Viewpoint: ‘Predatorts’ — How activist nonprofits create fear and seed science doubt, generate lawsuits, and distort public policy
- Identify a company or industry with deep pockets – Check!
- Get a few scientists to identify a link between cancers and their products – Check!
- Launch widespread ad campaigns to attract as many potential victims as possible – Check!
- Secure unlimited funding via non-transparent litigation finance firms – Check!
- Lobby government regulations to amplify uncertainty on product safety – Check!
- Try to extort a pre-trial settlement from a battered company – Check!
But if you have to actually go to trial, you need to ensure that you can win (even if your science is bogus, your lobbying and extortion failed and your plaintiffs are more opportunistic than actual). What then do you need to do?
- Employ an army of activist NGOs to generate public fear and outrage against the company or product – Check!
Creating public fear and outrage is an essential step in the Plaintiff Playbook and US tort law firms have discovered that anti-industry activists are willing partners in shifting public perception and priming potential jury members to demand blood and vengeance.
We have seen this Predatort strategy play out recently with hundreds of thousands of cases against J&J on talc and Bayer on glyphosate, with the only evidence based on very questionable IARC publications. Of course scientific documents are very complicated for the average American juror so it would be helpful to better shake the tort money tree if they could establish significant disgust among the general population to bring any potential juror, pre-trial, into a rabid rage demanding justice. The recent decisions and the pay-outs against J&J and Bayer were more about outrage at corporations than about facts and evidence.
Enter the NGO, seeking social justice, anti-capitalist and in constant need of funding (which, to the private-jet budgets of the average Predatort, is mere chump change). Part 4 of SlimeGate then fits the social element of the Predatort puzzle into place, showing the role activist non-profits play in tort law firms’ scam strategy.
Relationships are forged by definitions and defining an environmental NGO is about as vague as defining a tort lawyer.
There are the large established NGOs (like Greenpeace or the Environmental Working Group); some NGOs like Earth Justice or the Environmental Defense Fund resemble law offices; there are single-issue NGOs run from people’s living rooms (like US Right to Know or Testbiotech) starved for cash and willing to do and say anything for a leg up; there are NGOs like CERT set up by law firms for the purpose of manufacturing outrage and laundering funds; and then there are Predatorts themselves, like Steven Donziger, whom, through activist behaviour (and that added pathological touch of a self-destructive messianic complex), become one-person NGOs running attention-seeking campaigns to ensure their own immortality.
The definition of a tort lawyer is even broader, especially in the United States. Easy money can attract petty thieves and strip mall opportunists, ambulance chasers and Skid Row addicts. Some elevate to the level of organised crime, sucking funds out of corporations in a barely legally tolerable extortion racket. They might do it out of belief systems like the “total war” Scientologists at Baum Hedlund or as structural opportunists like those at Weitz & Luxenberg. Some enter into the tort profession out of their love of the theatre, being fed TV courtroom dramas since childhood (but the pay-out beats Hollywood). Then there are the true believers on a social justice crusade to save humanity. These are the ones who will gladly use children or buy off scientists to fabricate evidence. Such zealots will do anything to hurt the capitalist system. Most tort lawyers aggressively concentrate on generating an ever-increasing revenue stream, treating victims as commodities they exchange among each other like merchants of misery. For this reason, I coined the term “Predatort”.
Whatever turned these vengeful Predatorts to such a state of integrity impoverishment – the money, the attention, the outrage – one thing is clear: the union of tort lawyers with environmental activists was a match made in heaven. Both, as self-proclaimed justice warriors, seek social change; both enjoy the attention of their soapboxes; both carry an uncontrollable obsession to dismantle corporations and the capitalist system … and both, for different reasons, are quite willing to put these ambitions above standard ethical norms or common decency and respect for facts, fair-play and evidence. Both are liars for hire. They lie with purpose and passion … whether it is out of pure greed or some Machiavellian zealot strategy and that they so easily found each other should not come as a surprise.
