Koch: Tea party the 'best grassroots uprising since 1776'

An American billionaire who inherited his father's oil wealth said he believes the followers of a political "movement" he self-financed are people just like him.

"There are some extremists there, but the rank and file are just normal people like us," David Koch of Koch Industries told Lee Fang of ThinkProgress in a recent interview.

He continued, "And I admire them. It’s probably the best grassroots uprising since 1776 in my opinion."

The event that launched the so-called "Tea party movement" was an on-air rant by Rick Santelli, the business news editor at CNBC who criticized the government plan to refinance mortgages.

"All you capitalists ought to show up at Lake Michigan, I'm gonna start organizing," he said during a live broadcast on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in February 2009. "I think we'll be dumping some derivative securities."

Koch said in his brief ThinkProgress interview after the swearing-in ceremony for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) that he was proud of the accomplishments of his front group Americans for Prosperity.

"You bet I am, man oh’ man," he said. "We’re going to do more too in the next couple of years, you know."

Americans for Prosperity helped organize and promote the first Tea party protests, including ones in Arizona.

Koch said that he expected Congress under the new House Speaker to "cut the hell out of spending, balance the budget, reduce regulations, and support business" this session.

The oil tycoon and his brother Charles have funneled money to fight for a host of right-wing, pro-business causes for the last three decades. Recently, they outspent ExxonMobile on astroturf campaigns to misinform the American public about climate change legislation.

"From 2005 to 2008, ExxonMobil spent $8.9 million while the Koch Industries-controlled foundations contributed $24.9 million in funding to organizations of the 'climate denial machine,'" Greenpeace International reported.

Koch also donated funds to elect George W. Bush in 2000 as well as influence the results of the vote recount in Florida.

Yet there are those who believe that the Tea party lacks the coherency and intelligence of prior right-wing uprisings in the United States.

"If you look underneath the surface of the Tea Party movement, on the other hand, you will find that it is not sophisticated," Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush's former deputy chief of staff, said in an interview with the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel published online last fall.

"It's not like these people have read the economist Friedrich August von Hayek," he added.

This video is from ThinkProgress, broadcast Jan. 6, 2011.

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With reporting by Sahil Kapur and Muriel Kane.