By Flo Rodriguez Steube
Illustration by Courtney Young
For 21 years, music lovers and party animals have flocked to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, arguably the most popular and successful event of its kind, for two weekends of concerts and fun. Huge crowds, excessive partying, and questionable outfits might steer some people the other way, but one controversy is causing some festival-goers to boycott Coachella: the questionable politics of Philip Anschutz, the Chief Executive Officer of Anschutz Entertainment Group. Part of AEG is AEG Presents which is the parent company of Goldenvoice, the operator of the Coachella festival.
Don’t let this seemingly complicated relationship fool you: Anschutz co-owns Coachella, alongside Paul Tolett, owner of Goldenvoice. Entertainment is by far not the only industry where Anschutz is thriving — his corporation is involved in the rail, petroleum, sports, real estate, and journalism businesses. However, there’s a dark side to this successful, reclusive billionaire: his support of homophobic, climate-change-denying, pro-life, and pro-gun causes.
Back in early 2017, just after the Coachella lineup of that year was announced, news site Afropunk reported on a series of donations the Anschutz Foundation had made to various problematic organizations, such as the Family Research Council, which published a report arguing for the eradication of legal same-sex marriage and more. More recently, Anschutz has made personal donations to various conservative, pro-gun, and pro-life politicians and causes, but notably excluding any donations to Donald Trump, according to The Fader. The article also mentioned climate change skepticism and denial perpetuated in media owned by Anschutz, such as the Weekly Standard and the Washington Examiner.
News of Anschutz’s right-wing agenda comes in stark contrast to Coachella’s open-minded mission and its history of liberal performers like Beyonce. Following the controversy, Anschutz released a statement dismissing claims of homophobia, calling them “fake news” and promising that he would cease funding any initiatives that have engaged in anti-LGBTQIA activities without his knowledge. He went further in 2018, donating $1 million to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Anschutz has yet to comment on accusations of his climate change denial, quite apparently because it would be difficult to prove otherwise, as he made his fortune largely in oil.
Whether or not Anschutz knowingly and directly gave money to homophobic groups may never be revealed, but at the very least, the social outrage prompted a closer look into where his finances were directed. What cannot be denied is that, to some degree, money spent on Coachella will go to the financing of immoral causes and the thinly-veiled homophobia and the misinformation therein.
Anschutz is one more string in a complicated web of shady, hypocritical billionaires. While the job of uncovering the hidden prejudices of every rich conservative and abstaining from supporting them seems impossible nowadays, our job as a society is to do our best to spend our money morally. All I ask of you is to inform yourself, make your own decisions, but don’t ignore the immoral practices of people in power in favor of two weekends of partying at Coachella.