In order to defend the interests of the fossil fuel industry as well as the other goals of the right-wing libertarian agenda (deregulation, limited government, tax breaks for the wealthy, free trade and globalisation), the far-right billionaires and multimillionaires (“the 1%” or the 0.01%) have spent some thirty years building and perfecting an extensive network of “think tanks” and media outlets to distort and manipulate public perception and opinion.
Let’s start with an overall picture of media influencers and the – lack of – balance between the centre, left and right wings. Journalist and #hashtag researcher Jonathan Albright, a professor at Columbia University’s Journalism School, examined tens of thousands of hyperlinks flowing into mainstream media and social media sites. His “simplified” diagram shows the politically left-wing sources in blue and the right-wing activities in red. The more hyperlinks pointing to a page, the larger the circle. *(1)
It becomes shockingly obvious that the political right dominates the entire media landscape:
Figure 1: Jonathan Albright’s diagram of left (blue) and right (red) news hyperlink networks. © Jonathan Albright 2016
To be clear, this study says nothing about possible political bias within the board or editorial teams of these companies. It merely shows how much a website is used (or allows itself to be used) via hyperlinks from outside sources.
The middle of the above diagram represents the centrist media, with the US Senate website most neutral in the middle, followed by the Financial Times, change(. )org, The Guardian, and Apple as the only reasonably neutral high-tech giant. Slightly further to the left of the spectrum are Huffington Post, Mother Jones, The Atlantic and, more pronouncedly, the New York Times and the Washington Post.
In the red zone, BBC, The Independent, (Murdoch’s) Washington Times, Amazon and Politico tend to have right-wing influences. And while extremist-right sites like Fox News and Breitbart *(2) are no surprise, it turns out that Youtube, Google, and even Wikipedia, due to their far reach, might be seen by the Far Right as their most valuable assets.
Figure 2: Jonathan Albright’s close-up on the frequency of links from politically right-wing sources. The larger a circle, the more right-wing links are published by that medium. © Jonathan Albright 2016
Facebook, for example, is constantly criticised for perpetuating a right-wing echo chamber; the top 10 list of its most visited pages is consistently dominated by right and far-right publications and personalities. *(3) Far-right pages that clearly violate Facebook policies even receive special treatment and are regularly not penalised. *(4) The company defends itself by saying that the right is simply better at connecting with people on an emotional level. “Right-wing populism is always more engaging,” said a Facebook executive in 2020. *(5) Sadly, Facebook seems to have a point: the right is better at appealing to people; right-wing hyperlinks spread much deeper into the left hemisphere of the media landscape than vice versa.
A vivid example of how the right penetrates even explicit left platforms, blurring traditional political lines, is the British internet magazine Spiked. As the successor to Living Marxism, Spiked still appears to readers as an ultra-left forum. But under its red cover, Spiked has “less in common with the left than with the fanatical right,” as George Monbiot notes in The Guardian. *(6) Spiked is against the welfare state, government regulation, the Occupy movement and other anti-capitalists, Jeremy Corbyn, even #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. It is pro-fracking and coal mining, pro-Brexit, and rages against “climate scaremongering”: “We must conquer nature, not bow to it.” “Let’s make the ‘human footprint’ even bigger.” (quoted in Monbiot 2018) No wonder, Spiked is heavily funded by the right-wing Charles Koch Foundation (see below).
Another twist in our modern, upside-down world is presented by RT (Russia Today). RT is generally considered to be on the political left because of its links to Moscow. But in the media landscape, RT is even more deeply entrenched in the right than the Daily Telegraph. And it was found among the “ten fringe publishers” that together were responsible for nearly 70 per cent of Facebook users’ interactions with climate change denying content.” *(7)
Prof. Albright diagnoses that “a vast network of dubious ‘news’ websites [which] have created an ecosystem of real-time propaganda: they include viral hoax engines that can instantly shape public opinion through mass ‘reaction’ to serious political topics and news events. This network is triggered on-demand to spread false, hyper-biased, and politically-loaded information events. This network is triggered on demand to spread false, biased and politically charged information.”