Predatorts and activist NGOs share common goals is in the sang-froid strategy of bypassing democratic-based regulatory processes and effecting change in the courtrooms. Chapter 3 looked at how a small group of retired regulatory scientists openly cooperated with US tort law firms and, on their behalf, went to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to produce monographs of little scientific value that could be used in US courts to sue industry into submission. This tactic, known as adversarial regulation, usurped the normal regulatory processes by elected officials, essentially bombarding a company with hundreds of thousands of lawsuits to extort policy change or force bankruptcy. The previous chapter showed how integrity-challenged activist scientists like Bernie Goldstein, Martyn T Smith and Chris Portier left the lab for the lawsuit, fabricating evidence tailored for the courtroom while handsomely enriching themselves on meaningless tort showpieces from talc to glyphosate to benzene (to the next money-spinner: your mobile phones).
Delivering the science to the courtroom was the task of these white-coat turncoats and there was enough largess to go around. But juries needed to be primed, their outrage fomented. Any Predatort worth his or her salt would not go into a courtroom (with millions of litigation-finance borrowed funds on the line) without the knowledge that there were 12 angry men stacked up against the defendant (insert name of vilified corporation here). For that, they needed the professional services of the activist NGOs who were normally attacking these evil corporations out of pure political ideology. That these dogmatic fundamentalists could raise funds and work with law firms to achieve a greater end (bankrupting their mortal enemies) was music to their socially judicious ears.
If Chapter 3 of SlimeGate presented this small group of morally bent scientists as willing to work with greedy tort lawyers to circumvent the democratic process, how much more these groups of ragtag Machiavellian activists (who have even been willing to get into bed with a fascist party if it meant they could ban a herbicide)? Democratic processes do not matter once you have convinced yourselves that governments are corrupted by industry. If a group of fundamentalist zealots want to win (and some Predatorts are offering them cash), don’t expect any civics lessons from these heartless activist mercenaries.
There are some who may think the Risk-Monger has once again turned his conspiracy dial to “Full” and is talking his usual shill nonsense. There is surely no way that the recent spate of lawsuits against corporations were premeditated to have scientists and NGOs working in tangent with tort lawyers to put these innovative companies out of business (while making a few interested individuals filthy rich). Any interests from these three groups was only coincidentally aligned and is merely a case of good, finally, prevailing over evil.
It could not possibly have been strategically planned, say, like, at a conference…
La Jolla: The Oreskean Order
A group of US lawyers, scientists, NGOs and left-wing academics met for a small conference in the Californian town of La Jolla in 2012 to lay out a strategy to work together to sue industry into submission. Using tobacco litigation as their benchmark (that the only way Big Tobacco could finally be reined in was via an overwhelming series of litigations), this group, led by Naomi Oreskes, sought to apply the same strategy to other issues of concern (namely Big Oil). Regulators will not change corporate behaviour (the participants at La Jolla assumed governments are bought and paid for by their lobbyists) so the only way big industries will change for the better is to litigate the hell out of them. This group of academics, lawyers, activists and scientists conveniently published their playbook and we have been watching them implement this strategy over the last decade. Many of the actors involved in La Jolla were later found organising lawsuits and strategy against ExxonMobil on damages from climate change.
La Jolla was not just another budget-expensed academic conference. What we are seeing today, with benzene, talc, glyphosate, climate lawsuits and shortly, 5G, is how a small group of people, motivated by greed, a high sense of self-purpose and anti-capitalist malice have come together to discretely enforce non-democratic decisions that are having a profound effect on consumers, human well-being and global food security. And they are getting away with it.
I have referred to the La Jolla Playbook several times in SlimeGate. Chapter 2 showed the La Jolla objective of litigating companies either into bankruptcy or a forced change of business strategy. In Chapter 3, La Jolla came back with the objective of arranging a select group of scientists to present a consensus view as the basis for litigation.
