Right-wing media are spreading calls for violence against climate activists in response to a series of disruptive but nonviolent direct actions carried out by groups demanding action on climate change.
As communities grapple with crippling heat, flooding, and wildfires, activist groups employing tactics such as throwing paint or food on famous works of art and property, infiltrating cultural events, and obstructing busy roads have provoked outrage from right-wing media. Most recently, a U.K.-based group called Just Stop Oil and a German group called Letzte Generation (Last Generation) have been violently attacked by civilians, many of whom are motorists seemingly being held up by group members sitting in the middle of roads or conducting “slow walk” protests to block traffic. The incidents captured on camera have gone viral on social media, with some right-wing media figures in both Europe and the U.S. justifying these assaults and praising the perpetrators, offering ominous warnings of future violence against climate activists.
U.S. right-wing media fan the flames of anger and aggression directed at climate activists in response to escalating tactics at home and abroad
Right-wing media reacted with glee to an August 27 video depicting a Pyramid Lake, Nevada, tribal patrol officer pulling a gun on peaceful climate and anti-capitalist activists outside of the annual Burning Man festival. Some incorrectly suggested that the officer had hit the demonstrators with a pickup truck and still celebrated.
The video proliferated online, soliciting reactions from Fox News hosts as well. The protesters had created a barricade to block the main road to the festival. After running over the barricade with a truck, one officer can be seen drawing a gun and threatening the protesters, all of whom appear to be unarmed, screaming at them to get on the ground and saying, “I’m going to take you all out.” He then tackled a woman screaming “stop resisting,” while she lay on the ground complying. The officer involved is reportedly being investigated for his conduct.
- Fox contributor Paul Mauro, who is an attorney and retired NYPD inspector, suggested the video was “suspicious” and justified the officer pulling out his weapon despite the fact that there is no evidence the demonstrators were armed. “We don't see what happens before he does what he does with that truck,” Mauro said. “That video may be out there. The fact we don't see the whole thing makes me a bit suspicious.” The officer, he continued, “doesn't shoot but if he feels outnumbered, if he feels endangered, sure he can pull his weapon.” [Fox News, America Reports, 8/31/23]
- The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh said climate protesters should be shown “no mercy.” After calling the video “heartwarming” Walsh said, “This is how cops should deal with these clowns everywhere. No patience, no mercy. Throw them in cuffs and drag them away.” [The Daily Wire, The Matt Walsh Show, 8/30/23]
- Executive editor of the conservative think tank Common Sense Society Christopher Bedford said the officers “were exactly right to do that,” and called the protesters violent and “anti-human.” “I think they're exactly right to do that. They claim, oh, they kept saying it was nonviolent. But to trap people for miles in cars in the desert is a dangerous thing to do. That's not peaceful at all. I think it's a threat to people.” He added, “They say they're doing this in the name of the planet. But at the end of the day, they're really just anti-human.” [Fox News, America Reports, 8/29/23]
- Right-wing commentator Ian Miles Cheong: “This is how the police deal with climate protesters in Nevada. That’s how you do it.” [Twitter/X, 8/29/23]
- BlaveTV host Sara Gonzales said of the protester who was tackled, “Get down, bitch, he told you, he gave you plenty of time and you didn’t do it.” “And you know what,” Gonzales continued, “if you are blocking my right to travel freely, that is an act of aggression. That is not peaceful.” [BlazeTV, The News & Why It Matters, 8/29/23]
- Trending Politics founder Collin Rugg wrote,“This is how all radical climate activists should be dealt with.” “NEW: Nevada tribal rangers ram through a group of climate protesters with a truck, drag them off the road, and then arrest them all after the group created miles of traffic on a busy single lane road. Well done. The climate protesters were attempting to shut down the Burning Man Arts and Music Festival until the rangers ruined their day. This is how all radical climate activists should be dealt with.” [Twitter/X, 8/28/23]
- Fox Radio host Jimmy Failla said, “How do you watch this and just not rejoice?” “I think it is very insensitive of the cop, who should have run them over in an electric pickup truck out of sensitivity to the cause of them blocking the road,” Failla also said. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/29/23]
- Fox host Jesse Watters: “As Jason Aldean said, try that in a small town. In rural America, blocking rural roads can be deadly.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Tonight, 8/28/23]
- On Gutfeld!, the clip was featured as the video of the day, and panelist Morgan Ortagus said she thought the officer’s reaction was “great.” “People are starting to fight back, because there was that video not long ago, it wasn't in America, it was somewhere else, where they started grabbing the girls by their hair and taking them off the road,” she continued, referencing another violent incident in Germany. “The more videos we have like this, maybe the less of these stupid hippies will be out doing this.” [Fox News, Gutfeld!, 8/28/23]
- Drudge Report knockoff Citizen Free Press: "’We're non-violent!’ Shrieking climate activists were not ready for Nevada Tribal rangers. This ain't NYC, ladies. Your cries are meaningless in the desert.” [Twitter/X, 8/28/23]
- Anti-LGBTQ hate account Libs of TikTok: “The correct way to deal with these annoying climate people.” [Twitter/X, 8/28/23]
- Conspiracy theorist and neo-Nazi collaborator Jack Posobiec: “BREAKING: Tribal Rangers trucks in Nevada just RAMMED a climate change group blocking the road and mass arrested all of them.” [Twitter/X, 8/27/23]
On July 19, Just Stop Oil posted a video of a 21-year-old protester getting dragged, punched, and kicked while slow-walking down Cromwell Road in London. A statement from Just Stop Oil said that the victim of the assault did not plan on reporting the incident to the police. A July 21 viral video of a woman yelling at Just Stop Oil protesters reportedly shows her telling them she is taking her baby to the hospital. In response to these tactics, changes in the recent Public Order Act have expanded police powers, giving authorities much more leeway to determine a protest is disruptive and put an end to it.
