FERGUSON • A spotlight lit up the sedan as it turned around on West Florissant Avenue and stopped in front of the burned out QuikTrip. The driver’s side door flung open. Out clanked an oxygen tank and an old cuss named David Hoech, who was mad as hell about all the “race bait” on the news.
Hoech, 74, a retired international business consultant, wanted to defuse the situation in Ferguson. Ignoring demands to stop from the brute line of armored police vehicles, the Vietnam veteran headed straight toward the gun barrels like he was going to scold a spoiled child.
“I’ll go where I want, when I want, and do what I want within the rule of law!” Hoech recalled telling police. “I live my life free. I work at it, and I ain’t going to start giving any of it up tonight. That’s for damn sure!”
Hoech (pronounced Hake) was one of the few people allowed through the roadblock that night. As soon as he passed, he turned around and drove an hour west on Interstate 70, back to his home in rural Warren County.
The effort landed him on Glenn Beck’s conservative radio talk show, where Hoech accused CNN of making events in Ferguson appear worse than they were.
“The more it gets fanned — there’s going to be fires in every city because people are upset about a lot of other things,” Hoech said on air. “And they use crap like this as an excuse to go out and vent anger. And anger is the wind that blows out the candle of the mind. While everybody is angry, we accomplish nothing.”
On Nov. 24, Hoech was back on scene. By the end of the night, he lay in a tangle of oxygen lines a few blocks from the Ferguson Police Department as attackers sped off in his 2015 Subaru Outback.
The incident attracted wide attention, none of which identified him. Nor did reports mention this man had once helped expose one of the largest price-fixing scandals in U.S. history, sending top executives to prison.
‘AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL’
On the night of the grand jury announcement that police Officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for shooting Michael Brown, Hoech, who suffers from a terminal lung illness, turned up in Ferguson with a cart loaded with three oxygen tanks.
Hoech toted a white flag in a plea for everyone to surrender to the rule of law.
Over an electronic bullhorn, he played a Ray Charles rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
“Nobody does it better than Ray,” Hoech says now.
Matt McGrail, 19, a business student at Mizzou, who had also come to experience the news firsthand, saw Hoech adding music to the din of chants for justice that have become synonymous with the Brown shooting.
“I just looked at him and smiled because I knew he was there to bring peace,” McGrail said.
Hoech said he embraced one protester who asked about his choice of music, given so much conflict in the streets.
“I said America is beautiful,” Hoech recalled. “We have this much freedom to be this messed up, but we can still express ourselves and the rule of law. Do we have the willpower and the obedience to the law to straighten it out and make it beautiful the way it was?”
Not immediately for Hoech.
Tired and cold, he went back to his car and climbed into the passenger side. Soon, the door flew open and Hoech was thrown to the ground. Witnesses said he was carjacked by two men whom Hoech tried to fight off.
He had grabbed on to the side of the car and even bashed the front windshield with an oxygen tank. Hoech was run over by his own car as it sped off.
‘THE LAW PROSTITUTED’
Hoech lives in a home nestled in the woods near a bunch of lakes in the Innsbrook Resort, near Wright City. A huge television on the wall stays tuned to Fox News. Firearms are scattered throughout, he said, so he doesn’t have to worry about reloading.
On a shelf, near a Hanukkah menorah, rests a copy of “Rats in the Grain,” the nonfiction book about an international price-fixing scandal involving agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland. Author James Lieber wrote a personal inscription to Hoech and his wife, who died last year: “For their tireless efforts on behalf of America.”
In 1995, the Hoechs started writing an anonymous ADM Shareholder’s Watch newsletter, which would be distributed by fax to ADM offices, board members, reporters and even dropped off at gas stations in Decatur, Ill., then the headquarters for the company that used to bill itself as the “supermarket to the world.”
The newsletter exposed price fixing in the lysine and citric acid markets, along with accusations that the government was too cozy with ADM and that an executive was involved in a hit-and-run accident.
