What Climate Change Denialism Looks Like

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I generally ignore climate change denialists on Twitter. I use The Zapper to do that, and it works great, better than blocking. But sometimes I check my Twitter feed on something other than Chrome on my own desktop or laptop and then I see them, and occasionally engage. When I do, I often see troubling or annoying visual tropes that seem to go along with this breed. Guns, exploitative photos of women, flag-draped symbols, and Nazis. That sort of thing.

So, this morning I put together a collage of images off the Twitter home pages of just the last handful of Denialists who were obsessively tweeting and retweeting to or about me this morning. For your enjoyment:


Scared? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Are the scared? Given how well armed they are, it would seem so. Trying to push the world in to climate apocalypse so they can do the survivalism thing? Interesting idea.

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16 thoughts on “What Climate Change Denialism Looks Like

  1. That’s an interesting take Greg – might have some merit. In that scenario they would see themselves as coming out on top as in command of all those who didn’t take survivalist precautions. Petty tyrants one and all.

  2. Jane: This is what it is (as much as I hate that expression). These are the images presented by the last half dozen or so people who decided to make fools of themselves in my twittersphere.

    Smarter: I know, right?

  3. @Jane: It’s one thing to own a rifle. It’s another thing to choose as your avatar a photo of you holding a rifle. The latter has a connotation of “I’m willing to use this if I decide you’re my enemy.” That’s an implied threat, antithetical to the idea of having a free and open exchange of ideas. As Greg points out, the threat may not be effective, but it’s still there.

    Some of the other images there are evidence of crank magnetism. The one in the upper right plays into the meme of Obama as a Muslim atheist socialist fascist anti-American (and yes, there are people who think that at least four if not all five of those contradictory adjectives apply to Obama).

    I’ll grant that causation has not been proven here, but there is enough evidence of correlation to be concerned.

  4. Eric’s got it: crank magnetism.

    Per the blog conspiracypsychology.com (three PhD students writing about conspiracist thinking), people who believe in one conspiracy theory (CT) usually believe in a bunch of them.

    In that way, CTs are like potato chips: “Bet you can’t eat just one!”

    As for the rifles: there’s rifles, and then there’s rifles.

    The guy at the bottom of the page seems to be holding a fairly conventional-looking hunting rifle with a scope. Pointing it toward the sky indicates duck hunting or skeet shooting, which by themselves are OK.

    The guy at the right is holding something that appears closer to a military-style rifle. That could indicate that he’s a firearms hobbyist (also normal enough in a warrior-culture nation), or it could indicate sympathies for anti-government movements (uh oh). If the latter, the guy probably has already been checked out by the FBI to see that he’s not a potential terrorist (keyword search “sovereign citizen movement,” major danger to law enforcement personnel, those guys shoot cops, often with little provocation).

    The guy at upper left appears to be in military uniform, which would be OK for “personal pictures” on a website, but not-OK if directly connected to political statements or endorsements: the military does not approve of its members appearing to “take sides” in civilian politics, such as by showing up at campaign events or protests in uniform (they can of course go to those events in civilian clothing while off duty).

    If anyone’s interested, there are a bunch of OSI (open-source intel) techniques that could be applied to climate denialists’ online activities, to find out if any of them are linked to extremist causes that are potentially violent. And of course, if you ever run across evidence online that someone is planning or claiming responsibility for violent activities, _do not_ engage with the person _at all_, just take date/time-stamped screen shots, call your local FBI office, and ask where you can send in the evidence.

  5. G

    there are a bunch of OSI (open-source intel) techniques

    – got a good link to some?

    Greg – You usually do 🙂

  6. The loon in the upper left isn’t wearing a military uniform, certainly not US. It’s festooned in the Third Reich-style worn by the uniformed non-Wehrmacht (i.e., SS, Party Official, civil service, etc) little Hitlers, but it’s not one. I think it’s a self-styled wannabe/wishIwere one-man storm troop costume, but it could conceivably be erstwhe Latin America junta-wear.
    Just trying to help everyone with an interest in the cladistics of the dangerously stupid.

  7. Re #5: The military uniform in the upper left is John Cook of Skeptical Science – the symbols on the uniform are the penguins of Skeptical Science.

  8. The guy at the bottom of the page seems to be holding a fairly conventional-looking hunting rifle with a scope. Pointing it toward the sky indicates duck hunting or skeet shooting, which by themselves are OK.

    One does not shoot ducks (or clays) in flight with a rifle, much less a rifle with a scope. That’s what shotguns are for.

  9. Re. Smarter @ 6, re. OSI:

    Manual methods:

    Create a simple database or use a word processing document that you can search by text-string. Give each entity (person or group) a unique identifier such as person name, group name, or domain name. For each entity, collect keywords such as jargon-words and subcultural slang and idiosyncratic uses of otherwise-conventional language (for example the phrase “sovereign citizen,” the word “nullification,” and the phrase “non-denominational” may appear harmless, but each has subculture-specific usage among various types of extremist groups). Use these as inputs to additional searches.

    Also collect any links they post and use those as inputs to additional searches. Under each entity entry you can create a sub-header for other entities to which they are connected, and for each such connection note whether it is “to,” “from,” or “both.”

