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Mar 2, 2011

Windsor receives death threats as climate of hate ramps up

Death threats received by Tony Windsor reveal that the debate over a carbon tax is not really about economic efficiency or policy effectiveness, or even about party politics.

Death threats received by Tony Windsor reveal that the debate over a carbon tax is not really about economic efficiency or policy effectiveness, or even about party politics. It’s about the way responses to climate change threaten the worldview and cultural identity of some groups in the community.

Here, as in the United States, rejecting climate science and resisting greenhouse policies have become lore in the resurgent movement of right-wing populism whose dominant sentiment is anger.

After calling him a “f***ing dog”, Tony Windsor’s anonymous caller said “I hope you die you bastard”, a level of aggression way out of proportion to the possibility of a small rise in energy prices.

Last year I wrote a series of articles describing how Australia’s most distinguished climate scientists have become the target of a new form of cyber-bullying aimed at driving them out of the public debate.

Each time they enter the public domain through a newspaper article or radio interview these scientists are immediately subjected to a torrent of aggressive, abusive and, at times, threatening emails. Apart from the volume and viciousness of the emails, the campaign has two features — it is mostly anonymous and it appears to be orchestrated.

The exposé of cyber-bullying was picked up in the United States. In journals like Scientific American many more stories of intimidation emerged. Stephen Schneider, an eminent climatologist at Stanford University who died a few months ago, said he had received hundreds of threatening emails. Exasperated he asked: “What do I do? Learn to shoot a magnum? Wear a bullet-proof jacket?”

Schneider said he had observed an “immediate, noticeable rise” in emails whenever climate scientists were attacked by prominent right-wing commentators. Most of those commentators are employed by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News.

The violence of the language is disturbing and designed to intimidate scientists into silence. I have spoken to Australian climate scientists who have upgraded their home security in response to the threats, and a number have taken the more serious ones to the police. Some parliamentarians, including Windsor, have also felt compelled to refer death threats to the AFP.

Tony Windsor believes the hate campaign directed against him is being orchestrated. The timing and content indicate that the cyber-bullying, as well as the phone calls to parliamentarians and the comment sections of websites, are being coordinated by one or more climate denier organisations.

Whether uttered from the Opposition benches, on talk radio or in anonymous emails and phone messages, the violence of the language of those opposed to a carbon price reflects a deep cultural divide.

In his prophecies of national ruin and calls for a “people’s revolt”, Tony Abbott has adopted a level of demagoguery rarely seen in Australian politics. And this kind of belligerent rhetoric simply serves to feed the abuse and threats being rained down on climate scientists, campaigners and parliamentarians.

The only parliamentary leader in the world to agree to meet Lord Monckton, Abbott sent a signal to the Australian public that Monckton’s half-crazed theories about a plot by communists and Nazis to impose world government should be taken seriously.

When Nick Minchin and fellow deniers say that climate change science is a conspiracy by ex-communists to pursue their goal of wrecking Western civilisation and imposing world government, sensible people scoff. But there are plenty of people out there who believe it. Convinced by high profile commentators like Janet Albrechtsen and Andrew Bolt that a secretive elite of scientists, politicians and activists are conspiring to destroy their way of life, some aggressive men have violent thoughts.

One young, female climate campaigner received this email:

“Did you want to offer your children to be brutally gang-r-ped and then horribly tortured before being reminded of their parents socialist beliefs and actions?

“Burn in hell. Or in the main street, when the Australian public finally lynchs you.”

As an author I am targeted too. A couple of months ago I opened my email to read this from someone calling himself “Graeme Bird”:

“Let’s have that evidence then you Stalinist c**t. Either come up with the evidence or admit publicly that you are a fraud and kill yourself. What a complete c**t you are.”

Journalists sometimes trivialise these threats as part of the cut and thrust of politics. But they soon change their tune when they become the targets. Last year I spoke off the record to a number of journalists who had been seriously spooked by the torrent of abuse and threats in response to their reporting on climate change.

It may be only a matter of time before the rage being stoked persuades an unbalanced individual to take the step from violent words in anonymous emails to spilling real blood. If Australia’s security services are not closely monitoring the activities of denialist activists then they are failing in their responsibilities.

Let us hope that in Australia we never hear a police superintendent repeat the words of County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik after US congresswoman Giffords was shot: “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous.”

*Clive Hamilton is the author of Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change (Allen & Unwin 2010).

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170 thoughts on “Windsor receives death threats as climate of hate ramps up

  1. Tomboy

    One Nation comes from Queensland. Clive Palmer comes from Queensland.

  2. Mr Squid

    The LNP is all over the place.

  3. Jim Reiher

    When thinking and caring politicians like Windsor, – a man prepared to make hard and unpopular decisions for the greater good of his electorate and his country – get death threats… it makes me deeply concerned for this country.

