Friday, March 18, 2016

who sponsored the hate?

newyorker |  The big donors in the Republican Party are reportedly flummoxed by the toxic rhetoric of Donald Trump. The billionaire political industrialist Charles Koch has warned that Trump’s proposed registry of Muslims in the U.S. would “destroy our free society.” After pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into promoting their right-wing libertarian views over the past four decades, and budgeting some eight hundred and eighty-nine million dollars to spend in the 2016 election cycle, he and his brother David Koch, and their donor circle, are apparently disappointed that they have bought so little control over the Republican Presidential candidates. “You’d think we could have more influence,” he lamented to the Financial Times. But, in fact, the influence of the Kochs and their fellow big donors is manifest in Trump’s use of incendiary and irresponsibly divisive rhetoric. Only a few years ago, it was they who were sponsoring the hate.

Over the July 4th weekend of 2010, I attended the fourth annual Defending the American Dream Summit, in Austin, Texas, which served in part as a training session for local Tea Party activists. The summit was sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, which purported to be a nonpartisan grass-roots political-advocacy group devoted to the cause of small government, free markets, and liberty. It was in fact an organization that had been founded and heavily funded by the Kochs, whose early activism was entwined in fearmongering and racial intolerance.

The Kochs’ father, Fred Koch, the founder of Koch Industries, the hugely profitable private oil-and-chemical company that his sons inherited, was one of the original members of the John Birch Society, the ultra-conservative group that accused political opponents of treason and was at its core segregationist. After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of desegregating America’s public schools, in 1954, the Birchers launched a nationwide crusade to impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren. In 1960, Fred Koch wrote a self-published book describing welfare programs as a secret government plot to lure rural blacks into cities so that they could foment “a vicious race war.” Before George Wallace declared his Presidential candidacy in 1968, Fred Koch also supported an unsuccessful effort to recruit Ezra Taft Benson, the former Secretary of Agriculture and a leader of the Mormon Church, and Strom Thurmond, the South Carolina senator, to run on a platform calling for the restoration of segregation. The Birchers’ radicalism was so extreme, and delusional, they claimed that Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was a communist agent.

It’s not fair to visit the sins of the father on the sons, but Charles and David have their own dubious record of involvement with racist institutions. They themselves belonged to the John Birch Society, and, in the late sixties, Charles was a trustee at a place called the Freedom School, outside Colorado Springs, which had no black students because, its director explained to the Times, “it might present a housing problem because some of his students are segregationists.” The Freedom School was a font of extreme anti-government ideology, teaching a revisionist version of American history in which it was argued that the Civil War should not have been fought, the South should have been allowed to secede, and slavery was a lesser evil than military conscription. Charles Koch was so enthralled with the Freedom School that he got his three brothers and many friends to attend. He had hoped to expand it into an accredited university, but instead it ran aground financially. It was, however, the first step in the Kochs’ lifelong crusade to use their vast fortune to reshape American academia and politics along the lines of their own ideology.