Follow the money: Robert and Rebekah Mercer

There has been a substantial amount of reporting in the past week or so on Stephen Bannon, the white nationalist crypto-fascist editor of Breitbart News and Trump adviserand his war on the GOP establishment.  At the entirely misappropriately named Values Voter Summit, Bannon declares ‘war’ on GOP establishment. He told Fox News’ propagandist Sean Hannity earlier in the week that he was declaring “war” on the Republican establishment.

The media mythologizing Bannon as the alt-right Svengali to Donald Trump is misplaced. Bannon would be “Stephen who?,” a political nobody, but for the “wingnut welfare” (the lavishly-funded ecosystem of right-wing billionaire-financed think tanks and media outlets) financial backing of far-right extremist billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer. Some say Bannon is their Svengali.

When the media focuses on the vicious barking dog, they ignore the owner holding the dog’s leash to the peril of the country. When the media reports on Stephen Bannon, it has an obligation to also report on Robert and Rebekkah Mercer in the same breath, exposing them to the bright light of public scrutiny that they seek to avoid.

Jane Mayer of the New Yorker did a deep-dive investigative report into The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency back in March (excerpts):

People who know [Robert Mercer] say that he is painfully awkward socially, and rarely speaks. “He can barely look you in the eye when he talks,” an acquaintance said. “It’s probably helpful to be highly introverted when getting lost in code, but in politics you have to talk to people, in order to find out how the real world works.” In 2010, when the Wall Street Journal wrote about Mercer assuming a top role at Renaissance, he issued a terse statement: “I’m happy going through my life without saying anything to anybody.” According to the paper, he once told a colleague that he preferred the company of cats to humans.
Several people who have worked with Mercer believe that, despite his oddities, he has had surprising success in aligning the Republican Party, and consequently America, with his personal beliefs, and is now uniquely positioned to exert influence over the Trump Administration.

Mercer strongly supported the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be Trump’s Attorney General. Many civil-rights groups opposed the nomination, pointing out that Sessions has in the past expressed racist views. Mercer, for his part, has argued that the Civil Rights Act, in 1964, was a major mistake. According to the onetime Renaissance employee, Mercer has asserted repeatedly that African-Americans were better off economically before the civil-rights movement. (Few scholars agree.) He has also said that the problem of racism in America is exaggerated. The source said that, not long ago, he heard Mercer proclaim that there are no white racists in America today, only black racists. (Mercer, meanwhile, has supported a super pac, Black Americans for a Better Future, whose goal is to “get more Blacks involved in the Republican Party.”)

* * *

David Magerman, a senior employee at Renaissance, told the Wall Street Journal that Mercer’s political opinions “show contempt for the social safety net that he doesn’t need, but many Americans do.” He also said that Mercer wants the U.S. government to be “shrunk down to the size of a pinhead.” Several former colleagues of Mercer’s said that his views are akin to Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Magerman told me, “Bob believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make. A cat has value, he’s said, because it provides pleasure to humans. But if someone is on welfare they have negative value. If he earns a thousand times more than a schoolteacher, then he’s a thousand times more valuable.” Magerman added, “He thinks society is upside down—that government helps the weak people get strong, and makes the strong people weak by taking their money away, through taxes.” He said that this mind-set was typical of “instant billionaires” in finance, who “have no stake in society,” unlike the industrialists of the past, who “built real things.”

Another former high-level Renaissance employee said, “Bob thinks the less government the better. He’s happy if people don’t trust the government. And if the President’s a bozo? He’s fine with that. He wants it to all fall down.”

* * *

Mercer’s political efforts stand apart. Adopting the strategy of Charles and David Koch, the billionaire libertarians, Mercer enlarged his impact exponentially by combining short-term campaign spending with long-term ideological investments. He poured millions of dollars into Breitbart News, and—in what David Magerman has called “an extreme example of modern entrepreneurial philanthropy”—made donations to dozens of politically tinged organizations.

Like many wealthy families, the Mercers have a private foundation. At first, the Mercer Family Foundation, which was established in 2004, had an endowment of only half a million dollars, and most of its grants went to medical research and conventional charities. But by 2008, under the supervision of Mercer’s ardently conservative daughter, Rebekah, the foundation began giving millions of dollars to interconnected nonprofit groups, several of which played crucial roles in propagating attacks on Hillary Clinton. By 2015, the most recent year for which federal tax records are available, the foundation had grown into a $24.5-million operation that gave large sums to ultraconservative organizations.

