This article was produced in collaboration with Sludge, an investigative money-in-politics news site. Visit readsludge.com to subscribe to its free weekly newsletter.
At a 1976 libertarian conference funded by oil executive Charles Koch, conservative think-tanker Leonard Liggio presented a paper on the Nazis’ success at recruiting youth to their movement. Liggio urged the clandestine group of wealthy libertarians to embrace the Nazis’ approach as a way to strengthen their own movement to slash taxes and gut regulations.
Now, decades later, multiple young men who have been affiliated with Koch’s powerful political network have been exposed as members of a white nationalist group.
“Koch’s academic operations are intended to develop extreme anti-government ideas and actions in students by exposing them to the Austrian school of economics and its various offshoots,” Ralph Wilson, co-founder of the Corporate Genome Project and former research director of UnKoch My Campus, told Sludge/Right Wing Watch. “These ideologies make moral arguments for free markets using an overly individualistic notion of ‘freedom’ that has fed and capitalized on the anti-social impulses of frustrated youth for several generations, including white nationalists, paleo-conservatives, neo-confederates, and neo-Nazis.”
Identity Evropa, which recently rebranded as the American Identity Movement, is a white nationalist group in the United States whose members appeared at the Unite the Right 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and have, in other instances, been convicted of criminal activity pertaining to their ideology. The group, based near Washington, D.C., favors secrecy over visibility; it opts for unannounced banner-drops and flash rallies, and it emphasizes propaganda production over public presence. The group’s membership rolls and day-to-day operations were closely guarded before its chat logs were published by independent media nonprofit Unicorn Riot.
Since the chat logs were exposed, antifascist activists have worked to identify members of the organization using the internal discussions. One portion of the chat logs show Identity Evropa members discussing infiltrating local conservative clubs and offices with the hopes of attracting GOP supporters to their racist agenda. Other Identity Evropa-associated personalities have explicitly urged their followers to place themselves in local Republican offices.
In early March, the antifascist blog IdentifyEvropa determined that Derek Magill, who spoke at an event hosted by the Koch-funded Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) in late 2017, is a member of Identity Evropa. Magill denied that the blog had correctly identified him, but its writers uncovered further evidence suggesting that their identification had been correct. Later that month, Unicorn Riot exposed Alex Witoslawski, the former regional field coordinator for the Koch-funded Leadership Institute, as a key Identity Evropa member. Witoslawski had hosted two media training sessions for Identity Evropa members and directed them to sign up for organizing training offered by a different conservative group, the Foundation for Applied Conservative Leadership.
Magill, a young self-proclaimed entrepreneur whose business appears to be defunct, spoke at an IHS entrepreneurship seminar in November 2017. The seminar was co-sponsored with the conservative John Templeton Foundation and Mississippi State University’s Institute for Market Studies, which the Charles Koch Foundation helped found in 2015 with a $365,000 commitment.
IHS told Right Wing Watch/Sludge that it “does not tolerate racism in any shape or form.”
“We work with thousands of people, and we do our best to evaluate each opportunity. Unfortunately, there’s no way to guarantee that a person’s public record is a perfect match for their private thoughts and behavior,” IHS wrote to Sludge/Right Wing Watch in a statement. “When we worked with Derek Magill, he was the director of marketing at Praxis, and we had no knowledge of racist comments, which represent the exact opposite of what we stand for and our values. We have not worked with Magill since 2017 and will not work with him in the future.”
Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center, told Sludge/Right Wing Watch that she wasn’t at all surprised to see young men leaving Koch-funded groups for white nationalist organizations.
“For some time, folks have joined the white nationalist movement after first moving through political operations,” Beirich said. “It’s actually a pretty common pattern where folks become more and more conservative and finally make their way into full-on white nationalism. Given the times now, where anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views are common in the GOP and few in the party speak out against them or against Trump when he engages in xenophobia and racism, it actually makes sense to see young people being radicalized into white nationalism through these political activities.”
Charles Koch, currently on the IHS board of directors, has been a leader and key funder of IHS for decades. From 2013 to 2017, the Charles Koch Foundation gave nearly $20 million to IHS, according to tax records. The Charles Koch Institute gave over $275,000 to IHS, and Donors Trust, a dark-money vehicle favored by the Koch family, added nearly $1.1 million.
But IHS isn’t the only Koch-funded institution with connections to Magill. Before dropping out of the University of Michigan, Magill was president of the school’s chapter of the libertarian student group Young Americans for Liberty. He and his chapter were part of a lawsuit seeking reimbursement from the university for an event they hosted featuring an anti-affirmative action speaker. The group was represented by the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom.
The Charles Koch Foundation donated over $2.3 million to the Young Americans for Liberty Foundation from 2013 to 2017, representing a large portion of the group’s revenue. Donors Trust gave $1.3 million, and the Charles Koch Institute added nearly $75,000 during that time period.
Magill’s connections to Koch-backed organizations don’t stop here. From 2016 to 2018, Magill wrote six articles for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), a conservative, free-market think tank, and he claims to have spoken there as well. FEE is a “strategic partner” of Young Americans for Liberty. From 2013 to 2017, FEE received close to $260,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation, more than $60,000 from the Charles Koch Institute, $440,000 from Donors Trust, and $5.2 million from its sister fund, Donors Capital Fund. Magill’s author page on FEE’s website was taken down in the past week.
