The ‘Dreher Affair’ Highlights the Right’s International Networks

Viktor Orbán's friendly press gather for a photo. Dreher (sixth from left), in his best Where's Waldo imitation, pokes his head out to ensure that he's accounted for. Image: Twitter

Right-wing Christian blogger and media figure Rod Dreher has moved to Hungary, where he continues to admire Viktor Orbán, the country’s authoritarian prime minister whom he’s called “one of the most extraordinary world leaders of our time.” Dreher isn’t alone in his adoration. Orbán is a role model for many on the Right. His model of authoritarian government and White Christian nationalist agenda is what they dream of for the United States. But living in an authoritarian state comes with a set of strict rules, especially if you’re among the leader’s propagandists. Something Dreher was apparently not aware of. 

Recently, he was part of a group of hand-selected Orbán-friendly media figures (I refuse to apply the term journalist here) who met with the autocrat for a cozy chat. It’s understood at these chats, however, that some quotes—those that would damage the leader’s reputation, for example—do not leave the meeting room. Dreher hadn’t gotten the memo, causing something of a diplomatic incident. 

As The Bulwark‘s Balázs Gulyás reports, Dreher quoted Orbán verbatim in The American Conservative, not only saying “We are in a war with Russia. That’s the reality. . . . Every day we are moving further in,” but also calling Ukraine “Afghanistan,” and “the land of nobody.” Afterwards, Dreher caved to the pressure, changing his account of the meeting yet claiming he had only “clarified” the quotes to reflect the fact that Orbán “was clearly joking.” 

According to The Bulwark, there were two other accounts of the meeting—both in German. The first links to a right-wing German blog called Tichy’s Einblick (Tichy’s insight), by former editor in chief of “Wirtschaftswoche” (sort of a German equivalent to Bloomberg Businessweek) turned right-wing pundit, Roland Tichy. In his response to The Bulwark, Dreher confirms that Tichy himself was present and quotes directly from his website.

Tichy’s blog, which also publishes pieces from a who’s who of the German Right, had previously come under fire for falsely claiming that Germany’s Federal Public Prosecutor was investigating sea rescue organizations and for its sexist attacks against Sawsan Chebli, a German politician of the SPD (Social Democrat Party). These attacks were so vile that a German court ordered him to pay ten thousand euros in damages because his remarks “violated human dignity and personal rights.” 

When news of a thwarted attempted coup by a right-wing terror group with connections to the police and military hit German headlines in December 2022, Tichy mocked their plans as an “‘operetta-coup,’” insinuating that the group consisted of doddery fools who posed no real danger, rather than a former MP and judge, along with (former) members of the German military and its special forces unit. 

Despite the fact that the conspirators had planned to attack the power grid to create “civil war like scenes,” established a communications structure, and had even planned to storm the German parliament to kidnap and kill MPs, Tichy, echoing conspiracy theories, claimed that it was actually the government’s reaction to the attempted coup that Germans should be scared of.

Right-wing Christian (inter)nationalism

It’s quite the company Dreher is keeping—and yet another reminder that even though right-wing movements are nationalistic, they’re also fostering international networks and connections. Tichy himself is a member of another international network which connects social conservatives with neoliberals and right-wing libertarians across the world: The Mont Pèlerin Society

Founded in 1947 by Friedrich August von Hayek, the organization itself is a network of think tanks and foundations across the US and Europe that are politically aligned and use their influence and resources to agitate for a free market fundamentalism devoid of government regulation. Amongst its members (past and present): Charles G. Koch of Koch Industries (one of the American Right’s most important mega donors), Thomas A. Roe (founder of right-wing bill mill, State Policy Network), and Edwin J. Feulner, the former president and co-founder of the right-wing Heritage Foundation

(Not coincidentally the Society has also been revealed to be the home of leading climate change-deniers as a free-market worldview has been shown to be “an important predictor of the rejection of scientific findings that have potential regulatory implications, such as climate science.”) 

International networks of the Right are a powerful force, even if they rarely make the headlines. According to a 2021 report from the European Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (EPF), their pockets are deep. From 2009 until 2018, $702.2 million was spent on “anti-gender” mobilization, $81.3 million from the US alone to combat abortion rights. These networks are complicated by design, as Anne Nelson, the author of Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right, explains. And there’s no end in sight: International investments are on the rise, the EPF warns. 

While the World Congress of Families functions as a sort of umbrella organization for the international Christian Right, some right-wing US groups have set up European offices that conceal their agenda behind innocuous sounding names, like the European Center for Law and Justice, an offshoot of the American Center for Law and Justice—both founded by televangelist Pat Robertson. 

The Anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom has set up shop outside the US as well, dubbing its coordinating international body Alliance Defending Freedom International. The Polish Ordo Iuris, a right-wing catholic organization which leads a crusade against abortion, is likewise well connected on an international level with German pundit Birgit Kelle, a regular on the anti-abortion circuit, having recently spoken at one of their events.

Meanwhile, the Mathias Corvinus Collegium—headed by Balázs Orbán (no relation), an MP for the Fidesz Party—which has received 1.4 billion euros in funding from the Orbán government, has nurtured connections both with Germany and the US. While the German CDU (Christian Democratic Union, Germany’s conservative party) has largely ended relations with the Fidesz Party, its foundation, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, has no such qualms. They’ve repeatedly hosted events with the MCC, with CDU-members like former professor Werner Patzelt speaking at an MCC event. The aforementioned Birgit Kelle took part in an event at the MCC to promote her book, which rails against “gender gaga” (gender nonsense) in March of 2022. 

Tucker Carlson has been a guest speaker at the MCC, and Rod Dreher, who was a visiting professor there last year, has praised the MCC—and Hungary—as a safe haven for right-wingers, imploring his fellow ideologues: “Head east, conservative intellectual!”

When Orbán was holding court with his media sycophants, Roland Tichy wasn’t the only German media figure present: Amongst Orbán’s chosen was Ralf Schuler, who last year resigned in a Bari Weiss-esque fashion from Germany’s reactionary tabloid “Bild,” bemoaning the paper’s alleged turn to “wokeism” (bizarre doesn’t even begin to cover this allegation—it would be like calling the New York Post “woke”) and is now working with Julian Reichelt, the paper’s former head who was removed after investigations by the New York Times revealed that he “had abused his position to pursue relationships with several women on his staff.” 

“Bild” belongs to the publishing giant Springer, which recently acquired Politico. Schuler has since tried to make a name for himself by interviewing conservatives like former agriculture minister Julia Kloeckner (CDU) who spent the interview spreading right-wing talking points, like attacking public service broadcasting news outlets as biased and accusing them of “rabble rousing” against her party.

Schuler’s next guest was Hans Georg Maassen, the former head of the German Verfassungsschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution), who, since leaving office, has made racist and anti-semitic remarks, agitated against immigrants, and spread the “Great Reset” conspiracy theory. After years of public statements, the line has apparently been crossed for the CDU, which started the process of trying to expel him from the party. A representative of the Central Council of Jews in Germany salled Maassen’s rhetoric “a vocabulary which exhibits a very brown, i.e. National Socialist, tradition.” 

Schuler, one of Orbán’s guests in his meeting with Dreher, gave Maassen all the time in the world to defend himself against allegations of racism and anti-semitism—in spite of the overwhelming evidence against him, and let Maassen claim that people were trying to “neutralize” him. 

The company Dreher is keeping in Hungary should serve as a reminder that hard-right nationalism need not go hand in hand with international isolation—all too often, the opposite is the case.