Finances of the extreme right
Through cooperation and lobbying: The conservative organization CitizenGo tries to strengthen the right-wing discourse in Europe.
VERONA / BERLIN taz | He is smiling at the camera. Matteo Salvini, the Italian Minister of the Interior of the right-wing governing party Lega, puts his arm on the back of a German this Saturday in March: Maximilian Krah, black jacket, red tie. Krah, 41, is a lawyer, he lives in Dresden. In the European election, he runs on list position three for the AfD. After the election in May, he will most likely play a central role for the AfD in Brussels.
Krah twits the picture of himself and Salvini, a leader of the European new right: “Together for a better Europe,” he writes. A week later, Salvini announces that after the election, a right-wing populist faction in the EU Parliament should be founded – a “nationalist International”.
The picture of Salvini and Krah was taken in Verona, northern Italy. There, on the last weekend of March, the Christian-fundamentalist World Congress of Families station made the world's most important gathering of ultra-conservative and right-wing anti-feminists. The “natural marriage” of father, mother and many children is promoted – along with the fight against abortions, same-sex marriages and rights of trans and interpersonal persons.
The potential private donor
On-site is also a covert investigative reporter of the British media platform openDemocracy. The donation-funded non-profit organization from London covers the costs of global investigative research. The reporter poses as a potential private donor, talking to politicians and representatives of organizations. He claims to support right-wing parties. And he asks how he can handle party financing rules.
The minutes of the reporter, which are based on several audio recordings, are the taz before. They show how the AfD benefits from a network stretching from Verona to Moscow to employees of the election campaign of US President Donald Trump.
Even before Salvini, who defends in Verona the right of every child to have father and mother, speaks at the Congress one of the central figures of the global “life” scene: The Spaniard Ignacio Arsuaga. On a pastel illuminated stage, the 46-year-old holds one of the congress's most aggressive speeches against “gender ideologists”, “radical feminists” and the “abortion industry”. Arsuaga, dark hair and side vertex, is an eloquent and peppy speaker and a strategist of the scene. He makes clear what he wants to do with the “war” against his enemies: with international cooperation and lobbying in politics.
The reporter exposes himself as a potential private donor, claiming to support right-wing parties
Arsuaga and its campaign organization CitizenGo are among the organizers of the congress. The international foundation mobilizes petitions and bus tours against sex education in schools, abortions and LGBTI rights – in around 50 countries worldwide. The covert reporter's research now shows that CitizenGo is trying to empower right-wing parties across Europe.
Make Spain Great Again
How this actually works was seen in Spain in recent weeks. There, CitizenGo supports the far-right party Vox, which moved into the Spanish parliament for the first time last weekend. Under the motto “Make Spain Great Again”, Vox calls for walls to build Spanish enclaves in North Africa and to loosen the gun laws. The party also opposes “political correctness,” same-sex marriages, and laws against violence against women. Arsuaga publicly supports Vox. Just last Friday, two days before the Spanish elections, he wrote on Twitter: “Vox is the party that defends life, family and liberties the most.”
Opposite the undercover reporter, Arsuaga calls Vox “my friends” and says he has met senior party officials to present his campaign plans. He also describes how his organization CitizenGo supports the party “indirectly”. These include Negative Campaigning, which seeks to put competition from Vox in the wrong light.
When the undercover reporter asks how he, as a donor, can circumvent the rules of Spanish political party funding that provide for individuals to donate to parties, Arsuaga states that there are no limits to donating to groups like CitizenGo. “If you donate privately to an NGO, there's no need to disclose it.” CitizenGo itself does not pass on money to Vox. But: “You could give money to any foundation that does not mind passing it on to Vox. That would be a good option. “
Women's rights under Donald Trump
Arsuaga founded CitizenGo 2013 – as a kind of ultra-conservative version of the left-liberal petition platform Avaaz.org. CitizenGo is also active in Germany. On the German-language website of the organization are currently petitions with titles such as “Two mothers, no father – NOT with us!”. According to its own statement, the platform had around 2.5 million euros available in 2017.
CitizenGo's board of trustees has an illustrious round: The director of a Catholic news agency from South America, a confidant of a Russian oligarch, an Italian politician standing trial for allegations of corruption – and US anti-feminist Brian Brown, chairman of the World Congress of Families.
Project: Right-wing populists in the EU transnationally fight liberal Europe. The taz and the partner media in the research network Europe Far Far reveal their agenda, strategies and networks
Partners: taz, Libération (Paris), butterfly (Vienna) Gazeta Wyborcza (Warsaw), HVG (Budapest), Internazionale (Rome), WOZ (Zurich).
