Who Funds YAL?
Despite beginning as a proudly grassroots movement, YAL was quick to receive considerable funding from the standard gamut of Koch network groups, including the Charles Koch Institute, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, the Cato Institute, the Institute for Humane Studies, State Policy Network, and the National Right to Work Legal Foundation. It received $5,920,023 from Koch and DonorsTrust/Donors Capital Fund between 2012 and 2019. In 2014, YAL’s executive director Jeff Frazee presented at the Koch network’s secretive donor summit. In leaked documents from a session titled “Educating and Engaging the Next Generation,” Frazee is flanked by two staff members of Generation Opportunity, the millennial front of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity.
YAL grew out student organizing efforts during Ron Paul’s 2008 Presidential campaign. Paul was a text Congressional member, with close ties to the Koch libertarian movement. He served as the first chairman of Charles Koch’s burgeoning corporate front group Citizens for a Sound Economy (later Americans for Prosperity/FreedomWorks), and in 1988 launched a particularly lucrative newsletter called the Ron Paul Political Report, with Lew Rockwell of the Ludwig von Mises Institute for Austrian Economics, located at Auburn University in Alabama. Paul adhered to “paleolibertarianism,” which asserted that egalitarianism is a threat to “Western civilization.” As critics have pointed, Paul’s civilizational-libertarian ideology was expressed in a number of openly racist, anti-gay, and anti-abortion newsletter. And as one ex-staffer stated: “The wilder they got, the more bombastic they got with it, the more the checks came in.
During his 2008 presidential run Paul built a large campus following motivated by his anti-war policies and support for the legalization of marijuana. After failing to get the Republican nomination, student organizers refashioned Students for Ron Paul chapters into Young Americans for Liberty (YAL). YAL establishes high school and college campus chapters to identify, train, and deploy conservative talent. They describe a four-stage process of campus recruitment: “Identify Youth Leaders through YALS’s National Campus Program,” then “Educat[e] through On-Campus Activism Events,” then “Train YAL Members in How to Make Liberty Win,” and finally mobilize these activists to help get “liberty candidates” elected.
YAL has started the “Student Rights Campaign” that “work[s] with legal firms to send legal demands and file litigation against schools who are denying free speech rights to their students.” YAL’s campus operations involve top-down “activist” kits and channeling students into the broader right-wing talent pipeline. On campus, YAL regularly manufactures controversies over campus speech policies and works with other organizations in the Koch donor network to sue schools over perceived violations.
As with other dark money-funded student groups on campus, there is a strong connection between YAL and alt-right groups. Longtime YAL Outreach Director, Jack Hunter—a blogger for Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign and Rand Paul’s senatorial aid—resigned from his Senate position when it became public that he also masqueraded as the Southern Avenger (a far-right personality whose identity was obscured by a Confederate flag wrestling mask). Hunter led the Charleston, South Carolina chapter of the League of the South, and once praised John Wilkes Booth for assassinating Abraham Lincoln. Individual campus YAL chapters have also been unmasked as racist and civilizationist hotbeds of paleolibertarianism, and often overlap with alt-right and white nationalist groups. One group in particular, the American Identity Movement (AIM, formerly Identity Evropa), is a designated hate group responsible for an explosion of white nationalist fliers on campuses and were co-organizers of the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right rally. A leak of AIM’s chat logs revealed that numerous YAL officers who were also members of AIM. At the University of Nevada, Reno, for example, one AIM member and YAL officer bragged about his flyering and recruitment efforts while extolling nations for expelling Jewish populations. Another AIM member, Derek Magill, was president of the YAL chapter at the University of Michigan during a time when the group successfully sued the university for not providing a $1,000 reimbursement for their visiting anti-affirmative action speaker. It is important to note that journalists and activist researchers are just scratching the surface of this opaque organization. Still, what is known so far is worrisome given the degree to which the Koch network and far-right hate groups often recruit from the same populations of students holding principled anti-government positions.
Pam Vogel, “The Conservative Dark-Money Groups Infiltrating Campus Politics,” Media Matters, March 29, 2017.
Jared Holt and ALex Kotch, “Koch Network Alums Are Going Full-On White Nationalist,” Right Wing Watch, May 30, 2019.
**Information on this page was originally published in: Free Speech and Koch Money: Manufacturing a Campus Culture War (with Ralph Wilson, Pluto Press, 2021)