Opponents of the Green New Deal have fired off a slew of increasingly hyperbolic attacks in recent months, from falsely claiming that it would outlaw hamburgers and ban air travel to contending that it would turn the United States into a socialist nation. On Thursday, one member of the House Natural Resources Committee took things even further, equating the ambitious climate plan to some of the worst atrocities committed by mankind before walking back the remarks as a joke hours later.

“For many people who live in the West, but also in rural and urban areas, the ideas behind the Green New Deal are tantamount to genocide,” Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said at a news conference held with other GOP House members in Washington. “That may be an overstatement, but not by a whole lot.”

Bishop, a nine-term lawmaker who previously worked as a history teacher, has been one of the most aggressive critics of the sweeping proposal, which seeks to combat climate change with a shift to renewable and zero-emission energy sources while simultaneously restructuring the economy to address income inequality. In his remarks, Bishop argued that the plan had been formulated by people who “judge distance not in miles but in subway stops,” an apparent reference to the resolution’s House sponsor, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). “The genesis of this concept is really coming from Easterners who live in an urban setting and have no view of what it’s like in the rest of America,” he said.

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After the news conference was over, Axios reporter Amy Harder pointed out that the term “genocide” refers to the deliberate mass murder of a particular national or ethnic group and asked Bishop how the Green New Deal fits that definition.

“I’m an ethnic,” Bishop said. “I’m a Westerner.”

“And you think the Green New Deal is going to kill you?” Harder asked.

“If you actually implement everything they want to,” Bishop replied. “Killing would be positive if you implement everything the Green New Deal actually wants to.”

Representatives for Bishop didn’t immediately respond late Thursday night to questions about what the congressman, who is white, had meant by saying that he was “an ethnic,” and if he was intending to imply that living in the West was comparable to being a racial or religious minority. According to the E & E News, an energy and environmental policy news site, Bishop continued to defend the comparison to genocide after the news conference ended, telling reporters, “That’s what it’s going to call for because it really is theoretical ideas from people who live in urban settings that have no concept of what it is to live far distances from your neighbor . . . . They don’t understand the West at all."

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Bishop’s overheated rhetoric was immediately condemned by critics on the left, who accused him of trivializing white settlers’ mass slaughter of Native Americans and other real genocides that have taken place throughout history. A spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez told the Hill that the remarks were “misleading and offensive,” while the Utah Democratic Party denounced his claims as "not only baseless but also incredibly insensitive.”

J Street, a liberal Jewish lobbying group, responded, “This is just disgusting. To compare environmental protections to the targeted decimation of a population is disturbing and dangerous.”

Speaking to E & E News, Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said that he was surprised by Bishop’s remarks and pointed out that Congress has voted to condemn hate speech on multiple occasions in recent months after other members’ comments led to controversy. “My friend, Mr. Bishop, is usually a little more circumspect than that and usually doesn’t make those kinds of declarations,” he said. “So what does that tell me? There’s a little bit of desperation in the tone.”

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Later on Thursday, Bishop said in a statement to the Salt Lake Tribune that he had been joking, but that he fully believed that the plan would be catastrophic. “My comments were obviously not meant literally, and should not detract from the fact that the so-called Green New Deal is born of attitudes that show no respect for the lives and livelihoods of the American people,” he said.

Bishop, who represents a vast rural district spanning much of northern Utah, has been described as a thorn in the side of Democrats hoping to pursue an aggressive environmental agenda. Before Democrats took control of the House in January, he served as the Natural Resources Committee’s chairman for four years and repeatedly feuded with the outdoor apparel company Patagonia and environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council over their lobbying efforts. Meanwhile, after famously saying in 2016 that he “would be happy to invalidate the Endangered Species Act,” he championed bills that critics warned would do exactly that. Since being replaced by Grijalva as chairman, Bishop has been highly critical of the committee’s new focus on climate change, claiming that the issue falls outside its jurisdiction.

Last month, at yet another news conference criticizing the Green New Deal, he pulled out a hamburger from Good Stuff Eatery mid-speech and began eating it as he accused Democrats and environmentalists of wanting to control his life.

“If this goes through, this will be outlawed,” he said in between bites. “I can no longer eat this kind of thing. So before they take it away from me, before it’s illegal and an endangered species, I’m actually going to enjoy this a whole lot more than I would the Green New Deal.”

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