Do we suppress authoritarians’ speech before they suppress us?

Apr 21, 2024
Protest Image:iStock/DanielVilleneuve

The global movement towards authoritarianism took a step forward this week, and faced an experiment in checking its infiltration.

In America, a frightening move towards crushing protest was made when the Supreme Court refused to hear the Mckesson v Doe case on liability accruing to protest organisers. In Europe, an international gathering of far right politicians was broken up by a brave (or reckless) mayor and the local police.

The Trump appointment-stacked Fifth Circuit had found that protest organiser DeRay Mckesson was liable for injuries sustained by an anonymous policeman at a civil rights protest against a shooting of a Black man, in Baton Rouge in 2016. Mckesson had no interaction with the assailant and had not exhorted violence, so US legal precedent should have protected his First Amendment speech rights. Unfortunately, inflicting “catastrophic financial liability” on protest organisers is a tantalising project for the Trump Right, and the Supreme Court has, for now, refused to tackle the finding.

The impact is feared to mean that even counterprotestors – such as Neo Nazis – would be included in the ambit of people for whose actions protest organisers could be held liable.

The Atlas Network Project 2025 not only aims to reverse climate action if Trump wins in November. Its most likely impact will be to aid Trump (through Project 2025 populating his administration) to attempt to orchestrate the seizing of millions of “illegal” immigrants. Given the history of protests against Trump’s election victory and the “Muslim ban,” this draconian new possibility would incite massive protest.

Trump’s main support base remains the Evangelical movement. The devastation he has enabled on reproductive rights through tactical judicial appointments is his main attraction for them. It is also his primary vulnerability, since elections continue to show that even Republican electorates reject the extremity of the controls being imposed on sexuality. If Trump is able to overcome that argument and win with his prevarications, it is widely expected that contraception will eventually join abortion on the list of options to be banned nationwide through executive action.

This too, like forecast attacks on LGBTQIA+ existence, will provoke massive protests.

The actors around Trump know that crushing protest is crucial to their Christofascist goals if they can return Trump to the White House in January.

Other Republican states will be eagerly reproducing this legislation, as they have copied attacks on reproductive justice and Queer existence: the ability to bankrupt protest organisers is one of the most chilling of weapons in a longterm mission to crush protest. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is an Atlas Network partner and has been key to generating legislation to be reproduced across Republican state senates intent on crushing human rights including protest. ALEC enables such legislation’s rapid spread.

A Belgian mayor this week took action to prevent the propagation of the global right’s authoritarian messaging. This should provoke debate about whether the tolerance inherent in liberalism was meant to encompass tolerance of its own destruction. It will, however, inflate the martyrdom and grievance inherent to the global Right.

The conference in contention was a NatCon event. In the anglosphere, the Right-Wing movement that embraces Trump and traditionalism has been working to find a marketable label for its ideology. NatCon, in the US and Europe, is the feigned intellectual version. NatCon spruiks concern for (White) workers and is otherwise at war with everything that can be defined as “woke”: working women, reproductive rights, LGBTQIA+ existence, multiculturalism and, crucially, climate action. Nationalism and God must be forced into every aspect of the state. Its “grassroots” version in the UK has been marketed as Popular Conservatism or PopCon (probably echoing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in America and Australia) and is intricately intertwined, like NatCon, with the fossil fuel-funded Atlas Network.

The NatCon event, running since 2019, has strong ties with the European and Israeli Far Right, visible in the conference’s list of co-sponsoring institutions. The label is credited to Yoram Hazony, who plans to reclaim the “virtue” of nationalism from the fascist past. The Edmund Burke Foundation (EBF) of which he is chairman was the network that declared the “founding principles” of the NatCon movement. (News Corp’s Miranda Devine was one of the signatories.)

Hazony also runs The Herzl Institute which is embedded in the Greater Israel project of extremist Jewish Nationalism. Two of NatCons’ other sponsors – the Danube Institute and the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) – are core components of Viktor Orban’s propaganda network, frequented by Australian Liberal Party grandees. It is also supported by a news outlet described as “fascist filth”, funded by Orban: The European Conservative. Another body, Nazione Futura is closely linked to the fascism associated with Giorgia Meloni’s party. All these organisations have connections to the Atlas Network. Orban’s bodies are directly linked to the Atlas creator of Trump’s Project 2025.

The committee includes Hazony who has declared that Meir Kahane is his hero. While distancing himself from the terrorism Kahane advocated, Hazony embraces his ethnostate message. Alongside other representatives from the sponsoring bodies is Associate Professor James Orr who is a Cambridge professor of religion and advisory board member to the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship (alongside several former Australian prime ministers and politicians).

Nationhood for NatCons is a religious identity. Patriarchal and hierarchical, it demands a unified identity for a state based on a shared culture, language and religion. “Others” within this nation-state must be, at best, suffered not included. The nuclear family is its basic unit and the rhetoric of speakers demands this morality’s enforcement although they tend not to detail how such constrained sexuality and lifestyle are to be enforced.

A deep loathing for immigrants is another central theme, depicting them as failing to share “our values”, code for Muslim. This is predictable for an ideology within the Islamophobic traditionalist spectrum. The free movement of people within the EU (as well as its propensity for regulating errant businesses) make its destruction a core goal for such a coalition. The MCC has a eurosceptic junktank offshoot, MCC Brussels, whose executive director Frank Furedi was in attendance at the contested conference.

NatCon Brussels was predominantly funded by fossil fuel. Viktor Orban granted sponsoring body the MCC a 10% stake in Hungary’s “oil and gas giant” MOL from which it received $65 million in 2022 alone. The NatCon movement has strong financial motivations to link climate denial with its fascistic identity politics.

The efforts to crush protest if Trump wins in November and the goals of the interrupted conference are part of an interconnected global authoritarian movement. Whether we suppress the authoritarians’ speech before they suppress us is a matter we must confront.

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