After Michigan set new COVID-19 case records five weeks in a row, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer put new restrictions in place to slow the spread of the virus, including closing indoor dining and in-person classes for high schools and colleges for three weeks. Donald Trump’s favorite public health adviser* responded by encouraging violence—when Whitmer has already been targeted by one kidnapping plot.
The asterisk on “Donald Trump’s favorite public health adviser” is because Scott Atlas is not a public health expert. He’s a neuroradiologist who’s telling Trump what he wants to hear—that there’s no need to try to control the spread of the coronavirus. And he’s following Trump’s dangerous tone, too, tweeting: “The only way this stops is if people rise up. You get what you accept. #FreedomMatters #StepUp.”
After many many people pointed out how dangerous this message was, Atlas tried to walk it back.
“Hey. I NEVER was talking at all about violence,” he protested in a follow-up tweet. “People vote, people peacefully protest. NEVER would I endorse or incite violence. NEVER!!”
In May, Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” as armed protesters rallied against public health restrictions outside the state capitol. In October, charges were announced against a group of domestic terrorists plotting to kidnap Whitmer. Weeks after those charges, Trump said of the plot, “People are entitled to say maybe it was a problem, maybe it wasn’t.” But sure, Atlas was talking about peaceful protest.
”We know that the White House likes to single us out here in Michigan, me out in particular. I'm not going to be bullied into not following reputable scientists and medical professionals,” Whitmer said on CNN Sunday. That means following the advice of scientists with the relevant training in epidemiology and public health, “people that actually have studied and are well respected worldwide on these issues, not the—not the individual that is doing the President's bidding on this one.”
But while Whitmer won’t be bullied, in a Monday morning MSNBC appearance, she said the tweet “actually took my breath away, to tell you the truth.” Whitmer has previously written: “Every time the president ramps up this violent rhetoric, every time he fires up Twitter to launch another broadside against me, my family and I see a surge of vicious attacks sent our way.”
That’s the context in which Scott Atlas, unqualified White House coronavirus adviser, called for people to “rise up” against basic public health precautions. Either he knew exactly what he was doing there or he was following Trump’s dangerous, divisive lead without giving it a second thought. Either way, Atlas showed himself to be doubly dangerous and unfit to advise on this pandemic.