Populism of the 1%: Why the same billionaires are behind Trump and Brexit

These complex ties reveal a clear and resounding message.


A connected clique of billionaires is fuelling the anti-climate and xenophobic surge of Anglo populism. Dig deeper and these same members of the 1% are backing the new political status quo on both sides of the Atlantic: Donald Trump and Brexit.

Top-down populism

The common perception is that Trump and Brexit are a dual reaction to the failures of neoliberal globalization, carried out by a white working class that feels forgotten by late era capitalism and is now seeking to overthrow the establishment. But this narrative overlooks an important point: recent populism has not emerged of its own accord.

Those who have profited hand over fist from decades of neoliberalism are now the ones sponsoring the populist, anti-immigration and climate denial lobbies. The opportunistic project carried out by the 1% is lately busy shifting and deflecting blame away from themselves, the winners from capitalism, and on to the political establishments that facilitated their success. Both Trump’s administration and those driving for a Hard Brexit are, foremost, pointing the finger at the victims of the multiple crises of capitalism as they ignore and lie about the looming threat of climate change.

Capitalists have sponsored extreme racist populist politics before. Big money paved the rise of the fascist inception in the 1930s. For instance, many corporations invested in and gained greatly from Hitler’s regime, including Volkswagen, Siemens, Bayer and Hugo Boss. Other international corporate benefactors of the Nazis include JPMorgan Chase, Ford, L’Oréal and Coca-Cola.

How the 1% backed climate denial and racist populism

The point is, Brexit and Trump’s electoral success didn’t happen in a vacuum. A barrage of political forces laid the groundwork, pushing anti-immigrant sentiment and outright racism. And the extent to which the corporate media has shifted toward the far right should be acknowledged. Just one example was an article in the British Sun tabloid, published in 2015, which called refugees “cockroaches” – language that the UN High Commission for Human Rights condemned for its historic link to genocide.

Meanwhile, U.S.-based Fox News has been criticized for having an open door policy to groups spreading anti-immigration and anti-Muslim hatred, after terror attacks particularly. What else do these two news organizations have in common? Both the Sun and Fox News are part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

Murdoch, like other billionaire media moguls, has deep investments in oil and other core planks of the capitalist system. That is, he has every interest in continuing business as usual, which means a world that ignores climate change and climate refugees; encourages wars for oil, and neglects both war refugees and the fact that the world needs to move beyond fossil fuels.

Look across the media spectrum and you’ll see that the message being broadcast by Murdoch’s media empire may be exceptionally racist, but it’s not an exception. The British BBC is lauded worldwide for its apparent impartiality, even though it is run by a banker from HSBC, now embroiled in multiple nefarious scandals. Like Murdoch’s empire, the BBC can also be associated with promoting the 1%’s anti-immigrant narrative, not least as it constantly gives a platform to the right-wing UKIP party. The station consistently neglects to give the U.K. Green Party, a larger party, the same attention.

Climate denial helps continue business as usual, and this storyline is furthered in the corporate media. Frequently, oil drenched “think tanks” pump hot air climate stories that are amplified by the corporate news.

Political incorrectness gone mad

Alongside corporate media and right-wing think tanks, two-party political bodies have pushed the populist surge in the U.S. and U.K. In America, it’s the Tea Party. In Britain, it’s the UK Independence Party. Earlier this year, UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage claimed that Prime Minister Theresa May had stolen UKIPs “words and phrases” Still, he celebrated that Brexit had made the party’s ideas “mainstream”.

In parallel, across the Atlantic, Trump’s xenophobia echoes key messages from the Tea Party.

A common misconception is that both UKIP and the Tea Party emerged from working class frustration. While this might be true in parts, it doesn’t tell the whole story – especially when one considers how billionaires have bank-rolled both political ventures from the start. Key Tea Party funders are the fossil fuel billionaire Koch Brothers, along with Murdoch.

Meanwhile, many of the billionaires behind UKIP are also backers of the Conservative Party – a party to which they have returned after using it as a vehicle to drag the nation’s politics far to the right.

Desmoging the connections

As observers piece together the nexus of corporate interests that is fertilizing the populist shift, greater clarity is being found in the connections among the 1% and who they are explicitly supporting.

For example, the London-based investigative journalist website Desmog has mapped out sources of big money behind the Eurosceptic and climate-sceptic lobbies. In particular, a horde of politicians, lobbyists and corporate power hubs around one London address: 55 Tufton Street.

Campaigns run out of this address include Vote Leave, the climate denial think tank Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), and other groups attempting to counter political correctness like the New Culture Forum and Civitas. As many have noted, by countering political correctness – for instance in education policy – these groups are effectively rebuilding structural racism.

The Desmog research maps out how these groups are sponsored by the corporate 1%, including fossil fuel and global arms industries. The nearly dozen organizations are often headed by the same politician-lobbyists, such as former Chancellor and senior Conservative Lord Lawson, who founded GWPF and is a leading Vote Leave member. Follow-up research from Desmog showed how after the Brexit vote, members of the anti-immigration and anti-climate pact deepened their grip on government.

Building on Desmog’s work, it is also easier to connect Brexit’s anti-climate and xenophobic links with Trump and those working behind the scenes in his administration. Writing in the Guardian, George Monbiot clarifies how both the Trump administration Britain’s post-Brexit government are run by key players linked to 55 Tufton Street.

An important organization among them is Atlantic Bridge, which is funded primarily funded by Michael Hintz, an investment banker formerly from Goldman Sachs, and a core contributor to GWPF. Atlantic Bridge was founded by Liam Fox and includes other senior Conservatives Michael Gove, George Osborne and William Hague.

Its U.S. sister organization was set up by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has been funded by billionaire interests including the Koch Brothers. The Kochs also fund the Heritage Foundation, which supported Brexit from across the Atlantic. Plenty of media reports have documented the degree to which organizations like ALEC and Heritage are responsible for creating, and are now directing, Trump’s economic policies.

These complex ties reveal a clear and resounding message: not only has the network of billionaire-backed organizations deepened the swamp that Donald Trump promised to drain, but it has also created an extensive underground network between Washington and London’s political cesspools.


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