Jane Mayer's new book, "Dark Money," breaks new ground on the Koch family at a time when its outsized influence on American democracy is under increased scrutiny.
Mayer's book goes on sale next week, but reviewers have highlighted the new information Mayer researched about Fred Koch, the father of Charles and David Koch, two of the richest billionaires on the planet who have pledged to spend more than anyone has ever promised to spend in our elections, nearly one billion dollars in the 2016 cycle.
Fred Koch indoctrinated the Koch boys with his virulent anti-government, anti-tax philosophy, a world-view the Koch brothers--who control mega-corporation Koch Industries--have spent decades spreading, with their cash seeding numerous groups fronting their agenda.
The Kochs have previously acknowledged part of their father's history about helping Soviet dictator Josef Stalin build refineries and then preaching anti-communism in the U.S. once his fortune was made.
But, Mayer uncovers new information about how Fred Koch joined forces with a genuine Nazi sympathizer from the U.S. to build a refinery personally approved by Adolf Hitler himself, one of the three largest refineries in the Third Reich, which was used to create fuels for Hitler's deadly attacks on peaceful nations.
While Mayer does not call Fred Koch a "Nazi sympathizer" himself, readers may disagree when reading Fred Koch's public praise for Germany under Hitler, as well as the other Axis powers, Japan and Italy.
Fred Koch, who had busied himself in Hitler's Germany, apparently found much to praise in the economies of the Axis powers, while denigrating the work ethic of his fellow Americans and the Democratic legislation responding to the extreme hunger and poverty millions of Americans were facing as a result of the Great Depression.
As Mayer notes, in 1938 Fred Koch said "Although nobody agrees with me, I am of the opinion that the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy, and Japan, simply because they are all working and working hard."
As she notes, he added "The laboring people in those countries are proportionately much better off than they are any place else in the world. 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."
Any student of the Kochs can hear the echo of their father in the Koch brothers' hydra of organizations attacking public programs that aid Americans struggling to survive.
In response to new reviews of the book, the Koch PR operation has attacked Mayer again.
In a public letter to its employees rejecting any suggestion that Fred Koch sympathized with the Nazis, Koch Industries wrote that the German refinery was one project among numerous other projects in nine countries, and that other U.S. companies like Coca Cola and Ford were also doing business in Germany in the 1930s. (Neither Coke nor Ford or their executives have pledged to spend hundreds of millions influencing U.S. elections this year.)
Fred Koch's words and actions are clear.
However, the historical context can be illuminating, and here is a snapshot timeline to help readers understand the events in the U.S. and around the world during that period.
1929 The stock market crashes, beginning a worldwide depression. Before the crash, Fred Koch's Koch-Winkler firm signs contracts to build refineries in the Soviet Union, even though the U.S. broke diplomatic relations with Russia following the communist revolution more than a decade earlier. The contract is worth $5 million is 1929 dollars.
1930 By the spring, more than 3.1 million Americans are unemployed.
1931 In February, there are food riots, with starving Americans standing in breadlines at the peak of winter. The unemployment rate rose to more than 15%.
Japan begins its military expansion, invading China.
Italy, under Fascist Party leader and Prime Minister Bennito Mussolini, conquers Libya.
1932 Fred Koch, flush with his money from Stalin's Soviet Union, meets Mary Robinson and marries her. They commission the building of the family mansion in Wichita, Kansas.
The U.S. unemployment rate hits 23%.
In November, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt wins the White House over the incumbent, Republican Herbert Hoover--with the support of laborers, the black vote, and immigrant communities of citizens.
Meanwhile, Japan completes its take-over of Manchuria and enslaves the population by putting millions into forced labor.
Soviet police confiscate food in farming regions in Ukraine, as peasants faced starvation and famine along with forced collectivization.
1933 Adolf Hitler is appointed Chancellor of Germany and he begins consolidating power, with President Hindenburg in a figurehead role.
Roosevelt begins implementing the "New Deal," for example, creating the Federal Emergency Relief Agency to help stock food kitchens and provide blankets to homeless families in addition to creating new programs, like the Civilian Conservation Corps, to employ Americans in expanding U.S. infrastructure. Congress also passes the Glass-Steagall banking rules to prevent gambling by banks.
Hitler bans Jews and non-Aryans from practicing law in Germany. He urges the boycott of Jewish businesses and also bans trade unions.
Frederick R. Koch is born to Fred and Mary Koch.
Germany and Japan leave the League of Nations.
1934 Fred Koch works with U.S. businessman and Nazi sympathizer William Rhodes Davis to begin building a large refinery in Hamburg, Germany, after Hitler personally approves the plan, according to Mayer.
With Hindenburg's death, Hitler declares himself the "Fuhrer" of Germany and seizes complete control of the government.
In the U.S., Roosevelt's Civil Works Administration begins employing Americans to build bridges, roads, and hospitals, while the country faces the prolonged drought of the Dust Bowl. The unemployment rate falls to 21%. Sweden becomes the first country to recover from the Great Depression using Keynesian deficit spending.
Meanwhile, Japan renounces treaties with the U.S. and the U.K., and the depredations and terror under Stalin are documented in the U.S. press.
1935 Fred Koch continues to aid the Hitler regime by completing the German petroleum cracking complex with a capacity to process more than 1,000 tons of crude a day and refine it into high-octane (jet) fuel, according to Mayer.
