The Atlas Network’s transnational revolution

Jul 8, 2024
Network connection structure, 3d rendering

Twice in a fortnight, the president of the Heritage Foundation has declared that America is experiencing its second revolution. The revolution would remain bloodless (because their side is “winning”) “if the left allows it to be.” The two bodies whose acts provoked the announcements are leading Atlas Network partners. They are also spending millions of dollars in Europe to roll back rights for women and LGBTQIA people.

Both president Kevin Roberts’ announcements were made on Steve Bannon’s War Room broadcast, central to the Trumpist movement and its efforts to remake America from every school board and electoral precinct upwards.

The first announcement of revolution was made on the 22nd June. It functioned as an advertisement for the MAGA(Make America Great Again) audience to take part. Becoming a revolutionary involves undertaking Project 2025’s recruitment and training of loyalists to staff the incoming Trump administration, but also at state and local government levels. Roberts declared they were building not just for 2025, but for the next century in the United States.

Project 2025 is the most recent iteration of Heritage’s Mandate for Leadership. The first was written for Ronald Reagan, spelling out his massive reforms. He implemented two thirds in his first term. The last iteration for Donald Trump’s first term was similarly “business Republican” in tone, and Trump too implemented two thirds in his first year. The newest iteration is, as Roberts describes, revolutionary. It dictates the process for the dismantling most of the federal government as well as setting America on track to eliminate reproductive and Queer rights. 

It also sets out the intention to dismantle the vital energy transition work underway as a result of the Inflation Reduction Act, with plans to boost fossil fuel production instead. This is fitting as much of Heritage’s funding comes from fossil fuel sources.

Project 2025 is a joint Atlas Network and Council for National Policy project.

The second announcement of revolution was made after the Supreme Court’s dramatic week of judgements. In particular, the one that granted the President of the United States immunity for the vaguely worded field of “official acts.” Naturally the partisan court will make the determination which acts are “official.”

The week also compounded the Trumpist Supreme Court’s norm-violating series of decisions that have rolled back reproductive healthcare access for women across Republican states, further damaged voters’ representation, and frozen programs that aim to address entrenched disadvantage.

In one week, the Court placed itself above the experts in government agencies who define, for example, how much mercury is unsafe to consume. While the relevant judge confused nitrous oxide and nitrogen oxide, he dared to claim that judges were better placed than government experts to determine the minutiae of America’s functioning. This attack on the administrative state’s ability to protect the public from corporate recklessness and malfeasance was a triumph for capital. The court also damaged the SEC’s ability to deal with White Collar crime.

Such gifts to the wealthy were balanced with another judgement that decided a gratuity given after a favour was received would not be determined an illegal bribe. For a court riddled with scandal over oligarch largesse, this was a particularly cynical decision.

As a footnote, the same week revealed a decision that said regions could make it illegal to be homeless. This can provide numbers for private prison operator profits. There prisoners are hired out to businesses for near slave-labour wages.

All these decisions have resulted from the years of work by the Federalist Society which handed Trump his literal list from which to choose judges. Republicans had stalled appointments to federal benches over the Obama era, granting Trump the gift of hundreds of appointments; some appointees were considered scandalous.

The years of surreptitious work by the Federalist Society and its leader Leonard Leo have been documented by Pro Publica. The body made headlines when it was gifted $1.6 billion by a single donor.

Both Heritage and the Federalist Society are Atlas Network partners. They are also Council for National Policy (CNP) members: that’s the interlinked body that has been driving the Christian Nationalist takeover of America.

Dr Jeremy Walker explained the process by which the Atlas Network architecture of influence operates in the lead-up to the Voice referendum in 2023. 

Investigative journalist Jane Mayer revealed its American operations in Dark Money, using the label “Kochtopus” after Charles and David Koch, preeminent funders of the network. Historian Nancy MacLean documented its longer history in Democracy in Chains. 

With around 500 partner organisations in roughly 100 countries its global operations remain less obvious because the system is intentionally covert.

The central “think” tanks foster the replication of more such bodies, providing seed funding if necessary and training in fundraising and public relations strategies to help the local offshoots become independent. They network. The primary function is to sell the donors’ messages by advertising them constantly: in 1985, Heritage founder Ed Feulner told Australian operatives to treat campaigns as if they were for a toothpaste brand that needed constant reinforcing. The messages: low tax, minimal regulation, small government, dismantling of social safety nets. Together the junktanks, as journalist George Monbiot has labelled them, create a chorus of voices from university centres and civil society bodies reinforcing the wishlist.

While the focus has primarily been on these “business Republican goals,” junktanks have their own remit. Conservative social messaging about the family has been partly used to conceal the lack of ethics in the libertarian mission. It has partly functioned to encourage family and church networks to mitigate the damage done to communities and individuals by the slashing of safety nets. There has also remained a more socially conservative and religious array of junktanks within the network.

The more toxic “family values” groups tend to be interconnected with Atlas rather than Atlas partners themselves. Trump appointee Betsy DeVos, for example, links the two. She has been chair and on the board of two Atlas partners: the American Federation for Children that aims to replace the public school system with privatised charter schools and the Acton Institute for the study of Religion and Liberty which educates business leaders and academics in “the connection that can exist between virtue and economic thinking.” Both Prince and DeVos families are substantial donors to the anti-LGBTQIA group Focus on Family. Focus is part of the CNP, a Christian Nationalist network that includes the Charles Koch and the Prince and DeVos families as donors, not to mention Mike Pence and Steve Bannon as key figures.

Both the extremist Christians and the libertarians are close to achieving their goals in America. Apart from the impact the implosion of the United States government and civil rights framework will have on the rest of the world, this is relevant because the very global nature of Atlas means that its outposts are trying to replicate its work outside the American homeland.

The European Parliament conducted a study affirming reporting that $280 million dollars have been funnelled into the EU over the last decade by Atlas and CNP partners as well as by Evangelical mission programs. Heritage and Federalist stand alongside the Cato Institute, the Leadership Institute and Acton as having donated roughly $20 million towards European groups fighting to repeal reproductive healthcare rights and LGBTQIA rights. Another American body, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) has also been training European groups in strategy in cooperation with Bruce Eberle a “visiting professor” at the Leadership Institute. The Koch, DeVos and Prince families are named as major sources of the money. (These donations are overshadowed in scale by those from European and Russian sources.)

Australia’s Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) mostly leaves the culture war battles on gender and religious virtues to the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and their media ally, News Corp. This year’s CIS Consilium event where the Atlas pipeliners intermingle with local and international talking heads is running adjacent to the inaugural conference of the Australian Chapter of the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship. The London original was a religio-ethnonationalist event. The consecutive timing is convenient for international guests to attend both.

The rest of us must remain focused on the fact that these networks operate transnationally. They share talking points, strategies, individuals and sometimes money. The revolution that Kevin Roberts has declared they are winning in the US is to be reenacted, piecemeal, for all of us.

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