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What To Make Of The Alt Movement Today?

It burst onto the scene 11 months ago at 140 characters per tweet, unnerving some in the Trump administration with its irreverence and pushback, and no doubt concerning top management of the National Park Service. But where is the Alt movement these days? 

In short, it seems alive and well, though it has stretched its boundaries, moving beyond Park Service and climate change issues to encompass all perceived wrongs those behind the tweets want to right or bring attention to.

"We started with a really simple message. We wanted a forum to bring awareness to the inequality faced by women, minorities, and LGBTQ+ people in regards to the NPS uniform," NastyWomenofNPS said in replying to a series of questions posed by Traveler. "We grew from there to messaging about those groups and how they faced prejudice as a whole across NPS. As our audience grew, we recognized how important intersectionality is to our resistance, not only from a humanistic viewpoint (the people we report about), but also the spheres in which we do so. While a lot of the content we share is NPS-related, much of it is about politics, civil rights, racism, sexism, conservation...the things we're really passionate about, but on a global stage."

Search Twitter and you can find a range of "Alt" handles that sprang up after President Trump was sworn in back in January. There's Alt US NPS, AltEPA, AltYellowstoneNatPark, altRockyNPS, AltCraterLake, Alt Bears Ears NM, and AltUSFWSRefuge, and then there's BadHombreLandsNPS, which arose after a former Park Service employee with access to Badlands National Park's Twitter account posted climate-change facts several days after Donald Trump's inauguration in January that apparently irked the newly encamped Trump administration.

Not all those groups responded to Traveler's questions about the state of the movement, and those that did did not reveal their true identities or professional positions. But in various forms and messages, the Alt sites seem to have a unifying foundation: Science is real and should be used to inform the public, and those behind the accounts will resist any efforts by the Trump administration to muzzle scientists. That said, there is no coordination between them, Traveler was told.

"We don’t really have a set outline, we go with our hearts and try and speak for our following by addressing concerns and focusing on the most dire action alerts, making those calls is key to the resistance," said "Ominous Ann," the individual behind AltYellowstoneNatPark, in an email.

Some behind the Alt names purportedly are full-time park rangers, others claim to be researchers or seasonals. But some also could just be people hoping to glam onto the Alt movement.

"You can reach most of them through Twitter, but there are only a few that we collectively really trust... A core group we refer to as 'vetted' since a few of us know each other in one way or another through our park work," one of the handlers of Alt US NPS said in an email. 

@NastyWomenofNPS - over 70% of our followers are women, and NastyWomen is run by female Park employees (Rangers). 100% legit account

@AltYelloNatPark is dedicated beyond what anyone realizes.  Again, 100% legit acct

@BadHombreNPS because they are the original, where the Alts all started. Not 100% sure of their background, but they seem on right path...

@AltHVNP has made a few videos that have been great. If you have not watched the video they did about water, it is fantastic- https://medium.com/@althvnp Watch it...

"Those are the ones we are tightest with. But Rainier, Olympic, Rocky, Lassen are also great accounts," the email continued. "Even some smaller ones like Alaska and BigBend are decent and have rangers I personally know, but there are also countless others run by people just trying to cash in or commercialize it. We are trying to vet what we can without exposing or 'unmasking' anyone in the process."

While the movement's initial focus was intended by some to be non-partisan, skimming through the tweet-stream shows a heavy anti-Trump and anti-GOP slant.

"WTF is wrong with this administation? Seriously, do they just try to piss people off," tweeted Alt US NPS the other day after the Trump administration announced it would reverse the Obama administration's ban on the importation of elephant trophies from Africa.

AltYellowstoneNatPark took aim at U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, the Utah Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, for sponsoring legislation to dismantle the Antiquities Act that presidents have used since 1906 to establish national monuments, urging followers to flood the congressman's office with phone calls.

"Rob Bishop still needs more calls. This despicable bill he's forwarding gives 45 (President Trump) permission to reduce and destroy our National Parks, Forests and Monuments," went the tweet.

Another one from AltYellowstoneNatPark noted that, "It has become apparent that we who are the NPS can no longer maintain our tradition of silence and neutrality on political matters and still effectively protect our National Parks and Forests."

BadHombreLandsNPS also encouraged calls, in one case to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

"Hate to break it to you homie - but @SecretaryZinke is politicizing our public lands by acting more like a Fossil Fuel Industry lobbyist than secretary of the doddamn @Interior," they tweeted in reply to one follower who took exception to BadHombreLandsNPS's infusion of politics into their feed. "Call his office. Write his office. Make damn sure that @SecretaryZinke knows we will hold him fully accountable for his actions. If he violates the oath he took, we push to #impeach him."

