This weekend, hordes of music lovers and teepee enthusiasts will descend on Indio, California, for the annual Coachella Music Festival. The first big festival of the season, Coachella has a reputation for attracting the worst of the worst: entitled rich kids in knockoff Native headdresses, bankers in bindis, and these people. Think Fyre Festival, but financially solvent.
A few years ago, The Washington Post revealed that the often-problematic festival’s issues went way beyond appropriative accessories. A 2016 report on America’s “enemies of equality” is often cited as blowing the lid off Coachella and its founder, Philip Anschutz, the owner of entertainment conglomerate AEG. The Freedom for All Americans campaign reported that Anschutz, one of the richest people in America with a net worth of $12.9 billion, gave large sums of money to the Alliance Defending Freedom, the National Christian Foundation, and the Family Research Council.
According to the Post, the National Christian Foundation “funds a lot of the groups aggressively working to chip away at the equal rights of LGBT Americans.” The Family Research Council, which expressly says on its website that it “believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large,” has been deemed an “extremist group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Phil Anschutz’s extensive influence in Colorado politics has been known for years, but the degree of his support for anti-LGBTQ groups that fund extremist hate groups like Gordon Kligenschmitt’s ‘Pray in Jesus Name’ is shocking,” said ProgressNow Colorado’s executive director, Ian Silverii. “At a time in American history when discrimination and violence against LGBTQ citizens is on the rise, support for pro-discrimination groups puts Anschutz on the wrong side of Colorado, and on the wrong side of history.”
In 2017, Afropunk published a blog post urging would-be Coachella-goers to think twice before selling their souls to see Beyoncé. Published in response to Coachella’s just-announced lineup, the post cautioned, “The lineup boasts names like Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé, Black music royalty more than deserving of our hype, but Coachella’s owner is a whole different story.” It goes on to detail Anschutz’s donations to the aforementioned anti-LGBTQ causes, continuing, “To add insult to injury, Greenpeace notes that media companies owned by Anschutz figure prominently in the denial of climate science and the promotion of climate-change skepticism.”
On the other hand, Coachella has several sustainability initiatives!
Eventually, the pressure to #BoycottCoachella got so bad that Anschutz released a statement, insisting that, “Recent claims published in the media that I am anti-LGBTQ are nothing more than fake news—it is all garbage.”
Anschutz continued: “I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation. We are fortunate to employ a wealth of diverse individuals throughout our family of companies, all of whom are important to us—the only criteria on which they are judged is the quality of their job performance; we do not tolerate discrimination in any form…Neither I nor the Foundation fund any organization with the purpose or expectation that it would finance anti-LGBTQ initiatives, and when it has come to my attention or the attention of the Anschutz Foundation that certain organizations either the Foundation or I have funded have been supporting such causes, we have immediately ceased all contributions to such groups.”
Fans were left in morally murky waters, choosing between a boycott and a Beyoncé show. More than a year later, not much has changed. Beyoncé is, finally, going to headline Coachella, and it seems like Anschutz is still up to his old tricks.
In January, Pitchfork reviewed the Anschutz Foundation’s annual tax filings from December 2015 through November 2016. According to Pitchfork, “This newly uncovered filing shows that in 2016, the Anschutz Foundation stopped giving to the three groups at the center of the original uproar: Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, and National Christian Foundation. But they did give to a number of other organizations that have a history of making anti-LGBTQ statements.” These organizations reportedly included Dare 2 Share Ministries and Young Life, a youth ministry that proclaimed in a 2017 policy that anyone who was “sexually active outside of a heterosexual marriage relationship” shouldn’t volunteer at the organization.
Additionally, the reviewed tax filings revealed donations to “dozens” of conservative and libertarian organizations: “They include Americans for Prosperity, the political arm of the industrialist Koch brothers; the Federalist Society, the conservative legal network that Trump has given an unprecedented role in picking federal judges, and NumbersUSA Education & Research, which calls itself an ‘immigration-reduction organization.’”
Also in January, The Fader reported that Anschutz gave “close to $200,000 to Republican politicians and Super PACs” in 2017. Alleged beneficiaries of Anschutz’s generosity included Paul Ryan and Mike Coffman, a member of the House who has previously made birther comments about President Obama.
While it’s not exactly shocking that a billionaire dude is a Republican, Anschutz’s politics don’t align with those of many Coachella festivalgoers, not to mention performers. This tension has become even more untenable with the revelation that Anschutz, who, through Goldenvoice, also operates Panorama, Hangout, and FYF Festival, may be anti-marijuana. According to Freedom Leaf, a pro-legalization magazine, Anschutz has donated “thousands of dollars” to anti-drug groups; in 2016 alone, “the Anschutz Foundation donated $50,000 to SAM Inc., and another $110,000 to its partner organization, Smart Colorado.”
The report continued, “It gave another $50,000 to Smart Colorado in 2015. The goal was to counter the impact of Amendment 64, the recreational-marijuana legalization initiative the state’s voters passed in 2012.”
Freedom Leaf hypothesized that Anschutz’s personal biases may be standing in the way of Coachella attendees and their kush—while recreational marijuana is legal in California, Coachella is adamant that, “No Drugs or Drug Paraphernalia, Marijuana, Marijuana products will be allowed” at the festival or on the camp grounds.
So it seems that Coachella-heads won’t be able to get high and forget that they’re funding the passion politics of an arguably homophobic septuagenarian after all.