The Right Wing

Harry Belafonte Compares Koch Brothers to White Supremacists

De Blasio replies by attacking Koch's right-wing agenda.

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock

A half-century ago, Harry Belafonte sang about oppression and put Americans at ease. Today, the 86-year-old actor-entertainer speaks uncomfortable truths, even if his historic comparisons offend his targets.

On the final Sunday of New York City's mayoral campaign, Belafonte attacked the billionaire right-wing Koch brothers during remarks at the First Corinthian Baptist Church, where he compared their political thuggery to the Klu Klux Klan as the Democratic candidate Bill De Blasio sat in the pews.

The remarks prompted a rare response by the Koch’s publicist criticizing Belafonte as “false and reprehensible.”

Meanwhile, De Blasio, who is expected to be elected mayor in Tuesday, brushed them off — not saying they were false, but just not said the best way. 

“Already we have lost 14 states in this union to the most corrupt group of citizens I’ve ever known,” Belafonte said. “They make up the heart and the thinking in the minds of those who would belong to the Ku Klux Klan. They are white supremacists. They are men of evil. They have names. They are flooding our country with money.”

“They’ve come into to New York City,” Belafonte said. “They are beginning to buy their way into city politics. They are pouring money into Presbyterian Hospital to take over the medical care system. The Koch brothers, that’s their name. Their money is already sewn into the fabric of our daily system, and they must be stopped.”

Koch Industries spokesman Rob Tappan issued a statement hitting back, Politico reported on Monday.

“Mr. Belafonte’s comments are false and reprehensible,” he said. “His comments are divisive and destructive, and are indicative of the type of hateful rhetoric that leads to the breakdown of a civil and respectful society.”

He continued, “It is unfortunate that he and others choose to make such false comments about Charles Koch and David Koch, who have devoted their lives to advancing tolerance and a free society — where every individual is judged on his or her individual merits and they are free to make decisions about their lives.”

Just weeks ago, it was reported that the Koch brothers assembled and spent a $250 million war chest in the 2012 election, targeting the president, Obamacare, Democratic candidates and union organizing efforts.

After the service, De Blasio did not disagree with the Belafonte's characterization of the Koch's right-wing political machine, but sought to distance from Belafonte's wording about the KKK when pressed by reporters, according to the New York Post.

“I disagree with that characterization,” De Blasio said. “That was the wrong way to talk about them.”

ThePost then said, "De Blasio then slammed the Kochs for 'trying to impose a conservative agenda on our public discourse.'"

When asked why he didn’t disavow the comment from the dais, the paper said that De Blasio replied, “I’m here mentioning it with you guys. Next.”

Needless to say, Joe Lhota, the Republican mayoral candidate, attacked both Belafonte and De Blasio for the remarks and his opponent's agreement with thjeir substance. But such exchanges, coming in the heat of the race's final hours, quickly get eclipsed by other developments.

De Blasio is expected to win the mayor's race on Tuesday "by historic margins," The New York Times reported Monday.


Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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