He urges great caution about the “influence network that can tailor people’s opinions, emotional reactions, and create ‘viral’ sharing” and the “increasing influence of this type of behavioral micro-targeting and emotional manipulation — data-driven ‘psyops’.” *(8) (my emphases)
The architects of the world’s richest manipulation network
We are not talking about peanuts here, but a massive, grand scale; a globally operating network of gigantic proportions. A 2013 study published in the journal Climatic Change found that the “climate change counter-movement” consists of 91 organisations (think tanks, advocacy and lobby groups, and industry associations) funded by 140 different foundations. In the period from 2003 to 2010, funding amounted to more than $7 billion, or about $900 million per year. *(9)
So who are the “super-spreaders” of misinformation? Some of the key players are listed below. Among the founding fathers and funders, however, some names keep cropping up. Most notably, the two fossil billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch who divised and orchestrated this network and have so many stakes in many of its arms that it has been coined “the Kochtopus” (more on this on Part 6.)
The elavated elite that meets annually at the Koch brothers’ “donor conferences” also includes other right-wing billionaires, notably Richard Mellon Scaife, Harry and Lynde Bradley, and John M. Olin. But in recent years, Robert Mercer has become the Koch network’s biggest donor. He is also the billionaire who b(r)ought us Brexit *(10) and the 2016 Trump election *(11) – in collaboration with Putin, Russian trollbot farms and the Murdoch media empire.
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch (News Corp. ) *(12) is not so much a funder in this network, but he is doing as much damage to the planet and to public awakening as s single man can do. Because of his far-reaching amplification of climate change denial *(14) he has been called “the most dangerous man in the world.” *(13) But that was from someone who obviously hadn’t researched the Mercers and the Kochs.
Another recurring name is Rebekah Mercer. She is the daughter of the billionaire mentioned above. White House insiders call her the most powerful woman in conservative politics. For example, she headed the Executive Committee of Donald Trump‘s transition team and also brought Steve Bannon on board, the director and co-founder of the influential right-wing (fake) news outlet Breitbart News. The Mercers are co-owners of Breitbart; and Bannon was Robert Mercer’s right-hand man on the Brexit project (see the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, Part 8). Circles upon circles…
Kochland: The Secret History Of Koch Industries
Lecture by business journalist Christopher Leonard at the Cambridge Forum
Main sources and amplifiers of doubt and misinformation
(All quotations are from the corresponding (English) Wikipedia pages, unless otherwise stated).
– DonorsTrust (DT), a “non-profit” tax-exempt corporation founded in 1999 with the goal of “safeguarding the intent [and identity] of libertarian and conservative donors.” Through groups linked to the Koch family, DT is the main hub for secretly funnelling millions of dollars to the “climate change counter-movement” and has also funded the right’s battles against unions and public schools. DT has been criticised as the “dark money ATM of the conservative movement.” *(15)
– The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a right-wing, market-libertarian think tank “funded to overturn the environmentalism of the 1960s, central to promoting climate change denial.” Major funders include the Kochs, the American Petroleum Institute, the Heritage Foundation (see below), ExxonMobil and other fossil giants. Other sponsors include Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Monsanto, Syngenta, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, T-Mobile and VW.
