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Hell in a handcart

On women’s rights, follow the money

Writer Erynn Brook has posted an important thread on Twitter that begins with a simple question: why does she, a Canadian woman, care so much about abortion law in the US? The answer isn’t just that it’s a moral position, that if you care about women’s rights you should care about women’s rights everywhere. It’s that the same people – and their finances – turn up in other countries too.

When Brook encountered anti-abortion protesters in Canada, she was struck not just by the callousness of the protesters but by their expensively produced, professionally designed materials. When Brook’s photo was used by the protesters online she discovered that the protesters were “a company. Like a real company with directors and managers and a lawyer on retainer.”

Protest groups generally aren’t serious businesses too, so Brook investigated. What she found was effectively a PR company supporting anti-abortion protesters, and that company had deep pockets. As she dug further she discovered the company’s links with a prominent anti-abortion group founded by a US activist, and that group’s links with anti-abortion campaigns overseas. Ireland is a notable example.

Brook:

This isn’t an America issue. It’s a global issue, and the US is a megaphone. Not just that, they have actual companies, representatives and campaigns running in other countries promoting their propaganda.

What you’re seeing on the streets and online isn’t a spontaneous protest. It’s a PR campaign.

The funding is opaque, deliberately so, and in many cases groups use crowdfunding to disguise the source of their income.

The same thing happens here in the UK with various groups raising suspiciously large amounts of money incredibly quickly, the timestamps and amounts of the donations strongly indicating that most of the money is coming from the US. This opacity isn’t just about hiding donors’ identities. In many cases it’s also designed to evade electoral law, which limits political spending during elections and referendums.

Much of the social media activity and advertising against minority groups and/or progressive legislation is the work of bots (software) and sockpuppets (multiple fake accounts), much of which comes from internet addresses in the US: in the recent Irish abortion referendum, half of the online activity was by bots.

From anti-abortionists to anti-trans activists, climate change deniers to far-right rabble-rousers, dark money from the US has gone global – and money’s coming from the other direction too, with Russia deliberately trying to sow discord and division in the West. It too runs bot networks, sock puppets and fake news factories, boosting the far right and activists working to restrict the human rights of women and minorities.

The issues may differ but the story’s the same: whether they’re outside family planning clinics or primary schools, the protesters are pawns in a global game.