There has been a tendency when looking at anti-gender funding to position Europe as a put-upon victim of malign forces in the US and Russia. This is wholly inaccurate. When it comes to raising money to ban abortion, Europe is doing quite well on its own, thank you very much! As founder and director of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights Neil Datta told me, ‘The anti-gender movement is very much a domestic phenomenon. Americans have a distinct role. But it’s not just a foreign intrusion on innocent Europeans who would otherwise be nicely progressive.’
Out of $702 million spent by fifty-four organisations on anti-gender movements between 2009 and 2018, a total of $437 million originated within Europe, according to research carried out by Datta. Those funders include religious foundations, economic elites such as wealthy businesspeople, and foundations established by aristocrats. Because this is Europe, those aristocrats descend from the families who once ruled the region – from the Habsburg dynasty to the descendants of the German Kaiser. They meet at Agenda Europe summits and at the annual World Congress of Families; they have offices within the political decision-making centres of the region such as Brussels and Geneva; and they fund anti-gender political parties, activists, public-facing campaigns, and legal cases.
At the heart of Europe’s anti-gender movement is CitizenGO, an organisation that is networked with US, Latin American, and African organisations as well as within Europe. Understanding the financial backers of CitizenGO can help us map the money men and women in the region, due to the campaigning organisation’s connections to Agenda Europe, Spain’s far-right Vox party, the One of Us Initiative, and influential anti-gender actors such as Brian Brown and Alexey Komov at the World Congress of Families.
Combined with Hazte Oir, CitizenGO spent a total of $32.7 million on its anti-gender activism in Europe between 2009 and 2018. Its publicity claims that it is ‘completely financed by small online donations arranged by thousands of citizens from all over the world’. In 2021 it raised $4.9 million from donors – nearly double its 2019 revenue of $2.7 million. Founder Ignacio Arsuaga has always said neither Hazte Oir nor CitizenGO get funding from US groups as ‘99% of HazteOir’s €1.9 million ($2.5 million) annual budget comes from donations from Spanish citizens. CitizenGO has been raising €30,000 to €40,000 (roughly $40,000 to $55,000) each month from the 1.2 million members it’s signed up worldwide since its October launch.’
This insistence from CitizenGO that it is funded by the grass roots is crucial to its campaigning strategy, and to our understanding of how far-right objections to abortion move into the mainstream. First, the idea that the anti-abortion movement is funded by €5 gifts from humble supporters taps into the Agenda Europe strategy of positioning the anti-gender movement as David to Abortion Industry TM’s Goliath – with the latter presented as a well-funded satanic behemoth set to crush the wishes of its good, God-fearing opponents.
Second, by pointing to thousands if not millions of small individual donations, CitizenGO can claim to represent the silent majority, arguing that opposition to abortion and LGBTIQ rights is the mainstream view being ignored by pro-abortion elites in the European Union and/or national governments.
CitizenGO also, however, benefits from elite donations. While it is true that it receives many individual gifts from the public, it has also been supported by major donations from wealthy and influential businesspeople. A leaked document revealed that Eulen’s David Alvarez donated €20,000, while Isidoro Alvarez, founder of El Corte Ingles, and businesswoman Esther Koplowitz gave €10,000 each. Data collected by Neil Datta revealed how Juan-Miguel Villar Mir, a member of the fifth-wealthiest family in Spain, is a backer; he also lists Jose Luis Bonet Ferrer, from the family behind the Cava brand Freixenet.
What’s more, far from growing from the grass roots, research published by Neil Datta in a report titled Tip of the Iceberg exposed how CitizenGO raised seed money worth up to $600,000 from ‘generous entrepreneurs and citizens’ support’. ‘To set up the technological infrastructure to have CitizenGO, that took a certain amount of money to pay for that,’ Datta explained during our chat. ‘You need first the technological infrastructure to start generating these petitions and then you can start hoovering in the money.’
