A young campaigner who has been hailed by climate sceptics as the right’s answer to Greta Thunberg has previously described a white nationalist who appeared to promote “white genocide” theories as one of her “inspirations”.
Naomi Seibt, a 19-year-old from Münster, Germany, who styles herself as a “climate realist”, has also had to deny she made remarks that could be seen as antisemitic following an attack on a synagogue last year.
Seibt has been described as the darling of climate change deniers and is due to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) – a high-profile annual meeting of rightwing activists in Washington that will also feature the US president, Donald Trump.
She has been called a young, fresh voice for “free markets and climate realism” for questioning the scientific consensus on the climate crisis, which she has called “ridiculous”.
“Today climate change science really is not science at all,” she has said. “The goal [of climate scientists] is to shame humanity. Climate change alarmism at its very core is a despicably anti-human ideology and we are told to look down at our achievements with guilt, with shame and disgust, and not even to take into account the many major benefits we have achieved by using fossil fuels as our main energy source.”
An examination of the young activist’s YouTube videos and interviews has revealed that Seibt has shown support for an alt-right activist.
In a YouTube discussion last year that was highlighted in a report by the German broadcaster ZDF, Seibt discussed an attack on a synagogue in Halle that killed two people who were outside the temple, and said Jews were considered to be “at the top” of groups who were seen as being oppressed. “Ordinary Germans”, she said, were “at the bottom”. Muslims, she added, were somewhere in between.
The remarks were part of a video discussion that appears now to have been deleted. They were seen by some experts as saying that Germans had less pity for “ordinary German” victims of crime than for Jews and Muslims. A portion of the discussion was included in a report by ZDF and is still available online.
“It is clear that she is articulating – no matter how inarticulately – age-old tropes of Jewish power and white grievance: the idea that Jews are a privileged class and that white people are oppressed by them,” said Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, who studied the remarks.
When Seibt was challenged by German reporters about whether the remarks could be seen as antisemitic, Seibt replied: “If someone perceives [my remarks] as meaning something different, well, then of course I cannot influence this perception.”
In another YouTube interview describing her embrace of “views that were outside the mainstream”, Seibt referred to the Canadian alt-right internet activist Stefan Molyneux as an “inspiration”.
Molyneux has been described as an “alleged cult leader who amplifies scientific racism, eugenics and white supremacism” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremism and white supremacy.
Molyneux said in a statement to the Guardian: “I have always opposed the idea of racial superiority/inferiority.”
Seibt declined to respond to requests for comment. Reached by the Guardian, Karoline Seibt, Naomi’s mother, denied that her daughter supported the far right.
“She’s not an antisemite. I can guarantee it. She is not on the far right. She is a libertarian,” Karoline Seibt said.
In a follow-up email she added that her daughter was too busy with interviews to answer the Guardian’s questions about her previous remarks.
“It would be nice if you did not simply copy the dumb assumptions of [the German press], but rather watched Naomi’s videos and calmly wait until Naomi is able to give you time for your questions,” she wrote.
Seibt has been hired by a US thinktank called the Heartland Institute, which has traditionally been financed by fossil fuel and coal companies and is known for pushing radical anti-science theories about the climate crisis.
In 2012, Heartland set up a billboard in Illinois that featured a photograph of the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and the words “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”
The move led to some high-profile defections of corporate sponsors. In another case, the group was criticised for sending hundreds of thousands of “educational pamphlets” to schools across the country that promoted false theories about global heating.
The Mercer Family Foundation, which is run by Rebekah Mercer, a financial donor to Donald Trump and the daughter of the hedge fund mogul Robert Mercer, has previously been one of Heartland’s biggest contributors, with records showing a total of $7.5m in donations since the group’s founding.
Records show that the public backing by the Mercers has waned over the last several years, while another organisation called Donors Trust – and its affiliates – have become Heartland’s primary funder.
Donors Trust and associated organisations have donated more than $20m to Heartland, according to records compiled and analysed by DeSmog, which tracks the funding of climate denying groups. The Mercer Family Foundation is a donor to Donors Trust and its affiliates.
Heartland officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment about Seibt, her previous remarks, or questions about who is funding the campaigner’s work for Heartland. The Mercer Family Foundation did not respond to a request for comment about its support for Heartland.
Brendan DeMelle, executive director of DeSmog, said Heartland was considered so extreme in Washington that “they can’t even get support any more from Exxon”.
Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democratic senator from Rhode Island who has called for action on the climate crisis, said in a statement to the Guardian: “Even among … climate denial groups, Heartland’s … behaviour and brazen attacks on science stand out.”
Kert Davies, founder of the Climate Investigations Center, which investigates climate denying groups, said Heartland was promoting a counter-narrative to the environmentalists but would ultimately fail.
“They are trying to ride Greta’s wave, but there is no way this person is going to win hearts and minds the way Greta has,” Davies said. “They are trying to blunt the impact of Greta.”