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What is CitizenGo? On the surface, it seems to simply be a conservative lobbying group dedicated to “defending life, family, and freedom across the world,”1 as it proclaims on its homepage. It organises campaigns against superhero comics and Netflix series it deems to be blasphemous, opposes comprehensive sexual education and organises tours featuring a bus painted with transphobic messages. So far, so mundane: like death and taxes, social conservatism doesn’t seem to be leaving us anytime soon, and those associated with the organisation have compared it to the SuperPACs found in the United States.2 Less well known are the documented ties between CitizenGo and an ultracatholic, anticommunist secret society known as the Yunque that emerged in Latin America during the Cold War, spread to Europe during the Spanish Transition and continues to form part of international far right networks to this day.
Like any secret society worthy of the name, the origins of the Yunque are obscure, but the files on the organisation held by the Mexican Federal Security Directorate (DFS), which were made public twenty years ago following the country’s democratic transition, indicate that it was founded by Ramón Plata Moreno and Manuel Díaz Cid in the city of Puebla in 1955, before spreading to Mexico City and the rest of the country. It derives its name, “anvil” in Spanish, from the behavior it demands from its members, who “must be like an anvil; no matter how much they are hammered, they must maintain the same form, unphased, resisting each blow to which they are subjected.”3 Candidates must swear an oath of secrecy upon the cross, take on a pseudonym, obey each order unquestioningly and privilege the organisation over any other obligation they may have;4 the phrase “he who obeys errs not” was to be repeated during this ceremony. Jews and any Mexicans of Jewish ancestry (regardless of their religious beliefs) were barred from membership: candidates were required to prove their gentile ancestry. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was required reading.5 Their goal: to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth.
The founding of this clandestine organisation was both an aftereffect of Mexico’s postrevolutionary religious conflicts, as well as a sign of the outbreak of the Cold War in Latin America: deeply anticommunist, the organisation was founded one year after the CIA coup against Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala, which sparked widespread outrage in Mexico, and four years before the Cuban Revolution, which was planned in Mexico City and inspired the sympathies of both the country’s youth as well as aging revolutionaries concerned with the rightward drift of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The Yunque, which primarily operated by forming front groups such as the University Anticommunist Front (FUA) and the Renewal Orientation University Movement (MURO)6 or by infiltrating existing organisations such as the National Union of Parents (UNPF),7 dedicated itself to heating up these conflicts: MURO, in particular, was known for its frequently violent clashes with communist students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), as well as the 1965 bombings of the Russian-Mexican Cultural Friendship Institute and the offices of the newspaper El Día, considered to be sympathetic to Fidel Castro, carried out in collaboration with Cuban émigrés.8 Concerned with not only the martial but also the ideological development of its militants, MURO assigned readings by such figures as the Mexican Holocaust denier Salvador Borrego9 (in his later years, an associate of David Duke)10 and the Argentinean priest Julio Meinville, a nationalist and notorious antisemite whose writings would become official ideology under the military junta.11 While the Mexican far right would degenerate into internecine warfare following Vatican II (with a body count that would include Yunque founder Plata Moreno himself), as the Yunque maintained its loyalty to Rome while the rival Tecos declared Pope Paul VI to be a “Jewish infiltrator,”12 the Yunque continued to organise in opposition to both student radicals as well as the internal enemy of Liberation Theology. Many of its young militants would later infiltrate the conservative National Action Party (PAN) in what was known as “Operation Prometheus” in 1972, rising to positions of power at the turn of the millennium when Vicente Fox became the first opposition candidate to win a presidential election since the Mexican Revolution:13 their long march would bear fruit.
