Extremist Rhetoric Overwhelms Public Square, Church Sanctuaries
"The most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists," claimed the institute's president, Joseph Bast, in a press release. "They are Charles Manson, a mass murderer; Fidel Castro, a tyrant; and Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Global warming alarmists include Osama bin Laden and James J. Lee (who took hostages inside the headquarters of the Discovery Channel in 2010)."
Bast asserted: "The leaders of the global warming movement have one thing in common: They are willing to use force and fraud to advance their fringe theory."
Justifying the billboard, the Heartland Institute said: "The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen."
The incendiary billboard ad burned the Heartland Institute, which was forced to pull its billboard ads.
Calling the ads "an experiment," Bast said in a press release that the billboard "was deliberately provocative, an attempt to turn the tables on the climate alarmists by using their own tactics but with the opposite message."
While Bast did not "apologize for running the ad," he admitted that the billboard had "angered and disappointed" Heartland's friends.
In fact, the spokesperson for U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who is scheduled to speak at the group's May conference, said he would not participate if Heartland continued to use the advertisement.
Another Heartland ally in the anti-climate change campaign said that the institute was "suffering battle fatigue."
Others criticized the institute's distortion and deception.
"The Heartland Institute is trying to associate everyone who believes in global warming – including the world's scientific community, the Pentagon, the president, major companies, leaders of world religions, the nations of the world, and a majority of the American public itself – with terrorists," said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of Yale University's Project on Climate Change Communication.
He told the Washington Post, "I strongly doubt this will move public opinion on global warming – at least not in the direction they were intending."
"[L]et's be clear. This is not some 'oops' moment by an individual overzealous Heartland employee with catastrophically poor judgment. Quite the reverse," blogged climate-change scientist Joseph Romm. "This is a collective act by the Institute expressing its core worldview. A sustained billboard campaign would have to be signed off at the highest levels."
Charging that the Heartland Institute had "stooped to new lows," DeSmogblog said, "With a despicable stunt like this, it will be a miracle if Heartland retains financial support from any of the nineteen public companies that its internal documents revealed are fostering the group's work."
DeSmogblog identified the public corporations that fund the institute, including AT&T, Comcast, Eli Lilly, General Motors Foundation, Microsoft, Pepsico and Time Warner Cable.
"The billboards are ugly, but they convey with graphic intensity the desperation of those who have fought on the side of the fossil fuel companies for a quarter century. As you know, the polling data in fact indicates that growing majorities of Americans are deeply concerned about climate change, and eager to see our political leaders address it," wrote Bill McKibben, president of 350.org, a pro-science group seeking to address climate change.
An anti-science group sought to discredit those who believe that human beings have a responsibility to care for the Earth, a core biblical imperative, by throwing a "verbal bomb." The Heartland Institute did what many do who lack a persuasive case – compare the other side to evildoers.
The right does it. The left does. Christians do. Atheists do it, too. Want to end a discussion, defeat a proposal, derail an idea? Then hit the apocalyptic button by accusing another of being Hitler, Stalin, Osama bin Laden or some other horrific figure.
Extremist rhetoric that relies on hateful comparisons is a vice for those without a real argument. And it is overwhelming the public square and church sanctuaries.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.