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Rishi Sunak Defends Suella Braverman’s Appearance at ‘National Conservatism’ Event Alongside ‘Great Replacement’ Conspiracy Theorists and Covid Deniers
Fellow speakers have called for abortion to be banned and said the PM does not understand British culture due to his Hindu faith, reports Adam Bienkov and Karam Bales
Rishi Sunak has defended his Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s upcoming appearance at a radical right-wing conference, alongside speakers who have labeled parts of Britain a “foreign country”, called for abortion to be banned, suggested life should be made “harder” for Muslims, pushed far-right conspiracy theories and suggested that the Prime Minister himself is not “fully grounded in our culture” due to his Hindu faith.
Braverman is due to appear at the National Conservatism event in London next week, alongside the Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, former ministers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Lord Frost and the Conservative MP Miriam Cates.
Speakers at previous events have included the Hungarian Prime Minister, and autocrat, Viktor Orban, the book-banning Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis and the far-right Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
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Other speakers due to appear at the event in London next week include the right-wing commentator Douglas Murray, who has previously described the UK capital as a “foreign country” due to the large number of ethnic minority citizens living there and given credence to the far-right conspiracy theory that Britain and other majority-white Western countries are victims of a “Great Replacement” by migrant populations.
He was also accused of Islamophobia after suggesting that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”. At the time, Murray’s comments reportedly led to David Cameron’s government breaking off relations with him.
Other figures connected to the event have also pushed the ‘Great Replacement’ theory. One of the signatories of the organisation’s manifesto, David Azerrad, has previously suggested that Western migration policies are being deliberately used for the importation of “untold millions of peoples of different colors, creeds and cultures for decades on end”, adding that “this is what tyrants do to conquer a broken people, to pacify them.”
Also due to speak at the event is the disgraced historian David Starkey, who was widely condemned after previously saying that slavery was not genocide as “otherwise there wouldn't be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain.” Starkey was last week forced to deny further allegations of racism after accusing the Prime Minister himself of being “not fully grounded in our culture” due to his Hindu faith.
Other scheduled speakers include the Trump-supporting US Senator JD Vance who wants a nation-wide ban on abortion in the States. When previously asked whether any ban should include exceptions for rape and incest, he replied that "two wrongs don't make a right."
Vance has also been accused of pushing the racist ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory, telling Fox News last year that he believed the country was suffering an immigrant “invasion” in which Democrats “have decided that they can’t win re-election… unless they bring a large number of new voters to replace the voters that are already here”. Vance has also previously pushed a hoax conspiracy theory about President Biden planning to put people into Covid “quarantine camps”.
Other so-called Covid ‘skeptics’ at the event include the commentator Toby Young, who was previously criticised by the press regulator IPSO after writing a “significantly misleading” anti-lockdown column which suggested people who had recovered from the common cold could have “natural immunity” to Covid-19.
Asked about the appearance of senior ministers and Conservative politicians at an event alongside speakers with such views, Rishi Sunak’s Press Secretary told Byline Times on Wednesday that “ministers and members of the party are free to speak at events where they see fit.”
A Conference for the Evangelical Hard Right
NatCon is designed to support the Conservative Nationalism (CN) movement which is based in the evangelical Christian Right. The group’s Statement of Principles includes demands for nations to be governed on the basis of “humility and gratitude before God and fear of his judgment”, while also backing immigration moratoriums and opposing what it describes as the “grave threat” of “ever more radical forms of sexual license and experimentation as an alternative to the responsibilities of family and congregational life”.
The line up for NatCon London 2023 resembles a CPAC for culture wars. There is considerable crossover of speakers between NatCons and the Hungarian CPAC in 2022 which was described as a gathering of the international right in a previous Byline Times report.
Speakers at NatCon 2023 also include former Revolutionary Communist Party member and editor of Spiked Online Frank Furedi, and James Orr, who is also chair of NatCon UK, and UK chair of the Edmund Burke Foundation (EBF).
The EBF is NatCon’s parent organisation. Founded in January 2019 as a public affairs institute, its stated aim is “strengthening the principles of national conservatism in Western and other democratic countries” through research, educational and publishing ventures.
EBF member and NatCon chair Christopher Demuth is also scheduled to speak in London. Demuth is a fellow of the conservative think tank the Hudson Institute and former president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) from 1986-2008. The AEI is considered to be one of most influential right wing think tanks in the US. One of the AEI’s largest funders is the Donors Trust which has been described as “the Dark money ATM of the conservative movement” by MotherJones.
Conference organisers have declined a request by Byline Times to attend and cover the event.
Who funds NatCon?
While the sponsors list for London 2023 has yet to be released, the main sponsors of previous events have included Republican mega donor Peter Thiel, owner of big data and surveillance company Palantir.
Cathy and Alex Cranberg have also provided at least $350,000 in sponsorship to NatCon. Alex Cranberg is a Republican donor whose wealth comes from oil and gas production, and has close links to the Koch Network. In 2017 he hosted a Koch-sponsored gathering of donors in Colorado Springs.
The Common Sense Society (CSS) donated at least $250,000 to NatCon Miami and $50,000 to an Orlando event, and was a named sponsor to conferences in Brussels and London in 2019.
Founded in 2009 in Central Europe, CSS describes itself as a “celebration of the political, intellectual, and cultural inheritance which constitute our shared civilization” seeking to cultivate “a future that draws on the best of the past”. Operating as an international network, CSS aims to identify and train future leaders in the “nature of liberty” on subjects such as “cultural inheritance and personal responsibility”.
The CSS has links to a multitude of conservative and radical right organisations in the US. Its President and CEO Marion Smith is a former visiting fellow of the influential right wing Heritage Foundation, and the former CEO of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Other CSS leadership links include the Leadership Institute, Heritage Action for America, the Restoration Project Foundation, Claremont Institute, Young Americans for Freedom and the Daily Caller.
There are now National Branches in Hungary, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Emma Webb, who will be speaking at NatCon London 2023, is chair of CCS’ UK chapter and in 2020 she co-founded Save Our Statues that campaigns against “attacks on our history” in the wake of the toppling of the Colston statue in Bristol. Previously she was deputy research director at the Free Speech Union, and had worked at the think tank Civitas and the Henry Jackson Society, a group sponsored by financial backers of the US far-right – including several anti-Muslim hate groups.
Webb is also the host of the New Culture Forum’s (NCF) TV channel. NCF is one of many right-wing think tanks also housed at 55 Tufton Street with a reputation for a lack of transparency regarding their funding.
The CSS UK chapter was launched in October 2022. Guests have included Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch MP, DUP peer Arlene Foster and Lawrence Fox, leader of the fringe right wing Reclaim Party.
The NC movement’s policy agenda was clearly set out by Ron DeSantis’ originaly listing as a guest speaker at the launch event in London. Marion Smith has described DeSantis as showing principled leadership in his ongoing work promoting ‘common sense’ policies in Florida amidst extraordinary threats.
“If common sense is so obvious, why don’t we see the same thing in other states?” Smith asked. “There’s a simple answer…common sense requires uncommon courage.”
These common sense policies have included banning abortion, books being removed from school libraries and anti-LGBT legislation reminiscent of Section 28 being expanded to all school years.
Adam Bienkov is Byline Time’s Political Editor and Karam Bales is a freelance journalist & researcher. This article includes research originally published on Byline Times.
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