The number of followers to these Twitter accounts ranges greatly, but combined the number is fairly substantial. NastyWomenofNPS has more than 19,550 followers, BadHombreLandsNPS nearly 212,000, Alt US NPS more than 24,500, and AltYellowstoneNatPark almost 60,000.

Park Service officials and managers have warned employees not to start Twitter accounts in the Alt mode, according to NastyWomenofNPS, who added that staff have "faced scrutiny and judgment from coworkers if you are suspect."

The individual behind AltYellowstoneNatPark identified themselves as a researcher, and "as such there’s not much NPS can do to quiet my political activities other than deny a permit or ban me from the park. Which does happen, so I’ve been very careful to maintain my anonymity, although a number of our contributors are in similar positions and have been open about their identities and not seen any negative repercussions."

"I’d have to say," they went on, "thus far, NPS has been nothing but fantastic about the whole thing and I’m very appreciative about it as I consider it one of the primary goals of any good researcher to preserve the environment we study for future generations. We cannot do that in these trying times without addressing the political arena as it affects those environments. Scientists need to step up and lead the way to responsible conservation as a first step to studying the environments they know best. We’re the first to see negative effects, we need to also be the first to stand up. I give Badhombres a lot of credit for breaking the silence."

While these feeds are just a handful among the nearly 1 billion Twitter accounts, they hope to have a lasting impact.

"I hope the critical thinking, analysis, and attention continues far into the future," said NastyWomenofNPS.

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What about the > $25k that Ominous Ann raised on Gofundme to "hire a UN lawyer to try to get all parks World Heritage status?" And the other campaign to support art in the park's that didn't get much support so it was taken down and money returned "if you want me to return it?" Her current campaign, to pay for research, keeps setting higher goals. There is a lot of money going to a person who just appeared on Twitter one day.


Interesting article on the ALT Movement.  I have followed (on Twitter and Facebook) some of the ALT accounts you mention in the article.  Personally, I feel their message of push back becomes diluted when they repost or Tweet topics not related to the environment or (DOI) management practices.  Asking for donations without providing details how the funds will be used is a suspicious practice and should stop. This type of fundraising delegitimizes public donations for scientific research.  Either provide the project details to support how the funds will be used for research or stop asking for money.

 


Thank you NPT and Kurt for researching and reporting on the troubling questions regarding [email protected] and its multiple fundraising campaigns. I am a former Yellowstone NPS employee and lots of the info being tweeted by the @AltYelloNatPark account included inaccurate park info. I also was shocked by this account having so many fundraising campaigns on different platforms including PayPal, Two different GoFundMe campaigns, Fine Arts Gallery Photo Sale site, Tumbler and via Twitter with direct asks for money or items. No other alt park account ever asked for money or did fundraising. 

Lots of what this account is telling followers and donors is not true. The campaign tied to UNESCO and World Heritage sites never made sense to me. Individuals may not petition UNESCO for World Heritage site protection. Only nations can do that. The current fundraising by @AltYelloNatPark for a so called research project purported to be in Yellowstone is so questionable to me that I asked @AltYelloNatPark via Twitter a few questions about the permit and scope of research. @AltYelloNatParkbecame defensive and blocked me, calling me a troll. Others I know who questioned the research also were blocked.

Looking back at early tweets from @AltYelloNatPark, the person despite calling themselves Ominous Ann or Ann Ominous, depending on the fundraising platform seems to be a man. On February 28,he tweeted “There'd be nothing more embarrassing than a guy in my position having to hit the "button", I'll crawl out if I have to ;-) ” 

https://twitter.com/AltYelloNatPark/status/836800646812688384

On February 7, he tweeted “I can't buy one directly but if you get an urge, I wear an extra large mens, chocolate brown if you could please.”

https://twitter.com/AltYelloNatPark/status/829047079737626624

On March 2, he tweeted  “These ones grow really large. My foot is a size 13” with a picture of his foot in a sandal next to a mushroom. 

https://twitter.com/AltYelloNatPark/status/837459280173404160  

On April 12, he tweeted a picture showing a group of cabins outside of Yellowstone near Cooke City and the Beartooth area in MT and two cars pictured in this tweet had the license plates intentionally covered. Struck me as very odd. If one is not running from the law, why hide license plates of two cars? 

