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Posts for September, 2014

The Not-The-World-Congress-of-Families Launches Moscow Conference

Jim Burroway

September 10th, 2014
No, not that. The other one.

No, not that. The other one.

Despite Russia’s illegal invasion of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine and its complicity in downing of a commercial aircraft filled with hundreds of innocent civilians, quite a number of American anti-gay activists are willing to look past all that in order to congratulate Putin’s empire for its growing campaign against its own LGBT citizens. A year ago, before the conflict in Ukraine exploded into armed combat, six American conservative groups signed on to a statement praising Russia’s so-called “anti-propaganda” law which prohibits persons and organizations from expressing their free speech rights for LGBT people. (Of course, free speech rights against LGBT people are fully protected while anti-LGBT violence is officially ignored.) Those six were Austin Ruse’s Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, Chris Carmouche’s GrassTopsUSA, Don Schmierer’s His Servants (of the 2009 Uganda Conference infamy), Linda Harvey’s Mission America, Steven Mosher’s Population Research Institute, and Larry Jacobs’s World Congress of Families, which had planned to hold its next World Congress in Moscow beginning today.

Larry Jacobs, speaking at a Watchmen On the Walls conference in Latvia, 2007.

Larry Jacobs, speaking at a Watchmen On the Walls conference in Latvia, 2007.

That Congress was set to take place in the Kremlin itself, with funding from Vladimir Putin’s allies and featuring a joint session with the Russian Parliament. The theme for the Congress was “Every Child A Gift: Large Families, the Future of Humanity.” Those plans were re-affirmed last March, even after fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine. A few weeks later, Jacobs announced that the World Congress in Moscow was suspended after several leading American anti-gay activists pulled out. At the time, WCF said, “The World Congress of Families takes no position on foreign affairs, except as they affect the natural family.” In June, WCF said in their newsletter that they were canceling the Congress altogether, citing “possible liability” arising from American and European sanctions against Russia and several targeted leaders, including some who were helping to organize the Moscow Congress.

Except now it appears that they didn’t exactly “cancel” their planned Congress in Moscow, but merely changed it’s name and, perhaps, some of its funding sources. The event is now the International Family Forum — with the old WCF theme, “Large Families, the Future of Humanity” — remaining intact. Until just last week, Jacobs and WCF communications director Don Feder were listed among event’s organizers. Their names have since been removed after J. Lester Feder’s Buzzfeed article called attention to the new conference. Jacobs denied to Buzzfeed that the new Forum was a World Congress of Families event and that “any one who calls it that is wrong, mis-informed or lying.” He denied that WCF was providing any funding and said that WCF president Allan Carlson would not be there to speak. Jacobs later confirmed to Mother Jones that he and Feder would be there and “speak as individuals and not as representatives of the World Congress of Families.” Austin Ruse, who also said he’d be there, had no doubts about the nature of the conference:

Austin Ruse

Austin Ruse

Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, an American who was on the organizing committee for the Moscow meeting before WCF withdrew its sponsorship, said the local organizers decided to go forward on their own after the international organization pulled out. But he was planning to attend along with several other Americans active with the WCF.

“A lot of us are still going to over there and attend,” Ruse told BuzzFeed. “WCF will vocally support the meeting that is happening in Russia.”

Jacobs responded to Ruse’s comments by email, saying “Austin does not speak for WCF.”

Don Feder (left) speaking at the same <a href="http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2007/12/10/1058">Watchmen On the Walls conference</a> in Latvia, 2007.

Don Feder (left) speaking at the same Watchmen On the Walls conference in Latvia, 2007.

And so the Totally-Not-The-World-Congress-Of-Families is meeting today in the very same venues as the “cancelled” World Congress of Families, with precisely the same theme, with much of the same program, with all of the same goals, and with many the same organizers. Duck metaphors are flying across the sky. Hannah Levintov at Mother Jones asks whether these American anti-gay activists have skirted U.S. sanctions on Russian:

Both (conference organizers Elena) Mizulina and (Vladimir) Yakunin are among WCF’s heartiest supporters. Mizulina sponsored both pieces of anti-gay legislation that caused international uproar in the run-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics in February. WCF has expressed support for these laws. She has met repeatedly with Jacobs, has attended a number of WCF’s Russian events, and has invited a WCF planning committee member to speak before Duma members about anti-gay policies.

The billionaire Yakunin helped pay for the 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit, the WCF’s first major conference in Russia. Last spring, he launched Istoki, a fund that backs three charities—two co-run by him, and a third headed by his wife, Natalia. All three organizations have ties to WCF’s work in Russia. Three of the Large Families conference’s five sponsors are affiliated with Yakunin: the Sanctity of Motherhood Foundation, the Center for National Glory, and St. Andrew the First-Called Foundation. The latter two are run by Yakunin and all three are funded by Yakunin’s Istoki fund.

