Trophy Hunting and Conspiracy Theories: A Perfect Match?
Jared Kakura
17th November 2020

Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes told me know that he thinks some of my more recent posts were verging into “QAnon territory.” He is presumably referring my claims about the Property and Environment Research Center being a climate change denial group, Safari Club International being funded by and lobbying for the fossil fuel industry, and the American hunting industry conducting information warfare on social media.

Understandably, these claims do sound outlandish. But they are legitimate concerns verified by multiple sources. The unfortunate reality is that trophy hunting advocates seem to be the ones spreading conspiracies about global elites controlling Africa’s resources and the coronavirus being manufactured in a Chinese bio lab as part of a global campaign against wildlife consumption.

While delving into what is and is not a conspiracy theory, it is worth noting that Sas-Rolfes has a history of working for climate change denial groups. In that regard, it is quite interesting that he is comparing my work to a conspiracy theory.

Sas-Rolfes is a research fellow with PERC, a well-known American climate change denial group that has decades of experience working behind the scenes for the fossil fuel industry misleading the public on climate science. My description of PERC as a climate change denial group is hardly revelatory, academic research published in 2008 made this claim well before me.

Additional research on the “dark money” behind climate change denial also implicated many of PERC’s top donors, including the Sarah Scaife and Searle Foundations. It’s very clear describing PERC as a climate change denial group is neither misleading nor akin to a conspiracy theory.

As well, Sas-Rofles worked with the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs, another fossil fuel industry-funded group that is responsible for bringing climate change denial to the UK. The IEA is best known for playing “a vital role in the early, and vitriolic, attack on climate science.”

What’s worse is that Sas-Rolfes holds a position on South Africa’s High Level Panel that may ultimately decide the fate of the country’s wildlife. He appears to be strong a proponent of commercial wildlife trade as a conservation and community development tool.

But no amount of rhino horn or lion bone trade will dampen the negative impacts of climate change on the African continent and the livelihoods of those who live there. What certainly would help is the reduction of fossil fuel consumption. But, alas, Sas-Rolfes works for organizations that were funded to ensure that solution was seen by the public as a threat to personal freedoms and livelihoods.

Regarding the pro-trophy hunting organization Safari Club International taking money from and lobbying for the fossil fuel industry, this is, once again, nothing revelatory. The connections between SCI and the fossil fuel industry have been reported in detail for many years.

People like Melissa Simpson best exemplify the truth behind these connections. Simpson worked for Pac/West Communications, a marketing firm that operated for many prominent fossil fuel industry clients, but soon found herself playing a pivotal role in combating the industry’s opponents.

In 2009, the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (now known as the Western Energy Alliance) hired Simpson with the specific intention of her “advocating on behalf of industry during Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) meetings, improving communication with state fish and wildlife agencies through an organized industry effort, and facilitating a dialog to mutually share information with the goal of predevelopment planning and monitoring. This effort will also serve as a tool to address wildlife protests from the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) and other sportsmen’s groups.”

Simpson was also hired as the director of government affairs and science-based conservation for SCI. Unsurprisingly, She used her position in SCI to publicly oppose the endangered species listing of the sage grouse along with leaders from the Western Energy Alliance (formerly the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States).

The public often fails to realize that listing a species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act not only prevents a species from being hunted but also prevents its habitat from being destroyed. And the habitat portion is where the fossil fuel industry has had the most trouble.

It makes perfect sense for the industry to team up with organizations like SCI in this regard. Add to this the fact that the majority of SCI’s political endorsements are climate change deniers and you start to see the picture more clearly.

The only true revelation coming from my recent investigations was that pro-trophy hunting organizations, including SCI, were conducting information warfare on social media. But this accusation was anything but a conspiracy theory.

Inclusive Conservation Group submitted a grant request to Safari Club International Foundation explicitly describing how these groups purposely pushed disinformation supporting trophy hunting and commercial wildlife trade. The grant request stated that “under the banner of irregular warfare Inclusive Conservation Group has been conducting information operations.”

ICG took “the exact words and facts from the SCI web pages and simply present it through an African’s voice.” Also listed in the grant request was ICG’s slogan: “SHAPE, INFORM, MANIPULATE, MISLEAD, EXPOSE, DIMINISH, PROMOTE, DECEIVE, COERCE, DETER, MOBILIZE, CONVINCE.”

The content published on ICG-owned Facebook pages, Proud American Hunter and Let Africa Live, also included everything from climate change denial to anti-abortion and anti-immigrant rhetoric. The disinformation pushed out by the hunting groups was so clear that even Facebook agreed with my claim. They removed Proud American Hunter, Let Africa Live, and associated accounts from their platform due to “inauthentic behavior.”

A member of the Facebook team also reached out to me after the takedown stating that my “analysis on the disinformation campaign re: ICG was really great and helpful for researchers at FB and Stanford Internet Observatory.”

But the content went beyond conservation and political disinformation, it also delved deep into conspiracy theories. The overall theme of the Let Africa Live Facebook page was that global elites were trying to keep Africans in poverty by controlling the continent’s resources. Just like the QAnon conspiracy theory, there is an odd hint of truth in the lies.

QAnon supporters are correct that there is a legitimate issue with people in power and pedophilia, look no further than the Catholic church or Jeffrey Epstein. But one of the major flaws in the QAnon conspiracy is that they view Donald Trump as a savior. On the contrary, Trump was actually one of the elites implicated in Epstein’s circle.

Similarly, Let Africa Live’s content was correct that global elites were trying to exert control over Africa’s resources and conservation policies. However, it just so happens that the global elites were none other than trophy hunters like John Thodos, the president of ICG.

Thodos can certainly be described as an elite, he and his wife spent $520,000 on a Bentley at a charity auction. And his work with ICG aimed to ensure elites like him would be able to hunt African wildlife as long as they so desired. Quite the twist, right?

But Let Africa Live was also home to conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19. Posts stated that “misinformation” from “global elites” about “the origins of the Wuhan Coronavirus shows us that this is a global campaign to rid the world of wildlife consumption.”

The posts also mentioned that global NGOs were covering up for China and that the theory that the virus came from wildlife and foreign wet markets had been “widely disproven.” Similar posts asserted that “there has only been speculation on whether this virus came from a bio lab in China or a wet market.”

Those claims are, of course, baseless. Scientific analysis “clearly” showed that the coronavirus was “not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.” Additional scientific authorities emphasized that this coronavirus was “a textbook case of an emergent pathogen after a species jump (“zoonosis”).”

The American hunting industry publishing coronavirus conspiracy theories should have been expected though. There was a large overlap between groups that denied climate change and groups that spread disinformation about COVID-19.

It is extremely unfortunate this is now the world we live in. It is becoming increasingly frustrating that organizations looking to profit off the destruction of the natural world continue to project their misdoings onto those calling them out for their bullshit. And thanks to social media, it’s never been easier for these organizations to operate.

Related articles

Why You Need to be Concerned About PERC and Safari Club International

How to Spot a Climate Change Denial Group Masquerading as a Wildlife Conservation Organization

Letter Condemning Misinformation Co-authored by Member of Climate Change Denial Group

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