Koch Rules Everything Around Me

In February 2009, Mark Ames and Yasha Levine wrote an article for Playboy attempting to explain the role that Charles and David Koch had in funding the first Tea Parties. There were some errors – FreedomWorks, for example, exists because its leaders split with the Kochs, not because it’s “funded by Koch money” – and the magazine responded to pressure by pulling the article. But Ames and Levine have been following Koch money ever since, and the last time I checked in, Ames was amused that it took Jane Mayer’s fairly rote article about the Kochs to start anyone talking about their influence.

But I’m not really convinced by the new Ames/Levine opus tracking the Koch money “behind” the Great TSA Freak-Out of 2010. It’s an expose which includes lines like “while so far there is no ‘smoking gun’” and “we hope more journalists will dig deeper.” In other words, these are not the goods you’re looking for. The facts they do have:

- John Tyner, the “don’t touch my junk” guy, calls himself a libertarian.

- Meg McLain, who made up a salacious TSA “molestation” story, is a libertarian activist who met with members of “Liberty On Tour, funded at least partly by Koch-backed organizations like Students for Liberty” before her stunt.

- George Donnelly knows McLain and set up a TSA protest site before her bungled stunt. This is actually a great discovery by Ames.

- Brian Sodergren, who launched the Opt Out Day website, is a lobbyist for the dental industry.

The rest of the connections here are pretty damn tenuous. I have known Pete Eyre for four years, and he is less an agent of the Kochs and more an anarchist (or voluntaryist, as he calls himself) who seeks out ways to drop out of society and get arrested . To run into Pete Eyre and the Free Keene movement is not to sync up with the Koch machine. It is to frolic with affable goofballs.

So Ames and Levine are right that the outrage against the TSA is not totally spontaneous. It’s not something most Americans care about – 70 percent of them don’t fly more than once a year. Libertarian activists kicked it off; Matt Drudge promoted it; a news media that goes nearly comatose except for travel news during the holiday week grabbed an easy story. That’s not a conspiracy. It’s proof that libertarians are obsessed with civil liberties issues . You can deride their concerns, but proving that some of them may have shared a sandwich with someone who went to a spa with David Koch proves… what?

(Full disclosure: I worked for Reason magazine from 2006 through 2008, and remain a contributing editor, so I have stronger Koch ties than John Tyner does.)