America-based group ADF is building an international infrastructure for hate

Christian supremacist group is working to promote bigotry around the world, and to import authoritarianism from other countries into the U.S.
Michael Ross of Alliance Defending Freedom speaks to attendees at the 2021 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida. July 19, 2021. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

First published by the American Independent Foundation

The international wing of an anti-LGBTQ organization based in the United States is succeeding in its efforts to chip away at LGBTQ rights across the globe, according to a new report from the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.

The report, “From America with Hate: The Alliance Defending Freedom’s Role in Advancing Anti-LGBTQ+ and Anti-woman Agendas in Eastern Europe,” was released on Nov. 4 and covers efforts by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group, to build a transnational movement to oppose reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality since it began working overseas in 2012. The group, which was launched in the 1990s, provides legal advocacy and training and has taken on the defense in cases of employers accused of anti-trans discrimination against workers, as well as of business owners who refuse to provide services to LGBTQ people.

The organization is part of a coalition of groups offering model legislation for lawmakers to use in efforts to pass laws targeting trans people, such as bills banning trans students from playing on the sports teams of their gender or denying them gender-affirming health care. The group defended Tanner Cross, a Virginia teacher who said he would refuse to abide by a policy proposed by the board of the Loudoun County Public Schools requiring staff to use a trans student’s correct pronouns and who was placed on leave in May. Cross was reinstated as a teacher after the Alliance Defending Freedom sued the school district on his behalf, but it has since amended its complaint to attack the trans-inclusive policies the board adopted.

The group has expanded its operations overseas with the Alliance Defending Freedom International, which has been successful in helping right-wing groups attack LGBTQ rights in Europe, said Wendy Via, co-founder and president of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. The group has been particularly successful in Eastern Europe, according to GPAHE’s report, which notes that a link to the alliance’s website can be found in a list of nongovernmental organizations “supportive of human rights” on the Polish Ministry of Justice’s website.

The report includes descriptions of the Alliance Defending Freedom International’s tactics: “The clearest ADFI legal strategy is to support attorneys financially and otherwise (who work directly for or are affiliated with ADFI) when they take up cases that either have a religious aspect to them or can set a precedent for a religious-based challenge to a law, and thus have worrying broader implications for reproductive freedom and LGBTQ+ equality.”

It also files amicus briefs in cases concerning LGBTQ rights and abortion access. “By exporting tactics and strategies honed and perfected over decades by evangelical leaders and litigators in the United States and by collaborating with far-right political movements, both American and European, ADFI has quietly engineered an attack on equal rights for women and LGBTQ+ people that has found success in parts of Eastern Europe, among others,” the report says.

The organization establishes connections with what the report calls a “transnational network of anti-woman and anti-LGBTQ+ actors,” including Agenda Europe, a pan-European racist, xenophobic, and anti-LGBTQ network of Christian extremists, and far-right populist parties such as Hungary’s Fidesz, Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland, Poland’s PiS, Spain’s Vox in Spain, and France’s Front National: “Supporting the reactionary social policies advocated for by ADFI and its allies brings certain advantages for far-right political parties like Fidesz or PiS. Domestically, it enables the ruling party to distract from important issues like the economy, corruption, autocratic encroachment.”

When asked how Alliance Defending Freedom’s financial and legal support across the globe for right-wing causes and actors helps it to achieve its goals in the United States, Via pointed to a story published in 2012 by the website Religion Dispatches that noted, “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.”

Via told the American Independent Foundation that conservative support for extremist right-wing politicians such as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is another example of such international activity. The American Conservative Union has plans to hold one of its Conservative Political Action Conference events in Hungary in March 2022, Via said. “Conservatives, including Tucker Carlson and [Mike Pence], have become very pro-Hungary in recent years.”

The National Conservatism Conference, an event held in Orlando, Florida, between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, included a session titled, “What Conservatives Must Learn from Orban’s Hungary.”

There are steps international policymakers can take to address its growing influence. The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism says there are steps international policymakers can take to address the growing influence of the Alliance Defending Freedom International. It recommends, “All international bodies should review ADFI’s status and consider its true agenda and how that agenda comports with the values of the bodies.”

Citing a 2020 article published by the U.K.-based website openDemocracy, the report says, “As Petra Bayr, chair of the equality committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2021, said, international bodies should ‘put in place strict mechanisms on accreditation and screening before allowing them access to influence the democratic processes.’”