Right-wing US groups, some with links to Donald Trump, are spending millions of pounds campaigning against LGBT and women's rights in Europe, it has been revealed
An investigation by the website OpenDemocracy probed 28 different groups linked to the American right and found they had pushed campaigns including "LGBT-free zones" and restrictions on abortion.
The groups probed have spent more in Europe than anywhere else outside the United States – least $88 million (£68 million), according to the website's analysis. The money is largely channeled into legal and court actions pushing right-wing conservative agendas.
The two largest groups by far are Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which has close links to the Trump administration through its former staffers, and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is led by Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow.
Between them the two groups, which are aligned with the US Christian right, spent at least $25 million (£19 million), mostly on legal challenges. They have intervened in at least seven cases, including in defence of the populist Polish government's abortion and divorce policies, opposing same-sex adoption in Austria, and against trans rights in France.
Some of the groups surveyed by OpenDemocracy have also been active outside of Europe, for instance backing campaigns for the death penalty for gay people in Africa.
Campaigners warn that the findings, put together through painstaking research, could be the tip of an iceberg – and herald the start of US dark money flooding into Europe politics. In recent years allies of Mr Trump such as media mogul Steve Bannon have tried to rally the continent’s right-wing and far-right forces under a single banner, but have been met with limited success.
“It's time for the world to wake up. Do not stumble into our mistakes and do not think it could not happen where you live," Quinn Mckew, director of the US transparency NGO Article 19 said.
"The rising influence of dark money in US politics was not inevitable. It happened because of a long-standing process to erode accountability and transparency. It was inevitable that these individuals, powering these organisations, would seek to internationalise their influence."
The revelations come as a new survey by pollster YouGov released this week found that support for populists has fallen markedly over the past year across Europe, apparently in light of the Covid-19 crisis.
The YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project, a survey of about 26,000 people in 25 countries, showed significant falls in people who wanted to see immigration reduced, or who saw politics a battle of elites versus the people.
The trend of the survey, first reported by the Guardian, was only bucked in Poland, where slightly more of the population wanted a reduction in immigration when survey in 2020 than in 2019.
Some right-wing populist parties have struggled across Europe during the coronavirus pandemic, with groups like Germany's AfD and France's National Rally falling back from previous highs.