The La Jolla conference also openly acknowledged that scientific claims from official-sounding agencies like IARC would not be enough. To firmly castrate industry, innovation and capitalism via some Predatort exorcism, to win in the courts and to impose societal change, the litigation strategy would need to employ an army of activist groups to vilify corporate targets or their products, instil fear in the (potential jury-pool) public and create a large population literally frothing at the mouth for justice. NGO activist groups, working hand-in-hand with tort law firms is essential to the La Jolla Playbook.
The relationship of NGOs and US tort lawyers was not a coincidental meeting of interests – it was a strategic alignment to impose ideological change on populations. There is no democratic will being expressed here (an environmental elite imposing behavioural change on ignorant populations is a form of fascism). And this relationship is evolving further with demands that ‘ecocide’ be recognised in the courts as a crime against the environment. The righteous shall be first (… and very rich).
What was key in La Jolla is that you need to have the public incensed by the very existence of these companies and industries. You need to change the narrative and raise the level of outrage that will ensure victory in the courtrooms. Oreskes’ view was clear: you need NGOs working with the lawyers and scientists to manipulate public opinion. What I find truly morally repugnant here from this “Professor of Science History” is that hers is not a science of discovery, facts and evidence, but rather one of manipulation and opportunism – of controlling the narrative to force your ideals upon others.
What an awful person.
Hypocrites have no conscience
But here was the challenge. Those activists campaigning against greed generally have a high opinion of their moral righteousness. They would have to hold their noses as their new-found Predatort friends walked off with all of the silver. Chapter 2 showed how so many slimeballs in the US tort law community were in it only for the money, expressing excessive greed and a barely concealed contempt for the alleged victims they pretend to represent (“unleashing the hounds of hell” via a “parade of the horribles”). Activist social justice warriors, fighting against capitalist greed have a decision to make. Do they stand up for their principles and fight against all illicit use of funds that hurt the little guy, or do they look away as a group of cretintious lawyers line their pockets via pure extortion while, in the enrichment process, harming the capitalist system these activists so despise?
Activists are zealots … meaning they are willing to tolerate whatever it takes to achieve their goals. They care about winning even if consumers pay more for goods and services, the environment suffers and the alternatives entail severe consequences. Forget their lofty idealism. Activists attack nuclear energy even if it means more coal is burnt; they will campaign to ban synthetic pesticides while knowing full well that organic alternatives are more destructive to the environment; they will spread outrage against plastics with disregard to the benefits they provide to public health and food safety … so activist groups getting into bed with greedy tort lawyers in order to strangle targeted industries is a bit of a no-brainer. And if the Predatorts discretely pay them for their services, that is called a “win-win” (although they try their best to not stand too close to the source of the slimy stench).
I am reminded of my good friend Martin Pigeon (when he used to work for Corporate Europe Observatory). Martin was the quintessential activist hypocrite. A chain-smoker campaigning against the carcinogenic risks of toast and glyphosate. An ardent campaigner against lobbying in Brussels whom, by any standards, broke the record for the most meetings with EU officials in any given year. My last exchange with Martin was over the question of why he engaged the services of Chris Portier knowing full well that the work Portier did for Corporate Europe Observatory was (non-transparently) paid by US tort lawyers (who would benefit from his work and Corporate Europe’s amplification). Pigeon’s reply was pure hypocritical gold.
No fan, … but an avid consumer of Predatort funding. Martin Pigeon.
It is quite clear. These hypocritical zealots will gladly work with the tort lawyers if it will help them win (and then simply say they are “no fan of these big law firms either”). Sorry Martin but activists like you who work with Predatorts, take their money and do their bidding, demonstrate no conscience, integrity or moral compass. Maybe it is better that you now work with trees – you were a pathetic hypocrite when you worked with people.
David Zaruk has been an EU risk and science communications specialist since 2000, active in EU policy events from REACH and SCALE to the Pesticides Directive, from Science in Society questions to the use of the Precautionary Principle. Follow him on Twitter @zaruk
A version of this article was originally posted at Risk Monger and is reposted here with permission.