Charles Koch, his brother and employees have in recent months been getting death threats, hundreds of obscenity-laced hate messages, and harassment from some far left-wing groups, Koch said on Thursday.
“We are under attack from various directions, both with threats of violence against us personally, and with threats of attacks on our businesses,” Charles Koch said Thursday, in a phone interview from his office in Wichita.
Koch, the billionaire head of Koch Industries, rarely gives interviews, especially about the various political causes that he and his brother David support. The privately held company rarely releases information about its activities.
On Thursday, Charles Koch authorized employees to reveal the contents of hundreds of e-mails that the Kochs and employees have received in the last year, some of them containing death threats. “I hope you all DIE,” one e-mail, received last year, said. “You people are ruining our country, and all for $$$.” “Choose your expiration Date, Brothers” said another. “The Koch brothers will DIE!!!!!” said another.
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There were hundreds more — some from Wisconsin, where the Kochs were accused of aiding Gov. Scott Walker in his disputes against unions. Most of them were signed with what appear to be real names, many contained obscenities, and some Koch employees said these messages had made them nervous.
‘Occupy Koch Town’
Because of the threats the Kochs have seen in recent months, company representatives have had considerable conversations with Wichita police. They decided to speak out Thursday, only two days before hundreds of “Occupy Koch Town” protesters might show up outside the Koch Industries building in north Wichita. Activists will gather this weekend in Wichita to attend a series of events that will focus on the Keystone Pipeline as well as energy, environmental and climate policies.
Yvonne Cather of Wichita, who is conservation chairwoman of the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club, one of the groups organizing the weekend gathering, said the Koch people are overreacting to the planned activities. “The Sierra Club prides itself on high integrity, so violence is not the way we want to get our point across,” she said.
Most of the death threats came in months ago. What prompted the decision to comment publicly now, said Melissa Cohlmia, a spokeswoman for Koch Industries, was that they were told that some of the protesters coming into town this weekend are from the “Occupy Oakland” movement that tried to shut down the port of Oakland. But Cather said none of the people gathering this weekend are from Oakland. “One person is from South Dakota,” she said.
Nearly all the people gathering are from Wichita. Organizers of the event, which include the Sierra Clubs of Kansas and Missouri and area Occupy movements, have asked participants to comply with a pledge of nonviolence.
“I’m kind of astonished that they (the Kochs) kind of tagged this particular event to something like Oakland and Wisconsin,” Cather said. Most of the activities planned for this weekend involve educational talks at the Grand Chapel, 828 N. Broadway. They might not even go up to stand outside the Koch building in north Wichita, she said, adding: “We know no one will be there on a weekend, so what’s the point?”
Mentions of the Koch brothers often turned up in the national media in the past two years, portraying them as significant underwriters of everything from the national Tea Party movement to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s big-headline disputes with public service unions several months ago.
Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden spent an hour and a half at the Koch Industries headquarters in Wichita on Thursday, refuting these charges. Holden said that all the public accusations and stories are either fabricated by far-left political opponents, or they contain only threads of truth.
Koch himself said the hate mail and death threats have worried him to a degree. But what most upsets him is that all he has done, in taking political positions or in supporting various causes, he said, is exercise freedom of speech.
“The threats are obviously worrisome to me, but I kind of relate to what Martin Luther said (when Luther took on the established church and launched the Protestant Reformation): “Here I stand; I can do no other.”
He said the crisis that drew all this ill will is his opinion that America will go bankrupt if the government continues massive deficit spending and massive support of growing government entitlement programs. “And the cronyism and the corruption that goes with that spending leaves us no choice but to do our best to head this off, in spite of these threats,” Koch said.
‘Helping to save America’
“The importance of helping to save America from a financial disaster that is going to hurt everyone the threats against us are nothing compared with that disaster, if we fail,” Koch said.
Failing to curb spending, Koch said, will mean that America will continue to lose its competitive edge; our culture and political system will diminish. “We’ve already seen some mini-riots in this country,” he said. “The further we go down this road of spending, the more people will expect to be given a living instead of being rewarded for what they produce.”
America, he said, “will go the way of Greece, or Venezuela.” Greece this past week saw riots and buildings in flames as hundreds of people protested austerity cuts that would put many government workers out of work.
“I have been involved in trying to advance freedom and prosperity for 50 years now, and because we are considered by some to be more effective, we are often the focus of these attacks. But I have decided there is no way, after spending two-thirds of my life speaking out about these matters, that I’m going to quit doing it now.”
Some Koch critics have said that because he is wealthy, and because he has never revealed in depth how much and to which groups he’s contributed money, he has more freedom of speech and more power than others opposed to his ideas.
He would not say on Thursday how much he or his family have contributed to political causes, though his staff handed out a report, compiled by OpenSecrets.org, that showed it was about $12 million since 1989, which puts the Koch Industries at No. 77 on the list for contributions to federal candidates and political parties. That doesn’t include the amount spent on lobbying or on think tanks to influence policy.
“The overwhelming majority of what I contribute to is what should be called education, teaching students interested in ideas, in opportunity, in productivity,” Koch replied. “What I have given to political causes, in comparison, is a drop in the bucket.”
Matters of dispute
Holden, the Koch Industries general counsel, disputed many nationally aired accusations against the Kochs. Holden claimed that some politicians, including some connected to the Obama administration, have harassed the company and wrongly accused it of various nefarious activities. Holden charged that the accusations are designed to scare people into giving money to Obama’s re-election campaign and other causes.
Holden went down a list of what he said were falsehoods laid at the door of the Kochs: • The Kochs hate the Environmental Protection Agency, violate the law, and don’t want to preserve the environment, according to bloggers. “The fact is that Koch Industries works with the EPA every day, and has been given more than 450 environmental health and safety awards by the EPA and other government and corporations since Obama became president,” Holden said. In addition, Holden said: “The accusations about the environment, by the way, overlook the fact that the Koch family and Koch employees drink the same water and breathe the same air as everyone else.” They all have a stake in preserving the environment, he said.
• Austan Goolsbee, one of Obama’s senior economic advisers, in a 2010 speech implied that Koch Industries doesn’t pay corporate income taxes, Holden said. This was not only false, Holden said, but raised questions in the minds of some Republican members of Congress about whether a government official was dealing improperly with tax information that by law is supposed to be confidential. There is a federal investigation, Holden said.
• Bloggers and the Sierra Club have repeatedly tried to tie Koch Industries to the Keystone Pipeline, which if ever completed would send oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. Koch Industries filed an application for intervenor status with the National Energy Board in Canada to receive information about the case. Koch has no financial interest in the Keystone pipeline, Holden said, but this has not stopped Rep. Henry Waxman of California from threatening publicly to demand that Koch Industries testify about the company’s role.
“Testify about what?” Holden said. “We have never had any financial interest at all in the pipeline.”
• Common Cause and bloggers several months ago criticized the Kochs and two conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas had improperly attended Koch-sponsored seminars in Palm Springs about limited government and public policy issues. Critics said that they should not have attended because they were deciding the Citizens United case, the one that up-ended longtime government rules about campaign spending.
Thomas showed up at the seminar in 2008 to give a talk about his autobiography, and Scalia gave a lecture the next year about the topic of international law, Holden said.
• Some national news outlets picked up and broadcast that the Kochs were underwriting much of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to take on and diminish the unions in that state. Koch Industries owns a couple of Georgia-Pacific properties up there, which contributed more than $40,000 to Scott Walker’s 2010 campaign, Holden said, adding that it was not much of a stake in a dispute that cost all sides millions.