The Koch Brothers, Libertarianism and the Growth of Neo-Fascism

105

by
Joseph O’Shaughnessy

The Koch Family History
By now, many people know the name “Koch brothers.” Sadly, however, not enough of the American voting population. The Koch brothers, David and Charles who sponsor organizations that demonstrate against things like universal health care using signs with the words, “Freedom” and “Patriotism” and “American Exceptionalism” are, in fact, far less interested in Freedom and a good life for the American Middle Class, and more about building a Libertarians society, their version of which many would call instead, “Neo-Fascism.”

For those who don’t know, these two men now in their late 70s and early 80s, are the sons of an oil man who went to Communist Russia after the Revolution of 1917 to make money. During that intense Socialist/Communist era he made millions building oil refineries for Stalin’s regime. For whatever reason he ended his relationship with the Russians, (or they did) took his millions and returned to the states to invest in huge oil refineries. During this time, he built other refineries outside the United States, including one in Hamburg for the Nazis.

Move ahead twenty years to the 1950s, and Fred Koch, Sr., now highly anti-Communist (some of his Russian colleagues had been caught up in the purges) founded an anti-Communist organization called the John Birch Society. Soviet Russia was totally controlled by Stalin. Their spies in the United States had stolen secrets that would move them much farther ahead in military preparedness and particularly in nuclear technology.

The John Birch Society portrayed themselves as watchdogs—which in those days was considered a good thing, as there were real Soviet spies among us. For the Right Wing, however, “patriotism” became a watchword for attacking anyone whose politics they didn’t like. One of the Kochs has said that conversation around their father’s dinner table was always about how bad American government was, how Socialist it was, and how the government was always trying to oppressively control his business. (Ironic, if you know that the Koch brothers’ industries are the largest polluters in the country’s history.)

Then, along came a young war-hero, an ex-Marine who became a Senator from Wisconsin by promoting himself as “Tail Gunner Joe. Senator Joe McCarthy at first seemed rather innocuous but aggressive in going after hidden Communists in society. After taking on the mantle of chief Communist hunter from former Senate Committees, he seemed dedicated. Eventually, however, it turned out that he was promoting his own personal political career and the agenda of others who would support him, like Fred Koch and the John Birch Society.

After McCarthy went too far and attacked the military, even insinuating that President Dwight D. Eisenhower might be protecting Communists, the Senate censured him and eventually overcome by alcoholism, died at age 48. McCarthy’s activism for people like Fred Koch and the Birchites, who were much like today’s members of the current Kochs’ FreedomWorks or Americans for Prosperity (only two of the many Koch-supported Tea Party groups) accomplished very little against real Communism. By the time that McCarthy was involved, the FBI and military counter intelligence had identified and monitored key suspects. e problem and working on it.

What McCarthy and Koch Sr. and the John Birch Society did accomplish was to rid themselves of many Hollywood Liberals fighting against anti-Semitism and racism. McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee both cruelly launched unsubstantiated attacks against many artists, writers, film stars, politicians, who had gone to Communist meetings as students. One of the people McCarthy attacked purely on vindictive grounds, having nothing to do with fighting Communists, was Senator Lester C. Hunt, a most honorable man from Wyoming. MrCarthy blackmailed him, threatening to reveal and humiliate his son, who was a homosexual. Rather than submit and under pressure, Senator Hunt committed suicide. It was not the only death or devastating outcome caused by McCarthy or Koch’s John Birch Society.

The Koch Brothers and Libertarianism (Neo-Fascism)

In 1980, David H. Koch ran for Vice-President on the Libertarian party. Far from Liberal, “Libertarian” meant that he advocated the abolition of welfare, Social Security, the IRS, the FBI, the CIA the Border Patrol and public schools. Despite his huge fortune, he and his running mate earned only 1% of the vote. After his dismal experience with personal electoral politics in 1980, he turned his attention to working behind the scenes. With his brother Charles, he used his inherited oilfield fortune to buy up other companies, eventually creating the largest privately held corporation in the United States. During this period, the Koch brothers also began to create their network of Right-Wing, anti-government organizations.

