‘Relentless and Ruthless’: Filmmaker Robert Greenwald on the Koch Brothers

Robert Greenwald is the director of the recently re-released documentary film, Koch Brothers Exposed; 2014 Edition, and the founder and president of Brave New Films, where he has produced and directed films including Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price and Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars. Recently, Greenwald spoke with NEA Today to talk about the billionaire Koch brothers’ efforts to undermine the public good and promote the interests of the 1 percent in America.

NEAToday: In Koch Brothers Exposed; 2014 Edition, you uncovered some very chilling facts about the billionaire Koch brothers and how they’ve spent their near-unlimited funds on suppressing the rights of working Americans and students. It’s all very frightening—but was there any one thing that really kept you up at night?

Greenwald: What kept me awake was the absolute relentless combination of billions of dollars with very smart long-term thinking. They do not focus on some awful 30-second ad for a third-rate politician. They focus on changing the storyline and narrative, and they support that with their billions across everything from think tanks to schools to research. They know that change is a long-term process—and they are willing to pay and stay the course.

NEAToday: The Koch brothers’ charities gave nearly $13 million in 2012 to pay for university-based think tanks or programs, or endow faculty positions. Obviously public colleges and universities are hurting from decades of state funding cuts—but what is at risk when they turn to Koch money to fill the gap?

Greenwald: The Koch Brothers often have strings attached to the money they give, so they are relentless and ruthless about often demanding ideological fidelity with their dollars. This corrupts the education system and turns it into a tool of their belief system.

Filmmaker Robert Greenwald

NEAToday: Koch money also has been spent on college campuses through the Koch-funded Generation Opportunity, an organization that earlier this year threw campus parties aimed at convincing young people not to register for state healthcare exchanges. How would you characterize the Koch approach to young people and their interests?

Greenwald: They are willing to spend and spend and spend to try and influence young people, and to influence them against their natural self interests. They don’t hesitate to preach their belief system to any and all.

NEAToday: How would you characterize their approach to public school educators?

Greenwald: They have aggressively opposed public education. They don’t believe in the public trust or public system, and so they work to weaken and destroy the very fabric of our society, including its cornerstone, public schools.

NEAToday: What’s next for the Koch brothers? Do you have an idea of where their nefarious plans take them in 2015 and 2016?

Greenwald: They will continue to spend and spend and spend in an effort to move the country in a way that supports their increased moneymaking and their ideology. At some point, when they keep losing hundreds of millions of dollars to sway elections, one hopes they will take their marbles and go home—and leave the country to the people.

NEAToday: What do you want the 99 percent of Americans who aren’t billionaires, who aren’t profiting from the Kochs’ attacks on democracy, who are actually being silenced by their extraordinarily well-financed efforts, to do with this information?

Greenwald: Action. Action. And action. We don’t have their money, but we have the truth. We have democracy. We have people fighting for their lives. Those people, and each and every one of us, must commit to taking action of some kind, every day. Democracy is not a spectator sport…and so we must promise to get involved in some way. Five minutes a day, five hours a week, do whatever you are able to do—but do something.