Robert Greenwald is taking the fight to billionaires David and Charles Koch, who fund much of the US's rightwing politics
May 15, 2011- Even for the Lincoln Centre it was an unusual show, and an unscheduled one. Several hundred protesters turned up outside the arts complex on Manhattan's Upper West Side last week for the guerrilla screening of a short film. From a hotel on the other side of the street, a video was projected on to the centre's walls. The unwitting stars of the films were David and Charles Koch, the reclusive rightwing billionaire brothers whose secretive empire and network of influence and funding is emerging as a liberal rallying cause in America.
As bemused theatregoers watched the boisterous crowd, the videos depicted facts and figure showing Koch support for Tea Party groups, global warming sceptics and thinktanks seeking to strip away regulations on the environment, cut social security and oppose healthcare reform. On the David H Koch Theatre in the complex – renamed when one of the brothers donated $100m (£62m) in 2008 – activists climbed a ladder to post a giant sticker above the sign bearing Koch's name. "I am the Tea Party's wallet," it read. When the police vans finally arrived, the activists had gone.
For Koch Industries, one of the largest private businesses in America, it was another attempt by liberal groups to drag it into the public eye over accusations that it is corrupting US politics in pursuit of its business interests. There have been lengthy magazine articles investigating its activities, growing protests and a legion of bloggers scouring the company's every move.
At the forefront of the movement is the unlikely figure of Hollywood director Robert Greenwald, 65, who brought the world the Olivia Newton-John dance movie Xanadu. Greenwald reinvented himself as a leftwing documentary maker, and has his focus on the Koch brothers. His Brave New Foundation group organised the Lincoln Centre film show.
"David Koch spent $100m to put his name on that theatre, but we want people to understand what it really should be named," he told the Observer.
Brave New Foundation, with a team of 15 including three full-time researchers, is running a web competition where suggestions for a new sign are plastered over a picture of the theatre. "Treasonous Plutocrats R Us" and "Evil Greed Incarnate" are some of the entries.
Greenwald said that the popularity of the contest is another way to keep public attention on the brothers. Indeed last week Jack O'Dwyer, a leading Manhattan PR professional, called on the Lincoln Centre to drop the Koch name. That was music to Greenwald's ears. "The Kochs have always been very smart. They did not need the spotlight. But the more people we can impact with our actions showing what the Kochs have been doing, the better off we will be."