When President Donald Trump signed an executive order last month shrinking the size of the Bears Ears National Monument, the outdoor retailer Patagonia replaced the photos of colorful parkas and sweeping outdoor vistas usually found on its website with a stark headline: “The President Stole Your Land.”
The Trump order slashes the size of the Utah park land, which is full of ancient Native American cliff dwellings, by about 85%. The land remains in federal custody, but could now be open to mining or other commercial development.
Utah Congressman Rob Bishop, who heads the House Committee on Natural Resources, has been a staunch supporter of the move. He issued a polite invitation to Patagonia CEO Yvon Chouinard to share his views with the committee in mid-December. But the tone of that invite was undercut by a tweet the committee posted days earlier, accusing Patagonia of pretending to care to “to sell more products to wealthy elitist urban dwellers from New York to San Francisco.”
Chouinard declined the committee’s invitation, and since then the House committee’s official Twitter account has published a volley of tweets mocking and criticizing the private company. The committee is funded from the federal budget, as are its staff’s salaries.
This weekend, one former government official had enough.
“Hi. Could you not misuse an official government account to attack an American business for partisan political reasons and make us look like a banana republic? Asking for a country,” Walter Shaub, the former head of the US Office on Government Ethics, asked on Twitter. A vocal critic of the Trump administration since the very beginning, Shaub quit his post in July over concerns that the administration was withholding information from the office.
The exchange between Shaub and committee officials devolved into nasty partisan insults are a stunning rate on Saturday evening.
“Hi. Could you not misuse a false sense of authority & importance to tweet about something with your own blatant bias?” the committee’s deputy press secretary Katie Schoettler replied.
“You’re a disgruntled partisan hack from the Obama era with a false sense of authority you use to peddle a political agenda,” the committee’s digital director Ben Goldey wrote, adding that Shaub should “take several seats.” Shaub, in turn, called Goldey, a “disgrace.”
The aides went on to troll actor Patricia Arquette after she criticized them, who resorted to blocking one of them.
The committee’s attacks on Patagonia, and the committee staff’s attacks on people who criticize it, is part of a worrying trend in the Trump administration of using government resources and taxpayer-funded platforms to target critics.
In September, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders used a press conference to call for the firing of ESPN commentator Jemele Hill, after Hill criticized the president on her personal Twitter account. Trump has used his Twitter account to insult everyone from the widow of an army sergeant to Jeff Bezos.