The Illusion of Free Thought: How Think Tanks Shape Public Opinion

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By Kendrick Thomas
One of the most peculiar aspects of an oppressive society is that many of the marginalized people living in it hold conservative views on social and political issues.

Many working class people go against their own interests and the interests of other members of their class when they convey right wing rhetoric. There is a lack of clarity in the mainstream media on why this happens. A little research will prove that think tanks that are funded by people who are in high positions in the class system are dominating public opinion. Conservatism amongst poor and working class people does not stem from capitalist governments granting everyone the freedom to have their own
independent ideas.

A think tank is an institute, corporation, or group organized to study a particular subject (such as a policy issue or a scientific problem) and provide information, ideas, and advice. Hundreds of think tanks influence Congress thus influencing policies and laws. Washington, D.C. has more think tanks than any city in the world.

One of the most funded think tanks is the Heritage Foundation. ($112.7 million in average yearly revenue). Funding from both conservatives and liberals have allowed the Heritage Foundation to influence foreign and domestic policy. The Heritage Foundation uses its platform to sway policymakers to boost military spending while convincing the public to fear foreign entities deemed threats to national security. In 2009, the Pentagon considered discontinuing the use of Lockheed Martin's F-22 raptor fighter jets due to there being little use for them. The Heritage Foundation used its lobbying power to reassure the Pentagon that the fighter jets were still needed for national security.

Lockheed Martin is a longtime donor to the Heritage Foundation. A quick search for “Heritage Foundation China” will be filled with articles promoting fear of China with headlines such as “Everyone Finally Agrees China Can’t Be Allowed to Take Over the World” and “How China Is Taking Control of Hollywood”.

Hundreds of people were given positions in Trump’s cabinet after they were chosen by the Heritage Foundation to ensure that his administration works in the interests of the organization’s foreign policy agenda. The Heritage Foundation is intertwined with corporate media platforms such as Forbes. According to Forbes contributor Alejandro Chafuen, no other think tank has had a bigger impact on social media in the past five years as the Heritage Foundation. Notable members/financial supporters: Steve Forbes, Marlboro cigarettes owner Altria Group, Lockheed Martin, Google, and Walton Family Foundation.

The Cato Institute ($29.1 million in average yearly revenue) is a well-funded think tank that persuades politicians and the public to take conservative positions on issues such as climate change and welfare. The Cato Institute claims that there is ample time to resolve the environmental crisis despite the UN and scientists saying otherwise. They place blame on everyday people by publishing articles stating that people are not willing to combat climate change if it means raising their electric bill.

The Cato Institute is known for encouraging politicians to make budget cuts to SNAP, Medicaid, WIC, energy assistance, and public schooling. The organization heavily studies low income black communities with the intent of pushing a conservative narrative. The organization blamed welfare for crimes committed by young black men. Their solution? Cut funding to welfare to dissuade young black girls from getting pregnant and looking to welfare as a crutch, eliminating the chance of giving birth to a low income black criminal. There are poor people who never heard of the Cato Institute yet
have these exact same views. That is a testament to how far reaching this think tank’s impact is as a result of its massive yearly revenue.

The Cato Institute defends the use of racial slurs, homophobic comments, and the use of the confederate flag because the institute claims that offensive speech opens for healthy dialogue. The institute adds that America would be tyrannical to punish people for expressing how they feel. Cato members’ outreach include television, radio, books, social media, and online interviews. They’re often cited in news articles too. They play a key role in educating leaders and policymakers. They frequently speak at Capital Hill and the Supreme Court. Notable members/financial supporters: Charles G. Koch, the late David Koch, Walton Family Foundation, FedEx, Google Inc., Carnegie Corporation of New York, Ford Foundation, George Soros, and Whole Foods Market.

