"Through international networks of influence, Americans are helping hateful allies make concrete gains across the globe."
A few years ago in Japan, a group of ultranationalists marched through city streets across the country, screaming, “Kill both good and bad Koreans!” Now, that group has formed a political party to cripple minority rights. Last year, their leader crossed an ocean to meet with white supremacists in America. Once back in Japan, the party marketed its ties to fringe U.S. white nationalists to appear more established. Networking pays off.
Through international networks of influence, Americans are helping hateful allies make concrete gains across the globe. When it’s not Japan, it’s Europe, where the American anti-LGBT Christian right has built up an infrastructure of influence with deep ties inside the halls of power. As a result, dangerous anti-LGBT legislation and campaigns crop up on the continent, all with American support. Meanwhile, junk science equating homosexuality to pedophilia and conspiratorial calls to fight “gender ideology” are replicated from one country to the next.
Hate is by no means an exclusively American business, but American hate groups have a lot to teach and a lot to appropriate. And they are traveling the world.
Europe: Extremism Crosses the Pond
By Intelligence Report Staff
In Europe, American anti-LGBT groups are replicating the three-pronged approach that made them so powerful in the U.S.: litigation, legislation and activism. In a coordinated fashion, they flood European countries and institutions with legal cases, petitions, lobbying, trainings and campaigns to advance a vision steeped in regressive traditionalism.
In Romania, for instance, four U.S. religious right groups pushed for a referendum to amend the constitution to redefine families as based on the marriage between a man and a woman. Such an amendment would add a significant obstacle to the legalization of same-sex marriage, which is already illegal in the country but not constitutionally banned.
To lobby for the referendum, anti-LGBT hate group and legal powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) used its international arm tosubmit briefs to the Romanian Constitutional Court. So did the European arm (ECLJ) of the American Center for Law and Justice, which made its name by advocating for the criminalization of homosexuality abroad. Also stepping into the fray was anti-LGBT hate group Liberty Counsel, which describes same-sex marriage in its brief as “grounded in fraudulent ‘research’ based on skewed demographics and the sexual abuse of hundreds of infants and children.”
Meanwhile, the U.S.-based anti-LGBT hate group World Congress of Families (WCF), headed by career right-wing activist Brian Brown, delivered a petition to the Romanian Parliament in favor of the referendum that was signed by many American anti-LGBT leaders. In parallel, ADF International lobbied members of the European Parliament.
Then, there was the activism: ADF International worked alongside a Romanian coalition — including a Christian nationalist operating a website with ties to white supremacist David Duke — to gather 3 million signatures on a petition in support of the referendum.
This onslaught of American involvement was not coincidental. As a report by the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development revealed in 2018, three of the aforementioned groups were part of Agenda Europe, a secretive coalition through which conservative right-wing religious activists and politicians work together to try to erode LGBT and reproductive rights in Europe.
In September 2018, the Romanian Constitutional Court allowed the referendum to go through, but the effort failed when only 20 percent of Romanians showed up to vote in early October. Though they voted overwhelmingly in favor of the ban, turnout fell short of the 30 percent necessary for the constitutional change to take effect.
In Italy, the far-right anti-immigrant party Lega, a WCF ally, sailed into power in March 2018 as the most popular party of the country’s leading center-right coalition. Its head, Matteo Salvini, became the country’s deputy prime minister and opened the country’s doors wider to far-right American “traditionalists.” On top of frequentlymeeting with former Trump adviser and far-right media mogul Steve Bannon and sendingstatements to be read at the WCF, Salvini invited the WCF to hold its 2019 annual congress in Verona.
Regressive legislation tends to follow where the WCF treads. At its annual congresses, anti-LGBT activists and politicians from around the world confer on potential strategies to roll back LGBT and reproductive rights.
In September 2018, the WCF gathered in Moldova, a small country, formerly part of Romania, that shares a border with Ukraine and is fiercely divided between pro-Russian and pro-EU forces. At the event, Igor Dodon, the country’s embattled pro-Russian president, promised attendees that he would outlaw “immoral” (LGBT) festivals and events in the country.
Planned shortly after the Moldova congress, the Verona WCF will likely incorporate its usual anti-LGBT and anti-choice strategizing, being in a city where far-right groups have a stronghold. After the upcoming congress was announced in Verona, regressive legislation began to pass in an ominous prelude.
Americans and allies of Americans had been involved in Italy long before the Verona WCF, in particular through a platform close to WCF, CitizenGO. Based in Spain, CitizenGO is headed by a member of WCF’s board of directors. Brown and another WCF staffer also sit on CitizenGO’s board. In 2013, when the popular anti-LGBT Italian activist group Generazione Famiglia was launched, it had a number of close ties to CitizenGO. Throughout the years, it shared a number of staff members with CitizenGO’s Italian branch, and the two would collaborate on campaigns.
Alongside members of CitizenGO Italy and WCF partner and anti-abortion group ProVita, Generazione Famiglia organized prominent anti-LGBT rallies in Italy in 2015 and in 2016. The two “Family Days” gathered tens of thousands to oppose same-sex civil unions. One organizer of the 2015 “Family Day,” attorney Gianfranco Amato, was an allied attorney for the anti-LGBT hate group, ADF.