    Go out three degrees from each entity. For example Alice links to Bob links to Carlos links to Darlene: Bob is 1st, Carlos is 2nd, Darlene is 3rd. If any of those contacts appear to be a nexus of activity in and of themselves, open another entry for them and go out three degrees from them. Include links to places where people may meet or communicate.

    Graphing software or any decent drawing software will enable you to represent these networks visually, which will shed light on who is central and who is peripheral.

    Know how to use concatenated searches or Boolean searches on your preferred search engine. Each major search engine has its own algorithms for ranking results so it’s helpful to use more than one. Some, such as Google, tend to create confirmation bias by using your prior searches to influence the rankings presented in subsequent searches.

    Gather background information on various types of groups, from expert sources. For info on conspiracy thinking, conspiracypsychology.com appears good. For info on religious extremism, talk2action.org is the gold standard. For info on climate denialism, any site where climate scientists hang out is potentially useful.

    If you encounter anything that appears to be promoting violent activity, take screen-shots, date/time stamped, and save for forwarding to the FBI. Never ever communicate with persons-of-interest (POIs) because any such communication _even from civilians_ will be pounced on by their defense attorneys for possible use in an “entrapment” defense (yes, civvies can commit entrapment).

    Automated methods:

    Twitter is an OSI goldmine. IMHO it was designed as an intel collector from the get-go but I can’t prove that;-) Keyword search for “network analysis”, “twitter analysis,” and “tweet analysis” tools. These take input from Twitter streams and produce network graphs showing who is connected to who and how strong the connections are. There should be extensive material online about the use of these tools. (I never got into Twitter analytics myself, but a colleague did.) As of a few years ago there were some free online tools and some that cost a monthly subscription fee; there may also be downloadable tools.

    Keyword search “analytics” and seek out blogs & forums where folks hang out who are professionally involved in this sort of work for advertising, marketing, and other conventional private-sector uses. Look for expert discussions of tools and methodologies, and feel free to ask questions.


    The Southern Poverty Law Center splcenter.org is a gold-standard for effective OSI, so study their online stuff about hate groups and learn their methods to apply to research on denialist groups.

    Climate activist groups may already have done extensive research on denialist groups, so check out what they’ve got and avoid wasteful duplication of efforts. Volunteering to work with one or more such groups may help you learn their techniques, and after you get good at this you can start producing original work to contribute.

    What I’ve found is the most useful state of mind for OSI is much the same as for other online research: fierce curiosity + willingness to accept false-positives at first and refine results over time. There’s a delicate balance between alertness for suspicious activity, vs. over-interpretation of results, vs. the opposing risk of under-interpreting results.

    Also be alert to “negative signal,” which is my term for “the dog that did not bark,” or the _absence_ of something where the _presence_ of something should be expected. Be alert to the time domain as well, for example the specific times at which various events occur. Very often, timing is a key to a relationship between actors, and that includes the timing of edits, redactions, retractions, and so on. You may need to use online archive sites to get a complete time sequence for a specific set of events.

    Document everything you do, including the dates/times of searches and the keywords used. Keeping a running log is tedious but highly useful if your output ever gets used in a published article or in a legal proceeding.

    When researching extremist groups, certain sites are already on law enforcement watch lists, so extensive perusal of a bunch of those sites may get your name or IP address in a database. That by itself is no big deal, particularly if you have a connection to something legit such as a climate activist group or any type of journalistic endeavor, or any volunteer group that assists law enforcement in tracking terrorist activity. But in any case, keeping good logs & records will help in the unlikely event that someone in LE suspects you’re a badguy and needs to check you out further.

    I’m inclined to doubt that climate denialists as such are directly connected to extremist groups of the type that engage in violent acts (though if you find any such connections, they will be _very_ newsworthy). More likely, denialists will be found connected to groups that provide “astro turf” or “the appearance of grassroots support” for agendas that originate with self-interested actors such as fossil fuel industry associations. Exposing “astro turf” is a good way to render it ineffective, provided that the exposé gets wide coverage.

    If you have any questions I’ll try to check in here a couple more times over the next day or two.

  10. Greg

    If you had looked closely at the top left-hand image of John “Skeptical Science” Cook , attired as SS chief Heinrich Himmler, something might have caught your eye.

    The Nazi cap and lapel insignia have been replaced by lovingly-crafted photoshops of the logo insignia of the SkS website.

    This image was discovered sitting in an insecure file on the Skeptical Science website, along with photshopped images of Dana Nuccitelli as an SS Panzer tank commander, and a Nazi party rally with swastika banners altered to SkS logos.

    These images weren’t the product of knuckle-dragging, militaristic climate change “deniers” – they are how the proprietors of the most widely promoted “climate science” site like to portray themselves for their private amusement.

    Put’s a bit of a different perspective on things – doesn’t it?

  11. I found it on a denialist site. You are telling me it was stolen by denialists. So … well, there you go.

    Your other comment will be trashed because it contains multiple links to a denialist site. Don’t do that again, please.

  12. Dunc (#11): One does not shoot ducks (or clays) in flight with a rifle, much less a rifle with a scope. That’s what shotguns are for.

    Quite right. In addition, that image shows him wearing a headset, with the boom mike shoved up out of the way. That’s a tool more associated with military ops than duck hunting.

    And you have only to check his Web site to know ducks (or deer) and not what he’s interested in hunting.

  13. and not what he’s interested in hunting.

    S/B “are not what he’s interested in hunting.

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