Billionaire industrialist and conservative political mega-donor Charles Koch first entered the political world through the John Birch Society, a secretive anti-Communist outfit that campaigned against the civil-rights movement. Since then, he and his brother David amassed enormous wealth and put together a powerful conservative political network that rivals either major party in size and funding.
A new report from activist group UnKoch My Campus shows that Charles Koch’s ties to white supremacy have persisted throughout his adult life. The report details an array of instances where Koch has funded neo-Confederate scholars—a largely unnoticed aspect of the Koch Industries CEO’s ambitious project of funding higher education. Most alarming is a collaboration between Florida Atlantic University, the Charles Koch Foundation, and a major private-prison company, which is led by a professor who was a member of the research arm of a white-nationalist hate group.
While raking in corporate profits as the head of the family’s oil-refining business since the mid-1960s, Charles Koch and his top tactician, Richard Fink, developed a “Structure of Social Change,” which they would deploy to pull America as far to the right on taxes and regulations as they could. Koch, a libertarian, had resigned from the John Birch Society after opposing its position on the Vietnam War, and created a regressive sphere of influence. The first step in this strategy was funding higher education, because, as he said at a 1974 gathering of the Institute for Humane Studies, now a George Mason University center that he finances and directs, “educational programs are superior to political action, and support of talented free-market scholars is preferable to mass advertising.”
Koch and his family foundations have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to colleges and universities around the United States. In 2013, the Charles Koch Foundation began donating to Florida Atlantic University, offering $5,000 that year. By 2016, the annual donation had risen to $32,000.
Marshall DeRosa, who runs a prison-education program with financial backing from the Koch Foundation, is a Florida Atlantic University political-science professor who has written extensively on the Confederacy. He also has ties to its modern remnants.