FEE is also heavily funded by the John Templeton Foundation, which donated over $1.8 million in 2017 to fund a millennial outreach program intended “to dislodge collectivism from its ‘high ground’ position among the rising generation.” Koch ally Liggio attended FEE seminars as a young man in the 1950s and went on to lead the Templeton Foundation’s Religious Freedom Project.
Months after Magill’s stint with FEE appears to have ended, he was logged into Identity Evropa’s chatroom where he posted photos of mugs sold by fascist podcasts he claimed were spotted on his employee’s desk, expressed his relief that his parents were “woke” on the “Jewish Question” conspiracy theory, announced that he was invited to “sit on the board of directors of a very important academic organization,” and signaled his intention to register for Identity Evropa’s annual conference.
According to the antifascists who identified Magill’s connection to Identity Evropa, Magill “offers to pay legal costs and invest in the business ventures of [Identity Evropa] members as well as financially support [Identity Evropa] as a whole.”
Antifascist activists identified Magill by cross-referencing details from his personal life he shared with other Identity Evropa members with publicly available information online. When Magill contested the allegations, activists identified police records of Magill’s meeting with a detective regarding a check fraud complaint that occurred the day before he recounted the incident with Identity Evropa members.
The other Identity Evropa member linked to the Koch network, Witoslawski, also has connections to multiple operations. According to his LinkedIn page, Witoslawski was a regional field coordinator with the Koch-funded Leadership Institute from January 2016 to August 2017. According to Unicorn Riot, Witoslawski taught members of the white nationalist group about how to deflect questions about the organization that would reflect poorly on it, and in April 2018, he walked them through a communications strategy called “Leesburg Grid,” which is taught to conservative activists at Leadership Institute training sessions. He gave an additional seminar to Identity Evropa later that June.
The Leadership Institute operates the website Campus Reform, a site that publishes stories about what it views as bias against conservative university students. In 2014, Campus Reform covered the University of Michigan affirmative action story, quoting Magill extensively.
Since 2013, the Leadership Institute has received $118,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation, $44,000 from the Charles Koch Institute, $715,000 from Donors Capital Fund, and $220,000 from Donors Trust, according to federal tax records.
Before his stint at the Leadership Institute, Witoslawski spent six months as the Illinois state chair of Young Americans for Liberty.
In 2015, Witoslawski worked for a Michigan ballot measure committee, Concerned Taxpayers of America, and before that, he spent three years at Campaign for Liberty, a nonprofit founded by former libertarian Congressman Ron Paul. His profile page on the group’s website includes a photo of Witoslawski with Paul’s son, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Witoslawki claims to have taken online courses at the Mises Academy, which is run by Austrian economics think tank Mises Institute. The institute, named after Austrian free-market economist Ludwig von Mises, is another beneficiary of the Koch network and has numerous ties to Koch-funded academics, some of whom have been associated with the neo-Confederate League of the South. Liggio sat in on Ludwig von Mises’ seminars at Georgetown University and New York University in the 1950s. Former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who published a racist newsletter in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is a member of the Mises Institute board.
“The Mises Institute has spent decades legitimizing pro-corporate and white nationalist scholarship while radicalizing young scholars in the U.S. and abroad,” said Wilson, who has extensively researched the institute.
Witoslawski has volunteered himself as a public face for other far-right activists seeking to “infiltrate the mainstream,” and he has lent his Leadership Institute training to white nationalist YouTube audiences, blogs, and podcasts looking to advance their causes in the United States. Identity Evropa leader Patrick Casey invited Witoslawski to walk through the basics of grassroots organizing with the organization’s members, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported last year.
Witoslawski has also authored pieces published on Fash the Nation, a fascist podcast’s blog, including one that criticized conservative commentator Jordan Peterson for not recognizing “the problem with Jewish influence on society.”
“Jews are a foreign elite in Western society—an elite who earned their status through graft and ethnic nepotism, and who use their power to the detriment of the host countries in which they live in,” Witoslawski wrote in his March 24, 2018, column.
In a post taking issue with Jewish conservative media star Ben Shapiro, Witoslawski claimed that “culture is intrinsically linked with ethnicity, and for that reason alone, if we really are interested in conserving America’s traditions and heritage, we must preserve our country’s White heritage.”
Sludge/Right Wing Watch reached out to the Leadership Institute for comment on this story via a contact form listed on its website and Witoslawski via Facebook Messenger, but received no response.
Other GOP megadonors in the Koch network have also helped fund the organizations linked to Magill and Witoslawski. From 2013 to 2017, shipping supplies magnate Richard Uhlein, the fourth-biggest federal political donor of 2018 and a patron of Koch-backed political groups, gave $1 million each to the Leadership Institute and IHS through his family foundation. The family foundation of discount store magnate Art Pope, an IHS board member who co-founded the political nonprofit Americans for Prosperity with Charles and David Koch, gave over $1.6 million to IHS and $40,000 to FEE. The foundation of the parents of Education Sec. Betsy DeVos, gave $50,000 to the Leadership Institute from mid-2013 through mid-2018. DeVos’s in-laws have also attended Koch donor conferences.
“There is no question that the far right political world is radicalizing people into white nationalism and growing its ranks,” the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Beirich said. “Some of the GOP’s current positions on immigration are no different than those of white nationalists, so we shouldn’t be surprised. We even saw last week that a synagogue attacker followed this pathway, through conservative politics to Ben Shapiro and on to pure hatred. Unfortunately, this is becoming a more well worn path these days.”