Inside the Koch Brother’s War Room
by Brad Friedman
A thank-you card seems like the appropriate response for having reaped a cool $18 billion under the administration of President Barack Obama, especially during the worst economy in nearly a century. But that’s not the Koch brothers’ style. Because Obama, no matter how Republican he acts, is actually a Democrat. And, dammit, being two of the richest people in the entire nation just isn’t rich enough for either of the far-right Republican Koch boys.
Instead, the brothers—worth $25 billion each, tying them for fourth place on the latest Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans— want more. And they’re declaring “war” to get it—not just any war but the “Mother of All Wars,” states Charles Koch, co-owner with brother David of Koch Industries, the massive oil and chemical conglomerate they inherited from their daddy.
You can hear his declaration yourself thanks to covert audiotapes, which I obtained from a source, that recorded the brothers’ secret political-strategy and fundraising powwow held last summer at a ritzy resort near Vail, Colorado. The Kochs—corporate funders of the fake “grassroots” Tea Party and Republican front groups like Americans for Prosperity—have been convening these biannual, ultraexclusive, ultraconfidential soirees for years. You and I aren’t invited. Neither are the workingclass chumps and suckers they’ve hoaxed into calling themselves members of the Tea Party. Those patsies are just doing the dirty work for the very dirty Koch Industries—this country’s second-largest private company, a major polluter and (surprise!) a leading climate change denier.
Over the years, the Kochs have been forced to pay some $400 million in fines, penalties, settlements and judgments; have stolen nearly 2 million barrels of oil from native Americans, according to former Koch Industries officials; and have allegedly bribed their way into at least half a dozen foreign countries.
One is Iran, where the company’s German subsidiary made millions in petrochemical sales despite a long-standing U.S. trade ban. The Kochs are not patriots. They are profiteers. So who exactly was invited to the Kochs’ conclave? Folks like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, all manner of elected officials with Rs after their names—like Governor Rick Perry (R-Texas), Governor Chris Christie (R-New Jersey), Governor John Kasich (R-Ohio), Representative Paul Ryan (R-Minnesota)—and even a pair of U.S. Supreme Court justices, namely Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
You can go to BradBlog.com for the transcripts and audio recorded inside the Kochs’ 2011 Summer Seminar at the Ritz- Carlton Beaver Creek Resort in Bachelor Gulch, Colorado. As usual, the brothers went to extraordinary measures to keep the affair private, going so far as to mount huge speakers to blast static “pink noise” into the surrounding mountains to keep outsiders from listening to their plans.
One theme came up, time and again, by speaker after speaker: the need to collect enough money to fund “the Mother of All Wars we’ve got in the next 18 months,” as Charles Koch explained in his opening remarks, “for the life or death of this country.” He even seemed to compare the President of the United States to the former dictator of Iraq. “We’ve got Saddam Hussein,” Charles Koch proclaimed to the 300 or so corporate barons and political bigwigs in attendance. It was his warm-up for what would be the first of many pleas for still more “war” money over the three-day conference.
After I broke the story, Koch Industries— which refused to respond to my request for an explanation beforehand— claimed Charles wasn’t comparing President Obama to Saddam Hussein. His remarks, according to a statement issued in haste by Koch spokesman Philip Ellender after the story came out, were just “taken out of context” by “far-left groups.”
“Far-left groups” like myself, an independent citizen, journalist and blogger, I guess. For the record, here’s the context: After taking the mic before the first night’s dinner, Charles Koch made a quick joke about Koch Industries leaving him, the CEO, to do the “dirty work that needs to be done.” He then offered the following thoughts: “But we’ve been talking about—we have Saddam Hussein,” Charles said. “This is the Mother of All Wars we’ve got in the next 18 months for the life or death of this country. So I’m not going to do this to put any pressure on anyone here, mind you. This is not pressure. But if this makes your heart feel glad, and you want to be more forthcoming, then so be it.”
Charles then announced he wanted to “recognize not all of our great partners but those partners who have given more than a billion—a mill-, no, billion.” The crowd went wild with hoots and applause at his gaffe. He meant “a million,” but when you’re personally worth $25 billion, it’s an easy mistake to make. That was the context.
What did he mean in his reference to Saddam Hussein? In his ass-covering statement, Ellender struggled to justify it: “To be clear, Mr. Koch was not referring to President Obama in his remarks. The ‘Mother of All Wars’ is a common phrase frequently attributed to Saddam Hussein on the eve of the first Gulf War. Amid record U.S. unemployment, continued economic decline and loss of liberty, the U.S. has been plunged into its own ‘Mother of All Wars.’”
As for the “record U.S. unemployment” Ellender mentioned, let’s not forget to thank the Koch brothers for that as well. Even as their personal fortunes exploded by 40% over the past three years of Obama’s “tyrannical” and “antibusiness” rule, Koch Industries managed to lay off thousands of its own workers.
During his closing remarks, Charles would once again repeat the words of the Iraqi dictator. “We’ve had a lot of tough battles,” he stated. “We’ve lost a lot over the years, and we’ve won some recently. Set the stage for, as I’ve said, the mother of all battles coming up a year from [last] November.” Those remarks are also posted verbatim at BradBlog.com. Nothing is “taken out of context.”
Regarding “some” victories, Charles is most likely referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous 2010 Citizens United decision allowing for unlimited, secret spending on political campaigns by guys like Charles and David Koch, who have already spent some $100 million in support of their political causes. These include, among other things, buying Republican lawmakers ($11 million since 1989), creating an imaginary uprising after 2008 called the “Tea Party” (since “Sore Loser Party” doesn’t sound as good) and funding right-wing think tanks (Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks) to the tune of $200 million since 1998.
