Religious Right’s Fracking Sugar Daddies Are Part of Billionaire Land Grab in U.S. West

The billionaire Wilks brothers.

Sunday’s New York Times featured an in-depth story about the impact of super-wealthy people buying up vast swaths of land in the American west, sometimes shutting roads, trails, and access to public lands long used by locals, hikers and hunters. Prominently featured in the story are the Wilks brothers, Farris and Dan, “who now own some 700,000 acres across several states” and “have become a symbol of the out-of-touch owner.”

Right Wing Watch has reported extensively on the Wilks family, which made billions in the fracking business and has used millions of that to fund right-wing groups that promote Christian nationalism, advocate for the criminalization of abortion, and resist legal equality for LGBTQ Americans. Farris also took over pastoring duties at the church his father founded.

This week’s story, by Julie Turkewitz, noted that the Wilks brothers even hired a lobbyist who pushed successfully to stiffen penalties for people who trespassed on their land. And they seemed to apply a political litmus test for people who asked permission to cross:

Amid the dispute, some residents emailed the Wilkses, asking permission to cross their property. They were surprised to receive a response suggesting they first visit a popular right-wing website and share their opinions of its content.

The site, PragerU, features videos supporting the hard-lined conservative views of personalities like Ben Shapiro and Dinesh D’Souza. The portal has been heavily financed by the Wilkses.

Mr. Horting, a lifelong conservative, was “insulted,” he said. “I’m not going to give my political views to use your land.”

The Wilks brothers have given heavily to support the work of Christian nationalist David Lane, who tries to get conservative pastors more involved in politics, both in turning out church members to vote for conservative candidates, and recruiting pastors to run for office themselves. Right Wing Watch noted last year that Dan had bought and renovated a YMCA building for use as a church by Rob McCoy, Lane’s pastor and the mayor of Thousand Oaks, California.

They also get into politics. The Wilks brothers tried hard to make Ted Cruz the 2016 Republican presidential nominee, pouring millions into a Ted Cruz Super PAC and working behind the scenes to get religious conservatives to rally around Cruz.  They’ve also given to Republican Party committees and politicians and helped fund McCoy’s political campaigns.

The Wilks brothers are not prone to talk to the media, and Dan’s son Justin spoke to the New York Times for the family. He said they’ve loosened some of their restrictions to resolve issues with their neighbors, but also that “our Heavenly Father has blessed us with lots of gifts” and the family is resolved to protect them.

His word choice reflected the name of the foundation into which his parents have poured a chunk of their fortune: after Dan and Farris sold their company for more than $3 billion, Dan and his wife created and funded the Heavenly Father’s Foundation, while Farris and his wife called theirs the Thirteen Foundation.

As Right Wing Watch reported several years ago, Wilks money has gone to support a wide swath of the right-wing legal and political infrastructure, with huge gifts to anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ groups including Focus on the Family, Liberty Counsel, the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, and more, along with the State Policy Network and other groups in the Koch brothers’ political network. In addition to helping fund Prager U’s propaganda, Wilks money has also helped David Barton promote his Christian-nation history.