The videos sparked a deluge of comments from right-wing media influencers in the U.S. justifying and even encouraging physical violence against climate protesters who obstruct traffic:
- Daily Wire host and anti-LGBTQ bigot Michael Knowles suggested the woman should have just run the demonstrators over: “If it would not have slowed her down — that is, if this woman would not have been almost immediately arrested, she obviously should have just run them over. She at the very least should have just love-tapped until they moved or fell, but she should’ve just run them over. When hippies’ crimes threaten the life of one’s baby, the just action is as clear as day.” [The Daily Wire, The Michael Knowles Show, 7/24/23]
- Libertarian Institute director and radio host Scott Horton: “I bet just pulling a gun on them would be enough.” [Twitter, 7/22/23]
- Right-wing commentator Nick Sortor: “I don’t care what the hell I have to do. If a woman is rushing her baby to the hospital and she’s being blocked by ‘climate activists,’ I’m removing the ‘activists’ from the road one way or another. I promise you that.” [Twitter, 7/22/23]
- Far-right Turning Point USA host Drew Hernandez told his viewers that Just Stop Oil is a “death cult” that will kill your babies and predicts that “you’re going to start seeing shoes and body parts” of protesters: “This is the messianic mindset, this is what I’ve been saying for a long time. They get to choose who lives and who dies. They get to enforce if you are a part of our new world order, then you shall pass. Your baby gets to live. If you are not a part of our new world global order, then you shall not pass and your baby will die,” Hernandez said. “This is a death cult, guys. … You’re going to start seeing shoes and body parts flying all over — I’m not calling for violence. I’m just saying that this is instability people are going to start to witness.” [Drew Hernandez Live, 7/21/23]
- Far-right extremist Elijah Schaffer: “Anyone ever want to beat the shit out of these vandalistic climate activists? (In call of duty of course, not real life.)” [Twitter, 7/21/23]
- Right-wing investment influencer account Wall Street Silver: “It is just a matter of time before people just start running over these clowns.” [Twitter, 7/21/23]
- Turning Point USA offshoot Turning Point UK: “Do you support citizens (legally) removing Just Stop Oil protestors when the police fail to do so?” [Twitter, 7/21/23]
- Co-founder of Palantir and Cicero Institute Chairman Joe Lonsdale: “If there’s a woman trying to take her baby to the hospital, it’s the job of every man there to clear these scum out of the way and make a path for the baby. Immediately. I don’t care what the ‘law or ‘custom’ is - if you know a life may be at stake, take aggressive action.” [Twitter, 7/21/23]
- Conservative influencer and founder of the white nationalist organization American Populist Union Vincent Dao: “These people are f—ing scum and it should be legal to…. ya know.” [Twitter, 7/21/23]
- Newsmax host Gary Callahan: “Any day now someone is gonna run these scumbags over and it's going to be hilarious.” [Twitter, 7/21/23]
- Host of the right-wing YouTube channel “The Salty Cracker” said that Just Stop Oil is intentionally provoking bystanders to violence in order to incriminate “law-abiding citizens” and “shut down conservative civil liberties” with the help of the government and the police: “We’ve been warning them,” the host claimed. “You’re going to get beat up. You keep stopping traffic, you’re going to get beat up. And they’re protected. They’re protected by the city, they’re protected by the mayor, the city council, the local police, they’re all on the same plan.” He continued, “You’re supposed to generate the optics and the video of you being killed because then they’re going to take that and shut down conservative civil liberties. That’s what the plan is over here. It has nothing to do with oil. It has everything to do with getting guns taken away from law-abiding citizens, to paint conservatives as violent and lunatics.” [Rumble, The Salty Cracker, 7/19/23]
- Misogynist influencer Tristan Tate, who is a suspect in a criminal investigation involving his brother Andrew Tate’s alleged rape and sex trafficking: “So I hear (unconfirmed) this man was in the car with his pregnant girlfriend. His car and a van collided because of the protest (you take your eyes off the road when a precession of idiots is in the street) he could have lost his child. With this in mind, fair reaction.” [Twitter, 7/19/23]
- Newsmax host Rob Schmitt while laughing, said that the video of the demonstrator getting attacked was his favorite video of the day: “This is my favorite video of the day. Look at this guy, jumps out of his truck — get out of here, you freaking hippies. Threatens to punch them and look, the kids just go right back and then comes this, it gets real. They act like they're never going to move. Don't worry, they do. See, they're getting up.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 7/14/23]
During two separate incidents in Germany involving Last Generation, a truck driver attempted to run over a sitting protester and a group of people violently threw protesters out of the road, dragging one of them by the hair. (On Twitter and YouTube, the latter video was considered to be so violent that it either violated community guidelines or was labeled as inappropriate content for some viewers.)