In 2018, the French television channel Arte revealed how CitizenGO had launched a fundraising drive to target possible donors. Arsuaga sent out a business plan outlining his aims:
‘You take a look at who he sent those letters to … and then you compare that with the board membership,’ Datta told me. ‘There’s a correspondence – Brian Brown, Luca Volonte. Hevhad also written to a bunch of people in the Holy See, state secretaries for the Vatican. We know that one of the people on the board called Dr. Garcia Jones happens to be the Human Rights adviser to the Holy See to the Organization of American States. So it looks like he got lucky with almost every donor he wrote to, to be supportive in some way.’ Brian Brown is a crucial link in the anti-gender chain.
CitizenGo gets advice ‘every couple of months or so’ from a ‘senior expert’ in fundraising and technology who is ‘paid by Brian Brown’. The expert was Darian Rafie, Brown’s partner at an American organisation called ActRight which self-defines as a ‘clearing-house for conservative action’, and which helps conservative campaigns out with advice on how to do petitions and email lobbying.
Along with Rafie’s support, openDemocracy reported that it understands ‘ActRight paid for a CitizenGO staff member in 2013, a claim that Rafie did not deny in email comments’. Research by Neil Datta revealed how CitizenGO had a contract with ActRight regarding financial support. It states, ‘ActRight will support CitizenGO (member of ActRight Global) with an annual amount of 50K US dollars, via a direct contribution.’ The contract also confirms that ‘Brian Brown will seat [sic] on the CitizenGO board of trustees’.
The anti-gender movement is international, it is networked, and it relies on global wealth to carry its extremist ideology about women’s bodies into the mainstream. Much of the anti-gender activism in Europe is paid for by individual foundations, often linked to mainstream politicians, wealthy business leaders, or the scions of Europe’s old aristocracy – at least some of whom have historic links to the Nazi, fascist, and Falangist regimes of the twentieth century.
Both The Foundation for Family Values (Stiftung für Familienwerte) and the European Family Foundation have old-money links. The latter was established by Count Albrecht Graf von Brandenstein-Zeppelin, while the Foundation for Family Values is funded by a range of aristocratic Germans. Another German aristocrat, Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, donated to the World Congress of Families, and has supported Trump’s far-right former adviser Steve Bannon with his (failed) European projects.
That European nobility want to spend their ancestral fortunes on campaigns to undermine women’s reproductive and sexual freedoms is no surprise: this is a demographic that wants to restore a natural order rooted in the fascist mythic past, when the old families reigned supreme. After all, the wealthy benefactors of the anti-gender movement are those whose ancestors once ruled Europe – who had vast influence over millions of people’s lives and who saw their land and wealth as their God-given right.
Even when aristocratic influence was waning after the First World War, the old aristocracy was partly protected by the fascist, Nazi, and Falangist regimes. It doesn’t take a genius to understand why landed gentry would side with the far right against socialist and communist movements sweeping across Europe after the First World War. These were movements that wanted to end the exploitation of labour and property rights that enriched the aristocratic class.
Further, the aristocrats’ time in the sun was an era of rampant colonialism and unchallenged white supremacism. Aristocratic families made their wealth from the exploitation of others; they were told their right to do so came from God; and during their heyday white male supremacist rule went unquestioned. Those who did question this inequality suffered the consequences.
‘You have these foundations,’ Datta told me. ‘And then they’re all married to each other. They then fund different things. What it means is that we have an ecosystem in Europe, which is very similar to what Jane Mayer described in the United States with her book Dark Money. So we’re not more virtuous than the Americans, we have these people.’
That wealthy people are willing to spend their fortunes on anti-abortion extremism tells us something concerning about the mainstreaming of this ideology: this cause is now understood as a worthwhile investment with the possibility of future returns.
— An edited excerpt from Bodies Under Siege: How the Far–Right Attack on Reproductive Rights Went Global by Sian Norris