Yakunin and Mizulina are currently on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list. Once someone is on the list, American citizens and businesses “are generally prohibited from dealing with them,” according to OFAC, which administers economic and trade sanctions. Sanction rules hinge on what counts as “dealing” with an SDN, which isn’t clearly defined. “If a US individual or entity wanted to deal with a sanctioned entity on the SDN list, we would encourage them to reach out to OFAC for guidance on a case-by-case basis,” a Treasury spokeswoman told Mother Jones. “Generally what is prohibited are ‘dealings’ with SDNs. Doing business or doing transactions—all of that is covered in the regulations. But dealings is a general term.” She said that the agency does not comment on specific cases.

The Human Rights Campaign is calling on the U.S. Treasury to investigate the WCF’s leadership for possibly violating U.S. sanctions against Russia.

World Congress of Families To Meet in Utah for 2015

Jim Burroway

July 2nd, 2014

The World Congress of Families, a project of the Rockford, Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society and an officially designated hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has announced that it will be holding its 2015 Congress in Salt Lake City:

The World Congress of Families is to be held at the Little America and Grand America hotels in late October 2015. It’s an event that could attract a couple of thousand people, said Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute, a Utah conservative think tank that is hosting the gathering.

Mero, who serves on the congress’ management committee and used to work for The Howard Center for Family Religion and Society, which founded the Congress, said Salt Lake City is the perfect place for the conference.

“I think there’s no better locale more focused on family as the fundamental unit of society than Utah,” Mero said. “I think Utah is exceptional in faith, family and in freedom.”

I am so there! Anyone with me?

The World Congress of Families typically holds its Congresses outside of the United States with the aim of exporting anti-gay rhetoric and other socially-conservative ideas to other countries. This year’s Congress, scheduled to take place in Moscow, was “suspended for the time being” after Russia invaded the Crimea. Not so much because WCF was dumbfounded that Russia would violate human rights on such a massive scale, but because U.S. and European Union sanctions “has raised questions about travel, logistics, and other matters necessary to plan WCF VIII .” The fact that WCF and its partners were happy to heap praise on Russian President Vladimir Putin for passing its so-called “homosexual propaganda” law should tell you everything you need to know about the WCF’s concerns over human rights.

Crisis Notwithstanding, World Congress of Families Presses Ahead in Kiev, Moscow

Jim Burroway

March 13th, 2014

The crisis in Crimea will naturally continue to consume the world’s attention. Forgotten, of course, is last month’s report of proposals before Ukraine’s Parliament to institute a Russian-style anti-gay “propaganda” law. With the new Ukraine government still trying to find its footing and expending every energy on the ongoing crisis, this legislative effort appears to have fallen off everyone’s radar. Well, almost everyone. Here’s an email from the Rockford, Illinois-based World Congress of Families that landed in my inbox this morning.

Larry Jacobs, speaking at a Watchmen On the Walls conference in Latvia, 2007.

World Congress of Families managing director Larry Jacobs today called on the international pro-life and pro-family network to pray for peace in Ukraine. “We are concerned about the crisis in Ukraine and pray for world leaders to come together to promote peace and resolve the conflict,” Jacobs said. “We echo Pope Francis’s prayer, ‘that all parts of the country work to overcome misunderstandings and to build together the future of the nation.’ “We have many Christian friends and pro-family leaders of all faiths in all regions of Ukraine. We pray for their safety and their important work to promote authentic human rights, encourage the natural family, and protect human life from conception to natural death.

Jacobs announced that planning for a special World Congress of Families event in Ukraine’s capital city of Kiev would continue. “After speaking with our friends and supporters in Ukraine, we are pleased to announce that they are continuing their efforts to organize a World Congress of Families regional meeting in Kiev this summer in collaboration with WCF leaders from Eastern Europe and Russia to promote the natural family as the fundamental unit of a free and stable society that transcends all political differences and the interests of nations and armies,” he said.

In 2007, Jacobs was a key speaker at a Watchmen On the Walls conference in Riga, Latvia, which also featured  American anti-gay extremists including Don Federer and Scott Lively.

World Congress of Families is pressing ahead with its main congress this year in Moscow, at the Kremlin with funding from Vladimir Putin allies and a joint session with the Russian Parliament. Planned participants in Moscow are said to include Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, Benjamin Bull of Alliance Defending Freedom, Justin Murff of the Christian Broadcasting Network and Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute.