Conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch signaled last week that they will be enhancing their financial and organizational support for a vast coalition of right-wing activists and militia groups that are seeking to seize and sell public lands in the West, including national forests and national parks. Among the groups receiving increased backing from the Kochs is the Bundy terrorist network, whose occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in protest of federal control of Western lands just came to an end with the arrest of the movement’s leaders and the last of the occupiers.
While the Koch’s have been using their dark money to provide support to the anti-government land seizure movement for some time, recent changes in the organizational structure of the movement have led the Kochs to play a much more direct role in financing the extremists. The revelations came as Utah Representative Ken Ivory, who has become a ringleader of the land seizure movement, stepped down as president of the American Lands Council (ALC) to join a Koch-created South Carolina group called Federalism in Action (FIA).
According to private emails sent to FIA members, the new group was created largely to increase the Kochs’ control over the movement, and money is now flowing directly from the Kochs’ coffers to Ivory himself. Ivory is being replaced as head of the ALC – which also receives substantial Koch funding – by Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder, who is a leader of the land seizure movement in Montana and has ties to both the Bundys and the white supremacist Militia of Montana.
Both the ALC and FIA are part of a dizzying array of shadowy groups that channel money from big-ticket conservative donors like the Kochs to anti-government terrorists like the Bundys. Ivory has been at the center of this web of dark money as president of the American Lands Council, where he has amassed a shocking resume of scandal and conflicts of interest, from violating lobbying laws to using taxpayer money to fund the land seizure campaigns.
The networks of dark money used by the Kochs make it impossible to know exactly how much money is flowing to terrorist groups like the Bundys, but it is doubtless in the millions. In any case, the big money flowing to these groups, as well as law enforcement’s apparent toleration of the Bundy terrorists, has helped to legitimate a fringe extremist movement to “reclaim” federal lands that is not only unconstitutional and extremely costly but extremely unpopular.
For evidence that the cause has gone mainstream, look no further than Presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who recently promised to be “vigorously committed to transferring as much federal land as humanly possible back to the states.” Unfortunately for these ideological extremists and the politicians who pander them, they are being cynically manipulated by the Kochs and other representatives of oil, gas, and coal industries whose main interest in the movement is to open up federal lands for drilling. It is a terrible reflection of the state of American politics that such a fringe cause can be brought into the mainstream simply as a result of the big money flowing from cynical billionaires looking to desecrate America’s natural wonders by drilling for more dirty oil.
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.