Trump speaking in 2022 to a students assembly (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

The Alliance Attacking Freedom

How Trump’s troops are attacking gender rights and underpinning the far right in Europe - the case of the Alliance Defending Freedom.


Money is pouring into Europe from ultraconservative US foundations. One of the biggest spenders is the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian right wing organization that has played a prominent part in rolling back gender, abortion, and LGBTQIA+ rights on both sides of the Atlantic. Its latest tax filing shows it has doubled its spending in Europe since 2018.

This unfolds in a context where we could see a new right wing majority in the European Parliament after the European elections on 9 June, that includes the far right, and in parallel we may see Donald Trump retake the US Presidency. Considering the work done by the Trump camp to unite the European far right ­– including by forging a close alliance with the Hungarian President Viktor Orbán – this is a dangerous prospect. A strengthened European far right also bolsters the Trump camp. 

This goes beyond party politics. Groups such as the ADF have been working on the ground in member states to network and build up power to overturn rights won through decades of struggle. Currently, the foundations that support the ADF and similar organisations, are increasing their spending dramatically. That is likely to strengthen their impact. 

Money is being drummed up to make political headway for the ultraconservative and far right movement in the United States – including to boost Donald Trump’s bid for election as President – and as part of a global strategy, in Europe. 

The spending of American Christian right wing organisations in Europe is on the increase. They are backed by huge conservative charitable foundations that appear to be constantly expanding.

One organization in particular stands out: the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that has fought against abortion and gender rights, and LGBTQIA+ issues such as marriage equality, transgender rights, and anti-discrimination rules, for decades in the US. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) works mainly through the courts. Via courtrooms in the US, they are able to play a long game to undermine and even fully reverse such rights. Active in Europe since at least 2010, they have successfully brought the same legal advocacy tactics to Brussels and member states. 

And there is an extra dimension to the ADF. They are part of a political project linked to the former US President Trump which has made strengthening and uniting the European far right an important objective. In a context where the far right is projected to emerge as a much more powerful political force at the European elections on 9 June this year, it is crucial to uncover their ties with the US ultra-conservative and far right movements. 

Alliances and cooperation are in the making in Europe between the European far right and the Trump movement. This requires scrutiny beyond just looking at political parties; we must also examine the underworld of shady organisations that work in the background to support them. 

This investigation into the ADF looks at its methods, particularly its work in European courts, and its powerful networking capacity – not least in the European Parliament, where some of its allies are set to gain more influence. 

More US funding of anti-gender campaigns in Europe

In 2019, the UK-based media site Open Democracy  reported on massive funding provided to activities in Europe by the 12 most important Christian right wing US foundations up to 2018, including the ADF. Money that have gone to eg. Campaigns against LGBTQIA+ rights, anti-abortion campaigns, court cases to defeat or reinterpret hate speech laws and more.  Among the eye-opening revelations included the fact that from 2008 to 2017 (the latest numbers available at the time), they counted an influx of approximately US$50 million of funding coming into Europe from these 12 foundations. 

Christian right-wing grants to Europe

According to recent information from tax forms from US conservative foundations, available at the ProPublica and Candid websites, there has been a significant increase in spending since then. Looking at the period 2018-2022, another US$30 million has been added to the US$50 million spent in the preceding decade. And a big development happened from 2018. From 2016-2018, the reported spending in Europe from the 12 foundations stood at approx. 13,3 million dollars, whereas it went up steeply to 20,9 million dollars in 2019-2021. 

Up until 2014, the biggest spender was the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). However, although the available tax information does not disclose any funding after 2014, that does not mean that BGEA stopped its activities in Europe, merely that it changed legal form, which allows the foundation to evade transparency. According to a follow-up investigation by Open Democracy in 2020, there were no indications of the BGEA scaling down in Europe; they suggest BGEA spent a further US$27 million between 2014-2020. 

The updated expenditure of US$ 80 million since 2008 of the 12 foundations, then, does not present the full picture. But it does reveal the general trend: a significant increase in funding of activities in Europe. The data also shows the main driver of funding in Europe is the ADF. The money spent in Europe by the ADF took a leap from 2018 to 2019 when the organisation increased its European budget substantially from approx. US$ 2,6 million to US$ 4,3 million. And its latest filing for 21 and 22 showing it has over doubled its spending since 2018.