The Yunque crossed the Atlantic during the Spanish Transition, as hardline falangists were troubled by the social and political changes that followed Franco’s death. For example, one of the organisers who worked to establish the secret society on the peninsula, Jaime Urcelay Alonso, was the son of a military officer who personally comforted the dictator during the funeral of Prime Minister Luis Carrero Blanco, assassinated by the ETA in 1973.14 This was, incidentally, the same year in which the future Yunque member Ignacio Arsuaga was born, who would found its two most successful front groups: HazteOír and CitizenGo. HazteOír, first founded as an Internet forum in 1996 and becoming a civil association in 2001,15 would provide something that previous front groups lacked: a modern strategy involving the mobilization of the masses, the use of public relations techniques and a brasher style borrowed from U.S. conservatism. HazteOír was deeply involved in protests against former Socialist President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (2004-2011),16 particularly in opposition to marriage equality and his abortion policies. These new campaigns, often based around media provocations, were far removed from the street brawls of the MURO years: perhaps most famously, in 2017, HazteOír sent a bus painted with transphobic messages across Spain and then around the world (via CitizenGo), waiting for it to trigger the libs.17
In 2010, the professor Fernando López Luengos was commissioned by the Spanish Episcopal Conference to prepare a report on the infiltration of the Yunque in Catholic lay organisations. He identified HazteOír as a group whose activities were directed by the secret society, citing a 2006 incident in which the majority of its steering committee resigned “after discovering that this platform was not really governed by their decisions, but decisions that came from ‘outside.’”18 As an aside, this represents an interesting difference in the way we know about the Yunque in Mexico and Spain—in Mexico, our information largely comes from declassified intelligence files and leftist journalists such as Álvaro Delgado, a columnist for the center-left news magazine Proceso who won the National Journalism Award in 2004 for his reporting on the secret society19 and whose most recent book has earned him death threats (generally taken seriously in one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists),20 or Manuel Buendía (who was assassinated in 1984 which the Netflix documentary Private Network: Who Killed Manuel Buendía? argues was because he had come across what would later be known as the Iran-Contra Affair); in Spain, evidence of the Yunque’s activities has come to light thanks to conservative Catholics who generally agree with them on social issues but are outraged at having been manipulated by the organisation: Santiago Mata, the author of El Yunque en España, openly speculates about whether constituting themselves as an authority outside the hierarchy of the Catholic Church constitutes a heresy or merely a sin.21 One ex-spokesman for HazteOír, Alejandro Campoy, has called the Yunque a “ticking time bomb” that will “blow up in the Church’s face like paedophilia.”22 When López Luengos’s report on the Yunque was leaked to the press and HazteOír sued the professor, these discontented Catholics would come to his defense. One former member of HazteOír’s steering committee, in turn the president of the Spanish Family Forum, declared under oath that his children were recruited into the Yunque and that they were given paramilitary training near the city of Cádiz. “The steering committee was directed by members of the Yunque,” he said. “Those of us who did the work that we thought was in good faith were a bunch of useful idiots.” When asked about whether he believed Ignacio Arsuaga was a member of the Yunque, he replied that he had no doubts about it.23 Many of the witnesses that López Luengos interviewed for his legal defense were former members of the Yunque; one was even the person that had recruited Arsuaga into the secret society.24 “In none of the reports I’ve prepared have I given the name of any Yunque members despite having a long list,” López Luengos said. “But HazteOír has taken me to court for my report and I’ve had to defend myself by providing proof. There are many bishops who have told me that Arsuaga belongs to the Yunque and, as I’ve said before, I’ve presented three witnesses who have confirmed this.”25 López Luengos would win the case in 2014. Nevertheless, HazteOír representatives continue to deny any association with the Yunque, and internal documents published by WikiLeaks even reveal the answers they are to give to the press when questioned:
- Does the Yunque exist?
- I cannot confirm that said organisation exists.
- That you cannot confirm its existence means that nobody has ever spoken to you of the Yunque?
- I repeat that I cannot confirm its existence, although I know that there are people who have written and spoken about it.
- What is the Yunque?