Beginning in 1973, Paul Weyrich and several others founded conservative activist organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Heritage Foundation and the Council for National Policy. At the Council for National Policy, a very selective, very wealthy group of Right Wing billionaires like billionaire Betsey DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education, were brought together with Right Wing political hacks who planned strategy for Republicans, like Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon. (Who, by working with the Rich Right Wing, themselves became multi-millionaires.) By 1980, when David Koch made his forlorn effort to run for President, he and his brother had already formed the beginnings of their vast network of affiliated groups, beginning with the Cato Institute in 1977.

By 2004, the Koch brothers had taken over a former tobacco lobbying group and renamed it “Americans for Prosperity.” Its published goals were to cut taxes, reduce the number of regulations (editor’s note–especially anti-pollution regulations) and the power of the courts (editor’s note–to enforce anti-pollution regulations.) AFP’s stated purposes also included the elimination of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The Koch Network of Neo-Fascist Organizations

By now, in addition to their overall underwriting for the Conservative national lobbying group ALEC, the Koch brothers also support FreedomWorks, and about 50 other affiliated groups and a dozen media organizations. They give something like $400 million dollars to national Republican election campaigns—House members, Senators, governors, including state legislators. They provide support to ALEC and to the State Policy Network, ALEC’s sister organization, a nationwide, state-focused group of 63 “think tanks.”

To support the often obviously corporate legislation submitted by ALEC, and provide cover for the state legislators who double-cross their constituents in favor of ALEC money, the Kochs created the State Policy Network (Illinois Policy Institute, Kansas Policy Institute, etc.) This group provides the phony justification for legislation like “voter ID.” They create surveys structured or deliberately misinterpreted to suggest “the people” are worried about voter fraud. The facts are that voter fraud has an incidence of about .00007 of the total voting population in a national election. Your chances of being hit by lightning are greater than someone in your state committing voter fraud. With so many Republican legislatures willing to sell their souls to ALEC, the Koch groups have been able to squeeze many Democratic voters out of the voting booths, including many poor, elderly and college students.

The State Policy Network representatives have insinuated themselves into media appearances, broadcasting their lies over the air waves while unsuspecting or ill prepared moderators simply let propaganda flow out to voters as truth. For example, in more than one case, to urge voters to cut or change teacher pensions, they literally elevated teacher salaries in their reports to double what teachers actually make, insinuating that teachers are part of “corrupt” alliances between government and unions. They have made it easier people like Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin to “divide and conquer” the public as he called it, to cut teacher pensions and increase their payroll deductions for health care and retirement.

By the time the facts from an article or a media appearance by someone from one of the State Policy Network propaganda offices are corrected, thousands of volunteers paid for by the Koch organizations and by the Republican party will have spread the lies to as many voters as possible. Many people never hear the retraction. So, they vote Republican, to their later regret. And they ask themselves, “how could I have voted for someone like that?” The answer is that you were lied to…just as we all know now that Trump lied so often in the Presidential campaign.

In a Koch brothers’ society, we must always be vigilant against propaganda and vote for those who have already demonstrated in past votes what we wish them to do now. And we must vote for others who have yet to take office who are allies of those who have acted on our behalf in the past. Unfortunately for the country almost none of those whom we can trust will be Republicans.

Nothing in politics, however, is simple and uncomplicated. The Koch brothers, in addition to being social agitators, are legitimate philanthropists. David Koch funds many science programs on public television ($23 million or more,) and donates large sums to the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Lincoln Center in New York. Whatever their motivation, these philanthropic donations are substantial amounts and important to the institutions, not merely tokens. It isn’t merely the arts. In 2015, David Koch gave $150 million to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. (Also,, giving credit where credit is due: In 2015, the Eric Trump Foundation gave $28 million to St Jude’s Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Memphis.)

Koch Incursions Into Higher Education

The Koch brothers also contribute heavily to higher education but those donations often come with serious stipulations. By now the Charles Koch Foundation, as well as the David H. Koch foundation and the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation have contributed over $150 million to 400 universities.