    To be a safe leader, I guess you have to shut up, keep things going exactly as they are, never question anything, allow those with money and power to keep doing everything they want to do to maintain their privileges, and keep saying “how high?” whenever Mr Murdock says “jump”. To stay a safe leader, I assume a person has to be a mindless puppet who lets the unelected power brokers behind the scenes tell you how to behave and what to vote for.

    If some idiot really did kill someone over all this, could fools like Mr Abbott be in any way held accountable? Inspiring hatred and violence? … I guess not. To hard to prove a direct connection. And the ridiculous thing is that Mr Abbott would be first in line to condemn the violence, phoney that he is.

  4. wilful

    Graeme Bird is a reasonably well known loon across the ozblogosphere – he gets banned many places – I think the only place he’s still tolerated is Catalepsy. I believe he has a genuine mental illness so ought to be treated with pity rather than anything else.

  5. mekongmelody

    Clive, greetings from Hue. As you may know I worked with traditional fishermen in Indonesia in 2002. Even then they were talking about how the climate had changed. Their old ways of reading the weather for signs that hey could go to sea in relative safety were no longer reliable. I did a survey of Lao a few weeks ago for a report for the Asian Media Forum, on media and climate change and 100% of the respondents ranging from farmers to soldiers and traders agreed that climate change is a serious issue and the changes well upon us. This week in Vietnam I have heard park rangers, foresters and planners talk about climate change adaptation. Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh city are making arrangements to relocate or at least ramp up protection from saltwater incursions into the city’s substrata.
    So what is it about the so called developed world that persist in this witchcraft? I agree that the media are reprehensible. Compared to Asia, Australian media is largely content free and lacks analysis… but how has Australia become a nation of deniers, (of racism, of indigenous and refugee rights) of climate change. How much are the coal and other self interested parties prepared to go to fund or in other ways support this neanderthal behaviour?

  6. Sir Lunchalot

    Watched Foreign Correspondant on ABC1 last night and the ease of getting guns in Arizona. I dont think we are at that stage, or even close. So calm down.

    Windsor and Oakeshott have chartered their course and they will have to defend themselves come the next election with their electorates. Judgement Day.

  7. nsaberle

    Great article, Clive.

    The anger of people who are unwilling to accept what climate experts say is a poor indictment on our society. We should be above that but, sadly, we are not.

    A recent article in the journal “Psychological Science” (Feinberg & Willer) points out that “the potentially dire consequences of global warming threatens deeply held beliefs that the world is just, orderly, and stable”. Ironically, it is presumably those with these beliefs of justice, order and stability who are exhibiting traits entirely inconsistent with those values.

    How to curb this violent rhetoric, then? Has the US learned any lessons in the wake of the Arizona shootings? And if it has, is it a lesson well learned, or just a temporary cease-fire while the no-mans-land is cleared?

  8. Mark Duffett

    But Clive, didn’t you only last week say yourself that conservatives see environmentalism, particularly in the context of climate change, as “a profound threat to the structure of the world they are committed to”? What’s more, you also said they were pretty much right on that score.

    So you can hardly act surprised when some of those people see “the possibility of a small rise in energy prices” as the first steps towards the end of the world as they know it, and react accordingly.

  9. Frank Campbell

    “I have spoken to Australian climate scientists who have upgraded their home security in response to the threats, and a number have taken the more serious ones to the police.”

    All email abuse/threats, right?

    In my region alone, the climate cult is responsible for real attacks and real arson. Verbal abuse and threats are common. Whole towns live in fear, fear of both individual nutters and corporate thuggery.

    A disability pensioner was beaten up for demonstrating (alone) on the side of the highway at Waubra, a town ruined socially and economically by the climate cult. He was then harrassed by a group of company thugs. The original attacker said he was going to shoot the victim. The second such threat in a fortnight. Police offered to charge the thug, but the victim was too scared to proceed.

    A Western District farmer had three hay sheds burned down in one night- for opposing industrial wind. A million dollars damage.

    The climate cult imposes real economic and social damage. The victims have no redress. Their plight is never mentioned on sites like Crikey.

    Hamilton failed to get elected in Higgins despite a tsunami of hubris. The Greens (my former party) have reached their electoral high-water mark, and the ALP was humiliated at the polls. The Greens could manage only one Reps seat competing against two discredited parties. So expect more hypocrisy like this piece from Savonarola Hamilton.

    Having no mandate whatever for a “carbon tax”, the Brown-led government is imposing one. Economic and social damage will intensify. Expect the cult to deliver government to the hard Right for a decade.

  10. Elan

    “Windsor and Oakeshott have chartered their course and they will have to defend themselves come the next election with their electorates. Judgement Day.”

    Et too Brutikins??

    Judgment Day? Lighten up poppet.

    What a pug ugly bunch these twisted haters are. They’ve been beaten senseless with the hatred stick to the point where they don’t spew bile. They are bile.

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