- I don’t know. I cannot confirm that it exists, although there are people that have written and spoken about it.26
This public scandal would soon dissipate: as the court case dragged on, HazteOír hosted the 2012 World Congress of Families in Madrid, which put it into contact with other far right groups from around the world,27 from U.S. evangelicals to representatives of Russian oligarchs.28 In the wake of this success, HazteOír established two new platforms in 2013: Vox, a far right political party whose initial press conference was broadcast over HazteOír’s social media accounts and whose leader, Santiago Abascal, had collaborated with the organisation at least since 2005,29 and CitizenGo, which would expand their operations onto the global level, building on the networking done at the conference the previous year. One of the purposes of the latter, the Spanish journalist Santiago Mata has written, “is to multiply their contacts in countries where the Church is not yet on its guard against the Yunque: Ecuador, Panama, Argentina (where they already had the association Argentinos Alerta) and others in the Americas, France, Poland and even Russia.”30 When WikiLeaks published a massive dump of over 17,000 internal files from HazteOír, known as The Intolerance Network, the organisation’s sources of financing became clear: its donors range from Spanish industrialists such as David Álvarez Díez, Esther Alcocer Koplowitz and Isidoro Álvarez to the Russian oligarch Konstatin Malofeev,31 the latter of whom has close connections to the puppet government of the Donetsk People’s Republic32 and who was personally invited to participate in the launch of CitizenGo. Thanks to this massive influx of money, CitizenGo claims to have blocked the 2016 proposed constitutional reform in Mexico to explicitly protect marriage equality, as well as an attempt to legalise abortion in Colombia that same year; it has also conducted similar prolife campaigns in countries such as Chile, Guatemala and Honduras. CitizenGo claims to have over 15 million members around the world:33 it is doubtful that they are aware of the secret history of their parent organisation. As longtime PAN militant Luis Calderón Vega wrote when he resigned from the party he had cofounded, perhaps they do not realise “into whose hands they have fallen.”34
Adam Ramsey and Claire Provost. Revealed: the Trump-linked ‘Super PAC’ working behind the scenes to drive Europe’s voters to the far Right. April 25, 2019. Open Democracy: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/revealed-the-trump-linked-super-pac-working-behind-the-scenes-to-drive-europes-voters-to-the-far-right/.
Álvaro Delgado, El Yunque: La ultraderecha en el poder (2003). Mexico City: Plaza y Janes, pp. 17-18.
Delgado, op. cit., p. 70.
Delgado, op. cit. p. 23.
Edgar González Ruiz. La derecha anticomunista: el MURO (1961-1981). January 12, 2014. Contralínea: https://contralinea.com.mx/opinion/la-derecha-anticomunista-el-muro-1961-1981/.
Delgado, op. cit., pp. 53-57.
Edgar González Ruiz. MURO, memorias y testimonios, 1961-2002 (2003). Puebla: Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, Cuadernos del Archivo Histórico Universitario, pp. 279-286.
José L. Rodríguez Jiménez. Antisemitism and the Extreme Right in Spain (1962–1997): https://web.archive.org/web/20130926151250/http://sicsa.huji.ac.il/15spain.html.
Keegan Hankes. 2016 American Renaissance Conference Prominently Features Mexican Anti-Semite. March 30, 2016. Southern Poverty Law Center: https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/03/30/2016-american-renaissance-conference-prominently-features-mexican-anti-semite.
Delgado, op. cit., pp. 36-37.
Mónica Alcántara Navarro. Jóvenes católicos, militancia y redes anticomunistas en la década de 1970: el caso del Consejo Nacional de Estudiantes. September 5, 2019. Con-temporánea: https://con-temporanea.inah.gob.mx/del_oficio_monica_alcantara_num11.
Delgado, op. cit., pp. 90-101.
Santiago Mata. El Yunque en España: La sociedad secreta que divide a los católicos (2016). Madrid: Ediciones Amanecer, pp. 155-160.
Mata, op. cit., p. 186.