He tweeted “Name that cabin. Or the fantastic organization that own it. This one is going to be a real stumper.”

https://twitter.com/AltYelloNatPark/status/852216119071002624

He has lead his followers to think he is a female NPS employee working and living inside of Yellowstone National Park. None of that seems to be true. 

His Twitter Profile also seems to be subterfuge if not impersonation which is against Twitter policy. Profile reads: 

“An unofficial group of employees scientists and activists, in and around Yellowstone national park. We will try and keep you informed, when others can’t.”  

This is one individual and not a group of employees and scientists in and around Yellowstone, though some tweets and fundraising appeals intermix using the word I and the word we. He currently tweets that he is living in Denver yet his PayPal account, under an alias "Ann Ominous" shows Yellowstone National Park as his business. 

Last spring @AltYelloNatPark ran a contest to award guided tours of Yellowstone for donations. That seemed not entirely legal in terms of the required permits to take money for guiding. The selling of photos taken in Yellowstone also did not meet commercial photography permit requirements.   

I hope that National Park Service Federal Law Enforcement in Yellowstone National Park will look into whether any of the activities and fundraising by @AltYelloNatPark may be fraud.

Not only does he misrepresent himself to his donors and followers, but he hurts the good efforts by the other alt park accounts all trying to raise awareness of important issues that affect national parks and public lands. 


I, too, have noticed the very same things you've mentioned and have been suspicious of @AltYelloNatPark since about May time frame when I offered to give them a hand on something. For someone claiming to be a researcher, they have no knowledge of how to use word processing programs and their grammar is positively atrocious. I discovered this after attempting to edit that UNESCO proposal and one other document. He or she would only send it to me via DM and, when I suggested we use google docs, they began to get very, very nervous; they said they didn't know how to use it and then took the info I gave them without so much as a thank you. After that, they began dropping documents on me asking me to edit them right away, expecting me to edit them right then and there so they could post them. I'm a student and, while I do have some time to spare, expecting anyone to drop everything they're doing to edit something is kind of rude. Again, I edited the information which they took, re-edited (very poorly) without so much as a word of gratitude. A lot of what they were telling me seemed... off which, of course, made me super suspicious, and when I began to ask questions, they stopped responding to my DM's. Whoever this is, the impression I get is this is an older adult. At any rate, I do also hope this is investigated.


Thank you Joan Anzelmo for your informative post, I share your concerns. 


A good reason to thoroughly research any cause, however noble appearing, that is asking for money.


I don't know why most people assume these accounts are legit. When they first started I saw a number of posts with British spelling (i.e. "colour," "centre," etc.). Virtually impossible to prove someone's location on social media. And just because it's "British" spelling, there is nothing to say some of these are from non-English locales like Russia (who have been suspended of "stirring things up" with false accounts). #DontBelieveEverythingYouReadOnTheInternet


Joan, you sound like a bitter Republican who doesn't want the public or park supporters to fight back against the Trump Administration's attempts to reduce the size of parks and monuments, allow oil drilling, weaken the ESA, etc.  I support all the Alt park sites that are trying to get real science out to the public.  Some have published climate facts and provided links to sci materials removed by the Trumpers from government websites.  I think these actions are brave public services and I applaud the people staffing the Alt sites, whether male or female.  I am suspicious of your attacks.  


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Are All Alts Part Of The Movement?

While the thrust of the Alt movement seems straightforward, concerns have been raised over AltYellowstoneNatPark's pleas for donations to pay for travel expenses, winter gear, fuel, housing, and more.

"Ominous Ann," who claims to be conducting research in Yellowstone National Park, has raised at least $11,000 via GoFundMe and PayPal pages, and has tried selling photographs to generate funds.

"Miles behind on winter supplies, we need pretty much everything in the way of winter gear, fuel, transportation & housing. It's a rough slog," he/she tweeted in late September. "Imagine the fuel bill to heat an old log cabin when it's -40 degrees outside."

Several days later they tweeted again, with a link to a GoFundMe page included.

"We've had some unforeseen expenses with the early onset of winter and another big storm rolling in," read the tweet. "Your continued support is essential to our efforts both in the resistance and in science."

Other tweets mentioned having to "abandon the car here n (sic) order to get home B4 d (sic) snow hits," and needing to "Get the RV home before the snow really hits. Winter hit early and we've gotta get the Rv out ASAP."

