RICO 20 Ringleader’s Implausible Denial of Intent to Silence Skeptics

After a recent victory in a FOIA lawsuit, Horner and CEI v. GMU, a Richmond court allowed the  Competitive Enterprise Institute to release records on Friday that showed George Mason University’s Ed Maibach and Jagadish Shukla, both taxpayer-funded instructors, organized a campaign calling for prosecution of those who disagree with their views on climate policy.

In one of the many documents released, Shukla denies he and his collaborators were attempting to silence dissent on climate change.

Some quick background. Early last September, Shukla, Maibach, and 18 other climate advocates sent a letter to President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Holdren, urging the administration to launch a “RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupted Organizations Act) investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change.”

In one of the just-released documents (#000033, dated October 2, 2015), Shukla insists that he and his comrades never asked for a RICO investigation of “contrarian scientists or bloggers” for “expressing their views about climate change.” Well, of course they didn’t—openly. Only a fool would do that.

However, the RICO investigation they propose would unavoidably extend to people whose only ‘crime’ is questioning climate orthodoxy.

In the October 2 document, Shukla argues that a RICO investigation would target only “corporations and organizations,” not “individuals”:

Our letter never once makes reference to individuals, be they scientists or bloggers, instead suggested an "investigation of corporations and other organizations" such as oil and coal lobby groups. We are not calling for contrarian scientists or bloggers to be investigated for expressing their beliefs about climate change. Freedom of speech and freedom of scientific exploration are critical rights that should always be respected. We wish to apologize to any scientist or blogger who mistakenly concluded that we were calling for an investigation into their activities.

But the RICO20 letter need not mention scientists and bloggers for the proposed investigation to target them. Few contrarians operate as lone wolves. Most work as employees of organizations. In many cases, those are conservative and free-market organizations. Such groups typically pride themselves on not seeking or accepting coerced contributions from taxpayers. So they pursue financial support from private sources, which may include fossil-energy companies. Donors communicate with their recipients. If donors are in the crosshairs of RICO, recipients are bound to become targets as well.

For example, as part of a parallel campaign by 17 state attorneys general to investigate fossil-energy companies for the alleged crime of delaying climate action, U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker on April 7 subpoenaed the Competitive Enterprise Institute, demanding ten years’ worth of communications, emails, statements, drafts, and other documents regarding CEI’s work on climate change and energy policy, including private donor information.

Walker’s full, non-redacted subpoena reveals that the AGs intend to cast a wide net. Walker is demanding that ExxonMobil provide all climate-related documents and communications between the company and more than 100 universities, think tanks, and academics, over a 40-year period. Each named person or entity—and any other contrarian who may have temporarily escaped the AGs’ attention—now faces the risk of having to fund a legal defense for having defied the “consensus.” How could that prospect not have a chilling effect on speech and association?* The investigation called for by the RICO20 would do so as well.

Shukla’s October 2 document continues:  

There is much published credible evidence suggesting that some fossil fuel companies and other organizations broke the law by lying to the public about climate risk. We ask our government to investigate this evidence. Organizations that knowingly mislead the public about a clear and present danger—thereby robbing many innocent people of their lives and livelihoods—should be held accountable for their actions. Our government's investigation into the deadly lies of the tobacco industry provides a clear precedent for this sort of investigation.

In conclusion, we stand by our request that corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risk of climate change be investigated to determine if they knowingly deceived the public about climate science. And we wish to be clear that we are not suggesting that scientists or bloggers should be investigated for expressing their beliefs.

That is incoherent. How exactly did ExxonMobil and other fossil energy companies “deceive” the public about climate change risk, according to the RICO 20? In their September 2015 letter to Obama, Lynch, and Holdren, Shukla et al. invoke the ‘merchants of doubt’ literature as the smoking gun that justifies a federal investigation. According to that literature, fossil energy companies have misled the public chiefly by funding ‘climate denial front groups.’ In other words, conservative and free-market organizations. Organizations staffed by the contrarian researchers and bloggers Shukla claims the RICO 20 have no interest in investigating. 

The RICO 20 campaign is incoherent on a deeper level. Shukla believes the feds should prosecute organizations that “knowingly mislead the public about a clear and present danger—thereby robbing innocent people of their lives and livelihoods.” For more than two decades, climate action groups have knowingly misled the public about the perils of putting an energy-starved planet on an energy diet.

Globally, poverty remains the leading cause of preventable disease and premature death. A key factor hindering poverty eradication, as well as a major source of indoor air pollution, which kills an estimated 3.5 million people per year, is energy poverty. Even today, more than one billion people have no access to electricity and billions more have too little energy to support development.

So-called “climate stabilization” targets cannot be met without raising energy prices in industrial countries and restricting access to fossil fuels even—indeed, especially—in developing countries, which are experiencing rapid emissions growth as they industrialize. Thus, the climate policies championed by the RICO 20 could rob millions of innocent people of their lives and livelihoods.​

As anyone knows who has watched television pharmaceutical ads, all medications have side effects, ranging from dry mouth to suicidal thoughts or actions to increased risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke, and death. Only quacks and snake oil salesmen advertise risk-free remedies. Yet climate physicians like the RICO 20 talk as if governments can wage regulatory warfare on humanity’s most affordable and reliable energy sources, and no one could possibly get hurt. That's fraud. Like their professed devotion to freedom of speech.

​* Meeting this threat head on, CEI on Monday, May 16, petitioned the District of Columbia Superior Court to fine AG Walker for violating the organization’s First Amendment rights under the District of Columbia’s Anti-SLAPP law, and for attorneys’ fees and other sanctions.