Dark money pools growing 

That begs the question: where does all the money come from?

If we add the contributions made to ADF between 2014 and 2021, which are public due to US tax rules, we appear to get a clear image of the main funders behind the organisation. Two foundations stand out: the National Christian Charitable Foundation (NCCF) has contributed a whopping US$89 million to the ADF since it first began funding ADF in 2016. Secondly, the Signatry (or the Servant Foundation) contributed almost US$53 million. The two foundations are deeply intertwined financially: the Signatry’s biggest funder is in fact the National Christian Charitable Foundation with for instance US$307 million contributed in 2019.

As with most top funders of the ADF, the NCCF gives its grants through ‘Donor Advised Funds’. What that means is that they received donations from sources they do not have to disclose, and the donors are then allowed to decide where their money goes. The upside for donors is they can remain anonymous. For the public it means there is no way of telling where the money to ADF comes from. The trace ends here. 

It can be said, though, that while the NCCF supports hundreds of churches and small and medium size Christian organisations across the US, only about 20 receive a fortune. Looking at the recipients that get more than US$10 million per year, the latest tax form the foundation shows that the NCCF funds a handful of aid and missionary organisations, organisations that support Christian schools in the US, and church movements such as CRU (formerly ‘Campus Crusade for Christ’), known for strong conservative anti-leftist views, and with a total of 19,000 people on its payroll all over the globe. 

The NCCF is huge already, and in recent years it has even been able to increase its spending by an amazing 85 percent. Their expenses have increased from approximately US$1.21 billion in 2019 to US$2.24 billion in 2022. The higher income and spending of the ADF, then, is part of a broader trend.

The henchmen against the right to abortion

This evident and large-scale mobilization of funding by and for the Christian right wing is bad news for gender and LGBTQIA+ rights. And if we look at the history of the United States, one of the groups to be most concerned about is the ADF. 

The ADF was formed in 1994 by 35 US Christian right wing leaders to promote a social conservative agenda. It quickly made a name for itself in a Supreme Court case concerning a university that had denied financial support for a Christian publication. 

Since then, it has been a vocal and active force fighting abortion rights, gay marriage, and more generally fighting LGBTQIA+ rights in the US. It is one of the most aggressive campaign groups on the Christian far right, and it was characterized as an LGBTQIA+ hate group by the renowned Southern Poverty Law Centre in 2016.

The ADF is an organization which, according to a report by US based Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, is able to play “the long game”, and its track record in the anti-abortion right proves it. The US Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs Wade judgment gave women the right to abortion under US federal law; and since ADF’s founding, overturning this law has been its top priority. Working closely with state legislators in Mississippi, the ADF helped draft the law text in Mississippi that put an end to all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. This – as intended – led to a case at the federal level, and the ADF helped the Mississippi legal team prepare its defense. In June 2022 the Supreme Court ruled that abortion is neither a constitutional nor a fundamental right. That left millions of American women at the mercy of state-level legislation, a giant step backwards in terms of the right to abortion. One in three women now no longer has access to safe abortion in the US. Recently the State Supreme Court of Arizona imposed an almost full ban on abortions cheered on by the ADF. This was, however, quickly repealed by the State Senate, creating a row on the right. But the effect of overturning Roe vs. Wade was staggering. 

The ADF doesn’t just target abortion, or reproductive rights more generally, which include access to contraception. It works on a broad range of issues. It is able to seek and exploit even small cracks in laws for its own purposes. It attacks laws to protect same sex marriage, and challenges in court rules on equal access for LGBTQIA+ people to health coverage. It even aggressively goes against anti-bullying policies in institutions intended to prevent depression or even suicide among queer people. 

The ADF is close to ex-President Trump. The Chief Executive of the organization, Mike Farris, is a friend of Trump and the ADF has in many ways followed the priorities of the ex-President, and vice versa. Trump’s appointment of two new ultra-conservative judges to the Supreme Court was hailed by the ADF as a major achievement. When Amy Coney Barrett was nominated as a judge to the Supreme Court, the group claimed she had a “deep commitment to protecting Americans’ constitutional freedoms, including religious freedom”. The two new Supreme Court Judges would go on to be instrumental in overturning Roe vs Wade, removing the right to abortion in the country. 