- Right-wing writer and podcaster Kay Smythe wrote for the Daily Caller that the video brightened her day: “Who’s The Alpha German Blonde Dragging This Climate Protester By Her Hair? Did she do the right thing, or are you an annoying little dweeb like these so-call activists?” [Twitter, 7/17/23]
- Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton: “Criminal leftists endanger the public safety.” [Twitter, 7/17/23]
- Turning Point USA commentator Savanah Hernandez: “Watching climate change activists get brutally removed from roadways after OBSTRUCTING their fellow citizens is one of my favorite pastimes.” Hernandez shared a tweet from right-wing activist Charles Cooper, which has since been deleted for violating community guidelines, that said: “Perfect execution. Be a hero—drag the disruptive ‘activists’ out of the way by their hair. Allow traffic to move again. This is how you can help your community.” [Twitter, 7/16/23]
- Right-wing troll Oilfield Rando: “Hot German blonde chicks dragging frumpy decarbonizationists out of the street by their hair is the content I am here for.” [Twitter, 7/15/23]
While road obstructions seem to elicit the most aggressive reactions, activist groups across Europe, the U.K., and the U.S. have also been heavily criticized for gluing themselves or throwing paint and various food products at notable works of art (the artworks have not been permanently damaged).
- Being Libertarian: “We need to bring back the stocks.” [Twitter, 4/27/23]
- The Blaze writer Logan Hall wrote, “Solve deranged climate protests with this one easy step: you block traffic while drivers commute to work? life in prison. you vandalize beautiful public art? life in prison. you ruin a relaxing day of golf? life in prison. it’s that simple.” [Twitter, 7/19/23]
- Anti-LGBTQ activist and Daily Wire host Matt Walsh: “Activists vandalizing art should be publicly flogged.” [Daily Wire, The Matt Walsh Show, 11/15/22]
- Fox News host Ainsley Earhardt referred to the actions as “a form of terrorism” Earhardt said: “There need to be consequences if you destroy anyone's property that’s worth tens of millions of dollars and it's a piece of history that we all are teaching our kids about. … It's a form of terrorism to advance a political agenda.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 10/24/22]
- Former Daily Caller contributor Greg Price: “I say we send all climate activists to forced labor camps where they spend all day drilling for oil.” [Twitter, 10/14/22]
The right’s yearslong mission to turn the public against environmental activists
Right-wing media have spent years building their audiences’ disdain for environmentalists, particularly those who dare to speak out about climate change as a serious threat.
During extensive coverage of climate protests, for example, Fox News has portrayed activists as members of a narcissistic, mentally ill “death cult” (a term that right-wing media and conspiracy theorists have used to describe Planned Parenthood, Judaism, and the Democratic Party) with the sinister agenda of fixing an allegedly fake problem at the peril of regular people.
As far back as 2010, right-wing media was blaming the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on environmental activists. And as youth movements like Fridays for Future gained notoriety and media attention in 2019, the Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles was calling then-16-year-old Greta Thunberg a “mentally ill child,” and multiple influencers have compared her to Nazi leaders.
“Like, I'm not going to be the only one who could see, like, little, sort of, imagery of Hitler speaking up there, right?” right-wing YouTuber Dave Rubin said on The Rubin Report. “Like, there was some – these people think that they can control the world and if you just gave them enough money and enough power they could do it.”
Fox News prime-time host Laura Ingraham has warned viewers that they would “be punished by our own children” and compared youth climate activists to Stephen King’s Children of the Corn.
COVID-19 brought a whole new onslaught of accusations as reduced travel saw planet-warming pollution plummet. Right-wing figures like fossil fuel shill Daniel Turner and radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that “green activists” were rejoicing over the COVID-19 pandemic’s disastrous effects because the disease was “accomplishing the Green New Deal’s goals.” Fox News and the New York Post parroted the idea.
In 2022, right-wing media found a way to blame the war in Ukraine on climate activists, demanding they were responsible for the domestic and global policies that supposedly emboldened Russian President Vladimir Putin because the White House is “captured by climate zealots.” More recently, Fox Business host Charles Payne compared climate activism to human sacrifice on July 13. And on July 17, The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld said that climate activists “see population as pollution” and suggested doxxing them to make their lives more difficult.
By claiming over and over again that climate activists want people to suffer and suggesting that they represent the real threat to society, not climate change, right-wing media have conditioned their audiences to be complacent or even satisfied when protesters are targeted with violence. This kind of thinking didn’t happen overnight — it’s been building for years, buoyed by right-wing talking heads, who get engagement by goading people into acting on their worst impulses but insist they’re not inciting violence, and the corrupt institutions driving ecological collapse and creating the need for civil disobedience to secure a livable future.
Update (9/5/23): This piece has been updated with additional examples.