And there were pleas for folks to buy cargo blankets from Amazon and ship them, requests for batteries for a digital camera, gators, even food. At one point in his/her GoFundMe campaign Ominous Ann asked for funds to buy a snowmobile, saying, "We need you now more than ever as we can only conduct an abbreviated study without the B.A.T. snowmobile." 

Ominous Ann told the Traveler all the funds raised through these efforts were to support research in the park. 

"As you know, its (sic) pretty expensive to stay in the parks or the surrounding area so yeah. No one is raising money as some form of self enrichment scheme. Thats (sic) nuts, never happened," they wrote.

However, they also said they didn't have a formal grant proposal and no formal budget.

"I knew roughly how much I needed and went for it hoping I'd be able to fund this. I treated the money like a grant in case someone like yourself came along asking questions," they said in an email.

Were those pleas really for donations to support research, or was it all a guise? Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk wants to know.

"The trouble with these GoFundMe sites is they're buyer beware," Superintendent Wenk said Friday during a phone conversation. 

Anonymity makes it hard, if not impossible, to deduce the legitimacy of Ominous Ann's campaign. He/she was evasive Friday in an email exchange to identify the type of research they were supposedly conducting in Yellowstone. Four times we asked specifically what the project involved, and four times the question was dodged.

"We've identified the research to a number of people including other park scientists, certain vetted accounts, as well as some associated with the project," they said. "I have in the past offered to answer that question by putting you (sic) in touch with some of these folks who are in the know, who can confirm that there is a project, and that it has yielding (sic) some very interesting preliminary findings. The effort has always been to avoid aggravating the tenuous relationship between the NPS, our political activities and our continued work in the park. Its (sic) why the ALTs have remained anonymous.

"I can provide reasonable proof of an important project, but I can't reveal the specific subject of that research without forgoing my anonymity," wrote Ominous Ann. "If he's willing, I could put you in touch with one of the park's better known scientists who's very involved in editing and process guidelines on a volunteer basis with this project. There are others if you feel you need more than just one.

"By protecting my anonymity I am protecting my ability to publish. Journals are as uninterested in politics as the park is. Associating the work with the protest movement I'd be far less likely to find a publishing avenue than if I hang onto my anonymity so I can publish under my real name with no adverse repercussions associated with my political activities."

While Traveler asked to be put in contact with "one of the park's better known scientists" involved with the project, Ominous Ann did not immediately respond Friday. Late Saturday evening they emailed to say that they likely couldn't reach the individual before Monday.

Superintendent Wenk wouldn't completely rule out that the individual was conducting research, because his/her anonymity made it impossible to connect a name to a project. But he was highly skeptical.

"There are just so many things suspicious about this," he said. "At one time she said she was raising money and she was going to donate it to Earthjustice or something like that. Earthjustice never heard of her. We contacted them."

The superintendent also said there were some curious coincidences between correspondence park permit staff had with an individual seeking a permit and posts that showed up on Ominous Ann's GoFundMe campaign.

On September 18 the park by letter declined a permit request for research to an individual, but added that "the park cannot legally restrict you from pursuing publication of your information, especially since it was collected by means that any visitor could use," he said. "Then (Ominous Ann) posted on a GoFundMe site, on the night of September 18, 'I want to really thank all for making my time here possible and tell you some good news. I have permission to publish.'"

The superintendent acknowledged that exchange could be written off as a coincidence, "but it's too close to being a coincidence."

At various points since the beginning of the year Ominous Ann claimed to be pursuing a job with both Forever Yellowstone and Patagonia. They also said they were working on a UNESCO project to win World Heritage status for park units and monuments that didn't already have it, but then "discontinued the UNESCO and the Arts4AltParks campaigns. UNESCO donations were sent to Earth Justice (sic) for the 5 weeks of research they put in and their efforts at the July Meeting which expressed our concerns to the committee."

But as Superintendent Wenk discovered, Earthjustice was unfamiliar with this supposed project. Considered as a whole, the superintendent said he has concerns that the fundraising campaigns by AltYellowstoneNatPark are not legitimate.

"We have no knowledge of any permit that we've denied or things that we've done that meet the circumstances that the person is describing," said the superintendent. "I've asked our law enforcement people to look into this, because I think they're potentially using Yellowstone to defraud people."

Traveler postscript: If any personnel at Yellowstone, or outside agencies, can attest to the legitmacy of Ominous Ann's research, please contact the Traveler. Your identification will remain confidential.

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