The link to Trump continued after his Presidency ended. During Trump’s campaign in the early days of 2021 to overturn the Biden victory, through hysterical disinformation campaigns and through the invasion of the Capitol on 6 January, the ADF did its best to undermine the election result through the courts. It was the ADF’s Chief Executive Mike Farris who first circulated a draft of a lawsuit to overturn the election, claiming election procedures in 5 swing states were unconstitutional. That would subsequently be filed against US states, including Pennsylvania, Georgia and Wisconsin. 

The ADF has long since been preparing for the 2024 elections with like-minded organisations and a broad spectrum of conservative foundations supportive of Trump, and they have big plans. Not least Project 2025, a programme for the first 100 days of a second Trump Presidency. While this initiative is led by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, ADF was in on the project at an early stage and among the first signatories. 

Trump, ADF and Project 2025

Project 2025 is detailed in a 900 page-long document called ‘Mandate for Leadership: the Conservative Promise’, and it is quite a promise. It sets out to create a small army of new public servants to be trained in a Presidential Administration Academy. This is to help make sure that Trump will not meet the kind of obstacles as he did in the first year of his first term, when he tried to use his power in arbitrary ways beyond his mandate. To help this war against normal democratic checks and balances, they describe as “the deep state”, the plan suggests a quick loosening of rules that will enable the President to fire thousands of civil servants. As expected, the plan also has strategies for lower taxation, and even proposes a requirement to have a supermajority of “a three-fifths vote threshold in the U.S. House and the Senate to raise income or corporate tax rates to create a wall of protection for the new rate structure”; thereby locking in fiscal conservatism for the future. 

As for the ADF and its core policies, there is plenty in the plan that should make pro-choice advocates, and in particular the LGBTQIA+ community very concerned indeed. For a start, the plan is to make governmental institutions “hard targets for woke culture warriors”, by which they mean they intend to set in motion a culture war, including against LGBTQIA+ rights. This begins with striking key terms from the official vocabulary – including “the terms sexual orientation and gender identity (“SOGI”), diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”), gender, gender equality, gender equity, gender awareness, gender-sensi­tive, abortion, reproductive health, reproductive rights, and any other term used to deprive Americans of their First Amendment rights out of every federal rule, agency regulation, contract, grant, regulation, and piece of legislation that exists.” As for abortion, the word is used no less than 198 times in the plan, which identifies many ways to limit the right to abortion even further. 

One of the methods proposed to forward the anti-LGBTQIA+ agenda – the broad menu of topics under the conservative culture war agenda – is to starve out or simply close down the institutions with responsibilities for protection of citizens’ rights, including the Department of Education.

Big donors on the warpath for power

The conservative Project 2025 is not the only game in town, so whether Trump will in the end impose the plan, should he win the presidential election, is uncertain. But the conservative foundations have a lot going for them and their Project 2025. They span different parts of the Republican movement, and they have clearly caught the ear and attention of Donald Trump when it comes to immigrants. Mass deportations and a massive loss of rights is one of Trump’s major priorities if he wins the election, and the ideas of Project 2025 are considered part of his playbook by analysts and think tanks

Moreover, the groups behind Project 2025 have a lot of money at their disposal. And since most of the 100 organisations have signed up to the charter take the legal form of ‘charitable foundations’, the key numbers are publicly available. In 2022 (the year covered by the latest tax forms submitted by the foundations), the spending of foundations that have submitted tax forms available through databases – 80 out of 100 – was approximately US$2.3 billion. Furthermore, when looking at the development in recent years of the turnover of the conservative foundations, what stands out is a steep climb beginning after 2020, the year of the latest Presidential election. In 2020, the total spending of the 80 organisations was US$1.79 billion. So, in the following two years, they were able to increase their spending by almost 30 percent – extra donations from a very high number of sources, wealthy Americans in one shape or the other. 


Spending of organisations in Project 2025 (Photo: ClaraDon)

Conservative donors generally, then, are pushing much more money through the conservative organisations. And some of that money is invested in creating a backing for their views in Europe. The ADF is at the forefront of that effort when it comes to gender rights. 

