Grassrootbeer Investigations

Fresh-brewed, with offbeat optimism.

Welcome to Grassrootbeer Investigations! It’s written by me, Connor Gibson.

I’m an opposition researcher.

By that, I don’t mean that I dig up “dirt” on Team Red, or Team Blue.

I’m more interested in asking why both Teams Red and Blue are so hopelessly broken, how they were broke’d, and who keeps ‘em broke. That might involve dirt-digging at times, but not for the sake of election outcomes.

When we treat politics like football, most people lose.

I focus on the people and networks undermining our natural ecosystems, global climate, public health, justice of all definitions, and equitable opportunity to live, work, and play, with dignity.

I’ve spent over a decade tracking, exposing, interacting with and challenging the small network of people who have helped fossil fuel companies deny the science of climate change, block policy solutions to the problem, and feed conspiracy theories that buy more time for dirty energy companies to pollute for free. 

I was taken to my first climate change denier conference in NYC in 2009, by Kert Davies, my first boss at Greenpeace USA. I was 20 years old at the time. I still had a full year of college before me, but that experience solidified my interest in a career researching and confronting political toadies.

Kert continues to be a mentor and collaborator. (Thanks, Kert!)

After I graduated, and successfully harassed Kert into offering me a job in 2010, I became fixated on the political network controlled by Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch. I’m still fixated on it.

Whether or not you’re tired of hearing about him—as I am—Mr. Koch is unique among gazillionaires.

He controls an empire of tax-exempt nonprofits, university shops, and traditional political groups that are fueled by the engine of his private company. Outside of his direct control, Mr. Koch and his executives finance a wider orbit of groups, most of the corporate-conservative policy world, which amplifies his self-serving ambitions.

But shucks, he does have those good ol’ Midwestern manners, doesn’t he?

Anyway, I was a young spokesperson and ground crew member for the flight of Greenpeace’s thermal airship above a secretive meeting of political donors convened by the Koch brothers in January, 2011, the morning before the first-ever protest of anything Koch-related.

I spent several of my Greenpeace years (Nov. 2013 - Mar. 2019) helping a motivated collection of people envision and launch a scrappy campaign that we eventually called UnKoch My Campus.

UnKoch’s research and support for student-led campaigning helped to produce more hard-hitting investigations and exposés than anything else I’ve ever collaborated on.

Charles Koch noticed. He even said “UnKoch” in a Washington Post interview just two years after we formally launched the project:

I tracked all Koch/university media articles closely from 2014-2018. I was exceptionally proud to conclude we influenced 51% of the 2,500+ articles written on the subject in that time.

Maybe that’s why a Koch-funded group used my likeness in a cartoon? Here’s me, flexing and shaking my orange fist at a concerned Koch professor, who was just trying to practice his “Diversity of Thought.” My bad!

A decade of research on all-things-KochWorld led to my recent collaboration on a web project called Koch Docs, a collection of primary source documents relating to Mr. Koch’s business and political operations. This means I’m affiliated with Lisa Graves, which makes me look cool. (Thanks, Lisa!)

Lisa was involved in that 2011 Koch protest I mentioned earlier, but that’s not actually where I met her. I met Lisa through a coalition called ALEC Exposed, which formed in 2011 after hundreds of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)’s internal documents were published by Lisa and her team, back when she led the Center for Media and Democracy.

Since 2011, the ALEC Exposed coalition compelled well over 100 corporations and organizations to dump ALEC. Thanks to my inclusion in the coalition, I spent years examining how the lobbyists and state politicians of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and State Policy Network (SPN) implement textbook-Orwell campaigns under the false pretenses of liberty and patriotism.

I don’t use the Orwell cliché lightly here. (Truth: I never read 1984.) ALEC’s flair for covering BS in red, white, and blue spray paint is truly remarkable. I’m talking about state-by-state pushes to:

So I went to a lot of ALEC events over the years, becoming like the estranged family member who isn’t really allowed inside, but that awkward invasiveness becomes part of the family tradition. It’s been a while. Maybe they miss me.

…or not. Here’s a video of the last time my colleagues and I tried to walk into ALEC’s Board of Directors meeting, and had a brief chat with ALEC’s CEO, Lisa Nelson:

I was on a first-name basis with the off-duty cop hired by ALEC for all of its events.

(His name is Jeff.)

I’ve been corralled and questioned by the Secret Service, twice.

(Jeff was there, twice).

A Koch Industries lobbyist even forcibly seized my phone once.

(Jeff saw that, too).

Ah… good memories! What am I forgetting?

I infiltrated an American Petroleum Institute commercial shoot and forgot my winter coat during my hasty, awkward escape.

I felt a lot better after Greenpeace’s talented video team director at the time, Melissa Thompson, made a reality of my vision for a mock imitation of the commercial, complete with a fake website and social media, that we launched on the same day as the actual oil industry propaganda. (Thanks, Melissa!)

A few journalists accidentally promoted this silly video (since corrected), while others deliberately had a laugh. The PR company responsible for the ad, a subsidiary of Edelman at the time, dropped API as a multi-million dollar client years later.

I’ve been ejected from other various premises, by various authorities, for winding up in places that I apparently wasn’t invited to. This included a spectacular failed attempt at a stunt in a hotel owned by a wannabee-dictator. You know, the one who drained the swamp right into the White House.

I’ve dogged dishonest corporate ilk over the stages, onto the elevators and through the sweltering sidewalks of Washington, DC.

…actually, that was all one coal lobbyist named Jeff Holmstead. But I attempted similar interventions with ALEC’s CEO, oil lobbyists, and other such folk.

I adorned silly costumes in Congressional hearings to draw attention to stale lies. Sometimes, this got us on TV.

I was arrested 400 feet up a coal power plant smokestack, during a multi-pronged Greenpeace protest. It was terrifying, since I don’t like heights. The enthusiastic police officer who scaled up all 400 feet to arrest us told us about his pet boa constrictor.

I spent a couple weeks in a community in Far Rockaway, Queens, NY, after Superstorm Sandy hit. It was surreal. I helped document and broadcast the impact of Superstorm Sandy, climate change, and the resilience of a community of people who had to rebuild their lives, and the people who came into the disaster zone to help with medical aid, food, electricity, and supplies.

More than anything else, I have spent a lot of time in front of a screen, pouring through digital paperwork, trying to make sense of the senseless.

These things all happened while I worked for Greenpeace USA, July 2010 - Nov. 2020.

Above all, I have relied upon the talent, scrutiny, and friendship of countless people and groups that supported my ideas, through success and failure alike.

This includes the students and faculty whose brave work created the opportunity for UnKoch My Campus in the first place, and the talented activists, lawyers, logisticians and strategists at Greenpeace offices around the world, and so many other people I worked with over the years.

I extend my utmost thanks and gratitude to all of my mentors, collaborators and colleagues for your support, trust, patience, and honest feedback.

Oh, and I’m from Vermont. You might be familiar with our famous exports: pure maple syrup, Cabot cheddar, Ben & Jerry’s, Heady Topper, and Senator Bernie Sanders.

But enough about me.

We’re here to shine a UV light upon the taint of the nation. The Lawyers, Lobbyists, and Liars of modern muckery.

The influence industry is a parasitic plague on our political apparatus. It thrives when our society is broken, and thus it is incentivized to keep it so.

Put on your tall rubber boots. Take my hand. Let’s stroll through the muck.