Funding: The project is supported by the Cartographers Scholarship of the Mercator Foundation, the 'Reporters in the Field' Scholarship of the Bosch Foundation, the Otto Brenner and taz Panter Foundation.
Read more (English) taz.de/efr
Arsuaga tells the covert reporter that CitizenGo is advised “every few months” by a fundraising and technology expert “paid by Brian Brown.” These are Darian Rafie, Brown's partner in an American organization called ActRight. Rafie is involved as a political adviser in several companies that support the Republican Party, and especially its ultra-conservative currents.
ActRight raises money for conservative Republicans and anti-feminist organizations and launches petitions that primarily support the Trump administration. Currently, ActRight is calling on Trump to “stop the transgender madness in the military.” Since Trump's inauguration in 2017, the attacks of the scene of fundamentalist Christianity on women's and LGBTI rights have been more severe than ever.
Cooperation with the right-wing clerical Alliance
At the World Congress of Families in Verona, Rafie tells the undercover reporter that he has worked for the Trump campaign. Rafie also explains to the reporter in detail what campaigning tools are available. For example, you can register people who are using their cell phones in a staked area, and identify their profiles on Netflix or Facebook. This could be used to communicate with potential voters. Although there are stricter data protection laws in Europe, tools of this kind can also be used here.
According to the openDemocracy media platform, ActRight also paid a CitizenGo employee in 2013. CitizenGo thus has a close connection to an organization from Trump's environment. And in Germany CitizenGo had some time the reference in the logo: “Member of the ActRight Family”.
In this country CitizenGo cooperates with the legal clerical action alliance “demo for all”. Only in September rolled an orange “bus of freedom of opinion” through the country and made, inter alia, station in Munich, Cologne and Berlin. On the side of the bus, under the slogan “Stop Over-Sex Sex Education – Protect Our Children”, CitizenGo's logos and “Demo for All” were featured.
Hedwig von Beverfoerde, shoulder-length brown hair, pearl earrings, is the head of the German “demo for all”. In conversation with the taz at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, where the bus stops, she explains what she fights for: sexuality, according to Beverfoerde, is created for “procreation in its natural habitat”. The marriage for all a “label fraud”. And abortion the “killing of a man”.
CitizenGo, Beverfoerde says, has proposed the joint tour. Where the money comes from, she does not want to say. Arsuaga, however, says in an earlier conversation with the taz: “We've already sponsored a demo for all conference and launched the bus.”
The AfD and her courier
Demo for All and CitizenGo play in AfD's hands in Germany, as CitizenGo in Spain uses Vox: they push the discourse to the right, they strengthen the anti-feminist agenda of the party. And although both organizations in Germany are independent of party politics, the connection to the AfD is close.
Thus, for example, says the AfD member of parliament Beatrix von Storch at an election campaign in 2015, that they organize the “Demos for All”: “This also runs from my office.” This refers to the office of the “Civil Coalition”, an organization with which it orchestrates countless campaigns. Until Beverfoerde founded the “Demo for All”, she was the front woman of the “Initiative Familieschutz” of the Civil Coalition.
And also Arsuaga confirmed in conversation with the undercover reporter contacts with both the AfD and the Lega and the right-wing Hungarian ruling party Fidesz. When asked if he discussed CitizenGo's campaigning strategies with these parties, Arsuaga says, “Yes. We'll let them know what we're going to do. “Arsuaga also offers the reporter the opportunity to introduce him to the” number three “of the AfD, which is also at the Verona congress.
Little is known about the backers and women
This refers to Maximilian Krah, who is running on the third list of the AfD for the European elections. When Krah meets Salvini, he is accompanied by David Bendels, head of the “Association for the Rule of Law and Civil Liberties”. The association advertises for years with free election campaign newspapers, billboards and ads for the AfD – and is like the AfD itself suspected of illegal, covert party financing.
The NGO Lobbycontrol speaks of a double-digit million amount with which Bendel's association supported the AfD. An important role is played by the Swiss GoalAG, which, among other things, booked space for posters of the association. Little is known about the backers and women. Only recently, the Bundestag administration has sent two sanction decisions for illegal party donations in connection with the GoalAG. The AfD must pay a fine.
Bendel's newspaper Germany courier, in which Maximilian Krah writes a column, published after the World Congress of Families in Verona a conversation between Salvini, Krah and Bendels. Krah sums up: “We want to change the EU, and after the meeting in Verona, I know we can succeed. Because we are not alone. “
OpenDemocracy is a British research platform. Alexander Nabert works for her. Patricia Hecht is gender editor of taz.
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