Countering European disruptions

The ADF has been active in Europe at least since 2010, when the subsidiary ADF International was founded. According to an analysis from the magazine Religious Dispatches, the ADF is trying to export its views abroad to defend its advances at home: “Because U.S. justices are increasingly citing progressive international jurisprudence in their opinions and decisions, much of the ADF’s international litigation is aimed at ensuring that foreign rulings serve its domestic objectives”. This approach is confirmed by statements made by the ADF itself, as when In 2017, one of the ADF’s legal counsel based in Europe said that the organization was committed to fighting for “religious liberty” abroad, “so that bad European precedents don’t spread further in Europe, then across the sea to America.”

So, besides a goal of spreading their views, they go to Europe and elsewhere to increase the chance of success in the US. And for many reasons, the impact of developments in Europe can have a strong impact on the US. Decisions in international institutions, the UN and the European Court of Justice, and in the European Union and its member states are picked up in the US too and can be significant.

‘Success’ in Europe

Today the Alliance Defending Freedom has 5 offices in Europe, most of which are placed close to international institutions they lobby. Besides an office in London, they have one in Vienna to cover the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Geneva to cover UN institutions, Strasbourg with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and a Brussels office to take care of the EU institutions. This is part of a strategy to “conduct targeted legal advocacy at the major international institutions, impacting law and policy worldwide”. With these offices as bases the ADF is able to move on cases they detect in any European country that can help forward their ultraconservative views. 

Over the years, they have been a part of many successful court cases and campaigns:

* In 2020 the Polish Constitutional Court ruled that abortion in Poland would be reduced only to cases of rape or incest, or if the life of the pregnant woman was in danger. While critics had argued the court was full of people close tof the conservative party in government, the PiS, and that the outcome owed a lot to that, the ADF was quick to highlight its own involvement: “The global human rights organization ADF International intervened to highlight the clear protections which exist in international law for unborn children, including those with disabilities. It argued that screening out unborn babies based on disability violates a country’s obligations under international law.”

* In Finland, the ADF has supported conservative politician Päivi Räsänen in a court case on three accounts of hate speech against the LGBTQIA+ community. The statements on trial were, among others, a tweet about a Pride festival in which she stated: “How does the doctrine of the church… fit in with the fact that shame and sin are raised as a matter of pride?” Räsänen will now see her case scrutinized by the Finnish Supreme Court. She has expressed sincere gratitude to ADF for their support: “ADF International has been crucial to support my case and to defend freedom of speech.” 

* In Northern Ireland in 2022, ADF International lent strong support to Ashers Bakery when the owners were brought to court and charged with discrimination, after refusing to decorate a cake with the slogan “Support gay marriage”. The owners were acquitted in court. As in numerous and similar cases to cases in the US, ADF provided legal support.

* In the Republic of Ireland, the ADF worked for many years to keep abortions illegal. In 2010 the organization got involved in a case to protect the Irish ban on abortion. The case was about three women whose health had been endangered due to the abortion ban. It ended up in the European Court of Human Rights and to the dismay of the three women, it was decided that abortion is not a fundamental right. However, a Irish referendum established the legal right to abortion in 2018. The ADF maintains its campaigning in the country for a ban. 

* In Sweden in 2017, ADF International made public its support for two nurses struggling to get the right to refuse to perform abortions on religious grounds. The objective was to bring the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. The nurses and ADF International, however, lost the case in 2020. The judges argued that abortions "had a sufficient basis in Swedish law and... pursued the legitimate aim of protecting the health of women seeking an abortion".* In Germany, anti-abortion groups have enjoyed support from ADF too. In Frankfurt demonstrations outside abortion clinics, not unlike those in the US, began in Frankfurt in 2017 when demonstrators showed up with placards with slogans condemning abortion. This was the opening of a wave of demonstrations organized by a group inspired and supported by US anti-abortion group ‘40 days for life'. In response to an aggressive climate at abortion clinics, the local government of Pforzheim banned demonstrations close to clinics. That in turn prompted one of the anti-abortion protestors to challenge the ban in court, and with the support of ADF, a Mannheim court in 2022 struck down what was disingenuously dubbed as “a prayer ban”. 