CitizenGO remained involved in the country even as a watered-down bill legalizing same-sex civil unions was passed. They organized a four-day training in Rome in July 2018 to help local anti-LGBT and anti-abortion activist groups best support “the natural family, life and liberty.” It was specifically focused on “gender ideology, attacks against marriage and the family, the persecution of Christians in the East and the violation of freedom of opinion in the West.” Generazione Famiglia and CitizenGO Italy members Filippo Savarese and Jacopo Coghe were present at the training.
Representatives from the most influential anti-LGBT groups flew in from the U.S. for the training to join a powerful consortium of European and American allies, including Travis Weber from the anti-LGBT hate group Family Research Council.
The Leadership Institute, an American conservative powerhouse forming “future conservative leaders,” facilitated most of the training as part of its increasing effort to train anti-LGBT and anti-reproductive rights activists in Europe.
WCF harbors a number of ties to the far right and known fascists and monarchists on the continent, some so extreme that they openly call themselves fascist.
WCF repeatedly cheers on Hungarian strongman, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who spoke at the WCF in Hungary in 2017. On the heels of the public congress but behind closed doors, the WCF then facilitated a Global Forum for Political Leaders in Budapest at the Hungarian Parliament. The forum brought together dozens of politicians and activists.
As Brown repeatedly traveled to Hungary, the legislation in the country started to reflect the so-called family values prized by the Christian right, for which Orbán claims to be the standard-bearer. In October 2018, Orbán’s party passed a law banning gender studies programs from universities.
The American influence on anti-LGBT activism in Europe is hard to ignore. Similar campaigns to stop so-called gender ideology (a right-wing rallying cry based on a conspiracy theory) in schools have cropped up in Italy, Spain and France and are conducted by WCF allies. Seasoned anti-LGBT activists from the U.S. are training people across the continent. In the process, they are birthing a professional anti-LGBT infrastructure to pump out legislation that will further marginalize LGBT people and limit access to reproductive health care.
Japan: Bridges to Bigotry
By Rachel Janik
On Oct. 12, 1960, in Tokyo, Japan, a young radical belonging to the country’s uyoku dantai, or far right, brought a sword to a political debate. Otoya Yamaguchi, just 17 years old and still wearing his school uniform, rushed the stage and drove his yoroi-doshi into the chest of Inejiro Asanuma, an influential leader in Japan’s Socialist Party. Asanuma was dead before he could reach a hospital, and just a few weeks later, so was his adolescent assassin.
Yamaguchi, who The New York Times described as a “right-wing fanatic” “nurturing fascistic ideology,” had already been “arrested several times for violent attacks on left-wing demonstrators.” On Nov. 2, 1960, he scrawled his last words in toothpaste on the wall of his cell in juvenile detention and hanged himself.
Today, Japan remembers the murder, which was televised, as a tragic eruption of political violence. But in the U.S., the radical right lauds the killing as nothing short of heroic.
“What a great icon, what a great hero!” hailed Gavin McInnes, the founder of the far-right fight club the Proud Boys.
McInnes “re-enacted” the assassination at an event in New York City last October, in a theatrical bit that he played mostly for laughs. It featured a pair of glasses with slanted eyes drawn over them in a racist caricature (McInnes is vocal about his disdain for “political correctness”) and even a plastic samurai sword. The Canadian internet talk show host, once known for being a pioneer of the hipster aesthetic and now infamous for his misogynist and anti-Muslim screeds and the violent behavior of his polo-clad followers, concluded his skit on a serious note.
“Never let evil take root,” he said. His audience cheered. Later that night, a mob of McInnes’ acolytes were filmed assaulting protesters in the streets of Manhattan.
McInnes was parroting a far-right meme that had been circulating on internet boards for years. It features the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph that captured the scene of Asanuma’s assassination at the moment Yamaguchi pulled his sword out of the man’s rib cage. The grisly image has been retouched in the racist “alt-right’s” popular retro-futurist “fashwave” aesthetic, and superimposed over it is the same phrase, “Never let evil take root.”
The Yamaguchi meme is perhaps the most visible example of American radicals taking cues from the Japanese far-right. But more direct and insidious ties have been growing between radical-right figures in the U.S. and Japan over the past few years.
The Radical Right in Japan
On its own, the ultranationalist far right in Japan is thriving. In 1960, the far-right of Otoya Yamaguchi pined for a return to imperial rule, denied accounts of wartime atrocities by the Imperial Japanese Army and fixated on the threat of the perceived post-World War II communist menace. While those pillars still remain somewhat important (historical denial in particular), it has shifted in the 21st century. Now, some of its most vocal factions stoke nativist animosity, fear of foreigners and hatred of Japan’s ethnic Korean and Chinese minorities.
In 2007, a far-right organization emerged called Zaitokukai, which translates to “Civic Group Against Privileges of Koreans in Japan.” The group was dedicated to demonizing the ethnic Koreans who have resided in Japan for generations (an ethnic group called “Zainichi” Koreans). In the late 2000s, hundreds of representatives of Zaitokukai marched through the streets in cities across Japan, chanting “Kill both good and bad Koreans!”
