Since he was put in charge of the Trump administration’s coronavirus response in August, Scott Atlas, a radiologist with no background in public-health, has given the president some suspect advice, sharing his beliefs that asymptomatic people shouldn’t be tested and that masks don’t work. On Sunday, he lent his guidance to the people of Michigan, encouraging them to “rise up” against new lockdown measures in the state, which include a three-week pause for in-person classes for high schools and colleges, as well as a suspension for indoor dining, theaters, stadiums, and non-professional sports.
Aside from the issue of a federal public-health adviser condemning the kind of state order that has been proven to slow the spread of a virus which has killed over 246,000 Americans, Atlas’s comment – which many interpreted as casual encouragement of mild insurrection – came just over a month after the FBI stopped a militia plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer for “treason.” Responding to Atlas’s statement, Whitmer told CNN: “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.”
Late Sunday evening, Atlas said he was not encouraging violence, tweeting: “Hey. I NEVER was talking at all about violence. People vote, people peacefully protest. NEVER would I endorse or incite violence. NEVER!!”
Atlas is not the only figure in the Trump administration who has condemned Whitmer with insensitive language. Less than two weeks after more than a dozen people were arrested in connection with the kidnapping plot, President Trump encouraged a “lock her up” chant during a rally in Muskegon and suggested Whitmer could undermine the election. “This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials’ lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans,” Whitmer said in response. “It needs to stop.”
Atlas’s online remarks may actually be less dangerous than the comments he’s made within the White House. According to the Washington Post, in the early fall he “advocated allowing infections to spread naturally among most of the population,” a course that the president is functionally encouraging by doing nothing to stop the unmitigated surge of the pandemic in many states. Shortly after Atlas made his comment on Sunday night, the nation passed 11 million COVID cases — having grown from 10 million in just six days.
This post has been updated with Atlas’s follow up tweet.