CitizenGO describes itself as a “community of active citizens who work together, using online petitions and action alerts as a resource, to defend and promote life, family, and liberty.” The right-wing Christian organization, which claims to have almost 9 million members, operates primarily through an online petition platform to push an anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion agenda. Though the organization recently made headlines in the United States for its transphobic “Free Speech Bus” and the protests that met it on its tour of American cities, CitizenGO has a variety of longstanding ties to right-wing organizations and right-wing efforts around the globe.
CitizenGO is headquartered in Madrid, Spain, sharing an address, a founder (Ignacio Arsuaga), and a number of board members with the right-wing Spanish organization Hazte Oir (“Make Yourself Heard”), which Arsuaga founded in 2001. Hazte Oir lists itself as a member of CitizenGO, and its website links to CitizenGO petitions.
CitizenGO is not shy about its positions on a variety of key right-wing issues, characterizing trans and gender non-conforming identities as “the wrong-headed notion that sex is fluid and a matter of choice,” and declares, “Marriage, properly understood, is the union of one man and one woman, in a lifetime relationship which is open to the natural procreation of and raising of children.”
The CitizenGO petition platform was launched in 2013, but perhaps its most notable physical manifestation is the anti-trans, so-called “Free Speech Bus,” which toured the U.S. in 2017 emblazoned with the slogan “Boys are boys … and always will be. Girls are girls … and always will be.” The bus was met with protests led by queer and trans rights activist groups in cities such as Boston, Cambridge, New York, New Haven, and Philadelphia.
A similar bus, with Hazte Oir’s name on it, was banned by a judge in Madrid earlier that year on the grounds that its presence could prompt hate crimes in the capital city.
CitizenGO claims to be funded by “small online donations” but a leak of internal documents in May of 2017 suggested that in 2012, its affiliate Hazte Oir received €2,050 from a multinational technology company. The leakers also suggested that Hazte Oir has connections to the ultra-right Mexican Catholic group El Yunque.
A connection to El Yunque would certainly not be the only link CitizenGo and its affiliates have to the international Religious Right. CitizenGO and Hazte Oir have many longstanding connections to anti-choice and “pro-family” right-wing Christian organizations, primarily through their board members. Continuing the right-wing Catholic connection, board members Alejandro Bermudez and John-Henry Westen both run conservative Catholic news sites; Westen has been vocal in his criticism of the Pope’s stances on abortion and same-sex marriage.
Board member Alexey Komov is the “Regional Representative for Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States” for the World Congress of Families, a U.S.-based Religious Right anti-choice and anti-queer organization. Komov and CitizenGO board member Brian Brown are also part of a widespread network of American and Russian individuals and Evangelical organizations committed to spreading anti-abortion and anti-LGBT sentiment and policy abroad.
Brown is the president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), an anti-LGBT organization that was particularly active during the Prop 8 campaign in California in 2008.
WCF also awarded CitizenGO board member Luca Volonte a “Familia et Veritas” award in 2015. In 2014 Volonte was the chair of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, a Christian anti-choice think tank based in Italy, when it hosted Steve Bannon for a speech in the Vatican, and in April of 2017, the former Italian lawmaker was accused of a money laundering scheme that fed large sums of money from a lawmaker in Azerbaijan to a number of right-wing groups, money which was allegedly paid to him in exchange for his support for a variety of Azerbaijan’s political positions.
The international reach of these connections is also on display in the numerous petitions on CitizenGO’s website. There are petitions hoping to target government officials in Malta, British Columbia, New Zealand, Ireland, Malaysia, and the U.K., to name just a few. Organizations and individuals are able to create petitions on the CitizenGO platform; while most of the petitions are authored by CitizenGO, other right-wing organizations whose petitions CitizenGO promotes include African Organization for Families, Right to Life, and Movieguide.
Despite vocal resistance to CitizenGO in Spain and the U.S., the “Free Speech Bus” has been seen in cities all over the world. In July 2017, it was making the rounds in Chile, in September 2017 it was in Germany, in October 2017 it was in France, and a bus has been seen in Italy as recently as February 2018. They also had a small “Free Speech” airplane circling the Spanish Mediterranean in August 2017.
In April 2018, CitizenGO Africa announced that Nairobi, Kenya would be the first city on the continent to host the so-called #FreeSpeechBus.