Its director, Myron Ebell (who infamously said “The Congress should prohibit any funding for the Paris Climate Treaty, the Green Climate Fund, and the underlying UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.”) *(16) was even appointed by President Trump to run (i.e. into the ground) the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); with disastrous results (e.g. the Methane Act). *(17)
– The Heartland Institute, one of the leading climate change denial think tanks, heavily funded by the Koch brothers and the Mercers, with other donations from fossil corporations as well as tobacco giants, Microsoft, and drug companies that sell drugs for respiratory illnesses caused by tobacco or air pollution (from fossil fuels), notably Pfizer (read more in Part 9). Heartland lost many of its donors when it went a step too far in 2012, running billboard ads comparing “believers” in man-made climate disruption to known psychopathic murderers and terrorists. *(18) But Pfizer remained loyal. *(19)
– The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), funded by ExxonMobil, is one of the ten largest think tanks with a capital of $178 million. *(20) It became famous in February 2007 when it sent “letters to scientists offering $10,000 plus travel expenses and additional payments, asking them to critique the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.”
– Americans for Prosperity (AFP)  (since 2016 Committee to Unleash Prosperity), one of the most influential American conservative organisations. Funded by the Koch brothers, it is their primary political advocacy group. “AFP alone now rivals the Republican party in terms of size, staffing and organisational capacity” and has pulled the Republican Party to the right. *(21) Moreover, “AFP helped transform the nascent Tea Party movement into a political force.” Among AFP’s few identifiable donors are the American Petroleum Institute and…
– The John William Pope Foundation  with strong links to the Koch brothers. This foundation also supports the following three organisations:
– The Cato Institute, co-founded by Charles Koch in 1977, hosted the first known climate change deniers’ conference (June 1991).
– The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), which denies climate change and any harmful effects of DDT, pesticides, heavy metals, smoking or fracking. Other funds have come from the Kochs, Scaife, numerous tobacco, oil and food companies, notably ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola, Pepsico and Kellogg. Early donors also include Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.
– The Heritage Foundation is among the ten most influential think tanks, with assets of $154 million and annual spending of $82 million (2013) *(22) It is funded by the Scaifes, Mercers, Kochs and ExxonMobil, among others. It had a large and disproportionate influence on the election and administration of Donald Trump: at least 66 foundation staff and alumni were given positions in Trump’s administration. *(23) Jim DeMint, president of the Heritage Foundation (2013–2017), was a “leading figure in the Tea Party movement 2022, the Heritage Foundation celebrated its great behind-the-scenes influence when a federal court ruling blocked a key climate action initiative by President Biden. *(24) Trustees include Steve Forbes (president and CEO of Forbes magazine), and Rebekah Mercer, director of the Mercer Family Foundation.
– The Breakthrough Institute (BTI) was founded in 2003 by “eco-modernists” Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, who advocate economic growth, technological innovation and development. The BTI “appears to be opposed to anything – be it a price on carbon or incentives for renewable energy – that would have a meaningful impact [on the regeneration of the ecosphere].” *(25) Ecomodernism has been criticised for “violating everything we know about ecosystems,” *(26) but, of course, Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal loves the BTI. *(27)
– The Manhattan Institute. Its backers include Exxon, the Cato Institute, the Kochs, the Mercers, “vulture capitalist” Paul Singer, and the Scaifes. It provided President Trump with the false claim that the Green New Deal would cost $100 trillion. *(28)
– The Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE) promotes free-market conservationism. It also offers federal judges seminars on its right-libertarian philosophy; in the late 1990s, it boasted that nearly a third of the federal judiciary had either attended or planned to attend its seminars.
These activities are in a class of their own, as they create an ultra-conservative judiciary that is expected to judge pro-fossil for the foreseeable future.
– Government Accountability and Oversight (GAO), a think tank of experienced lawyers that targets those who investigate ExxonMobil and other oil companies. Climatologist Manfred E. Mann calls them “the attack dogs” of the fossil fuel companies. Links to the Heartland Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute and the coal industry. Funding is kept secret, but donors include a major Trump donor. *(29)
– The Randolph Foundation funds Americans for Prosperity and the Cato Institute. The lead trustee, Heather Higgins, is also president of the Koch-funded …
– International Woman’s Forum, which offers ultra-conservative market ideology under the guise of women’s liberation. And Higgnis writes for RealClearPolitics, a platform for moderate right-wing readers funded by the Sarah Scaife Foundation. Higgins also retweets outpourings from the Committee to Unleash Prosperity (see above). *(30)
– The Media Research Center (MCR), a major fake news amplifier funded by the Mercers, the Scaifes, the Kochs, Exxon, DonorsTrust, the Randolph Foundation and others. In November 2021, a study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that the MCR was among the “ten fringe publishers” collectively responsible for nearly 70 percent of Facebook users’ interactions with climate crisis denying content.” *(31) The main contributor is Robert Mercer.
