At a political strategy summit hosted on June 16 by the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, Richard Fink, their top political strategist, told the private audience that when he sees someone “on the street” he says, “Get off your ass, and work hard like we did.” Fink's anecdote came during his presentation titled “The Long-Term Strategy: Engaging the Middle Third,” which capped off a session of four speeches detailing the intellectual foundation of Charles Koch’s political ideology. Audio of the event was obtained by The Undercurrent and shared exclusively with The Huffington Post.
Charles Koch opened the session by laying out his grand vision for the conference; Dr. Victor Hanson, a military historian, described the nature of the threat of collectivism; and Dr. Will Ruger, vice president of research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute, discussed the features of a free society. Fink rounded out the set, outlining the path to achieve the goals of deregulation and limited government. The message, he said, should focus on intent, meaning, and well-being.
Of the four speeches, Fink’s was the longest and the most candid, offering observations on fascism, environmentalism, and the application of business marketing principles to the Koch brothers' political messaging. His statements were not offhand remarks, but rather should be seen as representative of the Kochs, as he was hailed as their “grand strategist” by emcee Kevin Gentry in the proceedings and sits on the boards of several of their organizations. Full transcripts are available here.
Messages left for Koch, Fink and Ruger with Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Institute were not returned.
Collectivism: Framing Liberals as Fascists
In his speech titled “American Courage: Our Commitment to a Free Society,” Charles Koch echoed an op-ed he wrote earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal in both his paranoia and self-pity. The billionaire oil industrialist, hosting some of the most powerful men in Washington, without irony claimed in his speech that he and his brother were “put squarely in front of the firing squad.” He later framed the path ahead for America as a binary choice between freedom and collectivism, a catchall term he used to describe liberalism, socialism, and fascism.
Koch refrained from drawing explicit parallels to fascists, but his lieutenants did not. (Perhaps he learned from a past audio leak wherein he seemed to liken President Barack Obama to Saddam Hussein.) Ruger warned that liberalism sets society on a march toward the fate of totalitarian North Korea. “We clearly see the difference between free societies and collectivist regimes in this nighttime satellite image of the Korean peninsula, where the collectivist north is literally in the dark due to its poverty,” said Ruger. “This is what collectivism gives you.”
This conflation was a running theme throughout the session, articulated in large part by grand strategist Fink. An economist by training, he pointed to psychology to explain the dangers of raising the minimum wage vis á vis totalitarianism.
“Psychology shows that is the main recruiting ground for totalitarianism, for fascism, for conformism, when people feel like they’re victims,” said Fink. “So the big danger of minimum wage isn’t the fact that some people are being paid more than their value-added -- that’s not great. It’s not that it’s hard to stay in business -- that’s not great, either. But it’s the 500,000 people that will not have a job because of minimum wage.”
He continued, “We’re taking these 500,000 people that would’ve had a job, and putting them unemployed, making dependence part of government programs, and destroying their opportunity for earned success. And so we see this is a very big part of recruitment in Germany in the '20s.”
“If you look at the Third -- the rise and fall of the Third Reich, you can see that,” Fink said. “And what happens is a fascist comes in and offers them an opportunity, finds the victim -- Jews or the West -- and offers them meaning for their life, OK?”
Fink cited the historical examples of Nazi Germany and communist Russia and China to segue to terrorism. “This is not just in Germany. It's in Russia, in Lenin, and Stalin Russia, and then Mao,” said Fink. “This is the recruitment ground for fascism, and it's not just historical. It's what goes on today in the -- in the suicide bomber recruitment.”
Lack of Meaning in Life Leads to Environmentalism
Fink’s commentary on collectivism led to observations on the psychological underpinnings of the environmental movement. According to Fink, in the same way that lack of meaning in life leads to terrorism, it leads to environmentalism.
“The environmental movement. Occupy Wall Street. These kids are searching for meaning. They're protesting the 1 percent. They are the 1 percent, but they're protesting the 1 percent. The environmental movement and climate change. It's not about climate change.
I studied climate change for six years. I can't figure it out, quite frankly. Charles is ahead of me on this. I'm not a climatologist, but I'm not completely stupid. I can tell you I meet with people, particularly in California, that are convinced the world is going to burn up in you know, a year or two. They don't know the answer -- they don't even know the question, because it's not about climate change. It's about a cause. It gives their life meaning.”
Fink's statement that he's not a climatologist is notable considering both his education and employment. Koch Industries is a leading proponent of climate change skepticism. David Koch has posited that climate change may turn out to be good for humankind in that longer growing seasons would support greater food production. And Charles Koch was on the board of a direct predecessor of the Institute for Energy Research, a group that defends oil industry tax subsidies. Despite his actions, Charles Koch railed against this type of behavior during the seminar. “So to truly help the poor and the economy, we have to eliminate cronyism,” he said. “We have to eliminate welfare for the rich.”
Fink also pointed to blocking cap and trade as a success of the Koch network, appearing to give it equal weight to their success in flipping the House of Representatives. Cap and trade, a market-based approach to curbing carbon emissions, was first implemented on a large scale during George H.W. Bush’s administration to combat acid rain. The measure, derided by the tea party as “cap and tax,” died in Congress in 2010, chiefly as a result of staunch oil industry opposition. Later that year, the movement would claim victory in the historic landslide election that turned the House of Representatives over to Republican control. Both Koch Industries and David Koch have previously been reluctant to acknowledge any involvement in the early days of the tea party movement, though Americans for Prosperity has fueled much of its rise. AFP was founded by David Koch and is the primary vehicle of the brothers’ political activity.
Applying Business Marketing to Political Messaging
Fink described the differences between the three thirds of the electorate -- the "freedom" third, the "collectivist" third, and the non-ideological middle third of voters, whose recruitment he said is crucial for the Koch network’s success. “Mitt Romney won on leadership. He won on the economy. He won on experience,” Fink said. “What did he lose on? He lost on care and intent. Intent is extremely important.”
Fink spoke at length about the appearance of the Koch network’s motives to the middle third, and the business-oriented solutions for improving its political brand.
“Yeah, we want to decrease regulations. Why? It’s because we can make more profit, OK? Yeah, cut government spending so we don’t have to pay so much taxes,” said Fink. “There’s truth in that, you all know, because we’re in the 30 percent of the freedom fighters. But the middle part of the country doesn’t see it that way.”
“When we focus on decreasing government spending, over-criminalization, decreasing taxes, it doesn’t do it, OK? We’ve been reaching the third by telling them what’s important -- what we think is important should be important to them. And they’re not responding and don’t like it, OK? Well, we get business -- what do we do? We want to find out what the customer wants, right, not what we want them to buy,” he said.
Fink concluded that if the brothers' network could solve its messaging problem, it would “earn the respect and good feeling through the middle third.” He also held up the Koch partnership with the United Negro College Fund as emblematic of their strategy.
This article has been updated to specify more precisely Charles Koch's part in the founding of the Institute for Energy Research.