An ultraconservative shadow network is forming, designed to influence you

Nov 1, 2023
3D illustration of pawns over black backgound with circles. Concept spheres of influence. Image IStock/ Olivier Le Moal

It was helpful of Greg Sheridan to advertise in The Australian (27/10) the new ultraconservative conference that he is attending in London. While his column is no doubt intended to recruit, it is useful in shining a spotlight on a traditionally shadowy architecture of influence.

Apparently 1,500 citizens from around the world are gathering at the O2 venue over Halloween in London to talk about how to save the world from the “elites” at a cost of AUD2870 per head. The new body promoting conservative activism is the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship. The body’s tagline is that the “The ARC of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” The “ark” wordplay to denote them as saviours of Western Civilisation is no doubt intentional.

One of the key figures organising this event is John Anderson, former National Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister. He recently appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference Australia (CPAC) conference which was a Trumpist rallying cry against the Voice to Parliament and LGBTQIA+ rights. He also spoke at the reactionary Family First NZ conference. More significantly, Anderson, according to the ARC site, runs “Australia’s pre-eminent politico-cultural video podcast,” an “enterprise” that has 400,000 subscribers.

On his program, Anderson interviewed Jordan Peterson; now they are at the helm of this nascent body. Peterson is one of the stars of the internet manosphere where he makes his money selling sexism, Western chauvinism and climate denial. Joining these two as founder is Baroness Philippa Stroud, formerly of the Legatum Institute, an influence body whose “lead sponsor” is the Legatum Group, representing a Dubai-based private hedge-fund billionaire. This is the “think” tank that fought for the strictest Brexit with no tariffs, and drones to cope with the Irish border issue. The economic conditions created by “think” tanks such as this have one million British children living in “destitution” more than doubling the figure over the last five years.

The pretext for forging this alliance is that climate action is going to destroy the ability to provide food for humanity, pushing us into poverty. Recent scientific findings that point to evidence that all “life on Earth is imperilled” by the climate crisis are not accepted. Desmog has described the ARC conference as a key event in the “climate crisis denial movement.”

Of the international crowd, 150 are Australian. Anderson and Sheridan are to be joined by former Prime Ministers John Howard, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison. Anti-abortion activist Amanda Stoker is on the advisory panel alongside Howard, Abbott and Andrew Hastie. Angus Taylor, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Ted O’Brien and James Paterson are attending, as is Barnaby Joyce. Mark Latham is too. The only political surprise is Julian Leeser who was a more moderate actor in the Voice debate.

Most delegates are coming from the UK and the US. Sheridan counts 300 as deriving from Europe. One of the most noteworthy American attendees is new House Speaker Mike Johnson, who is a fully-fledged theocrat. He has been described by a colleague as a “despicable bigot of the highest order.” The list of figures on the advisory board alone features notables representing climate denial, Western chauvinism and ultraconservative religious beliefs from around the world. It also has what Sheridan characterises as “serious business backers.”

Anderson explained to Sheridan that, “Citizens in the West feel marginalised, treated with contempt by the elites.” The Voice was apparently a project of the “expertocracy” that patronised the voter. We need elites, but “the right elites.” This reflects a trend in the National Conservative (Nat Con) movement that, while pitched at actual elites, demonises the intellectual “elites” as the crisis in society. It feigns populism while aiming to control all the behaviours and beliefs in the populace that are not “traditional.” It is simultaneously statist in its disdain for the individual’s choices and libertarian for the “conservative” business world.

This is an important moment to read prize winning journalist and historical researcher Anne Nelson’s “Shadow Network” book, recounting the history of the Council for National Policy in the US. It illustrates the strategies at work in this body as well as the global Atlas Network. The “think” tanks and organisations formulated in this model unite disparate actors in cutting edge strategies led by a multitude of misleadingly-named bodies to foster ultra-free market policy and ultraconservative social goals. Many of the plutocrat funders are fossil fuel billionaires.

The game-plan of the Atlas Network was rolled out for the Voice to Parliament referendum, as UTS lecturer Jeremy Walker examined. The 500 Atlas affiliates around the world have consistently worked to break the union of Indigenous populations and environmental action impeding resource extraction. Their ploys include depicting climate activists and environmentalists as terrorists or extremists. This has been the case for Indigenous environmental protectors around the world. They have also worked to co-opt some First People with mining profits to break unity and fight the resource extractors’ opponents for them. ARC Advisor Magatte Wade heads Atlas affiliate “Center for African Prosperity” where she argues climate activism is the new colonialism, intended to impoverish Africans.

The Centre for Independent Studies (CIS), an Australian Atlas affiliate, has strong personnel connections to the Advance body that led the No campaign through its Fair Australia brand. Advance shares personnel and an address with sites that promoted a range of disruptive and contradictory positions against the Voice, including a Christian one (not least because spiritual connections to country are a pagan threat.) The cluster includes an anti-climate action offshoot called “Not Zero.” Advance has personnel and logistical connections with Whitestone Strategic consulting, a shadowy company that also has links with the Pentecostal movement’s peak body, the Australian Christian Lobby, and with Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party. It’s uncertain how much damage to the referendum was achieved by Advance and friends: they seem a clumsy attempt at the Atlas model.

Nelson illustrates how the possible American political collapse into fossil fuel-embracing, theocratic authoritarianism was created over 50 years with the kind of networking reflected in the ARC conference. The O2 event trumpets the spread of the fossil fuel promoting, ultraconservative movement internationally, work that Atlas has been carrying out in secret.

This could be 2023’s scariest Halloween party.

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