Neil deGrasse Tyson has started a Twitter firestorm yet again — this time, with a tweet that some have read as support of Donald Trump. In just a few hours, he’s gotten thousands of retweets, and a near-endless flow of responses, many focused on letting the famed astrophysicist know exactly why they don’t agree with him in this case.
Tyson frequently starts controversy on the short-form social media platform, whether it’s by talking about religion, science, or politics. In this case, the tweet was about GOP presidential hopeful — or, more specifically, about those who firmly oppose him.
People who are anti-Trump are actually anti-Trump supporters — they oppose free citizens voting for the @realDonaldTrump.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) March 13, 2016
There was immediate response on the Facebook page synced with Tyson’s Twitter.
The folks to whom Neil deGrasse Tyson refers have been something of a bee in the bonnet for Trump lately, in a few ways.
First, there have been incidents with protesters being removed from Trump rallies, even when they were standing silently. In February, Trump reacted strongly to one of these protesters. CNN reported that Trump told the crowd,
“I’d like to punch him in the face.”
Less than a month later, in North Carolina, a rally attendee did just that to a protester. As Rakeem Jones was led out of the facility by police, John McGraw approached and punched him in the face. According to WCNC, McGraw was not apprehended by police at the time, but was identified later thanks to video captured of the incident.
Since then, protests have increased. This week, one Trump rally was canceled due to protests, and another was attended by hundreds of protesters, prompting a promise from Trump to have all future protesters arrested and charged.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is hardly the first to respond to these massive protests. In an opinion piece for CNN, Marc J. Randazza, a First Amendment attorney, addressed the concerns related to protest. Though he corrects the mistaken notion that ‘free speech’ means speech that no one interrupts or disagrees with, he also suggests that all of America, pro- and anti-Trump alike, should agree that no one should fear attending a political rally, and that violent protests should be condemned by all.
Tyson’s tweet doesn’t express an opinion on Trump’s proposed policies or talking points. He simply boils the election process down into a really simple term: people who are opposed to Trump don’t want other people to vote for Trump.
Certainly plenty of people have replied to Neil deGrasse Tyson to give an alternative view. Among them was John Legend, who argued that people who are ‘anti-Trump’ are people opposed to Trump’s ‘personal qualities and statements.’
— John Legend (@johnlegend) March 13, 2016
Of course, the protesters in question weren’t trying to prevent anyone from voting, and there’s room for debate about whether they attempted to prevent anyone from attending Trump’s rally. Still, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s tweet was far less an expression of support for Trump, than an opinion on what exactly it means to oppose a candidate.
Tyson himself has not actively endorsed any candidates. However, he has expressed opinions on religion being taught in schools. You can see a video below in which Tyson says he’ll be “up in your face” if you demand that religion be taught in science classes — a clear reference to conservatives’ attempts to have “alternatives to evolution” included in curriculum.
While that doesn’t apply directly to Trump, who hasn’t expressed a specific view on evolution and creationism taught in schools, it does give a hint as to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s stance for many GOP candidates.
The closest that the science enthusiast has come to an actual endorsement of any candidate is to offer an opinion on who Jesus would vote for:
Who would Jesus vote for? To him walls, wealth, & torture are non-starters, so probably the Jewish New Yorker from Vermont.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) March 1, 2016
[Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images]