Heartland Institute yanks Unabomber climate billboard

A conservative think tank is dropping a controversial billboard campaign that linked belief in climate change with the murderous views of the Unabomber and Charles Manson, acknowledging it “angered and disappointed” many of the group’s supporters.

The Heartland Institute said Friday afternoon that it was pulling the Chicago-area billboard, which had led to environmentalists pressuring the group’s business backers to end funding for the think tank.

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“This provocative billboard was always intended to be an experiment. And after just 24 hours the results are in: It got people’s attention,” said Heartland President Joseph Bast in a lengthy statement about the campaign that launched Thursday.

The digital billboard featured a photo of Ted Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber, that stated, “I still believe in global warming, do you?”

The group had said that the campaign would also feature Charles Manson, Fidel Castro and perhaps Osama bin Laden asking the same question.

“We know that our billboard angered and disappointed many of Heartland’s friends and supporters, but we hope they understand what we were trying to do with this experiment. We do not apologize for running the ad, and we will continue to experiment with ways to communicate the ‘realist’ message on the climate,” Bast said.

The billboard images were running ahead of a conference on climate change later in May hosted by Heartland.

The group disputes the view, held by the overwhelming majority of scientists, that the planet is warming and human activities are playing a role.

Environmentalists strongly attacked the billboard campaign from Heartland.

The billboard unleashed a social media-fed campaign, including a petition from the advocacy group Forecast the Facts calling on Heartland’s corporate backers to immediately pull their funding.

It also rankled at least one Capitol Hill supporter of the group. Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), a climate skeptic who opposes emissions regulation, threatened to cancel his speech at the conference over the billboard.

“The congressman will not participate in the upcoming Climate Change Conference if the Heartland Institute decides to continue this ad campaign, and he raised those same concerns to the Heartland Institute. He is glad to hear that these ads are coming down and wants to get back to the issues. He feels we can win this debate without the name-calling,” said Sensenbrenner spokeswoman Amanda Infield in an email.

Asked if he would attend the conference in light of the decision to yank the billboard, she replied, “If the ads are coming down, the congressman is planning to still participate.”

The Chicago-based Heartland is a group that seeks to “discover, develop and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems” on the environment, healthcare, education and other issues.