The newsletters were signed The Lamet Vov, an ancient Jewish belief that 36 individuals on Earth at all times are called to rise up for the benefit of others, before returning to anonymity.
Around that time, Mark Whitacre, a former president of ADM’s biotech division, emerged as an FBI informer with more than three years of taped conversations he had with business colleagues and competitors.
It’s unknown whether Hoech had access to the tapes. But details about fixing prices showed up in his newsletters, which kept pressure on ADM and story legs for major news outlets.
“When it appeared the story would lull, and perhaps ADM could make a deal, or maybe its high-level people couldn’t go to jail, (Hoech) would know,” Lieber, the author of “Rats in the Grain,” said by telephone. “He would get out information and really shine a spotlight on what was going on.”
Hoech was in a good position to do this. He owned only two shares of ADM stock but had befriended Whitacre and was a consultant to a Japanese company caught up in the scandal.
Hoech tried to persuade the Japanese company to cooperate with the Department of Justice investigation. And he took on ADM’s chief executive, Dwayne Andreas, who was well-connected in Washington.
“The law prostituted brings on chaos, and chaos brings on dictatorship,” Hoech said, according to the book. “Democracy functions best when people stand up.”
With Hoech’s help, three ADM executives went to prison, in addition to Whitacre, the whistleblower. ADM had to pay $100 million in criminal fines and much more to food company customers. Over time, its board of directors was purged.
Actor Matt Damon would go on to play the role of Whitacre in “The Informant!,” a film about the saga.
Whitacre, recalling the case by telephone last week, said he vividly remembers Hoech.
Whitacre said Hoech warned him early on that ADM was going to try to make him the scapegoat for a broader crime network. Hoech, who said he had nothing to gain financially from his efforts, wanted to keep that from happening.
“I remember him saying, even today, the minnow is going to prison and Moby Dick is going to swim away unless somebody puts this out on Front Street and keeps this in the public’s eye,” Whitacre said.
Summing up Hoech’s political views into a tidy philosophy is difficult. He can rant along with the best Tea Partiers about the evils of the Obama administration. From his days in Vietnam, he has an antipathy to communism and its effect on society.
In the case of Ferguson, those views translate into a peculiar position. He has strong empathy for the Brown family. And yet he criticizes Al Sharpton and others who “race bait” the situation.
On that night in August, he was more than willing to go toe-to-toe against police in his view that they shouldn’t have blocked off the street.
Above all else, he preaches about the “rule of law,” a phrase he repeats over and over again as a remedy to corporate malfeasance, government overreaching and arson.
From a young age, the scriptural decree of obedience — found in his favorite book of Leviticus — was instilled in him. His father was a Baptist minister and his mother was of Jewish heritage.
While others preach about race, Hoech says Ferguson will be fixed when all sides honor the law.
“He believes it for people in corporate boardrooms and he believes it for people in distressed neighborhoods,” said Lieber, who along with Whitacre wasn’t surprised to see Hoech taking that message to the streets.
Hoech ended up spending Thanksgiving week in the hospital after being attacked. He has a new ball joint in his left hip and is already up on his feet, demanding to be heard.
He tells people who ask that he’s still disappointed in the “stupidity in this country.” There are major leadership and economic problems in the U.S., not racial problems, he says.
Speaking from his living room, he described the carjacking as a crime of opportunity.
“I got beat up by a couple black guys,” he said. “That didn’t make me dislike black people ... Racism is in the mouth of a racist!”
As if he was out on the street again, and as if he needed a bullhorn to begin with, he yelled: “There is only one thing that is going to save us all, the rule of law! ... If you don’t stand up for what’s wrong, you are what’s wrong!”
Hoech stood up, tethered by a long hose attached to an oxygen machine. He says he’s recovering from the new hip and is going to be the first person to beat pulmonary fibrosis.
“I am getting in shape,” he said. “I am going dancing Saturday. It might be in my kitchen, with my own music.”