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8/23/19

David Koch, 1940-2019

David Koch, a radical plutocrat who funded right-wing extremist movements for decades and pushed humanity to the brink of extinction, has died at 79.


It is unclear who raised David. Investigative journalist Jane Meyer notes that the family nanny was a "a fervent Nazi sympathizer, who frequently touted Hitler's virtues...She enforced a rigid toilet-training regiment requiring the boys to produce morning bowel movements precisely on schedule or be force-fed castor oil and subjected to enemas." However, Meyer also writes that she left the year that David was born, since "she was so overcome with joy when Hitler invaded France [that] she felt she had to back to the fatherland". One family member, she adds, remembers seeing David's father Fred "take a tree branch, strip it down, and 'whip the twins like dogs.'"

Fred, a co-founder of the John Birch Society, had his own connection to the Nazis: he built the family fortune around oil refineries, and built one for the Third Reich. In a 1938 letter, Fred explicitly cited Nazi Germany as an inspiration for his anti-government views:
When you contrast the state of mind of Germany today with what it was in 1925 you begin to think that perhaps this course of idleness, feeding at the public trough, dependence on government, etc., with which we are afflicted is not permanent and can be overcome.
Fred instilled these radical anti-government ideals in his children. "He was constantly speaking to us children about what was wrong with the government," David said.

Through no merit or labor of his own, David inherited a share of the family fortune after his father's death. By then it had become a point of bitter contention among the Koch heirs; in a 1982 deposition, for example, Bill Koch confessed that he, David, and Charles attempted to blackmail their brother Frederick out of his share of the company by threatening to out his supposed homosexuality to their father.

More consequentially, Fred's heirs became active philanthropists after his death as part of an elaborate inheritance tax avoidance scheme - a habit that soon evolved into their well-known political activism. As his fortune grew and he became one of the richest men in America, David Koch spent much of his adult life building an extreme political movement dedicated entirely to expanding his power. He funded a network of operatives, demagogues, propaganda organs, and astroturfed "movements" that became such a singular force in American politics that it even earned its own name: the "Kochtopus". Its mission: to slash taxes on the rich, to dismantle even the barest regulations on business, to amplify the influence of the wealthy, to straightjacket collective governance of the commonwealth, and to indoctrinate with an endless barage of counterfactual quasi-mystical propaganda organized around their father's ideology.

The most profound consequence of David Koch's life will likely be his contributions to climate change. In 2010, Greenpeace dubbed Koch Industries a "finanical kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition," even as it grew into one of the worst polluters in the United States. Long after the scientific consensus had become clear and an international consensus had assembled for aggressive action against climate change, Koch-funded propaganda and lobbying organs maintained a radicalized opposition to action in the United States. If human civilization fails to act quickly enough to prevent the mass extinctions and social upheaval likely to accompany runaway climate change, much of the responsibility will lie directly and personally with him.

Tragically, David Koch never saw most of the suffering and destruction his life visited upon our planet. In his final years, however, the libertarian movement he built had already fallen into decline; the Republican party he had worked to control had dramatically slipped the leash; and the largest socialist movement in modern American history, along with an ambitious and aggressive movement to fight climate change, were both on the ascent. David's reactionary politics may yet win the day, but he died with every reason to believe that they may fail. Let us see that they do.