Category Archives: SLAPP

Release the SLAPP hounds: how the Heartland Institute and the denial movement abuse the strategic lawsuit


Above: Heartland takes on the interwebz

The reputation of the Heartland Institute has clearly suffered in the wake of “Denialgate”.

Not only are they threatening to get medieval on anyone who reposts said documents, but they’ve threatened anyone who even comments on them. The less charitable may interpret such a threat as the heavy-handed response of right-wing authoritarian ideologues (sotto voce: a perfectly understandable interpretation).

DeSmogBlog reproduces their threatening letter:

“…we respectfully demand: (1) that you remove both the Fake Memo and the Alleged Heartland Documents from your web site; (2) that you remove from your web site all posts that refer or relate in any manner to the Fake Memo and the Alleged Heartland Documents; (3) that you remove from your web site any and all quotations from the Fake Memo and the Alleged Heartland Documents; (4) that you publish retractions on your web site of prior postings; and (5) that you remove all such documents from your server.”

Heartland vs. the internet

Heartland’s demands to remove comments about the document are chilling.

However, it is doubtful that Heartland believes they can make them disappear from the web. What Heartland does hope to achieve is a symbolic victory  over DeSmogBlog, websites, news services and bloggers. It would also empower them – and other think tanks – to shut down their critics through use of legal threats.

There is a name for such tactic, the “strategic law suit against public participation” (SLAPP):

“…The typical SLAPP plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit. The plaintiff’s goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate. A SLAPP is often preceded by a legal threat. The difficulty, of course, is that plaintiffs do not present themselves to the Court admitting that their intent is to censor, intimidate or silence their critics.”

Kudos to DeSmogBlog for standing up their bullying attempts to silence criticism and debate. Heartland is engaged in a classic case of SLAPP’ing one of its critics and hoping fear will silence others.

Heartland’s motto is “ideas that empower people”.

But just in case you get an idea they don’t like, Heartland has a team of lawyers to stop you expressing it.

Crying wolf: when you’ve been caught red-handed, threaten to sue!

It is worth noting that such tactics are par for the course for the denial movement. For all the denier’s talk of “free ideas” and the “censorship” they suffer, they are without doubt some of the most thin-skinned bullies I’ve come across.

Indeed, the more famous amongst the deniers – Lord Monckton – has turned the threat of law suits into an art form. Outside of denying climate change and claiming he has found a universal cure, Monckton’s other favorite pastime is threatening legal action:

“…Climate change denier Lord Christopher Monckton has threatened to sue the ABC and described its chairman Maurice Newman as a “shrimp-like wet little individual”.

Lord Monckton, who is towards the end of a near month-long tour of Australia, told a Melbourne audience he had met with Newman at a breakfast and requested he intervene in the broadcast of the Radio National documentary Background Briefing.

Experienced ABC journalist Wendy Carlisle interviewed Lord Monckton and several of his supporters for the documentary, which first aired on Sunday. The documentary also highlighted links between Lord Monckton and mining magnate and supporter Gina Rinehart, chairman of Hancock Prospecting.

During the program, Lord Monckton was recorded telling an audience: “So to the bogus scientists who have produced the bogus science that invented this bogus scare I say, we are coming after you. We are going to prosecute you, and we are going to lock you up.”

Monckton is very fond of the SLAPP tactic, but how many of these threats have eventuated?

None to date.

Operating on the premise that a good offence is the best defence, groups like Heartland leap to attack and threats of lawsuits in order to silence their critics.

In many respects, the Heartland Institute mirrors the Church of Scientology (CoS) in its aggressive attempts to silence critics via the threat of litigation. I would suggest Heartland’s threat of legal action mimic those of the CoS when they attempted to have the infamous Tom Cruise “indoctrination” video taken of the web.

Heartland faces the same dilemma as the CoS: exposed for what are, they resort to aggressive legal threats.

But more often than not such ham-fisted threats have the opposite effect: the CoS threats sparked the formation of the “hacktivist” collective Anonymous.

It is often a case of reaping what you sow. And if Heartland continues its war on the internet and its critics, it may be in for some nasty surprises.

Heartland, leaked documents and the Streisand effect.

I’m placing all documents in the Watching the Deniers evidence library and will continue to comment on what is clearly an important public interest issue (see Streisand effect).

I have no doubt someone else will repost them.

And then some else will…

(Hat tip Dan M @ Planet 3.0)

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