Trump COVID-19 adviser Scott Atlas calls for citizens to “rise up” in response to Michigan lockdown

Gov. Whitmer, target of a foiled right-wing kidnapping plot, said Atlas' comments "actually took my breath away"

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published November 16, 2020 4:53PM (EST)

White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas, speaks during a TV interview with OAN on October 12, 2020 in Washington, DC (Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas, speaks during a TV interview with OAN on October 12, 2020 in Washington, DC (Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A member of outgoing President Donald Trump's coronavirus task force posted a tweet on Sunday that urged Michiganders to "rise up" against their governor, who has already faced threats of violence after taking public health measures to stop the rapid spread in the state, which now faces its fifth straight week of record-breaking case numbers. 

"The only way this stops is if people rise up. You get what you accept. #FreedomMatters #StepUp," Dr. Scott Atlas tweeted in response to a report that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has ordered a three week freeze to begin Wednesday on in-person learning in high schools and colleges as well as indoor theaters, dining, stadium events and non-professional organized sports.

Whitmer responded to Atlas' tweet on Sunday by telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "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." One day later, she told MSNBC's Joe Scarborough that Atlas' comments "actually took my breath away, to tell you the truth."

She also threw shade at Atlas' shaky scientific reputation, noting that she listens to "people that actually have studied and are well respected worldwide on these issues . . . not the individual that is doing the President's bidding on this one."

Atlas, a Stanford University neuroradiologist appointed to Trump's coronavirus task force, is not an epidemiologist and has no expertise on infectious disease. Whitmer's latter remark references how Atlas has taken a number of public health positions that go against the scientific consensus. These include claiming that masks do not help prevent infection; this is wrong, as masks have been repeatedly proved to prevent the spread of aerosol droplets that contain the novel coronavirus. Atlas also seemed to push for reducing lockdowns on the premise that this would strengthen herd immunity, arguing that "when you isolate everyone, including all the healthy people, you're prolonging the problem because you're preventing population immunity. Low-risk groups getting the infection is not a problem. In fact, it's a positive." Yet there are doubts as to whether herd immunity is even possible for those who are infected by coronavirus and later recover, as viral infection appears to confer only temporary immunity that lasts twelve months at most.

Last month, faculty at Stanford University discussed imposing sanctions on Atlas for spreading pseudoscience. They also reconsidered the university's ties with the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank located on the university's campus that has long incubated the careers of prominent conservatives like former Republican Secretaries of States Condoleezza Rice and George Shultz. Atlas is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Atlas' comments are particularly unsavory given that Gov. Whitmer, a Democrat, has already been the target of potential violence. Last month it was revealed that six men had been arrested for allegedly plotting to kidnap Gov. Whitmer and launch a coup against Michigan's state government. The individuals reportedly surveilled Whitmer's vacation home on two occasions and considered bringing her to a remote area of Wisconsin to try her for "treason." As FBI agent Richard Trask explained in his complaint, "Several members talked about murdering 'tyrants' or 'taking' a sitting governor. The group decided they needed to increase their numbers and encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message."

Despite the implications of his earlier tweet, Atlas walked it back on Sunday night, tweeting that "Hey. I NEVER was talking at all about violence. People vote, people peacefully protest. NEVER would I endorse or incite violence. NEVER!!"

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Aggregate Coronavirus Covid-19 Donald Trump Gretchen Whitmer Michigan Scott Atlas