On top of this nonprofit spending, Mercer invested in private businesses. He put ten million dollars into Breitbart News, which was conceived as a conservative counterweight to the Huffington Post. The Web site freely mixes right-wing political commentary with juvenile rants and racist innuendo[.]

Mercer also invested some five million dollars in Cambridge Analytica, a firm that mines online data to reach and influence potential voters. The company has said that it uses secret psychological methods to pinpoint which messages are the most persuasive to individual online viewers. The firm, which is the American affiliate of Strategic Communication Laboratories, in London, has worked for candidates whom Mercer has backed, including Trump. It also reportedly worked on the Brexit campaign, in the United Kingdom.

UPDATE: The data firm backed by Donald Trump’s closest allies is now facing scrutiny as part of an investigation into possible collusion between the president’s team and Russian operatives, The Daily Beast has learned. Russia Probe Now Investigating Cambridge Analytica, Trump’s ‘Psychographic’ Data Gurus. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) is looking at Cambridge Analytica’s work for President Donald Trump’s campaign as part of its investigation into Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 race, according to sources familiar with the probe.

A recent Vanity Fair piece highlighted speculation among Washington Democrats that the Trump campaign’s data operation could point to collusion between Trump and Russia. [Cambridge’s] purported capabilities have generated some speculation that there was a Russian link to the outfit, as Vanity Fair detailed. The Kremlin-orchestrated propaganda efforts on Facebook have evinced a level of sophistication surprising for a foreign entity, prompting speculation that Russians may have received some kind of targeting help. Such targeting reached voters in states where Clinton enjoyed a traditional advantage but went for Trump, including Michigan and Wisconsin, CNN reported.

A Cambridge spokesperson confirmed to The Daily Beast that the company is cooperating with the House probe.

As important as Mercer’s business investments is his hiring of advisers. Years before he started supporting Trump, he began funding several conservative activists, including Steve Bannon; as far back as 2012, Bannon was the Mercers’ de-facto political adviser. Some people who have observed the Mercers’ political evolution worry that Bannon has become a Svengali to the whole family, exploiting its political inexperience and tapping its fortune to further his own ambitions. It was Bannon who urged the Mercers to invest in a data-analytics firm. He also encouraged the investment in Breitbart News, which was made through Gravitas Maximus, L.L.C., a front group that once had the same Long Island address as Renaissance Technologies.

There is much more in Mayer’s lengthy investigative report.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, under Stephen Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart News courted the alt-right — the insurgent, racist right-wing movement that helped sweep Donald Trump to power. The former White House chief strategist famously remarked that he wanted Breitbart to be “the platform for the alt-right.” Here’s How Breitbart And Milo Smuggled Nazi and White Nationalist Ideas Into The Mainstream:

[A]fter the violent white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, Breitbart published an article explaining that when Bannon said the site welcomed the alt-right, he was merely referring to “computer gamers and blue-collar voters who hated the GOP brand.”

But an explosive cache of documents obtained by BuzzFeed News proves that there was plenty of room for those voices on his website.

These new emails and documents… clearly show that Breitbart does more than tolerate the most hate-filled, racist voices of the alt-right. It thrives on them, fueling and being fueled by some of the most toxic beliefs on the political spectrum — and clearing the way for them to enter the American mainstream.

It’s a relationship illustrated most starkly by a previously unreleased April 2016 video in which Yiannopoulos sings “America the Beautiful” in a Dallas karaoke bar as admirers, including the white nationalist Richard Spencer, raise their arms in Nazi salutes.

These documents chart the Breitbart alt-right universe. They reveal how the website — and, in particular, Milo Yiannopoulos — links the Mercer family, the billionaires who fund Breitbart, to underpaid trolls who fill it with provocative content, and to extremists striving to create a white ethnostate.

Nancy LeTourneau of the Political Animal blog recently wrote, The Mercers: Taking the GOP Beyond ‘Peak Extremism’:

Why would Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah reach out to provide financial support to the guy [Milo Yiannopoulos] Bannon hand-picked to be the bridge between Breitbart and white supremacists? Perhaps it is because, as Christopher Ruddy of Newsmax once said, “[Rebekah Mercer] is the First Lady of the alt-right.”

