A provocative article by Jane Mayer on the Politico magazine website taps into some truly disturbing history that’s still erupting in the current presidential race. The Secrets of Charles Koch’s Political Ascent, subtitled “Two new documents reveal the political blueprint the billionaire developed 40 years ago, heavily influenced by the John Birch Society,” is based on her new book, Dark Money: the Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Political Right, and outlines the anarchist leanings of the Libertarian movement’s biggest donors and organizers. (Mayer is also the author of The Dark Side: the Inside Story on How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals.)
If you believe in the American ideals of equality and justice in a political system of checks and balances, the outsized financial influence of Charles Koch and his brother, David, is creepy enough. Their origins in the extreme right-wing anti-Communist John Birch Society, which the brothers eventually left, is scarier still. Mayer observes, “Charles’ aim, according to [Brian] Doherty, who interviewed Charles for his book, was to tear the government out ‘at the root.'” The details are chilling.
As Mayer also reports, their father, Fred was a John Birch founder who deeply shaped their thinking. Never mind that the family fortune originates from the years Fred worked in Stalin’s Soviet Union developing oil refineries, he turned into a rabid loathing for the New Deal policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Turning to another source for perspective, Mayer notes that the father’s dark shadow was not merely ideological: “The early years of Charles and David Koch’s political planning are described in Stealth, a 300-page unpublished and private history commissioned by their estranged brother, Bill Koch, and written by Clayton A. Coppin, a researcher who taught history at George Mason University. Coppin had unusual insight. He had previously been hired by Koch Industries to write the company’s history. The earlier project had given Coppin access to many of the family’s private letters and papers, as well as license to interview the Kochs and their intimates as few outsiders could.”
She observes: “Coppin saw Charles Koch’s strong political views in the context of his upbringing. In Stealth, written in 2003, Coppin suggests that Charles harbored a hatred of the government so intense it could only be truly understood as an extension of his childhood conflicts with authority.
“From his earliest years, Coppin writes, Charles’ goal was to achieve total control. ‘He did not escape his father’s authority until his father died,’ he notes.”
Paradoxically, then, the opponent of authoritarians becomes an authoritarian figure himself:
“After that, Charles went to great lengths to ensure that neither his brothers nor anyone else could challenge his personal control of the family company.”
And now, we might assume, the political sphere itself.