Operation Heartland: the place for electronic civil disobedience, protest, and activism in the climate debate

A quick post to capture some reflections on Heartland – so this is pretty raw in terms of thinking/expression.

Heartland in terminal decline: weep for thee I do not

More sponsors and corporates are dropping their association (State Farm the latest). Insurance firms who once funded Heartland express “disgust and shock” at their tactics:

Growing unease among insurers crystallized late last week when Heartland purchased the first billboard in a campaign that likened climate advocacy to murder, terrorism and despotism. The electronic highway-side ad displayed a picture of Ted Kaczynski, who killed three people, next to the words “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?”

“It was disgusting. It was revolting,” Brad Kading, president of the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers, said of the ad in an interview over the weekend. “It was a terrible mistake.”

Which has led to a “mutiny” within Heartland, with senior people leaving:

Other insurers are also cutting ties in a major upheaval that coincides, sources say, with the departure of Eli Lehrer from Heartland’s Washington-based center, known by its acronym, FIRE. Lehrer and his staff were shocked by the billboard campaign, which they learned about in an emailed press release from Heartland headquarters Thursday, said Ray Lehmann, deputy director of the center.

“I don’t know what the goal was,” Lehmann said of the ad, which he called an “ad hominem attack” on climate advocates. “But it certainly was outside our project, and it did reflect badly.”

There is now way to spin this: Heartland is dying a death of a thousand cuts.

When Heartland becomes the news, it loses its value to sponsors

Heartland isn’t a “think tank”, it’s a glorified PR firm. The role of such organisations is to shape the news…but what happens when the spin machine is the news?

Heartland is now in terminal decline – really, it’s a disaster – because they have become the news. Its corporate donors and anonymous donors will no doubt be losing confidence in its ability to “shape” the public perception on climate change.

Call it the “Heartland effect”: associating your company or brand with this odious spin factory is now fast becoming “toxic”.

Here’s a prediction: Jo Bast, Heartland’s CEO won’t be there for very much longer.

Peter Gleick and the value civil disobedience

But it wasn’t just Heartland’s massive “own goal” in putting up that revolting and cynical billboard.

It was the actions of Peter Gleick in sourcing the Heartland documents; the guys over at Planet 3.0 articulate exactly what I thought:

This is an unforced error on Heartland’s part, of course. But consider that, had Peter Gleick not revealed the contributors to the group, the pressure on State Farm would never have materialized and the contribution of State Farm to those ignorant, self-serving fools would never have been challenged.

We live in the post-Anonymous world, where “hackertivism” and “electronic civil disobedience” are the most effective tools in challenging power.

How possible would the “Arab Spring” would have been without Facebook and Twitter?

I tacitly supported Gleick’s actions in the following post. I wish I’d been more firm in my support.

In the weeks since then I’ve been researching the issue of electronic civil disobedience and its possible role in the climate changes debate (disclaimer: I’m not advocating illegal activities such as Denial of Service, LOIC etc.)

Focus fire: Operation #takedownHeartland?

The climate blogging community have the tools, experience and knowledge to make a concentrated effort to expose Heartland’s – an “operation” of blog posts, exposé, political humour, tweets, media outreach, querying its tax exempt status with the IRS, a virtual protest or sit in of Heartland discussion boards? but all at once.

Online gamers (yes I’m one) call this exercise “focus firing” – when you throw the combined fire power of group at a single target to take it down in fast.

What is possible if we combine the efforts of dozens, hundreds if not thousands with the tactics of civil disobedience in the online world?

The Twitter hash tag (#) must proceed what is the objective and what is possible: the # symbolises the collective change “we” can make using the tools of the online world:


And perhaps:


Make Heartland the news, they lose their value to sponsors and thus their influence.

Once we may have used the rallying cry “Give me liberty or give me death” or “We shall over come”.

Today, the rallying cry is the crowd-sourced phrase of Anonymous.

We do not forget. We do not forgive. Expect us.

4 thoughts on “Operation Heartland: the place for electronic civil disobedience, protest, and activism in the climate debate

  1. Mekhong Kurt says:

    Absolutely agree with this post. Though I have a Twitter account, I’ve never fooled around with the #, but hey — Heartland makes a perfect place to start.

    The IRS is going after super PAC’s using a much bladed definition of just what ” political activity” is. IRS — how about making Heartland the next on which to swivel your baleful institutional gaze?

  2. Mekhong Kurt says:

    Not “bladed definition” — I meant “BROADER definition.” Also, I forgot to say that even more gratifying than the news of more sponsors bailing is that even Heartland’s OWN PEOPLE are repulsed and leaving!

  3. Joel says:

    With any luck, Watts’ various attempts to false-equivalence his funder’s latest indiscretion away will cause him some damage too.

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