* * *

As we head into the war of the oligarchs over the 2018 midterms (with Bannon choosing insurgents to run for every Republican Senate seat except the one occupied by Ted Cruz [whom the Mercers supported before backing Trump], perhaps it would be helpful to revisit how the Mercer’s have spent their money in the past—beyond providing support for Yiannopolous.

We all know by now that they have bankrolled all of Steve Bannon’s various enterprises, including Breitbart, the Government Accountability Institute and Glittering Steel (which produces documentaries). They have also invested heavily in the data firm Cambridge Analytica.

Mercer also invested some five million dollars in Cambridge Analytica, a firm that mines online data to reach and influence potential voters. The company has said that it uses secret psychological methods to pinpoint which messages are the most persuasive to individual online viewers. The firm, which is the American affiliate of Strategic Communication Laboratories, in London, has worked for candidates whom Mercer has backed, including Trump. It also reportedly worked on the Brexit campaign, in the United Kingdom.

In addition to those organizations, the Mercers have given money to the Heartland Institute, whose missions includes climate science denialism.

Our position has always been that if human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases pose a threat to the natural world and human health, then actions to avoid the threat would be necessary. But if the best-available research shows there is little danger or that there is nothing we can do to prevent climate change, then we should oppose legislation adopted in the name of “stopping” global warming.

They’ve also been major donors to Citizens United, the Media Research Center (the organization founded by L. Brent Bozell) and the American Principles Project (which focuses on religious liberty issues).

But it is in their contributions to individuals where one gets a picture of just how extremist their views are. For example, they have donated $1.5 million to “research” done by an Oregonian named Arthur Robinson.

In a lab on a sheep ranch in the Siskiyou Mountains, he’s spent the last couple of years collecting thousands of vials of human urine. Funded by private donors, he claims his work holds the key to extending the human life span and wresting control of medicine from what he calls the “medical-industrial-government complex.” He has some unusual ideas. According to his monthly newsletter, nuclear radiation can be good for you and climate science is a hoax.

The part about nuclear radiation being good for you is also something Jane Mayer heard about Mercer from his coworkers.

Another onetime senior employee at Renaissance recalls hearing Mercer downplay the dangers posed by nuclear war. Mercer, speaking of the atomic bombs that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, argued that, outside of the immediate blast zones, the radiation actually made Japanese citizens healthier.

The Mercers have also provided funding for an annual conference run by Jane Orient with Doctors for Disaster Preparedness.

At the DoubleTree, one speaker warned that the aim of Obamacare was to collapse the U.S. health-care system and recommended that the audience start stockpiling medications and finding doctors who would work for cash. Another speaker discussed the controversial theory that low doses of radiation are beneficial to human health. A retired heart surgeon from Seattle spent almost an hour arguing that HIV does not cause AIDS; rather, he said, the link was invented by government scientists who wanted to cover up other health risks of “the lifestyle of homosexual men.”…

In addition to arranging the events, Orient heads a separate group that opposes government involvement in health care, and she writes frequently in the far-right media. In December she posted an article about the San Bernardino killings, suggesting that the government failed to stop the attacks because it’s “on the other side.”

Finally, the Mercers have provided funding for the work of Fred Kelly Grant, who focuses on fear-mongering among rural Americans by spreading conspiracy theories about the U.N.’s Agenda 21 [a favorite of Tea-Publicans in the Arizona legislature.]

Agenda 21 was signed at the conclusion of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment & Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. President George H.W. Bush and the leaders of 177 other nations signed the plan. At the time, it was seen as a sensible planning paper, a nonbinding statement of intent aimed at dealing with sustainability on an increasingly crowded planet.

Agenda 21 is not a treaty. It has no force of law, no enforcement mechanisms, no penalties and no significant funding, the report notes. It only seeks to encourage communities around the world to come up with their own solutions to overpopulation, pollution, poverty and resource depletion. It cannot force anyone to act.

But in the 22 years since it was signed, extremists have transformed Agenda 21 in the public’s mind into a secret plot to impose a totalitarian world government, a nefarious effort to crush freedom in the name of environmentalism, according to the report.

Reporters often note that Robert Mercer is a somewhat shadowy figure who rarely speaks in public. But let’s take a look once again at what Mayer heard about his views from co-workers.

