By Bill McKibben
Aug. 5, 2016
MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — THERE are shameful photos of me on the internet.
In one series, my groceries are being packed into plastic bags, as I’d forgotten to bring cloth ones. In other shots, I am getting in and out of … cars. There are video snippets of me giving talks, or standing on the street. Sometimes I see the cameraman, sometimes I don’t. The images are often posted to Twitter, reminders that I’m being watched.
In April, Politico and The Hill reported that America Rising Squared, an arm of the Republican opposition research group America Rising, had decided to go after me and Tom Steyer, another prominent environmentalist, with a campaign on a scale previously reserved for presidential candidates. Using what The Hill called “an unprecedented amount of effort and money,” the group, its executive director said, was seeking to demonstrate our “epic hypocrisy and extreme positions.”
Since then, my days in public have often involved cameramen walking backward and videotaping my every move. It’s mostly when I travel (I’ve encountered them in at least five states so far, as well as in Australia), and generally when I’m in a public or semipublic space. They aren’t interested in my arguments; instead, these videos, usually wordless, are simply posted on Twitter, almost always with music. One showed me sitting in a church pew, accompanied by the song “Show Me That Smile.” The tweet read, “Ready for his close-up.”
Someone also went to the archive at Texas Tech University, where my papers are stored, and asked for copies of everything in all 54 boxes. He identified himself as being with a group that is affiliated with America Rising Squared.
This effort has resulted in all kinds of odd things appearing on right-wing corners of the web: out-of-context quotations from old books and articles apparently put on display to prove I’m a zealot, and photos from God knows who intended to make me out as a hypocrite (the plastic bags, for instance, and my travel by car, which, you know, burns gas). Mostly, they’ve just published those creepy videos, to remind me that I’m under surveillance.
I understand that this isn’t horrible in the way that police brutality is horrible, or having your home swept away by a flood is horrible. I know that in other parts of the world, environmentalists have worse things than cameras pointed at them. From Honduras to the Philippines, in the last two years, activists have been assassinated after getting in the way of mega projects.