The Kochs & the Nazis: Book Reveals Billionaires’ Father Built Key Oil Refinery for the Third Reich







The Kochs & the Nazis: Book Reveals Billionaires’ FatherBuilt Key Oil Refinery for the Third Reich

Dark Money: Jane Mayer on How the Koch Bros. & Billionaire Allies Funded the Rise of the Far Right

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Jane Mayer staff writer for The New Yorker and author of the new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. She is also author of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This year’s election season is set to be the most expensive ever, with some estimates topping $10 billion. Three groups will each spend about a billion dollars on behalf of a presidential nominee. The first two are who you’d expect: Democrats and Republicans, the country’s dominant political parties. But the third group is not a political party and does not have a single candidate running for office. Instead, it’s a network of right-wing advocacy groups backed by the billionaire energy tycoons, Charles and David Koch.

According to its own estimates, the Koch network aims to spend nearly $900 million on the 2016 presidential and congressional races, more than doubling its amount in 2012. The Kochs’ political machine now eclipses the official Republican Party in key areas, with about three-and-a-half times as many employees as the Republican National Committee. Charles and David Koch’s 2016 spending comes as part of an effort to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to conservative candidates and causes over the last four decades. Their net worth is a combined $82 billion, placing them fifth on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans.

The Kochs’ political operations have exploded in the six years since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which removed limits on campaign spending by ruling that donor money is a form of free speech. Citizens United has allowed the Kochs and others to spend millions in dark money—political donations where the source is kept secret.

AMY GOODMAN: The story of the Koch brothers and an allied group of billionaire donors is told in a new book by The New Yorker magazine reporter Jane Mayer. It’s called Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Jane Mayer traces how the Kochs and other billionaires, including Mellon banking and Gulf Oil heir Richard Mellon Scaife, chemical tycoon John M. Olin, electronics magnates Harry and Lynde Bradley, have leveraged their business empires to create a political machine with unprecedented influence over politics at the national, state and local level.

Beyond elections, these billionaires have also influenced the political sphere by using their money to create right-wing think tanks, endow university positions, fund research favorable to their right-wing agenda, including climate change denial, opposing healthcare reform and thwarting government regulation. The Kochs’ political empire is so vast, it’s been dubbed “The Kochtopus,” the organizations including Americans for Prosperity, Citizens for a Sound Economy.

Mayer’s book contains a number of revelations and new details. She begins with the Kochs’ father, industrialist Fred Koch. Mayer reveals that Fred Koch helped build an oil refinery in Nazi Germany—a project approved personally by Adolf Hitler. The refinery was critical to the Nazi war effort. Its oil fueled German warplanes. Before that, Fred Koch built a refinery for Joseph Stalin’s Russia. Fred Koch went on to become an original leader of the right-wing John Birch Society. Charles Koch was a member when the group campaigned against the civil rights movement in the ’60s.

Jane Mayer also uncovers evidence confirming rumors the Koch brothers tried to blackmail their own brother, Frederick, into giving up his share of the family company by threatening to out him as gay. It also emerges that the EPA has named the Kochs’ company, Koch Industries, the single biggest U.S. producer of toxic waste. Mayer recounts her own potential brush with the Koch’s empire. After she profiled the brothers in a 2010 piece for The New Yorker, a private firm was hired to discredit her reporting. Although there’s no definite proof, Mayer says that clues leading back to the Kochs were everywhere. And she explores the Kochs’ multiyear effort to undermine President Obama, starting with a secretive meeting of right-wing donors the week of his inauguration.

Jane Mayer joins us now, a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. Again, her book is called Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you, Jane.

JANE MAYER: Great to be with you. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s start with this explosive revelation about the Koch brothers’ father, Fred Koch. Talk about his business and his involvement with Nazi Germany.

JANE MAYER: Well, he built what became the third-largest refinery in Germany during the buildup to World War II. And it was a refinery that, from the start, was meant to help the military effort of the Third Reich. It was clear that Hitler was looking for ways to refine their own oil so that they could fuel the war machine that he was building up at that point. The refinery was begun, the contract was begun in ’34—that is, 1934—and was finished in 1935. And one of the things that the father Koch was especially good at—he was apparently a brilliant engineer himself—was refining oil in a really high-octane fuel that would be good for the Luftwaffe, for the warplanes. It had to be done in a special way.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Jane, interestingly, the Kochs obviously are critical of your work, but they only actually responded to two of the allegations in the book. And earlier this month, they released a statement specifically on this area. They say, “Mayer falsely implies that Fred Koch was working to aid and abet Germany’s tyrannical regime during World War II, and further implies that two of his sons, Charles and David Koch could somehow share these fictional sympathies. … It is a sad commentary on today’s media environment that we have to respond to such irresponsible and reckless attacks.” They claim that many companies, like Ford and General Electric and others, also were involved in Germany before the war.

JANE MAYER: Well, there were other American companies that worked there, too. Ford, especially, has been singled out. It’s true, though, what they’re saying, if facts are facts. They’ve basically confirmed their father built the refinery, he designed the cracking unit, which is what refined the fuel, and that became a key asset for the Nazi war machine.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Also, one of the things, as you note in your book, that this is the part of the biography of the father that’s not included in official company accounts.

JANE MAYER: Well, this is the thing. I mean, it’s not to say—and what they’re kind of knocking down is a straw dog. The book does not say that Fred Koch or the sons were Nazis. And that would be a ridiculous statement. It says, specifically, Fred Koch’s views of the Nazis are unknown, but he worked with them, he made money from them, and this chapter was kept hidden from the Koch Industries history that’s up online.

AMY GOODMAN: Why was Hitler—

JANE MAYER: It’s one of—one of many secrets about the Kochs. I mean, the truth is, this book, it grew out of a 2010 story I did for The New Yorker, which turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much that was not known, that took—it took five years to document all of this.

AMY GOODMAN: Why was Hitler personally involved with improving this refinery?

JANE MAYER: Well, his underlings were not going to approve it. And there was—the partner in this is a man named William Rhodes Davis, who was working with Fred Koch. He was a Nazi sympathizer. The U.S. considered him a Nazi agent, actually. And he was the partner in this project, and he needed an OK from Hitler. And to get it, he had to go speak with Hitler himself. Hitler greenlighted the project. It was—and then gave him an autographed copy of Mein Kampf.

AMY GOODMAN: And then you talk about the governess that Fred Koch hired to raise the children.

JANE MAYER: Right. So, actually, Fred Koch was back and forth to Germany a lot. One of the things that—he almost went on the Hindenburg, and he was, at the last minute, detained—the dirigible that blew up in New Jersey in, you know, the pre—right before the war started. He imported, or somehow the family wound up with, a German nanny, who brought up the two oldest boys, Frederick and Charles—Charles who’s known today as one of the two Koch brothers. And the nanny herself was a Nazi sympathizer of such fervor that when Hitler invaded France in 1940, she had been with the Koch family for five years, but she said she needed to leave. She wanted to go back to be with the Führer to celebrate. It was strange. It was a strange—you know, it’s a fascinating family. It was a strange upbringing. I’m not saying that they were Nazis, but what I am saying is that this family was politically, from the start, filled with very strange influences.

AMY GOODMAN: And Fred Koch’s involvement in the founding of the John Birch Society, and what that is?

JANE MAYER: Well, so, what happens is, the father then also worked for Stalin and built the oil refineries there in Stalin’s first five-year plan. And he comes back to the U.S., and he’s horrified by what he’s seen of Stalin, and he becomes just an absolutely—a sort of vitriolic anti-communist. And that leads to him being a founding member of the John Birch Society. And he passes those views on to his sons. And both David Koch and Charles Koch, the two that are known as the Koch brothers, were members of the John Birch Society, which was—kind of defined the anti-communist, right-wing fringe in America in the ’50s, ’60s. So…


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A Jewish ISIS Rises in the West Bank

A Jewish ISIS Rises in the West Bank

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They reject modern political states and their institutions. They want to return to an imagined earlier era of religious order. They are extreme, fundamentalist, and violent. What separates so-called Hilltop Youth from young Jihadis?

By Hillel Gershuni

To be a Hilltop Youth is to first disaffiliate with all establishments in Israel. Especially the settlements. These young Hasidic-looking men and women make their homes out of trucks, cars, trailers, caves—anything suitable for a makeshift shelter—atop the hills of Judea and Samaria. They see themselves as connected to the Land of Israel, not to any of the institutions of the Israeli state. The very violent group among them consists of no more than a few dozen core members and a few hundred more who support them in public demonstrations and on social media. Some in Israel refer to them in disgust and horror as “Jewish ISIS,” and while there’s a great distance between Al Baghdadi’s practice of beheading, burning alive, and massacring thousands of people and the violence of extreme members of Hilltop Youth, there is indeed a deep connection between the two phenomena.

ISIS is not just a state—it’s an idea, and a powerful one: throwing away modern norms and acting to revive the golden age of the Islamic Caliphate. And just like the Caliphate, the methods to achieve it are pre-modern: “Din Muhammad Bissayf,” the religion of Muhammad is [enforced, spread] by the sword. The success of such cruel methods within the blurry borders of Iraq and Syria has drawn young enthusiastic Muslims from around the world to Syria. Similarly, ideas of reviving the thousands-of-years-old Kingdom of Judea draw young enthusiastic men and women to the hilltops, where the leaders and idea-men of the Hilltop Youth promise their followers a sense of authenticity in a post-modern world. As with ISIS, this authenticity is predicated on destroying all institutions of the State of Israel, which is undeserving of recognition.

Hilltop Youth abandon the communities in which they were raised to live in trucks in uninhabited regions of the Judean Hills. In their nativist ideology, they are the real Jews upholding the “true” Jewish way, and they encourage each other to strive with violence and terror against non-Jews in order to retaliate against Arab terrorism and to establish a pure Jewish existence on the land of Israel. The State of Israel is evil, and the religious communities and ideologies that support it are misguided, they believe. Their nativism perceives the State of Israel and its supporters as “Erev Rav,” a Kabbalistic term that refers to people who look like Jews but have the souls of enemy gentiles.


The first inclination of many observers is to label young people who seek out nativist causes like ISIS or the Hilltop Youth as “crazy,” “lunatics,” or “hormone-laden kids.” But behind this perceived lunacy is a certain philosophy, or a general tendency, that we can trace back to leaders who either taught fundamentalist and nativist philosophies or whose teachings have been interpreted to support violence and terror.

One such leader affiliates with the Chabad movement in Israel. His name is Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, and many Hilltop Youth attended the yeshiva Od Yosef Chai where he serves as president in the settlement of Yitzhar, a community that is home to some of Israel’s most extremist settlers. In a famous lecture during his protest of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and removal of the Gush Katif community on its banks, Rabbi Ginsburgh poetically interwove Chabad and Kabbalistic writings to promote the delegitimizing of the State institutions. Known as “The shell and the fruit,” Ginsburgh’s speech used mystical metaphors to encourage the destruction of “shells” around the Jewish people. The sages compared the people of Israel, said Rabbi Ginsburgh, to a nut, and the nut has three shells. The shells, according to him, are Zionism, the Israeli courts, and the government. Now, said Rabbi Ginsburgh, the time has come to break the shells, overthrow Zionism, disobey the courts, and oppose the government—every government—until a true Jewish regime is reborn.

Although now shunned by Rabbi Ginsburgh himself, his pupils started and continue to carry out “Price Tag” terrorism, or as they called it initially, “Mutual Responsibility,” or Arvut Hadadit in Hebrew. They burn Palestinian fields or mosques out of revenge for terror attacks, or just for spite. Outlaws attacked IDF vehicles to disrupt state-mandated evacuations of illegally built communities and to deter Israeli forces from policing Jewish terrorists on hilltops.

A few of them took it one step further. A key figure here is Meir Ettinger, a grandson of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who has been in administrative detention by the State of Israel for six months, and who is a disciple of Rabbi Ginsburgh. He was even once a member of Rabbi Ginsburgh’s “Derech Chayim” movement, but abandoned it for its non-violent approach and adopted the “rebellion manifesto,” which called for violent acts in order to shake the foundations of the State of Israel.

Another player in this scene is Rabbi Shmuel Tal, whose disciples are probably not in the core of the violent group, but who share the same hatred toward the State and its establishment. Rabbi Tal changed his view regarding the State of Israel during the disengagement from Gaza Strip, saying that it’s no longer a part of the Redemption process but it disrupts it. One of Rabbi Tal’s students published a manifesto after the alleged torture of suspects in the Duma murders, stating that the Shin Bet is doing this because it is afraid of these young men, who intend to establish what they see as a real Jewish state in place of the current corrupted one. Rabbi Tal himself, like Rabbi Ginsburgh, does not encourage violent acts and in fact preaches against them, focusing on building alternatives to the secular institutes of the state instead. Nevertheless, understanding these rabbis’ philosophy is crucial to understanding the few who do not follow their pragmatic non-violent line.

The main characteristics of these different perceptions of sovereignty are the same: longing to go “back to the roots” and resenting the current State of Israel. This view is also shared by many ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, people in Israel, but with one crucial difference: Whereas the ultra-Orthodox do not believe that the Jewish people is in the middle of a positive ongoing process of geula (national redemption), the rabbis behind the Hilltop Youth do—and also believe, significantly, that it is a religious duty to “act with God” and help advance geula by earthly acts, not just by committing good deeds and waiting for the Messiah to come.

Combining the two ideas—that we should help the process of geula and that the State of Israel is not a part of that process, but rather an enemy—can be very volatile. The good news here is that unlike ISIS, we are dealing here with a very small group—not tens of thousands of enthusiasts, but a few activists and a few hundred supporters. But the main rabbinic authorities have no influence on them, since their theological understanding of the role of the Israeli State is so radically different. And as the history of ISIS shows, fevered doctrines that preach a literal return to an ancient and glorious past do not seem to strike their adherents as crazy.

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