The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research ($13.1 million in average yearly revenue) is a conservative think tank that funds welfare reform. The think tank was formed by cia director William J. Casey. It defends stop and frisk policies in New York City and calls racial profiling by the police a myth. The Manhattan Institute persuades the public to consider that black people commit more crimes so it would actually be good law enforcement to profile black people. They promote books that claim that there is an unjust war being waged against cops. After the murder of Mike Brown, The Manhattan Institute’s members were featured on CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the O’Reilly Factor to make the conversation about black on black crime.

Conservative members of the organization often top the New York Times best seller list and are cited in Trump’s speeches. Manhattan members are usually invited to college campuses across America to teach about the “economic benefits of capitalism” and to promote the organization’s magazine, City Journal. Notable members/financial supporters: Condoleezza Rice, Rudy Giuliani, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger, Steve Forbes, Michael Bloomberg, and Senator Cory Booker.

Heartland Institute ($4.7 million in average yearly revenue) is another think tank that is
extremely opposed to socialism. Senior fellows of the conservative think tank are welcomed on mainstream platforms such as Fox News to talk about the “evils of socialism” and “benefits of capitalism”. The think tank uses social media to popularize inaccurate statements like “Hitler was a socialist”. The Heartland Institute suggests that policymakers lower or eliminate taxes for corporations.

The institute is notorious for praising the use of fossil fuels by corporations despite longterm studies proving that fossil fuels emit greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, thus intensifying sea level rise and negatively impacting temperatures. The think tank states that more funding for fighting climate change will lower funding for the military, which will make Americans vulnerable to Russia and China. The institute’s members produce books and articles that frame global warming as being good for the environment. The institute reportedly sends books to science classes and produces billboards to further push its anti environmental agenda. Notable members/financial supporters: Rupert Murdoch, Environmental Protection Agency (US govt. agency), Altria Group, Camel cigarettes owner Reynolds American, and Pfizer.

A liberal think tank based in DC called the Inter-American Dialogue, ($2.37 million in average yearly revenue) supports a coup in Venezuela, disregarding the country’s election.

The think tank hosts events for people who work with Juan Guaido, the self proclaimed president of Venezuela, to discuss a method for swaying the National Bolivarian Armed Forces away from supporting their president, Nicolas Maduro. The think tank has a completely different outlook on the conservative politics of Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro. Senior fellows acknowledge Bolsonaro’s little respect for the rights of women, the LGBT community, non-white people, and environmental activists but they still encourage business and military ties between the United States and Brazil. The liberal think tank states that the US has good reason to pursue greater cooperation with Brazil because Brazil is willing to support political change in Cuba and Nicaragua and an end to Maduro’s rule.

In contrast to most think tanks, its website is transparent about who funds it. Its official website acknowledges that it is funded by oil companies. Venezuela has more oil reserves than any country in the world. Notable members/financial supporters: USAID & the US State Department (US government agencies), Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (South Korean government), Ford Foundation, BMW Group, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Apple, AT&T/DirecTv, Boeing, BP, CitiGroup, Google, Mitsubishi, Dell, Raytheon, Walmart, Equifax, Government of Denmark, Harvard University, PepsiCo, Wells Fargo, former president of Costa Rica Laura Chinchilla, and Bill Clinton’s White House Chief of Staff
Thomas McLarty.

What the most prominent think tanks have in common is that whether they are liberal,
progressive, centrist, libertarian, conservative, or independent, they relentlessly defend free market capitalism. After all, the Competitive Enterprise Institute ($2.4 million in average yearly revenue), a libertarian think tank that’s mostly known for denying the seriousness of climate change, has an institution named Center for Advancing Capitalism. Notable members/financial supporters: Amazon, Google, Facebook, Charles Koch, the late David H. Koch, Emerson Electric, Ford Motor Company, Volkswagen, Altria Group, PepsiCo, Comcast-NBC Universal, News Corporation, Verizon, Motion Picture Association of America, White House Writers Group, Microsoft, PHRMA, Monsanto, US Chamber of Commerce, Mastercard, and Senator Rand Paul.

Kendrick Thomas is a Marxist activist and Pan Africanist.

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