An otherwise unremarkable confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump’s nominee to take over the job of Secretary of the Interior turned swampy on Thursday, as activists donned “swamp monster” masks and costumes in protest.
According to a report from HuffPost, one activist was first spotted wearing a green rubber swamp monster mask sitting behind nominee acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Soon it became apparent that several other activists had the same idea, and that they had positioned themselves around the room so as to maximize the chances they would be spotted on C-SPAN during the hearing.
Protesters from various environmental groups, including Greenpeace, Clean Water Fund, Environment America, and Public Citizen, said they object to the nomination of Bernhardt due to his close ties to the gas and oil industry – he formerly worked as a lobbyist – and his reputation as one of the architects behind many conservative environmental policy initiatives.
“Trump campaigned hard on the idea of ‘draining the swamp,'” Greenpeace wrote on Twitter. “As we know, he’s done the exact opposite — and Bernhardt might be the most blatant example of that. We don’t call him a walking conflict of interest for nothing.”
One Greenpeace activist, Irene Kim, was seated just behind Bernhardt where she could be seen over his shoulder on C-SPAN when he spoke.
(1) So why did we bring these swamp creatures to David Bernhardt's confirmation hearing for Interior Secretary this morning? Well... Bernhardt is a former oil and gas lobbyist who previously worked to help corporate polluters get their hands on public lands. pic.twitter.com/TrnqkhFQUv— Greenpeace USA (@greenpeaceusa) March 28, 2019
Kim said she quietly put on her rubber mask when she confirmed on Twitter that she was visible. Despite her efforts to remain quiet and not otherwise disrupt the proceedings, Kim was asked to leave, though she did manage to remain in the room for nearly two hours.
“Our purpose was not to disrupt the hearing, it was really to bring in absurdity to the hearing,” Kim said. “I made every effort to not be a disturbance, I kept my butt glued to my seat, I did not make any noise. I think we inspired a lot of people and made them laugh when it’s a time of a lot of discouragement right now.”
Kim and her fellow activists lined up for a seat in the hearing at 7 a.m. and shots of their protest quickly went viral.
But activists weren’t the only ones calling out Trump’s nominee over his industry connections. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, berated Bernhardt, calling him “just another corrupt official.” Wyden pointed to a New York Times story that emerged earlier in the week that revealed that Bernhardt had been instrumental in an effort to block the release of a scientific report detailing the dangers of three pesticides. The chemicals in question are said to “jeopardize the continued existence” of over 1,200 species of birds, fish, and other animals. Bernhardt and others in the Interior Department are working to severely narrow the definition of what constitutes risk from such pesticides.
(7) It couldn't be any more clear that David Bernhardt should be the LAST person to overlook America's public lands, water and wildlife. YOU can still #StopBernhardt by calling your Senator at 1-213-335-2077 & telling them to reject Bernhardt’s confirmation! pic.twitter.com/PkBV6jPXA1— Greenpeace USA (@greenpeaceusa) March 28, 2019
The activists said they hoped that their lighthearted protest could make an impact and draw attention to what they called the dire problem of Bernhardt and others ignoring the “serious, human-made impacts of the climate crisis.”