In Germany, the ADF has been active in a wide variety of cases, including euthanasia , and Christian parents’ insistence on home schooling their children, including to avoid sexual education. And in many cases they have emerged victorious. In a case about a pharmacist who refused to sell the morning-after pill to women, ADF provided legal support and won on his behalf when he was taken to court by the Berlin Pharmacist’s Chamber. As a result, whether such a pill is available depends on the whims of local pharmacists.

These specific cases are only a few examples of those that could be identified. There are plenty more. But the above suffice to demonstrate that repeating the legal advocacy tactics used in the US bears fruit in Europe too. 

Orbán’s Hungary and the Republicans

However important the above cases are, it is important to put the ADF in a broader context, namely that of a Trumpist project seeking a foothold in Europe. 

The right place to begin an examination of the ADF’s involvement in Europe is Hungary, whose government is more open to its messages than in any other part of the European Union. The US Republican Party and conservative activists held a European version of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Hungary in 2022, and again in April 2023. Since then, the Trump camp has organized quite a few high level events in Budapest,  the most recent was the third CPAC  from 25-26 April 2024, with speakers from Vox in Spain, Vlaams Belang (Belgium), FPÖ (Austria), and many other far right European parties. It almost goes without saying, that Orbán was a keynote speaker: “Make America great again, make Europe great again! Go Donald Trump, go European sovereigntists,” he said. On this occasion Donald Trump vowed to renew an alliance with the European right wing, should he win the US Presidential Elections in November. 

This political proximity between the two makes Hungary an easy place to thrive for organisations such as the Alliance Defending Freedom. There, the task is not to fight for changes to abortion laws, nor to incite hatred against LGBTQIA+ people – Orbán’s positions are not far from the ADF on either. Instead, the ADF mingles with its Hungarian counterparts, all of which are close to the government. They are ultraconservative think tanks, so-called GONGO’s (governmental NGOs), and form an important part of Orbán’s European strategy, in that they work to export political dogmas of the regime to the rest of Europe through networking and events. That is why we see for instance, the right wing think tanks Mathias Corvinus Collegium and the Danube Institute as co-organisers of the NatCon conference, a series of national conservative conferences with ultra conservative Edmund Burke Foundation as the protagonist,  in Brussels in April 2024. Even in the US, a Hungarian GONGO, the Political Network for Values, set up a conference in November 2023 with speakers from many ultraconservative American groups, including the ADF.

Hungary, then, is where the ADF blends in with like-minded local groups with ease, and appears at conferences and seminars such as the recurring Budapest Demographic Conference, events to strengthen conservative ‘family values’. And when Axioma, a new GONGO, was formed in November 2023 “dedicated to protecting life from conception till natural death and preserving biblical sexual ethics in society”, Sophia Kuby from ADF’s Vienna office spoke words of praise at the opening event. 

Networking for another Europe

It is not unusual for the ADF to help build new organisations that form new coalitions and networks. In Poland, the organization co-hosted the 2012 event where the think tank Ordo Iuris was founded. The ADF is frequently mentioned as a close partner by Ordo Iuris. That group is  infamous for its key role in establishing so-called ‘LGBT free zones’ in municipalities covering a third of Poland in 2020. This was a kind of official backing to the hatred of and discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community, and quickly brought Poland at odds with the European Union. 

Ordo Iuris is linked to former governing party the PiS, and as such it had the best conditions during the reign of that party from 2015 to 2023. 

In the Czech Republic too, the ADF has made an effort to network with local like-minded groups, not least the Alliance for Family, which broadly shares the ADF’s views. ADF’s activities in the Czech Republic can be traced back to 2011 when the organization lobbied the Czech Government to stop a draft law that would have made abortion available for non-Czech EU citizens in the country. The law was rejected by Parliament in the end. 

Over the years, the ADF has nurtured relations with several political parties in the country. A seminar held in April 2019 by the Alliance of Family, was supported by the ADF. Adina Portaru, the ADF’s senior legal counsel, contributed to the event showcasing the progress the organisation has made. It was held under the auspices of MPs from three Czech parties: a conservative party close to the UK Conservatives and a member of the ECR group in the European Parliament (ODS), the right wing populist party of the former Czech President Andrej Babiš (ANO), and finally the KDU-ČSL, the conservative party that has formed part of most Czech governments since 1990. Furthermore, in 2022 a conference dubbed Europe for Family took place in Prague with Paul Coleman, the ADF International spokesperson, as a speaker.   

