The COP takes are flying fast and furious, with lots of the usual faux-outrage about elites telling people what to do and meeting in-person instead of over Zoom and the like. For example, Spiked, the UK political punditry website, has a piece headlined, “Serfing the planet”, calling climate policy an “anti-middle class jihad,” and another about how “the elites are laughing in our faces.”
But it was a Joanna Williams piece that stood out to us, claiming that “journalists have morphed into climate activists.” She opens by suggesting that journalists, who had to cover, in real time, how people were dying en masse, “had a pleasant pandemic” because Covid drove a demand for news which gave them “a renewed sense of importance of their job.”
It doesn’t get any less ridiculous from there, as Williams pivots to climate, which “provides the same opportunities as Covid for whipping up panic, moral preaching and deference to The Science.” She describes a reporter’s dogged questioning of the British Prime Minister “less an exercise in accountability and more an exercise in advocacy” and goes on to lament that reporters act like the science is settled when reporting on climate. She concludes the column, which started with a subheadline that journalists “have abandoned all pretence of objectivity,” complaining that “too many of today’s journalists are blinded by their own sense of moral certainty.”
Her byline then notes that in addition to being a columnist, she’s “the director of Cieo.” What’s that? Its About page claims it’s just a nonprofit organization that provides “new ideas, new analysis and new thinking” to advocate for “people to be allowed to exercise ever greater influence over their own lives and communities,” against the “woke cultural elite” that embraces experts and stands against the “regular citizens” that Cieo is “firmly on the side of.”
In other words, the writer who claimed reporters are activists is the head of an activist group that seeks to “celebrate humanity’s potential” as opposed to those who would push expert-approved policies like sugar taxes, parenting classes, racial bias training, and hate crimes legislation — all examples Cieo gives of the sorts of things that are bad. Its fundraising materials claim it wants to go “beyond simply reflecting public opinion and seeks to change the political conversation entirely.”
But it’s the climate reporters who are doing advocacy!
And make no mistake, Williams is a vicious campaigner — just not for anything good. Instead, among other garden-variety rightwing pseudo-populist nonsense, she’s spent years formenting hatred and violence against trans people as part of the UK’s dangerous Trans-Exlusionary Radical Feminist movement. These TERFs use the veneer of feminism to cover for what is otherwise relatively obvious violent anti-trans hate speech and bigotry, and unfortunately, it’s an issue that is spreading in disinformation spheres back to the US.
For example — and bear with us through this not-very-smooth transition — but in the weeks before Virginians voted for Republican Glenn Youngkin for governor, anti-trans fake news was proliferating across social media and the rightwing disinformation machine, thanks to Ben Shapiro’s fracker-backed Daily Wire.
It’s an ugly story, made uglier by how liars exploited it, but the short version is that a high school girl in Northern Virginia was sexually assaulted in a bathroom by someone she knew, had fooled around with in that bathroom before and just wanted to talk to this time. The assailant wore a skirt that day and her father later described them as gender-fluid. (Unclear how the assailant self-identifies.) The right seized on this as an example of why trans people shouldn’t be allowed to use bathrooms, (and therefore not exist in public), as two months after the assault had already taken place, the school county was considering a more inclusive bathroom policy, meaning it happened before the policy took place, undercutting their argument that letting trans people use bathrooms is what opens the door to assaults.
The reality, explained by the Koch-funded Reason, and otherwise TERF-y NYTimes columnist Michelle Goldberg, of all people, (also, HuffPost) is that the girl was a victim of an unfortunately all-too-common assault by someone she already had a relationship (of sorts) with. But it was portrayed by the climate-denying, covid-loving, vaccine-hating conservative media echo chamber as an example of how male rapists will pretend to be trans women in order to go into women’s bathrooms. (An obvious lie that never made sense, not least because it’s not like a rapist is going to let a sign stop them from going into a bathroom in order to commit a rape! If they respected boundries, they wouldn’t be raping!)
But this manufactured controversy preying on transphobia was a constant feature of conservative news in the weeks before the election. And it combined with Covid-related school issues and the racist backlash against teaching about racism in school to play into the decades-old “school choice” rhetoric developed by the right as a way to give white parents an option to avoid sending their children to school with Black kids after desegregation (as detailed in Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains).
There is both a deep history of using (white) girls as an excuse to scapegoat marginalized populations (see also: Tulsa massacre and lynchings) and a deep injustice in how trans people are treated now, and the sort of TERF rhetoric that anti-trans activists like Joanne Williams peddle and Republicans embrace only further incites violence against the already marginalized.
In fact, half of transgender people are sexually abused or assaulted at some point, as are many in the LGBTQ community, and are four times as likely to be on the receiving end of violence, so if assult were the real concern, that’d be the focus of discussion.
Instead, trans people are used as scapegoats to enrage and engage, radicalizing white women into embracing oppressive patriarchal (climate-denying) political movements.
If any of the COP attendees and reporters take anything back from the UK, let’s just hope it's not Joanne Williams’ advice.