25 Jan 2019

How dark money from the US is attempting to undermine feminism in Europe

Spiked, a UK-based magazine, claims to defend freedom of speech but their misrepresentation of feminism undermine women’s freedoms. Now there are questions about how their defense of hate speech dovetails with the “intent” of a right wing US backer. 

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Sian Norris NewsMavens, Europe
How dark money from the US is attempting to undermine feminism in Europe - NewsMavens
Women's March in London, Wikimedia Commons

Hysterical witch hunters, prudes, and delicate flowers on the lookout to be offended -- this is the view of "feminists" held by the UK-based online magazine Spiked. When she’s not clutching her pearls in horror at a man’s “innocent-enough” sexist comment, she’s on a McCarthyite war path determined to destroy men’s careers -- and sex -- at the same time. Except of course when she’s playing a victim who is unable to cope with the rough and tumble of debate.

Readers outside the UK might not be familiar with the work of Spiked. Self-described as a website that “wants to change the world as well as report on it”, they claim to be committed to “humanism, democracy and freedom.”

You might think then that Spiked would be pro feminism -- a movement that campaigns for greater freedom and democracy for women (as well as on the side of anti-racist and LGBT+ movements that campaign for a fairer society).

But in Spiked’s topsy-turvy world, it is feminists who are the enemies of humanism, democracy and free speech -- not least with their campaigns to end sexual misconduct, chase misogyny out of politics and public life, and challenge mainstream sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia.

I reviewed all the articles tagged “feminism” on Spiked’s website published between August 31, 2018 and January 10, 2019 to find out just how they portray the movement. During that period, 20 articles dealt with US-centric issues -- mostly the MeToo movement and the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings.

A further 23 articles tackled UK issues. The vast majority explored the controversy around trans rights and reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (legislation currently under consultation that could change the process trans men and women have to go through in order to have their gender identity legally recognized). Three articles dealt with both the UK and the USA, and 10 focused on other countries or cultural issues (e.g. book and film reviews).

In these articles, Spiked took an often anti-Democrat, pro-Brexit stance. They attacked left-wing politicians, pro Remain writers, and support figures generally criticized for spreading hatred. Now journalists such as the UK’s George Monbiot are raising questions about whether this stance reflects a right-wing agenda that fits in with the “intent” of one of Spiked’s backers: the Koch Brothers.

Spiked and the right-wing billionaire Koch Brothers

Spiked is a libertarian website that enjoys defending professors with homophobic views from “snowflake” students, and doesn’t count women’s testimony as “evidence”. So what? It’s annoying, it’s inaccurate, and it spreads unhelpful myths about women’s and LGBT+ rights. But they have the freedom to do so in a modern, democratic society.

However, a recent investigation by British journalist George Monbiot revealed how Spiked’s defense of freedom of speech has caught the attention of the US right wing billionaire Koch Brothers. In his investigative piece, Monbiot warns that, "Dark money is among the greatest current threats to democracy. It means money spent below the public radar, that seeks to change political outcomes. It enables very rich people and corporations to influence politics without showing their hands."

The co-owners of Koch Industries, Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch are among the world’s biggest political spenders and represent a vast private conglomerate of oil pipelines and refineries, chemicals, timber and paper companies, commodity trading firms and cattle ranches.

Alongside these interests, the Koch Brothers use their fortune to fund organizations that “go along with [their] intent”. Charles Koch told a sympathetic journalist:

“If we’re going to give [someone] a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent. And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding.”

That intent is to build a low tax, loose regulatory society. According to research conducted by Harvard and Colombia Universities, organizations funded by the Koch Brothers have pulled ”the Republican party to the far-right on economic, tax, and regulatory issues.”

This intent is clearly reflected in Spiked’s output -- which not only “appears to hate left-wing politics”, but supports policies that would lead to the deregulation of industry, such as a No Deal Brexit. Spiked’s defense of hard right figures, its criticism of the welfare state, of feminists, anti-racist and LGBT movements, and its denunciations of everyone from Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to philanthropist George Soros, also reflects this “intent”.

Monbiot uncovered how Spiked US Inc. receives significant funding from the Koch Brothers, including various grants totalling $600,000, which Spiked claims is “used to produce public debates in the US about free speech” and other events. This money is delivered as part of the charitable activities of the Charles Koch Foundations’ Toleration And Free Speech Program.

Spiked stated it is “very proud” to be part of that program and denies the funding has any impact on its writers’ views. In an article that uses the word “McCarthyite” five times, editor Brendan O’Neill called Monbiot’s accusations “a crisis of good faith” and a “refusal to accept that people say the things they say because they really believe them.”

The involvement of the Koch Brothers with Spiked suggests a pattern of US right wing interests poking their noses into European media and politics in order to push their own agenda.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the active involvement of designated “hate groups” the Liberty Counsel and the Alliance Defending Freedom in Central and Eastern Europe.

Over the past couple of years, these organizations have supported moves to attack LGBT+ and women’s rights, including through their support of Romania’s Coalition for the Family. Both Liberty Counsel and ADF submitted amicus briefings to the Romanian government in the run-up to a recent (unsuccessful) referendum to preemptively ban same-sex marriage. These briefings repeatedly debunked homophobic myths, including that children of gay parents are more likely to have mental health issues.

We need more answers on why the Koch Brothers have an interest in Spiked, and how US organizations are seeking to push their agenda in Europe -- whether it’s a big business versus climate change agenda, an anti-human rights agenda, or a religious agenda.

But one thing is clear: the interests of gender equality are not and will not be served by a magazine, part-funded by US right wing billionaires, that is determined to misrepresent feminism and condemn attempts to raise the lid on sexual violence.


This is the first of four articles analyzing Spiked magazine’s representation of feminism.

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