A Catholic lawyer, Jakub Kříž, has stated that to his knowledge the ADF has been involved in court cases in the Czech Republic, however no details are in the public domain. 

A friend in a high place 

Ján Figeľ, a Slovak politician, has received immense attention from the ADF in Central and Eastern Europe. In 2016 Figeľ  – a former European Commissioner – was elected as the first EU Special Envoy for Religious Freedom, much to the satisfaction of the ADF.

There are indications that even when still in office Ján Figeľ was open to the kind of ultraconservative agenda represented by the ADF. For example 2016 he spoke at a conference organized by Agenda Europe, which gathers hundreds of conservative Christian groups, including the ADF. 

In 2021 Ján Figeľ brought a case against the Slovak Government, for banning church masses during the pandemic, all the way to the European Court of Human Rights – with strong support from the ADF that also waged a campaign against this type of measure to protect public health. 

As for Figeľ, he seems to have enjoyed a lot of support from ADF, which quotes the elderly politician numerous times on its website: “I want to thank everyone who is supporting me. In this case, especially, I pay tribute here to ADF International.” In 2019, the interaction between Figel’ and the ADF had become so clear that concerns were raised, and a complaint was filed to the European Ombudsman over his public recognition of work done by organisations “from the ultra-conservative fringes of Christianity” which the complainant argued pursue an “anti-human rights agenda”. 

These examples shows the ADF as skilful networkers – be it by assisting at setting up likeminded organisations, or building links to existing ones, and for that they are an asset to the broader ultraconservative movement they belong to.   

Brussels lobbying and networking

On that note, its presence on the Brussels lobbying scene is important. 

ADF has had a Brussels base for many years, and in 2010 it formally registered as a lobbying entity in the EU Transparency Register. According to the most recent entry, it has an annual lobbying budget of €650,000, and 4 registered lobbyists with permission to go in and out the European Parliament with ease. This registration means they are allowed to speak to Commissioners and their high ranking staff. The organisation wears this as a badge of honour and official recognition: “ADF International has accreditation with the European Commission” is a phrase regularly found in its publications. However, registration in the Transparency Register is an obligation and a requirement for even having the option to meet with a Commissioner; in no way does it represent a recognition or any kind of accreditation for that matter. 

The ADF’s focus is on the European Parliament, it seems, not the European Commission. According to the information from the register, it has met with high ranking Commission officials only twice since December 2014 – on “equal treatment” and “hate speech” respectively. Also, the officially available information on meetings with members of the European Parliament reveals only a list of five meetings, including with MEP Carlo Fidanza, the front figure of the Brothers of Italy, the far right wing governing party of Italy. 

However, the right and far right groupings in the European Parliament are exceptionally bad at reporting meetings. For this and other reasons, the records here do not come close to reflecting the true presence of the ADF in the corridors of power in the EU institutions. They send MEP’s briefings on topics such as religious freedoms and hate speech, they organise seminars, and they wage campaigns on what they call “human rights and inherent dignity. Kathleen van Brempt, an MEP from the S&D group, said she is regularly bombarded with emails from ADF “especially when one of their strategic files are on the agenda.The increase of attempts to influence European policy is worrisome. We need to strengthen democracy throughout Europe to safeguard our societies from extreme organisations and foreign actors trying to break up what we have build: a Europe based on democracy, freedom and human rights.”

According to several MEPs the tone is getting more aggressive in debates around abortion. In April 2024 when the European Parliament considered a resolution to support making access to abortion a fundamental right under EU law. Sara Mathieu from the Green group said in the run up to the decision she received a package: “MEPs were sent a lifelike mini-foetus measuring about 3 centimeters, along with a letter arguing against abortion. Something like that is scary, and really doesn't help the debate.”

Hilde Vautmans from the Liberal Renew group who talked to Apache has not experienced intense lobbying by US groups herself, but she is worried about conservatives: “I do notice more and more that conservative forces in Europe want to roll back our acquired rights, including the right to abortion. Such was the case recently during a plenary debate on the inclusion of the right to abortion in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. What I heard there from conservative politicians was hallucinatory. We must be vigilant against any kind of interference in our European democracy, whether it comes from China, Russia or the US anti-abortion lobby.”

