In the remote eastern Montana town of Glendive, a stone’s throw from the Yellowstone River, sits the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum ― a seemingly scientific attraction for curious tourists. But inside this “museum” you won’t find factual descriptions of the reptiles and other creatures that roamed the planet millions of years ago.
Its exhibits are presented “in the context of Biblical history,” dedicated to discrediting Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and promoting the idea that the Earth is just 6,000 years old, that humans and dinosaurs roamed the planet at the same time and that dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark. “The Biblical record of the beginning of the world is authentic history,” the museum’s website said.
One of the biggest bankrollers of this pseudoscience outfit is Greg Gianforte, the 2020 Republican nominee for governor. Through his family foundation, the millionaire technology entrepreneur donated at least $290,000 to the museum.
Gianforte is a first-term Republican congressman from Montana who infamously body-slammed a reporter on the eve of the state’s special election in 2017. Gianforte pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor assault charge, and a judge gave him a six-month deferred sentence and ordered him to pay a $385 fine, perform community service and attend anger management counseling.
Gianforte rejects evolution and dismisses the scientific consensus that humans are the primary drivers of global climate change. More recently, the supporter of President Donald Trump promoted the idea that so-called “herd immunity” — when enough of a population becomes immune to a disease that it can no longer spread effectively — is the solution to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Gianforte said in a July 1 webcast that he received “encouraging” news from Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, that “by the end of this year, at current infection rates, if we do nothing, we will have built sufficient herd immunity that will stop the expansion of the COVID.” Gianforte made similar comments in a separate remote town hall that same day. Gottlieb has since said the U.S is “probably a long way from herd immunity.”
Achieving herd immunity without a vaccine requires mass COVID-19 infection, which would likely result in at least 1 million deaths in the U.S and other unknown consequences. One Montana health expert warned such an approach would lead to at least 10,000 deaths in just his state.
Asked for comment, a representative of Gianforte’s campaign who identified only as a “press intern,” said, “HuffPo is not an objective news organization. It’s an extension of the Democratic Party. It’s clear you haven’t done any meaningful research and don’t intend to. Thanks for reaching out, but we’re not participating in your story or your coverage of this race. Feel free to run this in full as our response.” (HuffPost is not affiliated with the Democratic Party and is an independent news organization.)
Montana Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, slammed his opponent’s herd immunity comments in a statement earlier this month.
Gianforte’s “unwillingness to follow basic science” on the coronavirus, climate change and evolution “is nothing short of disqualifying,” Cooney’s campaign spokeswoman Ronja Abel told HuffPost via email. “Montanans simply can’t trust a man who believes dinosaurs walked the Earth with humans to lead our state through a once-in-a-lifetime public health emergency,” she added.
Montana Public Radio asked Gianforte three times during his 2017 congressional campaign if he believed in the scientific consensus that species evolved over time through the process of natural selection.
“I believe that God created the Earth,” he said. “I wasn’t there. I don’t know how long it took. I don’t know how he did it exactly, but I look around me at the grandeur in the state, and I believe that God created the Earth.”
Pressed again, Gianforte said, “I think I’ve answered your question.”
On climate change, Gianforte has resorted to a favorite talking point of climate contrarians. “The climate has been changing for millennia,” he said in letters to at least two constituents. “Over the last few decades, the Earth has been getting warmer. While the climate is changing, we still do not know how much of that change is due to human activities.”
An ever-growing, all-but-irrefutable body of scientific research shows that climate change is driven by human carbon emissions. A federal climate report released by the Trump administration in 2017, for example, concluded that “it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
Gianforte also faced recent criticism for his support of Turning Point USA, the right-wing student nonprofit founded by Charlie Kirk, who spread numerous conspiracy theories about the coronavirus. He was briefly banned from Twitter earlier this year for falsely claiming that hydroxychloroquine is “100% effective” against the virus. Gianforte spoke alongside Kirk at a Turning Point USA event in Montana last year.
In April, Montana’s attorney general and then-Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Fox accused Gianforte of insider trading on the coronavirus by investing in the manufacturer of hydroxychloroquine. Gianforte disputed the claim.
Gianforte also voiced opposition to mask mandates and COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and said that when a coronavirus vaccine becomes available, it is “going to be an individual choice for individuals whether they take it or not.”
This election cycle, Gianforte donated to at least two anti-vaccine candidates for state office, according to state campaign data. He gave the maximum $180 to state Rep. Theresa Manzella (R-Hamilton), who sponsored two failed anti-vaccine bills, one of which would have eliminated nearly all immunization requirements for children in day care. Manzella is now running for Montana state Senate.
Gianforte also gave $180 to Jolene Crum, a GOP candidate for a state House seat north of Bozeman. Crum wrote on her website that vaccines must be voluntary and that she believes without any evidence that “Bill Gates is pressuring governmental leaders to keep things weird until his vaccine is ready to create a must-comply policy with vaccination.”