They also spent $33 million just in 2008 and 2009 on studies and front groups to create the impression that thousands of climate scientists who all agree about global warming don’t actually know anything about the phenomenon. (The University of Massachusetts dubbed Koch Industries the tenth-worst U.S. corporate air polluter.)
It wasn’t only the Kochs who spoke of the “war…for the life or death of this country.” The opening-night keynote speaker, Chris Christie (who kept the trip a complete secret from the press and his constituents alike), offered similar ideas. “Under this administration,” the New Jersey governor explained during his stemwinder of a speech, the future of this country “is at greater risk than it has been in my lifetime.” “Their ideas are wrong, and our ideas are right,” Christie declared.
“If we’re going to win this fight, it’s the people in this room that are gonna win it,” he went on to tell the collected billionaires. “It’s the people in this room who have enjoyed all the greatness that America gives us the opportunity to enjoy. They’re going to be the 21st-century patriots who are going to preserve liberty and freedom and opportunity for the next generation. … We’ve got to stand up and fight for the country we’ve inherited.”
Christie continued, “That’s why I’m here tonight. I’m here because it will be you, the people in this room, that are the modern-day patriots who will save this country or let it go by the wayside. It’s up to us. … We cannot let our children down. We cannot let our country down. We cannot let the world down.” After a Q&A session, the tough-talking Jersey governor finished with similar thoughts: “This is a huge moment of crisis and opportunity for our country. All of you are the people who are going to lead us back to American greatness— if you care enough to do it. I can tell you, if you do, you’ve got a friend in that fight.”
To be clear, Christie and the other speakers were warning that those in that room—many of them among the 400 richest Americans, with more combined wealth than the poorest 140 million citizens of this nation—need to take back control of the country in order to save it. These folks are not big believers in democracy— unless they can buy it away from all us poor saps who thought “one man, one vote” actually still applied in the good old U.S. of A.
The closing night’s featured speaker, Judge Andrew Napolitano of Fox News, rallied the assemblage with more of the same ideas but brought them up a notch. He explained how the Second Amendment had been adopted to ensure “the right to shoot at the government.” Really? That might be news to the Secret Service.
“If anybody tells you the Second Amendment is here to protect hunters,” the former federal judge instructed, “they are intentionally distorting history. It was written to let us attack tyrants!” A disturbing suggestion, given all of the rhetoric characterizing the Obama Administration as “tyrannical.”
Napolitano went on to let the “poor” billionaires and millionaires on hand know that they’d really be up against it if the dastardly Barack Obama continued his ways. (Ya know, his ways of extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich, continuing to allow record expansion of oil drilling, not to mention watching as corporate profits reached all-time historic highs while folks like the Kochs laid off thousands of American workers at the very same time.)
“So what do we do?” Napolitano asked. “We do what you’re doing here. We wage a lawful battle against the government. We amass the wealth that is necessary to take the government on.” In other words, the wealth necessary to flood the airwaves with right-wing propaganda.
“What does the government fear the most?” Napolitano said near the end of his speech, ratcheting up the fear and loathing to its scariest crescendo. “I think the government fears fear. I’m afraid the government is going to take the property and the freedom of everybody in this room.”
The titans fell silent. Not that! Not our property and freedom! Of course, for these people, “freedom” is the license to keep ripping off workingclass Americans with tax loopholes nobody else gets, offshore banking, outsourced jobs and Wall Street “capitalism” (privatize the profits and socialize the losses by making us bail them out).
“The government should fear that we will take its power away from it and put it into the hands of worthy custodians of our freedom,” Napolitano added as he finished with a quote by antisocialist John Basil Barnhill—one often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson, as the ex-judge once again did that night. (Hey, he works at Fox “News”; accuracy isn’t a high priority there!)
“Jefferson articulated this,” Napolitano uttered to the hushed room, “when he said, ‘When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.’” The crowd at the Beaver Creek Resort went wild. It was still abuzz as Charles Koch retook the stage to rally the troops for the final time, once again reminding them of the “Mother of All Wars” ahead. “We’re overwhelmed in a number of areas,” he said, “and one of those areas, of course, is the media—and we’re overwhelmed. The media’s 90- plus percent against us.”
Of course, many of these billionaires own the media, if not outright, then certainly through their ability to withhold advertising dollars.
Reminding his listeners what all of this is really about, Charles Koch asked them one last time to open their wallets. “I’ve pledged to all of you who’ve stepped forward and are partnering with us that we are absolutely going to do our utmost to invest this money wisely and get the best possible payoff for you in the future of our country.”
It may be war, but it’s all about the payoff. Theirs, not ours. As far as they’re concerned, you and I, the working class of this country—who’ve experienced the real pain over the past decade, who’ve died in the real shooting wars (as opposed to the Kochs’ pretend wars), who’ve seen our homes illegally foreclosed, our pensions wiped out, our jobs outsourced—can go straight to hell. Meanwhile, the very men in that pavilion at Bachelor Gulch have seen their own fortunes skyrocket to all-time historic highs.
But then again, as it’s said, war is hell. For us, not them. They just play toy soldier—at least when they think the rest of us aren’t actually aware of what they are up to. Brad Friedman is a Los Angeles-based investigative journalist and political commentator. Besides cohosting radio’s nationally syndicated Green News Report, he is the executive editor and publisher of The Brad Blog (BradBlog.com).