This weekend, the World Congress of Families (WCF) meets in Moldova for their annual conference. The conference will include panels on gender identity, faith and politics, motherhood, anti-abortion efforts, and George Soros, among others. The intermarriage between far-right politics and religious positions is obvious and unsurprising. What may be less obvious is how this brings together Christian fundamentalists, alt-right activists, and Russian interests.
Start with the Southern Poverty Law Center‘s background on the WCF. It was founded between American Allan Carlson and Russians Anatoly Antonov and Viktor Medkov. The group came together when Carlson, a former history professor at a conservative Christian college, published writings asserting that feminism and sexual liberation were causing “demographic decline,” which reached Antonov and Medkov, Russian sociologists. The three would come together to fight the causes, as they saw them, including: divorce, homosexuality, and women joining the workforce, among others.
The WCF was formed in 1997 and has spent two decades publishing propaganda that opposes women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. A documentary they produced in 2007 names a list of causes they blame for population decline, including higher education for women, access to birth control, and prosperity, which the group says leads to families having fewer children and investing more money in each child.
More than twenty years in, the influence of the network, which has created international connections, including giving Russian operatives access to American political activists and religious leaders, continues to forge an influence. In the era of President Donald Trump, these connections are of particular concern. Over the last few years, America has watched Russia reach out to influence the 2016 Presidential election, and subsequently witnessed the new president frantically work to cover up those influences.
Moldovan President Igor Dodon released a statement on the website for the event, describing the speakers as “the world’s most influential and significant people, striving to protect traditional family values, motherhood, paternity and childhood, strengthening the prestige and role of the family in our society, who are willing to protect the rights of every person to live respectfully, acknowledging the dignity and the value of one’s personality, despite the changing world trends.”
This same president, in 2017, prevented a peaceful LGBT Pride march. According to Pink News, his commentary to reporters was as though LGBT individuals must have their own country:
I have never promised to be the president of the gays, they should have elected their own president.
Where this connects to current American politics and religion is in the speakers and attendees. They include, according to a list procured by the SPLC, Americans with influence in politics, religion, and education such as Stephen Baskerville and Tim Rarick.
Baskerville is a professor at Patrick Henry College, a conservative Christian college in Virginia, who has blamed the fight for LGBT rights for the rise of the Nazi party.
Rarick is a professor at Brigham Young University Idaho. If the name doesn’t give it away, the college is run by the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Rarick has a documented history of opposing transgender rights.
In addition to American influencers, speakers include activists from Nigeria, Russia, France, and Latin America, with histories that include fighting to criminalize homosexuality, pushing to decriminalize domestic violence, running an organization to “prepare white French youth for a civil war against people of color, Muslims and immigrants,” and similar activism. They include politicians, Bishops of the Catholic Church, leaders in other churches, educators, and leaders of political activist organizations.
In 2015, the Human Rights Campaign released a warning about the group as they planned a conference in Utah, noting that many influential anti-LGBT activists from the U.S. and other countries would be attending.
Think Progress warned this week that the prominence of the network has promoted connections between Russian oligarchs and American political operations. Multiple Russian oligarchs currently under sanctions from the U.S. are reported to be sponsors of the conference.
The WCF reportedly hopes to promote Vladimir Putin’s leadership as a model for the United States to follow. While this organization has existed for decades, for most of that time America wasn’t under the rule of President Trump.
Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2016
I had a GREAT meeting with Putin and the Fake News used every bit of their energy to try and disparage it. So bad for our country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2018
Donald Trump openly and publicly praises Putin’s leadership and intelligence. He has promoted policies matching the values the WCF espouses, using a military ban to attempts to push transgender individuals out of one aspect of public life, opposing immigration and women’s freedom to prevent or end a pregnancy, and, through his Justice Department, and arguing in favor of the right to discriminate on the basis of sexuality.
While the ‘values’ that the World Congress of Families promotes may be damaging at any time, there’s currently a clear opening in the United States for them to access politics at the highest level, and this year’s panels, especially focusing on the intermingling of politics and religious extremism, should be a concern for anyone who is a member of the resistance against Donald Trump.