very appropriate approach.
Nonetheless, on the very thin reed of these two links — one irrelevant and one innocuous — Williamson and the Atlantic smear Democrats with a false charge and paint the entire party as “authoritarian.”
This is called trolling. It’s what Williamson has done for a very long time. He is way past second or third or tenth chances.