– Accuracy in Media (AIM) denies climate change, AIDS, the harmful effects of DDT on birds and opposes same-sex marriage. Since 2009, AIM has been deliberately sowing distrust of the United Nations, which it claims is “moving ahead with a global conference to lay the groundwork for world government financed by global taxes.” AIM’s main funder is the Sarah Scaife Foundation, *(32) others include Chevron, Exxon, Getty Oil, Pepsico and Ciba-Geigy. *(33)
– The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) is a right-wing think tank and UK registered charity associated with the New Right.*(34) Its funders include DonorsTrust, Exxon, BP, and the tobacco industry. The IEA holds a right-wing and neoliberal worldview and supports climate change denial and the total privatisation, ergo abolition, of the UK National Health Service (NHS).
– The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is the UK’s highest-profile climate change denialist group and – incredibly – a registered charity. Its funding is not transparent, with only 1.6 per cent coming from membership fees. In 2009, perfectly timed in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate conference, founder and chairman Nigel Lawson drummed up the fabricated “Climategate,” fake scandal accusing leading climate scientists. In 2011, the GWPF posted “900+ Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skepticism Of ‘Man-Made’ Global Warming (AGW) Alarm.” Carbon Brief analysed them and found that nine of the top ten authors had ties to ExxonMobil. *(35) In 2012, The Guardian uncovered links to coal-fired power stations in Poland. *(36) Warning: note that in 2021 the group fashionably renamed itself Net Zero Watch (which is fitting as Net Zero is another fossil fuel tactic to delay climate action, see Part 3).
The political right clearly outweighs and outwits the entire left media spectrum. It dominates all media streams and also has a deft hand in choosing misleading names like “International Woman’s Forum” or “Net Zero Watch.” It has even been shown that oil giant Chevron is exploiting the Black Lives Matter movement. *(37) Cleverly using movements for women’s rights, workers’ rights, against racism or social inequality and playing them off against conservation gives the Far Right further tactical advantages: so Earth defenders can be slandered as misogynist, racist, or elitist.
What is worrying is that during or since the corona crisis, many more left-wing governments of democratic countries have concentrated most of their fight against fake news and conspiracy theories against the people on the street, ordinary citizens who may be sceptical about pharmaceutical products or certain government interventions or simply rising costs of living. In every country, neo-Nazis (on the streets as well as behind the scenes) are a real problem that should never be underestimated. But beyond that, we should never forget that there is a whole other league of right-wing extremism: the elite clubs of market fundamentalist, “libertarian” billionaires who bluntly work to abolish Western governments and their tax and conservation laws. And for this they partly even manage to orchestrate public street protests (more on this in Part 8.)
Learning about the sheer scale and power of the Far Right network fills one with sheer horror. From a neutral point of view, one might almost be tempted to say the Far Right deserved their continuous successes. They just seem to be the better players, “winners,” as they call themselves. Except that their globalist course of free trade and free appropriation of the planet is about to destroy the very habitability of the Earth and thus bring about the end of civilization as we know it, possibly even the end of the human species, and as early as the middle of this century. Without the Earth, there are no winners.
The fight to take back our planet
Part 2: The fossil fuel industry’s mind-bending strategies (continued)
Part 8: Climate crisis, corona and conspiracy theories
Part 9: How conspiracy theories only serve one master
Part 10: The “Great Reset” and totalitarianism vs the real green revolution