Several former colleagues of Mercer’s said that his views are akin to Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Magerman told me, “Bob believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make…Magerman added, “He thinks society is upside down—that government helps the weak people get strong, and makes the strong people weak by taking their money away, through taxes.”

This is the man who wants to wrest control of the Republican Party away from the Koch brothers. He and his daughter Rebekah are the reason that Steve Bannon has positioned himself as the new Pied Piper for conservative candidates in the 2018 midterms. If you ever harbored thoughts about the GOP having reached “peak extremism” in the era of Trump, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

8 Responses to Follow the money: Robert and Rebekah Mercer

  1. “[Cambridge’s] purported capabilities have generated some speculation that there was a Russian link to the outfit, as Vanity Fair detailed.”

    “The Kremlin-orchestrated propaganda efforts on Facebook have evinced a level of sophistication surprising for a foreign entity, prompting speculation that Russians may have received some kind of targeting help.”

    For the sake of argument, let’s say Russia did try to interfere with the 2016 election. Why, then, would you be surprised at the level of sophistication shown by the Russians? They are a sovereign government with all the resources of a government. They also have the technological resources to function at a very high level. So why would you be surprised? Or is this just another opportunity to try and generate suspicion where none is merited.

    “If you ever harbored thoughts about the GOP having reached “peak extremism” in the era of Trump, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

    Given your definition of “extremism”, that is probably a good thing.

    “Such targeting reached voters in states where Clinton enjoyed a traditional advantage but went for Trump, including Michigan and Wisconsin, CNN reported.”

    What a simple way to explain Hillary’s failure to be elected! It couldn’t be her message, or that people didn’t like her or trust her, or that she just conducted a terrible campaign…it had to be outside interference, huh? I hope this mindset continues, and that democrats do not learn from her mistakes. It is always good to see such abject failure continue when it is the opposition.

  2. clinton outspent trump by a huge margin. but she had no reason for people to vote for her besides isn’t trump disgusting. trump had a message and all clinton said the jobs are gone don’t listen to trump saying he will stop them going. money only means something if the other side has no message. in 2014 democrat candidate for school superintendent out spent republican candidate 20 to 1 and attacked her for not knowing anything she still one. bernie sanders started with no money but he had a message unlike clinton unless you count its my turn as a message.

    • For Sure Not Tom

      The point is the Mercer’s are racist scum. They support other racist scum with their money.

      It’s important to understand who these people are and what they support. They spread mis-information and outright lies to gullible “patriots”.

      They do not have America’s best interests in mind.

      • no problem not tom as long as you realize this is not why democrats lost. remember all of clinton’s popular vote margin of nearly 3 million came from california’s 5 million more votes for her. in the other 49 states she lost by 3 million votes and so did other democratic candidates who ran supporting her.

        • For Sure Not Tom

          Clinton lost because she’s Hillary Wall Street Kissinger, and the Dems chewed biscuits, no argument here.

          But the Mercer’s and the Koch’s are a big part of the reason why Dems have been losing at the state and local level for a decade or more.

          Even though the country leans left, they’ve been lawyering election laws and gerrymandering so blatantly even the courts are calling them out.

          And the Koch’s and Mercer’s use local politicians, some who post here, to pass extremely harmful laws. They buy judges, they astroturf causes. They spread misinformation and fake news.

          They lie and cheat and steal, and in the case of the Koch’s, they actually commit treason by working with Iran while it was illegal. In the 80’s they stole a few hundred million from the US government, meaning you and me.

          They’re very, very bad people. More people should know who owns their politicians.

          • money can be overcome if you have a message. bernie sanders started out with no money but he had a message. the african-american democrats and latino democrats were afraid for their safety and thought hillary clinton was the safer choice. they guessed wrong ;but understandable. in california and other states like arizona bernie sanders got more votes ;but independents were given provisional ballots that were not counted. bernie won iowa ;but clintonista who were running the caucus refuse to give final count showing bernie actually won.

          • For Sure Not Tom

            Overcoming money at the state and local level is more difficult. The local news-gigglers won’t cover anything that may offend the station owners or their aging viewers, but they will run ads funded by the Kochs/Mercers all day long.

            Having a message doesn’t help much if no one can hear you.

          • Captain, the Democrats are paying dearly for their 2016 transgressions.

            Unfortunately, so are we.

            And Hillary got a book deal.