It’s well known how right-wing economists have long seen Chile as their personal playground to play out their fantasies of austerity politics backed by authoritarian violence. The Chicago Boys were the famed University of Chicago-trained economists who advised Augusto Pinochet during and after the 1973 coup. These people gave the entire field of economics a bad name, and quite rightfully given how that field soon became a fetid stew of libertarianism and Friedmanesque austerity. As a general rule, the economics field has shifted back toward sanity since 2000. But that’s not without people holding on for even more austerity and even more destruction of any safety net or democracy that gives regular people a voice in their government. The center of that shifted from Chicago to George Mason, which has become synonymous with bought academia of the New Gilded Age, funded by the Koch Brothers and other far-right extremists.
Some of the GMU Boys still see Chile as their playground. Some have even moved there. This leads us to the story of John Cobin. He’s a George Mason Ph.D. His dissertation advisor is Jerry Ellig, who was Trump’s choice to be the chief economist of the FCC. So this guy comes straight out of the right-wing modern Republican pipeline. Cobin moved to Chile some years ago and became a prominent voice promoting extremist conservatism there. Now, in the last few weeks, Chile has seen widespread protests. As the nation with the second highest income inequality in the world (the U.S. is #1, of course), people used a metro fare increase as a moment to protest the entire neoliberal makeup of their nation. In the greatest protest movements since the Allende regime, the Chilean people have been part and parcel of the unrest in many Latin American nations of late.
Well, all of this made John Cobin very upset. So this weekend, he decided to shoot some protestors.
John Cobin, a U.S.-born economist and former member of a neo-Confederate group, is so passionate about a free market — and about Chile — that he’s devoted the past two decades to marrying the two.
But Cobin’s unusual story took a violent turn this weekend, when he drove through one of the many crowds that have paralyzed Chile in recent weeks as they protest income inequality and a high cost of living.
The 56-year-old was arrested Sunday, police said, after he repeatedly fired a gun into a crowd in the beachside town of Reñaca, seriously injuring at least one person.
“I did not do anything wrong,” Cobin said in a video filmed just before his arrest. “It was a very dangerous, very scary time for me. Thankfully, I had my gun to be able to defend myself.”
After speeding his pickup truck through a crowd of people, video of the scene shows, Cobin shot his gun at demonstrators five times.
The shocking incident underscores the violence that Chilean protesters have been facing at the hands of their government, and occasionally other civilians. As of Friday, at least 20 people have been killed and about 1,600 have been injured, according to human rights observers, as crowds face water cannons and tear gas and pellets are shot in close range.
Why did this guy leave the U.S. for Chile anyway?
In the United States, he had grown sick of political correctness, eroding family values and high taxes, and his attempts at political relevancy had proved futile. He had participated in the League of the South, a neo-Confederate hate group, and failed in his libertarian bid for a U.S. congressional seat in South Carolina. Days before the election, he was arrested on charges of domestic violence.
In Chile, however, he emerged as a prolific conservative commentator, hosting a talk radio show called “Red Hot Chile,” traveling to every major town around the country and remarrying a Chilean woman. He dubbed himself the “biggest neoliberal in the entire country.” (Chilean media outlets would later describe him as a white supremacist.)
In 2012, he helped three other Americans found a libertarian compound in the mountains, “Galt’s Gulch,” named for the fictional capitalist haven in Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” Cobin quickly split and founded a competing sustainable farm and libertarian compound, called “Freedom Orchard.”
A brochure for the mountainside compound advertised an idyllic 400-unit paradise, where “liberty-loving people from all over the world” could enjoy low taxes, organic produce, and freedom from “intrusive and abusive government meddling.” One group, however, was not welcome on his orchard: liberals from the United States.
“You’ve already messed up your country,” Cobin told Mother Jones in 2014. “We don’t need you.”
In countless interviews and letters to the editor, he also expressed a particular admiration for the anti-communist policies of Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s disgraced former military dictator. Cobin established ties with Hermógenes Pérez de Arce, a widely read — and to his opponents, widely reviled — conservative newspaper columnist known as one of Pinochet’s most prominent defenders. (Pérez de Arce, who could not be reached for comment, is serving as Cobin’s lawyer.)
I’m surprised Cobin didn’t move back to the U.S. after Trump’s election and take a job in the administration!
In a since-deleted YouTube video he sent to his online followers, Cobin recounted how he had been driving to a gun range when he stumbled through protesters in Reñaca, a beachside resort town about 20 minutes north of Valparaíso, the country’s third-largest city.
According to Chilean news reports, about 2,000 people were protesting along a main road, partaking in a tactic in which they stop cars and ask drivers to dance with them as a show of solidarity. Cobin, wearing a neon yellow vest, refused. He started speeding through the crowd instead.
As Cobin tells it, the mob began banging against his pickup truck when he took out his gun and loaded it. He was fending against the possibility of assault, he said, as he began firing.
“I was in fear for my life, being attacked by a violent mob,” he said.
Video of the incident, however, showed a largely isolated vehicle moving past the crowd. After Cobin opened fire, a barefoot protester threw an object toward Cobin, who responded with more shots in the direction of the demonstrators. One of his bullets hit someone in the thigh, reportedly landing that man in the hospital.
When the histories of the New Gilded Age are written, the horrific impact of right-libertarians taking over various parts of George Mason is going to be a major part of those books.