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)

16 thoughts on “Release the SLAPP hounds: how the Heartland Institute and the denial movement abuse the strategic lawsuit

  1. Dan Moutal says:

    One nit. That article at Planet3.0 was written by me not Michael Tobis (but he does do the lions share of writing over there).

  2. john byatt says:

    Heartland documents facts,

    that should do it , i will google that

  3. klem says:


    Peter Gleick (AKA Mr. Climate Crock of the Week, AKA Mr. Integrity in Science) confesses to stealing the doc’s. Law suits on the way.

    See you in jail Pete.

    Wow, wow, wow!

    It is so great being a climate denier. This is fun!

    • john byatt says:

      luntz memo , speaking of integrity

      It was prepared by Frank Luntz, the favourite opinion pollster of President George W Bush, and contained advice for Republican activists on how to talk to potential voters about environment issues. On climate change, the memo offers the following recommendation:

      “The scientific debate remains open. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate, and defer to scientists and other experts in the field.”

      The strategy of playing up controversy and uncertainty to undermine confidence in well-established scientific findings was pioneered by the tobacco industry to avoid and delay regulation of its products. As Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway point out in their book Merchants of Doubt:

  4. Ray says:

    Peter Gleick not only ruined any credibility he once had but also further damaged the AGW message. Heartland has the high ground, Instead of the weird assault on Heartland you would be better served to condemn Gleick’s self confessed fraud.

    The fact this fraud cannot be fully eliminated from the web will translate into irrepairable damage in a courtroom. Gleick is in serious trouble.

    • john byatt says:

      What was the fraud ray?, That he made out that he was someone else to confirm the documents which he achieved, something that i might not agree with doing, but is done on a daily basis by investigative journalists.
      ( it is in their handbook)

      Ray the documents that heartland acknowledged, are fact, No claims that they have been doctored even after five days has been forthcoming,

      While the language used in the strategy document may be suspect the contents themselves are all verified by the other whistleblower emails.

      Few will want to be identified with funding heartland after this expose.

      What is your evidence for “Gleik is in serious trouble” when you know absolutely nothing about what transpired, pity anyone who found themselves in a court case with you as a jury member.

      • Ray says:

        Gleick admitted he stole, or in legal terms “Theft by Deception or Deciet” (a felony) documents belonging to others. Gleick claims to have recieved the faked memo from an anonymous scource but which bare his distinctive writing style. If that too is proved or admitted to be the case, creating a fake document then attributing it to Heartland is again a felony.

        Also damage to Heartland under the above circumstance is grounds for criminal and civil action.

        “While the language used in the strategy document may be suspect the contents themselves are all verified by the other whistleblower

        Can you provide more information on this claim?

      • john byatt says:

        duh, read the other documents ray or just continue to wave your hands about ,

    • Ray, if you think the Heartland Institute has the moral high ground, you must be standing on your head.

      Unlike Heartland, Peter Gleick has revealed his deception and confirmed that the documents he obtained were all legitimate. Heartland’s claim that one was fake is itself a lie.

      I think a lot of people will be looking forward to the revelations of the Heartland Institute, supposedly a non-profit outfit receiving handsome tax exemptions that has been intentionally lying to the public and promoting non-science as fact.

      Yes, bring on any trial, it should be interesting as the heat focuses more on Heartland and it’s donors and just why they feel the need to lie to the world.

      I think the outcome of the Simon Singh libel case in the UK blowing up in the face of the chiropractic charlatans who instituted legal procedures will prove to be very instructive and prescient.

      Peter Gleick will have no shortage of supporters because deep down, most people can tell the difference between his honourable intentions and the pure bastardry demonstrated over a long period of time by the Heartland Institute and its puppets like you.

  5. john byatt says:

    Warren Meyer Forbes

    ” but Heartland strikes me as moronic to be insisting on criminal charges for Gleick.”

    well they are moronic so hopefully they pursue criminal charges and get to table all the documents


    • Yes, the outcome should be fascinating but I wonder if Heartland has the courage of their convictions? I can’t really imagine that they would like all their dirty laundry aired in public.

      Apparently Geoff and klem haven’t considered this minor point.

      I suspect more than a few donors to Heartland might also be having second thoughts about any legal action 🙂

  6. john byatt says:

    Defence ” the defence requests all emails between the organisation and contributors”

    Heartland ” we have changed our mind”

    would also ensure that it gained far more media coverage

  7. john byatt says:

    This is fairly typical of the sceptic’s letters in the local newspaper whenever i reply to some sceptic drivel

    I Have been reading john byatt’s stream of letters regarding global warming for some considerable time in The Gympie Times.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinions but i am growing heartily sick of the constant regurgitation of other’s works. often selectively edited, supporting the case for global warming whilst denigrating documented arguments that are contrary to his views.

    I would ask john byatt one question “what are your qualifications that qualify you to pontificate on this subject yet attack the data provided by suitably qualified opponents to your beliefs other than being an assiduous propagandist and alarmist in the cause of global warming?”

    tony Jackeman,

    was not sure whether to be flattered or offended,

    tony also had a letter in the same day about how crystals can heal

    to date the sceptics would have about 350 letters in and i would have about 200 .

    they get nasty if anyone dares debate them yet are continually claiming they cannot get debate

    gotta love em


    • john byatt says:

      My reply to this went into the paper this morning thursday

      In Part, ending

      In Dr Allen’s letter ( The Gympie Times February 18 ) he states ” Broxton et al 2011 Peru was at least as warm as the current warm period during medieval times”

      My questions,that I am sure Jakeman can answer ……. Are Dr Wes Allen and Broxton Bird on first name terms and therefore Allen refers to Bird et al ( 2011) in the more familiar “Broxton et al 2011”?. This paper refers to a 2300 long record of the Peruvian Andes summer monsoon season and relies heavily on the work of Michael Mann for credibility…. Given that Allen believes Mann’s work is fraudulently contrived why then does Allen accept Bird’s paper without question?

  8. Nescio says:

    I have written about legal thuggery -as a way to stifle criticism of the anti-science movement- in the past, so this is very unsurprising. Yet, you may find it interesting that that tactic is not limited to scientific manufactroversies:

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