White House's Atlas sparks outcry with 'rise up' rhetoric

In the wake of an alleged kidnapping and assassination plot against Michigan's governor, Atlas suggested people should "rise up" against her COVID efforts.
Image:S cott Atlas, US-POLITICS-HEALTH-VIRUS-TRUMP
Dr. Scott Atlas, member of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce, walks at the White House on Oct. 12, 2020.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images

Like so many states, Michigan is struggling with soaring coronavirus cases, prompting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) to announce a new policy over yesterday, which includes partially shutting down restaurants and bars. As NBC News' report added, the three-week order also "limits family gatherings, suspends organized sports that aren't professional or university-level and extends a mask mandate for indoor and outdoor gatherings."

It's the sort of policy that's likely to make a difference, so long as the people of Michigan follow the public-health guidance. As Matt Stieb noted, one of the leaders of the White House's coronavirus taskforce soon after suggested the people of Michigan should "rise up" against the public-health guidance.

Since he was put in charge of the Trump administration's coronavirus response in August, Scott Atlas, a radiologist with no background in public-health, has given the president some suspect advice, sharing his beliefs that asymptomatic people shouldn't be tested and that masks don't work. On Sunday, he lent his guidance to the people of Michigan, encouraging them to "rise up" against new lockdown measures in the state.

Specifically, Atlas -- the radiologist the president hired because he saw him on Fox News -- told the public that the "only way" to stop efforts like those in Michigan is for people to "rise up."

While such rhetoric is dangerously misguided on the surface, it's worth emphasizing for context that a group of right-wing extremists were recently arrested for allegedly plotting to kidnap and assassinate Michigan's Democratic governor, precisely because of her efforts to limit the spread of the virus.

It's against this backdrop that the White House's pandemic adviser -- who's helped convince Donald Trump to do effectively nothing about the coronavirus -- suggested that people "rise up" against efforts to save them.

Atlas argued today that he would "never ... endorse or incite violence," and this "rise up" rhetoric had been misconstrued.

But given the volatility surrounding the issue, and the recently thwarted plot against the governor, Whitmer told MSNBC she was taken aback by Atlas' missive.

"It actually took my breath away, to tell you the truth," she said. "We are in the midst of the worst weeks of this pandemic. We have been going through this for nine months and right now the numbers are as bad as they have been at any given time and so we have to take aggressive measures.... With the vacuum of leadership in Washington D.C., it's on the states' governors to do what we can to save lives," Whitmer said.

On NBC's "TODAY" show, Dr. Anthony Fauci, when asked about Atlas' needlessly provocative rhetoric, added, "I totally disagree with him. I totally disagree with the stand he takes. I just do, period."