Confirmation hearings have quickly become a prime target of protesters during President Donald Trump’s time in office, with frustrated voters confronting lawmakers in the corridors of Congress or occasionally dressing up like a Monopoly man. On Thursday, some new creatures emerged during a hearing for Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt: a knot of swamp monsters hovering over the official’s shoulder.
Several protesters donning bright green masks positioned themselves around the room as part of a demonstration by environmental groups, including the Clean Water Fund, Environment America, Public Citizen and Greenpeace. Bernhardt was nominated by Trump to lead the Department of the Interior in February after former secretary Ryan Zinke resigned amid several ethics investigations.
But Bernhardt has faced many of the same criticisms lobbed at both Zinke and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. Bernhardt is a former oil and gas lobbyist who has been touted as a political workhorse behind conservative environmental policies.
Greenpeace said it helped arranged the monsters on Thursday in protest of Bernhardt’s history of working “to help corporate polluters get their hands on public lands.”
“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.”
Irene Kim, a Greenpeace employee who was sitting just behind Bernhardt’s shoulder, said later Thursday she was asked to leave the hearing despite making efforts to stay quiet (although she was allowed to remain in the room for nearly two hours). Kim said she had lined up at 7 a.m. to get into the event with a colleague and chose to put on the mask when she saw on Twitter that she had appeared on C-SPAN’s footage.
“Our purpose was not to disrupt the hearing, it was really to bring in absurdity to the hearing,” Kim told Bloomberg News. “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.”
Activists weren’t the only ones to assail Bernhardt during his hearing. Democrats, including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), lambasted the man as “just another corrupt official.” The lawmaker pointed to documents published by The New York Times this week that showed Bernhardt had worked to block the release of a scientific report that showed three pesticides were harmful to hundreds of endangered species.
“You asked to come to my office to say your ethics are unimpeachable,” Wyden said. “But these documents make it look like you’re just another corrupt official. Why would you come to my office to lie to me about your ethics?”