“The only way this stops is if people rise up,” Atlas said in a tweet Sunday night, which quoted a reporter who had shared information about Whitmer’s new restrictions. “You get what you accept. #FreedomMatters #StepUp.”
Critics immediately condemned Atlas’s “rise up” rhetoric, which mirrored President Trump’s previous calls to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and statements that correlated “tyranny” with the pandemic restrictions put in place by Whitmer, who was the target of an alleged kidnapping plot that was thwarted last month. The suspects said they planned the attack because the Michigan governor was a “tyrant b----,” according to the FBI.
Whitmer responded to Atlas’s tweet Sunday night on CNN, where she defended the three-week pause that resembles the stay-at-home orders issued in many cities and states early in the pandemic.
“We know that the White House likes to single us out here in Michigan, me out in particular,” Whitmer told CNN. “I’m not going to be bullied into not following reputable scientists and medical professionals.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) also slammed Atlas, calling the tweet “disappointing, irresponsible, and the reason why the United States finds itself in such desperate circumstances regarding COVID-19.” She said the opposition to restrictions would lead to more coronavirus cases and deaths.
“A patriot is one who protects America from its enemies, both foreign and domestic,” Nessel said in a tweet. “COVID-19 is the enemy, not each other. Stop pitting Americans against each other and start supporting policies proven to effectively fight the virus.”
Atlas defended his tweet Sunday night from the torrent of criticism, claiming that he was not attempting to incite violence in telling Michigan residents to “rise up.”
“Hey. I NEVER was talking at all about violence,” Atlas said in a follow-up tweet. “People vote, people peacefully protest. NEVER would I endorse or incite violence. NEVER!!”
Atlas, a neuroradiologist and fellow at Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution, joined the White House as a pandemic adviser in August despite having no background in public health or infectious diseases. He has promoted a controversial approach that would fully reopen the U.S. economy by attempting herd immunity, implementing a strategy used by officials in Sweden that reportedly gained favor with Trump.
Public health experts in the United States and abroad have criticized the idea of using herd immunity, which would allow the virus to spread through the general population while protecting vulnerable people. Herd immunity is the goal of many vaccines, like the childhood inoculation that prevents measles, but it is not commonly accepted as a way to control pandemic viruses.
The World Health Organization has called the strategy of using herd immunity to tamp down the coronavirus pandemic “very dangerous,” because many people would die trying to reach that goal.
On Sunday, doctors joined a chorus of political critics attacking Atlas for opposing Michigan’s new restrictions amid a spike in covid-19 cases and hospitalizations.
“What Scott Atlas says is wrong and extremely harmful,” Leana S. Wen, an emergency room physician and visiting professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, told CNN Sunday.
Not all Trump administration officials share Atlas’s views on coronavirus restrictions. In tweets that backed stronger precautions across the country, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams said Sunday that Americans should strive to be a “patriot” by wearing masks and staying home, even as the holiday season approaches.
“This isn’t forever. It’s for long enough to flatten this curve and bridge to rapid vaccination of vulnerable populations,” Adams said in a tweet. “Our country has been through worse, and sacrificed immediate comforts for the greater good. Now we need short term sacrifice to protect the vulnerable.”