Roosevelt gets the Rural Electrification Administration passed and the National Labor Relations Act, which protected workers' rights to organize, became law. Unemployment fell to under 20%, and the U.S. auto industry begins making a comeback. The Social Security Act is signed into law to provide income security for older Americans.
Italy invades Ethiopia.
Hitler's Reichstag approves the Nuremburg Laws that strip Jewish Germans of their citizenship and forbid marriage between Jews and "Aryan" German citizens.
Fred Koch's second son, Charles Koch, is born. At some point in the mid-1930s, according to Mayer, the Kochs hire a Nazi governess to help raise their boys.
1936 Japan signs an alliance with Hitler's Germany. Germany violates the Treaty of Versailles through its re-militarization. Stalin begins the "Great Purge," the systematic killing of dissidents in the Soviet Union. The summer Olympic games are held in Berlin. Italy conquers Ethiopia. The Spanish Civil War begins.
The U.S. unemployment rate drops to 16%, and Roosevelt wins re-election by a landslide.
1937 Italy joins the Axis alliance with Germany and Japan. Italy leaves the League of Nations. Japan invades Shanghai, China, and begins a brutal march on Nanking, with vast war crimes reported after the takeover was complete.
Roosevelt gets the Housing Act passed to provide subsidies for housing for low-income families. Unemployment falls to 14%, but Roosevelt fears another depression. He also calls for international cooperation against aggression by other nations.
Fred Koch, on one of his visits to Germany, is purportedly delayed for a trip on the Hindenburg blimp when the airship catastrophically exploded, according to Mayer, who noted this was family lore.
1938 Germany annexes Austria and part of Czechoslovakia. Under Hitler's new laws, the assets of Jews can be seized and property confiscated.
The Roosevelt administration meets with other nations to discuss the growing migration challenges of Jews in Europe.
Fred Koch praises the Axis Powers, while criticizing American workers:
1938 is the year, according to Mayer, when Fred Koch declared publicly: "Although nobody agrees with me, I am of the opinion that the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy, and Japan, simply because they are all working and working hard" and "The laboring people in those countries are proportionately much better off than they are any place else in the world. 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." (emphasis added)
Skipping ahead, in 1940, Fred Koch's sons David and his twin William were born on May 3, in Wichita. According to Mayer, after Germany invaded France that month, the Kochs' Nazi governess left their employment to return to a then-victorious Germany.
After the U.S. entered WWII in late 1941, after the Japanese attack on the U.S. navy in Pearl Harbor, Fred Koch--then in his 40s--reportedly tried to enlist but was asked to help the war effort as a civilian, according to Mayer.
More than a decade later, Fred Koch would help create the John Birch Society, and his son Charles would join it. As the Center for Media and Democracy documented, Charles also spearheaded fundraising for the John Birch Society, at the height of its attacks on the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement as purported communist conspiracies.
Through the John Birch Society, Charles pushed fringe economic theories opposing Roosevelt's New Deal economics and policies, and Charles also funded the anarcho-capitalist group the Freedom School of Robert LeFevre, as Mayer details in her new book, carrying forward Fred Koch's antipathy toward government programs and institutions.
As CMD noted in 2010 in its launch of ALECexposed.org, about the American Legislative Exchange Council, which the Kochs have funded through decades of its efforts to repeal New Deal policies and more:
"The Kochs' mistrust of public education can be traced to their father, Fred, who ranted and raved that the National Education Association was a communist group and public-school books were filled with 'communist propaganda,' paranoia that extended to all unions, President Eisenhower and the 'pro-communist' Supreme Court. Such redbaiting might be ancient history if fifty years later David were not calling President Obama a 'hard-core socialist' who is 'scary.'
"The Kochs have not just multiplied the wealth of their dad; they've repackaged and amplified his worldview. David's latest venture, Americans for Prosperity, subsidizes the Tea Party movement, which repeats this 'socialist' smear. Charles is a member of the exclusive Mount Pelerin Society, inspired by Frederic von Hayek's antisocialist polemic The Road to Serfdom.... Another David Koch project, Citizens for a Sound Economy—which launched the effort to repeal Glass-Steagall protections keeping banks from gambling in securities—helped fuel the fight for 'free trade,' an unpopular policy in the 1980s."
Jane Mayer's new book adds crucial new details to the public's knowledge of two of the most powerful and influential men in the U.S.
Building on her ground-breaking reporting about the Kochs, she has broken the story of Fred Koch's ties to Nazi Germany. Her new book also documents the numerous groups Charles and David Koch deploy through their vast resources to try to get politicians they want elected and to re-make American laws to fit their worldview.
Their worldview was molded by a larger-than-life father who, at the precipice of WWII, publicly embraced Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, and Hirohito's Japan as a model that American workers should aspire toward--while attacking Roosevelt's New Deal policies, programs his most prominent sons have assailed and sought to undermine in this modern era.
As CMD wrote in 2014: "Some women and men spend their lives rebelling against their father or mother, but others follow in their footsteps or yearn for their approval. Some become friends. A few spend millions to make their parents' vision a reality. Charles and David Koch are among those few. Raw ideas that were once at the fringes have been carved into 'mainstream' policy through their wealth and will."
Disclosure: CMD's work is cited in Jane Mayer's new book, Dark Money. This article has been updated on Jan. 13 and reflects the Koch response to the book.
(The grandmother of the author of this PRWatch story fled the Bolshevik revolution and then fled the communist revolution in China.)