A group funded by Ben & Jerry’s founder Ben Cohen is running a media campaign against U.S. military support for Ukraine.
The organization—Eisenhower Media Network (EMN)—has been reaching out to reporters to push claims that the U.S. is spending too much money trying to help Ukraine fight off Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
EMN is a project run by the People’s Power Initiative, a group that counts Cohen as its president and a major backer. The ice-cream mogul and long-time Bernie Sanders campaigner has given more than $1 million to the People’s Power Initiative via the Ben Cohen Charitable Trust, according to public records.
Approached about his role in backing the group, Cohen told The Daily Beast: “I think the U.S. should use its power to negotiate an end to the war, not prolong the death and destruction by supplying more weapons.”
The EMN project promotes a group of U.S. military veterans as experts and pundits willing to talk about the war in Ukraine. Some of them have been echoing Kremlin propaganda lines by claiming that U.S. military support for Ukraine is extending and intensifying the fighting, and suggesting that NATO expansion was one of the causes of the war. “We gave Putin just cause,” the director of EMN, Dennis Fritz, told The Daily Beast in an interview.
This left-wing critique of U.S. policy—which grows out of a deep-rooted anti-war sentiment—brings some on the left into line with the talking points of fringe Republicans such as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, who also argue that Washington is overspending in defense of Ukraine. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential presidential candidate, claimed last week that defeating Putin was not in the U.S.’s “vital national interests.”
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Email blasts to reporters from EMN included the claim during the debt ceiling crisis that spending on Ukraine was so high that the U.S. government may have to default on its basic duty to pay the salaries of members of the military and to cut social security and pension checks. The message included a quote from EMN’s associate director, Matthew Hoh, a former State Department staffer and Marine Corps captain, who said: “The outrageous federal spending on the Ukraine war is missing from the discussion on the national debt… It’s time to think about pausing funding for Ukraine if we cannot afford it.”
Hoh and his colleagues have been quoted by media outlets in recent months criticizing the West’s approach to the war in Ukraine. In January, Newsweek and the Inter Press Service both quoted Hoh saying the U.S. and NATO agreeing to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s request for tanks to be delivered would not win the war. “Rather we should expect a reciprocal escalation by Russia that solidifies the stalemate and threatens expansion of the war. Only de-escalation, ceasefires and negotiations will bring an end to the war,” he said.
Newsweek also quoted Hoh raising doubts about whether the Ukrainians would be able to fuel Abrams tanks sent from the U.S., as well as quoting another EMN source, William Astore, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, saying: “Western military aid has created a stalemate in Ukraine.”
Fritz, who rose to be Command Chief Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force after nearly half a century serving in the armed services, told the same outlet that Zelensky’s credibility was damaged by the misidentification of a missile that landed in Poland in November. The article was headlined: Is Zelensky Trying America’s Patience?
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Fritz lifted the lid on the ongoing campaign to turn Americans against President Joe Biden’s military support for Ukraine—and the man behind his organization.
“I have never talked about that before but it is Ben Cohen, remember him—Ben & Jerry’s—he is our biggest funder. He is the reason we came about. We do feel that our military budget is too large in some ways, and he believes that if we just target our budget on what we actually need, then we buy more social programs for the United States of America, more social programs that people might also need in Ukraine.”
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An EMN spokeswoman confirmed that Ben Cohen is president of the board of directors of People Power Initiatives (PPI) and its “top donor.” EMN is a project of PPI, which is a 501c3 nonprofit. Public records show that Cohen donated over $400,000 to PPI during the 2015 tax year, followed by a series of smaller donations in the years since which have totalled more than $1 million.
Ben & Jerry’s Foundation Inc. also made a $2,000 donation in 2017, but that was part of a program to match the charitable spending of employees.
Ben & Jerry’s is now wholly owned by consumer giant Unilever, but it does have an independent board of directors, which has special dispensation to continue to promote the kind of social and political causes that made the Vermont ice-cream company famous.
Last year, the company was criticized by Unilever when the Ben & Jerry’s Twitter account posted a message claiming Biden’s move to send additional troops to Europe while Russia was threatening to invade Ukraine “fans the flame of war.”
Fritz agrees that the U.S. has to take its share of the blame for Putin invading a sovereign nation. “When we won the Cold War, we said we would not expand NATO, first it was top secret but then the national archive released it: We told Gorbachev that we would not expand NATO, Ukraine should stay neutral, they are right on the border there. And we lied,” he told The Daily Beast. “So we gave Putin just cause. The killing he is doing, that’s a disgrace and we will never forget that. But Putin is not going to stop. And that is not up to the Pentagon. The roots of this problem are buried in the State Department.”
“Ukraine cannot win this war,” Fritz continued. “The bottom line is: It’s done. They are against a mad man and his ego—he will not lose. Whether we like it or not, we have to give Putin something.”
Fritz said he preferred China’s non-interventionist approach to foreign policy. “I say we Americans have to stop being arrogant,” he said.
The EMN group opposed vast U.S. military spending long before the war in Ukraine began. Cohen told The Daily Beast that he believes the money could be better spent on domestic issues.
“The Pentagon budget is insane. Example: The atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima killed over 100,000 people. Today’s nuclear arsenal is the equivalent of 120,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs. I think we’d be a lot more secure if we spent money wasted on Pentagon overkill for Medicare for all and preventing lead poisoning,” Cohen said in an email.
The next push for EMN’s campaign to turn Americans against military support for Ukraine will come later this month, timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the start of the War in Iraq. The group is hoping to generate more media coverage with a letter signed by multiple national security experts and military veterans calling for negotiations with Putin.