Unlike their contributions to the Met or Lincoln Center, however, they are not totally philanthropic. There is a quid-pro-quo. Beginning in the late 1970s, the Koch Family began to consider developing what might be called a “Koch Youth Corps” of college students who could be influenced to see things from a Libertarian point of view. Many might go on to post-graduate work at Koch funded institutions and later teach Libertarian economics. By 2015 the Kochs had beem rewarded with 53 different “free-market” centers, mostly on campuses, with approximately 5,000 students.

From 2009-2014, the Kochs and others like them on Wall Street, had created a depressed economy in which universities were no longer asking, but begging, for funds. State funding had dropped precipitously after $7.5 trillion of personal assets had been dragged from the pockets and bank accounts of the American public. Contributions to state university systems and from private donors were low. Many states had already followed the “Libertarian” ideal of cutting taxes on the rich and everyone else. This left many states in the red, unable to pay pensions and other state bills let alone any initiatives in higher education. Because of people like the Koch brothers and their Neoliberal or Conservative economics, states living on the financial edge had finally fallen off.

The huge, deep pockets of the Koch brothers were welcome if sometimes controversial resources. The Kochs leveraged this desperate situation to expand their investment in a youth movement. They demanded special classes with curricula designed by Koch-supported think tanks, like Cato and the Heritage Foundation. Students would be taught Koch-sponsored Libertarian (we would call it “Neo-Fascist”) theory, that our government is bad, regulations are unnecessary and impede progress and that markets are still as free and open as they were in Adam Smith’s day.

Koch classes would also teach that there are people called Liberals who are less patriotic or Socialist than you. They want things given to them, like a minimum wage that takes one marginally into the lower end of poverty. They want pensions for skilled workers, like teachers and nurses (especially if they invest part of their income in them.) Yes, Liberals are anti-American. They actually believe in paying taxes—a Koch brothers “No-no.”

These young Libertarians are taught in the Koch curricula that Social Security and Medicare are wasteful, non free-market ideas that don’t work and that Medicaid is to a great extent for the lazy who should be made work for health care of any kind. In other words, people should get an education, get out and get a job, save their money for retirement, live prudently so that they can afford health care premiums and insurance and a mortgage and more savings to cover sudden shocks like accidents or floods or plagues.

Of course, this is all coming from the Koch Brothers, who inherited hundreds of millions of dollars in oil that flowed eventually into purchases of other corporations leading to an industrial empire worth an estimated $40 billion or more. The same message also comes from a Koch brothers’ affiliate, Art Pope who inherited Variety Wholesalers, a $1 billion, 37-store retail chain, or Joe Coors who inherited Coors Brewery or Betsey DeVos, daughter of a billionaire, wife of a multi-billionaire.

Somehow, those who struggled from the outset and created a better mousetrap like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, or Eric Schultz or even Warren Buffett don’t seem to share the Koch brothers enthusiasm for impoverishing the rest of society. They, and many others who started with nothing, have exactly opposite views from these inheritance babies. They do not encourage endless tax cutting, They have worked to create better lives for their workers and the workers of their customers, apparently without feeling that they were giving in to “Collectivism.”

The Koch Brothers’ False Equivalence: Freedom vs Collectivism

This pattern is now repeated all over the country in hundreds of classrooms, teaching that government is irrelevant, taxes are unnecessary, and that private industry can substitute more efficiently for government services…if such services are even necessary –to self sufficient individuals. The argument is always structured in this way. The Koch philosophy is that individuals can either live in a “free” society or they can live in a “collectivist” society. What is a “collectivist’ society? Well, a definition would be basically that the ownership of everything, or almost everything, would be held by the mass of population in a society. Basically, we are talking about Socialism…collective farms, collective bargaining, collective or universal health care.

But that is not what we have in America. A majority of all assets are owned by less than ten percent of the population. Far fewer than 12 million people own all the assets in a society of 320 million people. So the argument is specious…I would say phony…a lie. So why the argument against a collectivist society that not only does not exist, but most people in this country, 9 out of 10 perhaps, reject out of hand? Why argue against something that does not exist and no one wants?

