Meet Fred Koch, a founding member of the John Birch Society, and his sons, David and Charles–better known as the Koch Brothers
Most John Birch Society leaders are buried deep in the recesses of American history, known only to politics junkies, history wonks and me, a Birch kid.
There is one exception however, a Birch name that echoes across today’s political landscape: Fred C. Koch, founding member and national council member. Before Koch’s sons―David and Charles―became synonymous with corporate political power, Koch built a fortune from an oil drilling techniques he developed. But it didn’t happen immediately. In the early days, oil companies in the United States were not interested in Koch’s new methods. Fred looked elsewhere for contracts that would keep his fledgling company in business.
In 1929, he landed a $5,000,000 contract for his company to build fifteen oil refineries in Russia, Joseph Stalin’s Communist Russia
Koch supervised the refinery installations, traveling extensively across the country over three years. He claimed that his hatred for Communism grew out of his Russian experiences, but he had pocketed $500,000 (his part of the company’s profits) before his outrage set in. That money, $8,000,000 in today’s dollars made Fred Koch a very rich man.
Ironically, the wealth of the Koch family came from a brutal Communist dictatorship. Hardly the image of “free enterprise” the Kochs invoke so passionately.
In 1960, thirty years after he took Communist money and parleyed it into an even bigger fortune, Koch wrote his book, A Businessman Looks at Communism, in which he rails against labor unions and civil rights efforts as part of the Communist plot to take over America.
“Labor Unions have long been a Communist goal,” Koch wrote. “The effort is frequently made to have the worker do as little as possible for the money he receives. This practice alone can destroy our country.” (p. 16)
My father, who served on the John Birch Society National Council with Fred Koch, had identical views on labor unions. As long as there is breath in my body,” Dad vowed, “there will never be a union in my company. I’ll board it up first. Fred (Koch) sees it like I do, one hundred percent.”
Koch was equally damning views of civil rights. “The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America,” he said (p. 25) and “it will use the colored people by getting a vicious race war started.”
Koch’s views on civil rights were identical to those of the John Birch Society. Early in the civil rights movement, the Birch founder labeled Dr. Martin Luther King a Communist and marshaled the Birch leadership to fight every piece of civil rights legislation.
Fred Koch died in 1967, leaving his company and his vast fortune to his four sons: Freddie, Charles, David and Bill who spent the next twenty years battling over the estate. Eventually, David and Charles emerged with control over Koch Industries, one of the largest privately-held corporations in the country. The sons acquired dozens of companies and diversified their fossil fuel assets into every commodity from silicon chips to toilet paper. Koch Industries continues to build its corporate wealth (and the Koch brothers’ personal wealth) with government contracts and government tax breaks.
Like their father, the Koch Brothers have no problem doing business with enemies of the United States. Koch Industries subsidiaries have engaged in very profitable business with Iran–despite federal sanctions against such trade.
The Koch brothers have enormous personal fortunes, somewhere around $40 billion dollars each in net worth. They are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in their favorite causes, right-wing, libertarian, anti-government ones.
David identified himself as the wallet behind Americans for Prosperity, the big umbrella for Freedom Works and the Tea Party. Charles founded the Cato Institute, a powerful think-tank specializing in selling right-wing policies on everything from taxes to entitlements.
Their father must be proud. They’re re-shaping the United States into the kind of country Fred wanted―a country with a pint-sized federal government and none of the expense of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid or any other social program.
This libertarian utopia would free businesses to make a profit unrestrained by regulation. Corporate taxes and taxes on the rich would be tiny, allowing vast accumulations of wealth for the wealthy. Workers incomes would be set by corporations without the requirements of minimum wages and union scale.
If my father were still alive, he’d be crowing at the momentum of the Koch machine. I can hear him saying, “They are taking the country back. It’s about time.”
The ultimate irony of the Koch Brothers is this: they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to subvert the country that helped make them so fabulously wealthy.