During a conference that took place the last weekend in March, speakers attacked LGBTQ rights, feminism, reproductive rights and religious diversity.
While this may sound like a typical gathering of a Religious Right group in Washington, D.C., it wasn't. This event took place halfway around the globe in Verona, Italy, and represents a far more ambitious agenda than the Religious Right's oft-stated goal of forging a "biblical" society in the United States. Indeed, the conference's organizers aim to build a global theocratic movement.
The event was sponsored by the World Congress of Families (WCF), an organization founded in 1997 originally to oppose the spread of LGBTQ rights and roll back women's reproductive freedom. Since then, the group has become notorious for backing extreme anti-LGBTQ measures and aligning with dictators and neofascist, anti-immigrant organizations.
The conference in Verona, which was WCF's 13th, highlighted the organization's ties to the far right. CNN reported that Verona, a city in northern Italy with a population of about a quarter of a million, has long been a hotbed of extremist politics.
"Today neo-fascist groups such as CasaPound and Forza Nuova, whose leader held a press conference outside the venue on Saturday, have their headquarters in the city's center," reported CNN. "And most recently, Verona has become a flashpoint of far-right activity and a launching pad for some of the country's most well-known --and controversial--politicians and ideas. In October, Verona's mayor Federico Sboarina declared the city 'prolife' after the town council passed a motion that would use public funds to finance anti-abortion programs."
Among the speakers at the event was Matteo Salvini, Italy's deputy prime minister and the leader of the League Party, which has been described as xenophobic and anti-immigrant.
CNN noted that others speakers included Lorenzo Fontana, Italy's minister for family and disability, who has attacked marriage equality, transgender rights and immigration, asserting that they will "wipe out our community and our traditions."
Americans were also represented at the conference. Among the speakers was Brian S. Brown, who serves as WCF's president. In America, Brown is better known for his other job, co-founder and leader of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which spearheaded the fight against marriage equality in the U.S. NOM lost that battle in 2015 when the Supreme Court upheld marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges.
Far from closing its doors after losing its signature campaign, NOM is now focused on blocking the expansion of LGBTQ rights and arguing that "religious freedom" should give business owners the right to discriminate. (It also holds out hope that a Supreme Court remade by President Donald Trump will overturn Obergefell.)
At the Verona conference, Brown told the crowd, "This universal truth of the beauty of the family is what binds us together. We are here today to defend, promote, protect and lift up something so basic, true and beautiful--the family--a man, a woman, a child."
Such "pro-family" rhetoric may sound non-threatening to many people, but critics say it masks WCF's larger agenda, which is rabidly anti-LGBTQ and a form of Christian nationalism, the...