Pretty simple, actually, if you are the monumentally greedy Koch brothers, and you are not satisfied with 40 or 50 billion dollars, with homes all over the world, with servants, or businesses growing in privileged positions in oligopolistic markets—and nothing in the world to worry about but your health. And yet you still want more. It is clear that all the Koch brothers want is—everything. Collectivism, although it contradicts reality, does appeal to those who somehow feel threatened by a truly free society. Which brings us to one of their most often used terms, the word “free.”

Are you free? What would make you not free? Oppression? Restriction in what you can think or say or do—that would curtail your freedom. But anyone, even the Koch brothers, especially the Koch brothers, has the right to speak his mind, go where he or she pleases, run for office, start a business, get an education, buy a house, have children, move to a new neighborhood or a new state or even another country. Where is the oppressive collectivism against which the Koch fight?

In what specific way are you not free in our society? You can even own a gun, an automatic weapon, thanks to the Kochs’ friends, the NRA, who often participate in campaign contributions with the Koch brothers’ affiliates. If you go nuts, you will be free enough, thanks to the Kochs and the NRA and the Republicans, to go out and shoot and kill 17 innocent high school students. How much more freedom do they want?

Well we’ve seen how this works in the real world. Profit making corporations seek profits not good will or public service. The idea that individuals can be self sufficient in the midst of the power of giant corporations, is like saying that men could walk among dinosaurs and not be trampled. The Kochs don’t care about your “freedom.” They care about their wealth and the idea of power, of control.

How do they exhibit that? Isn’t it obvious? Rather than giving $400 million dollars to create better elections, more free elections, for example, they give it to restrict voter turnout, or to change vote outcomes. That does not help you to be “free.” It is an attempt to restrict your ability to vote in order to advance their agenda. Were you being “collectivist” because you wanted to cast a vote for someone who would protect a retirement annuity you have paid into your entire working life…called Social Security?

What is “free” in our society, really? Can you buy health insurance at the lowest possible cost that it could be available? Of course not. It is a free market? Absolutely not. If it were a totally free market, all 320 million Americans would be looking at the same health insurance offerings from a few giant companies. The prices would be at least one half of what they are now, and perhaps even lower. But there is no free market.

Like most other industries, there are already interruptions in the business cycle and, in some cases, they cannot be removed or only after generations of adjustments. In health care, we have government subsidizing corporations, subsidizing veterans, the poor, now even the wealthy, for that is what health savings accounts are for. So why do we continue this charade? We don’t. But the Koch brothers do, and they fund dozens and dozens of organizations to keep it up.

It is almost unnecessary to say that no one knows why one family would continue to fund Right Wing organizations that spend all their time and money trying to impoverish the Middle Class…and doing so with some success. But the facts are clear. The Koch family, clearly well educated at Ivy League prep schools and universities cannot personally be racist. Certainly not actively racist. But the organizations that they fund use the most vile and most offensive racist images against one of the most dignified, best educated, most intelligent and broadest in his outreach to all people in order to defeat a compassionate piece of legislation.

The Kochs are not about free markets versus collectivism. They are about destroying a decent way of life for average citizens. We saw what happened to private health insurance for those not able to get it from employers. When one of their own, Senator Marco Rubio pulled the necessary subsidies from the health care system, and left health insurance companies on their own, the private system failed. No one stepped in, least of all the Koch brothers to ask…what can we do to help people find health care/ The employees of Koch brothers firms were covered, thanks to tax deductions from “collectivist” legislation.

Costs skyrocketed for the “free” market customers when Republicans set uninsured Americans “free.” Some insurers could not or would not provide health insurance at all in many states. So much for being “free.” Does that freedom include the right to die of untreated appendicitis or injuries from a car crash?

The rest of the world, without unlimited dollars going to lobbyists or Pacs that can hide the names of donors, has decided…actually decided long ago…that some things in a capitalist society require collective effort. That does not make a society where two brothers can own as much property as 50 million Americans a “collectivist” society.

Private, for-profit health insurance is a failure. Like so many other services, it can be provided far more effiently by government or non-profit organizations. In fact, it is much closer to the truth to say that the American people are basically subsidizing the extravagant lifestyles of health insurance CEOs and senior executives.

The idea that Libertarianism or its evil twin, Neo-Fascism, is a viable economic philosophy is ridiculous. Years ago, before Ronald Reagan used his charisma to fool the American people into the idea that he would “make the country great again” when, in fact, it was then and has pretty much always been damned good, the idea that doing away with unions so we could cut wages would have been considered nuts. Spending half of every dollar, or more, on defense rather than trying to engage the rest of the world would have been considered arrogant and reckless. Calling Social Security and Medicare Socialist rather than common sense, that is, aiding people who can no longer work to pay their rent and utility bills and providing them with lower cost health care—those things were considered routine, normal, and the kind of attitude that was 100% American, to the exclusion of anything less.

Now we have billionaires who inherited their money attempting to propagandize our young people, telling them to abandon what has been mainstream Democracy for almost a century here in the U.S. and in most advanced countries of Europe and Latin America and elsewhere in the world where Democratic societies flourish. Who benefits from the Koch brothers educational agenda? Given their other spending, it is pretty clear. The rich, the super-rich and those they pay to administer their propaganda, their message that government is too large and too expensive. Their facts are lies. Their message, as it has from the beginning, serves the interests of only those in society so wealthy, so independent, that they barely notice what country they currently inhabit.

The Kochs, George Mason University and the Institute for Humane Studies

How do Koch brothers’ contributions work? Well, in 2007, as they were considering a grant to Florida State University, here were the stated conditions. First, the curriculum must align with the Libertarian deregulatory economic philosophy of Charles Koch. Second, the Charles Koch Foundation would, at least partially control what faculty was hired. And third, Bruce Benson, a man who described himself as a “Libertarian anarchist,” whose economics and politics obviously aligned with the Kochs, must stay on as head of the department for 3 years.

This is the kind of thing the Kochs demand all over the country. But in George Mason university they found a gold mine of opportunity.

Before we go through the George Mason experience, we must, once again, balance the negative with the positive, in an attempt to arrive, if possible, at something like the truth. In that regard it must be pointed out that, in 2014 alone, the Charles Koch Foundation gave $25 million dollars to the United Negro College Fund with no stipulations we are aware of, to fund scholarships.

How to start with George Mason University and the Kochs? Let’s start with the money. Although other universities have received grants of about a million, George Mason, between 2011 and 2014 received $48 million from the Kochs. What does $48 million buy in a university willing to sell at wholesale? Well, first of all, let’s take the money in context of billionaire donations. Phil Knight, of Nike and Jon Paulson of Wall Street have each donated about $400 million, Knight to Stanford and Paulson to Harvard, both in the tradition of providing scholarships of one form or another. Both are Republicans, and pretty conservative…but, so far as we can see…no strings. (Knight, worth $23 billion has also give $230 million to the University of Oregon.)

So, the Koch brothers are by no means the largest donators to colleges, and not the only ones attaching conditions. But they are the only ones who seem to be using cash-strapped colleges to teach a significant departure from mainstream democratic principles.

At George Mason, $48 million bought the Kochs the support of the affiliated Mercatus Center. Why is that significant? Who founded the Mercatus Center and who uses it to analyze proposals for legislation and then promotes them to the public You guessed it: the Koch brothers. According to university records, much of the Koch money eventually found its way over to the Mercatus Center.

So the money, $48 million dollars goes to George Mason. In one way or another it is used by “scholars” at the Mercatus Center to justify and promote the Right Wing theories of the Koch brothers to society. The other institution that is part of George Mason (or should we call it “Koch”) University, is the Institute for Humane Studies, acronym, IHS. IHS has, as its mission, attracting “talented students, scholars, and other intellectuals who share an interest in liberty and in advancing the principles and practice of freedom.” Apparently, there are some students who do not share an interest in Liberty. Of all the students we have heard of, we have yet to find one disinterested in Liberty. And all students we know, Liberal, Conservative, Moderate, all races and creeds seem to want to advance principles of freedom.

IHS is affiliated with another Koch political organization, the State Policy Network, which in turn is affiliated with ALEC, the national, 50-state lobbying organization whose job is to persuade, though vacations and campaign contributions, state legislators to put forward corporate agendas over those requested by their constituents. Charles Koch is the chairman of the board of IHS. And why not? The Koch Family foundations, quite apart from donation to George Mason University, have given IHS, the organization they founded, over $16 million, and accepted another $5 million from other donor groups.

The stated goal of IHS is to create a “farm team” of Libertarian advocates (we call them what they are today, not Libertarian but “Neo-Fascists”) to wage the “war of ideas” against, frankly, the unsuspecting American public.

The ides of “making America great again” or “taking our country back” which one often sees on signs, printed by another Koch group, Americans for Prosperity…the former tobacco lobbying group… are meaningless. America is and has been great. No one except the Kochs has tried to take over our country. They’ve been pretty successful, using their almost unlimited funds to elect Republicans, who either agree with them or are targeted for a Tea Party Republican candidate to run against them.

Make no mistake. As proved by the example of George Mason University (which is worse than we portray it in this limited space) the Kochs and the billionaires and multi-millionaires who gather each Summer at Keystone in Colorado, or at Rancho Mirage, California in Winter want to capture not only the politicians–at which they have succeeded–but also an entire younger generation of Americans.

They want to take over the minds of young students to persuade them that the right thing to do is to remove the very services of government that most of them will need later in life. Not only that, but it is an economic theory that the Kochs seek to have these young people preach, like some form of distorted reality, some broad-based cult. The result of that cult will be a diminished state, which will become more and more authoritarian as it becomes less and less able to serve the people.

The Kochs and their rich friends will cry that they are merely Neoliberals, succeeding in the “war of ideas” against the old Keynesian economic policies. But that is a lie. That tax cuts will make our country more prosperous has been long, long ago proved to be the Big Lie that Reagan preached. Because of it, our millionaires and billionaires and the top executives that do their bidding–the top 10%–own 67% of all working assets in the country. The top 1% or about 1.26 million households now average over a million dollars a year in income. At the very top of the top 1%, however, is a group of approximately 126,000 households who earn an average of $27 million dollars a year, every year.

No one wants to take away either their incomes or their earning power. What we would like to do is to have the top income earners return some 10% of the tax cuts they have received annually over the last 40 years. The top should be where it already was before the ridiculous Trump tax cut. The top tax rate should be 10% added on to that rate–39.6%. The top income earners have had a long, 40-year run of one tax cut after another, all the while reducing government services. This new rate would be lower than the first rate cut by Ronald Reagan. This top rate should provide sufficient income to run the country, allow the Kochs to grow even richer and provide a budget surplus for the first time since 2000.

This is not rocket science. It is simply a reduction in greed and shared sacrifice…because we would ask everyone for an increase, not merely billionaires—who have profited most from these schemes over the years. The rich have had their day. Before income inequality in the U.S. goes any further, and at present we are exceeded only by Mexico and Chile, we need to bring our society back to rationality.

We need a new American Revolution in economics, a return to rational economic behavior before the greed of our richest citizens leads us to anarchy and a return of a revolution like that of France, 1789. People are angry, my friends. The People are angry.

You can help to stamp out greed and inequality and gross negligence of the needs of our society—infrastructure, civil rights, voters rights, women’s rights, the right to a living wage and minimal affordable health care—by voting Democratic. Remember what has happened and what the rich have done…threaten any Republican who will not join in the vote against the People. Get out and vote…and urge everyone to vote for a Democrat in every position until we can get our country back again.

This time it is true. We must fight, which means vote in large numbers, to take our country back—for all Americans—take our country back again.

Send comments to: joshaughn1@gmail.com