In the end, Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the right to abortion to be elevated to a fundamental right, much to the dismay of the ADF. But in the course of the discussion, European conservatives and far right politicians did their best to block the idea, the very parties that the ADF works with.

One of ADF’s strong suits, as with any lobbyist, is networking. Over the years, the ADF has developed a close working relationship with many politicians and parties, in particular on the far right and in the conservative EPP group. Examples include a conference in 2015 co-organised between the ADF and the EPP on ‘bioethics’,  the launch of a book in 2016 on murders of Christians written by an ADF researcher and chaired by Swedish MEP Lars Adaktusson (EPP), a conference on religious rights in Turkey co-organised between the ADF and the ultraconservative political group ECR in 2022, another conference on Myanmar in 2021 with MEPs from the ECR and the EPP, and a conference on religious rights in Nigeria in 2023, again in cooperation with the ECR group, according to ADF International’s own entry to the Transparency Register. This is to name but a few. 

A far right transatlantic alliance

The ADF has built links to many MEPs over the years. It seems to have the strongest connections to the ECR group, but its cooperation with the mainstream conservatives in the EPP is considerable too. And in the current context, that is crucial. According to polls, we may see the traditional conservatives (EPP) and far right groups (ECR and ID) forming a majority in the Parliament. This question has only gained importance  with controversial statements made by the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who at an event in Maastricht on 29 April, opened the door to cooperation with the ECR group in the future. 

This brings the spectre of far right power over European politics closer. And all things considered,  the ADF must be part of the analysis. In Brussels in April 2024, a handful of organisations, including two think tanks close to the Orbán regime, Mathias Corvinius Collegium and the Danube Institute, and Nazione Futura with links to the Brothers of Italy, set up the 2024 version of the NatCon conferences, an ultraconservative series of events initiated by the Edmund Burke Institute from the US. The conference was ambitious, as it was to help “political conservatism to present an alternative vision for Europe” in view of the European elections in June 2024.

The people who were to develop this vision included conservative academics, but politicians from the conservative spectrum to the far right were also prominent in the programme. They included the former MEP for UKIP Nigel Farage (UK), current MEPs from far right parties Vox (Spain), Nova Direita (Portugal), Rassemblement Nationale (France), Hrvatski suverenisti (Croatia), Brothers of Italy, JA21 (the Netherlands), Vlaams Belang (Belgium), Mateusz Morawiecki who is a former Polish Prime Minister for PiS party, and not least the Hungarian President Viktor Orbán who took a prominent role as key speaker. 

The reception in Brussels was hostile. A mayor asked the police close it down, allowing the assembly to play martyrs. In stepped the ADF,  an organization well versed in using the law and courts, amply funded, and with a potent network of lawyers at hand. They quickly defeated the Belgian mayor in court. The conference went forward. 

A terrifying prospect

The affair allowed the jubilant participants, as well as the ADF, to play the role of the oppressed, facing a hostile establishment that abuses power. But neither the far right, nor the ADF can be viewed as underdogs. The ADF represents a far right US movement on the rise, one with potential access to very large amounts of money. 

Bearing in mind the links between Viktor Orbán and Donald Trump, the US-supported attempts to unite the European far right, and noting the links between Trump and conservative organisations such as the ADF that has operated in Europe for many years, the threats to democracy seem to be mounting in the near future. Should we end up with a new right wing majority in the European Parliament, and should Donald Trump win the US Presidential elections, we could face a deeper coordination between the two sides, that would have a severe impact on European politics. The rights of women, LGBTQIA+, and minorities are usually the first to go. Not least when considering the access to funding that is potentially available to organisations such as the ADF. 

With big conservative foundations on the warpath, in the current European context, the prospects are frightening. Given the upcoming European elections, it is urgently necessary for citizens to step up and confront the far right in all its forms, be it the retrograde semi-fascists in their political parties, or the supportive networks with think tanks and legal action groups. There is so much wrong with the world as we know it, but the far right’s version of the future is even worse, and it is currently taking shape in the US and Europe. 


Frank Olbrechts from Apache (Belgium) contributed reporting.


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