On the Zaitokukai phenomenon, Japanese scholar Naoto Higuchi writes, “Unlike its predecessors, the group Zaitokukai … seems quite similar to European radical-right groups in the sense that it targets ethnic minorities with violent attacks.”
The leader and founder of Zaitokukai is a right-wing agitator named Makoto Sakurai. One of his chief advisers, Hiroyuki Seto, is well-known in Japan as a neo-Nazi. In 1993, Seto published a book called Recommendation of Hitler’s Idea — Remedy to Nature and Human Kind, 120% affirmation of Nazi and Hitler.
Zaitokukai capitalized on ethnic prejudice that had long lurked in Japan’s history. In 1923, following a devastating earthquake in the Kanto region, police, soldiers and vigilante civilians massacred 6,000 Zainichi Koreans after rumors circulated that Koreans were poisoning wells and sabotaging Japanese citizens in the disaster’s aftermath.
After his success mobilizing people on the streets, Sakurai turned to the new frontier of the worldwide radical right: the internet. Japan’s equivalent of the Western phenomenon of the primarily online-incubated racist “alt-right” is called netto uyoku (sometimes shortened to netouyo), or “internet right.” Like the noxious stew of conspiracy and race hate that characterize online alt-right forums, netto uyo likewise trafficks in fake news and ethnic bigotry. The Anti-Racism Information Center (ARIC) tracks the activities of the radical right and netto uyoku in Japan and advocates for laws protecting minorities from discrimination. ARIC’s founder, Ryang Yong-Song, said in an interview with the Intelligence Report that he and his team have observed denizens of netto uyoku indulging the same dangerous lies that led to the slaughter of thousands of Koreans nearly 100 years ago. “You will see many hate speeches that say ‘Korean minority throw toxin in the well,’” Yong-Song said.
Sakurai has positioned himself as an influencer in netto uyoku, and in 2016, he launched a new far-right political enterprise. Emulating the populist nationalism that had gripped the U.S., embodied by the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, Sakurai called his new project the Japan First Party (JFP).
East Meets West
The JFP has chapters across the country, and its members participate in elections in addition to the anti-immigrant street demonstrations that characterized Zaitokukai. And to bolster his new venture, Sakurai has been soliciting relationships with far-right groups in the U.S. and around the world.
In June last year, Sakurai traveled to the U.S. to be a featured guest speaker at the annual conference of the American Freedom Party (AFP), a collection of old-school white nationalists and antisemites with long-shot political aspirations.
At that event, which Sakurai later called an “International Alliance” meeting, he rubbed elbows with AFP leaders like longtime racist William Daniel Johnson and antisemitic author Kevin MacDonald. But he wasn’t the only international visitor. He also networked with Dominic Luthard of the far-right Swiss Nationalist Party, which denounces “the multicultural society” as a “perversion of natural coexistence.”
Organizations that traffic in hate, despite being generally isolationist by definition, are capitalizing on globalization (and the global trend of populist nationalism) to build connections, relationships and resources. And why wouldn’t they? They can learn from one another. For Sakurai’s part, he has used his recent U.S. visits to legitimize his movement.
But ARIC’s representatives worry the influence of the Japanese far-right could have even darker consequences for the U.S., especially when it comes to one of their movement’s pillars: historical revisionism. The sociologist Higuchi explains, “In the Japanese context, historical revisionism seeks to justify and glorify war and aggression against other countries by the Japanese Empire (1868–1945).” In particular, far-right agitators and radical politicians deny war crimes committed during the empire, chief among them the use of so-called comfort women – kidnapped Korean and Chinese women who were forced into sexual slavery – and incidents like the infamous massacre called the Rape of Nanjing.
Far-right activist Satoshi Katsurada, who was active in Zaitokukai, was arrested in February for being involved in a drive-by shooting at a Korean embassy. According to ARIC’s database tracking hate speech in Japan, his daughter, who is also active in the ultranationalist right, once declared in a speech, “You (Koreans in Japan) had better stop … otherwise we will carry out not the Nanjing massacre, but the ‘Tsuruhashi massacre!’” (Tsuruhashi is a neighborhood in Japan known for its high population of Zainichi Koreans).
Yong-Song cautioned that Japan’s tradition of historical revisionism would embolden bigots in the West seeking to erase the history of the Holocaust or minimize the brutality of American slavery. “If you can deny comfort women, you can deny the Holocaust, you can deny anything,” he said.
Historical revisionism has had traction as a political tool in Japan. Even school textbooks have been successfully censored to downplay the worst chapters of the nation’s past.
And let’s not forget Yamaguchi’s lasting impact in the West. Lacking any historical or cultural context, violent extremist groups like the Proud Boys characterize Asanuma as an evil, radical leftist who would have taken Japan down the path of communist, authoritarian China. When Yong-Song heard this, he was astounded. “That is fake news!” he said.
But why sweat the details or the truth? When far-right street fighters like the Proud Boys misrepresent figures like Asanuma as an existential threat, they justify political violence as a moral imperative.