Mata, op. cit., p. 168. Arsuaga also authored a book titled Proyecto Zapatero, attacking the president for promoting “gender ideology,” that was printed en masse and distributed for free as a form of propaganda. See: “«Proyecto Zapatero», un libro para abrir los ojos a la sociedad española.” March 12, 2010. ABC: https://www.abc.es/espana/proyecto-zapatero-libro-para-201012030000_noticia.html.
Sandro Pozzi. Spain’s ‘transphobic bus’ rolls on to the streets of Manhattan. March 23, 2017. El País: https://english.elpais.com/elpais/2017/03/23/inenglish/1490263740_805120.html.
El Transparente de la catedral de Toledo: Análisis del asociacionismo de los laicos cristianos españoles y la intromisión del Yunque. March-April 2010. InfoVaticana: https://www.infovaticana.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Informe-yunque.pdf.
Premio Nacional de Periodismo: a Proceso, tres reconocimientos. April 28, 2004. Proceso: https://www.proceso.com.mx/nacional/2004/4/28/premio-nacional-de-periodismo-proceso-tres-reconocimientos-57986.html.
Amenazan de muerte a Álvaro Delgado, Julio Hernández y Javier Sicilia (Video). August 25, 2016. Proceso: https://www.proceso.com.mx/nacional/2016/8/25/amenazan-de-muerte-alvaro-delgado-julio-hernandez-javier-sicilia-video-169522.html
Mata, op. cit., pp. 330-331.
José María Garrido. “Al igual que la pederastia, El Yunque ya le ha estallado a la Iglesia Católica.” June 13, 2014. El Plural: https://www.elplural.com/sociedad/al-igual-que-la-pederastia-el-yunque-ya-le-ha-estallado-a-la-iglesia-catolica_39581102.
Carlos Enrique Bayo. Hazte Oír encargó un “plan de gestión de crisis” para negar la sentencia que vincula a sus líderes con la sociedad secreta El Yunque. August 11, 2021. Público: https://www.publico.es/politica/hazte-oir-encargo-plan-gestion-crisis-negar-sentencia-vincula-lideres-sociedad-secreta-yunque.html.
Gabriel Ariza. 5/6/2014. López Luengos sobre Yunque: “Su juramento les prohíbe reconocer su pertenencia”. InfoVaticana: https://infovaticana.com/2014/06/05/entrevista-fernando-lopez-luengos/.
WikiLeaks: The Intolerance Network: https://wikileaks.org/intolerancenetwork/files/12672.
World Congress of Families. Madrid Selected as Site of World Congress of Families VI in 2012. April 21, 2011. PR Newswire: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/madrid-selected-as-site-of-world-congress-of-families-vi-in-2012-120392844.html.
WikiLeaks: The Intolerance Network: https://wikileaks.org/intolerancenetwork/files/6602; Hélène Barthélemy. How the World Congress of Families serves Russian Orthodox political interests. May 16, 2018. Southern Poverty Law Center: https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2018/05/16/how-world-congress-families-serves-russian-orthodox-political-interests.
Mata, op. cit., p. 311.
Santiago Mata. ¿Qué dice la Iglesia sobre la sociedad secreta “El Yunque”? Februrary 18, 2015. Aleteia: https://es.aleteia.org/2015/02/18/que-dice-la-iglesia-sobre-la-sociedad-secreta-el-yunque/.
Carlos Enrique Bayo. Grandes fortunas y altos ejecutivos españoles financiaron el nacimiento de Vox a partir del grupo ultracatólico Hazte Oír. August 5, 2021. Público: https://www.publico.es/politica/exclusiva-wikileaks-grandes-fortunas-altos-ejecutivos-espanoles-financiaron-nacimiento-vox-partir-grupo-ultracatolico-hazte-oir.html.
Courtney Weaver. Malofeev: the Russian billionaire linking Moscow to the rebels. July 24, 2014. Financial Times: https://www.ft.com/content/84481538-1103-11e4-94f3-00144feabdc0.
Érika Ramírez. La derecha europea de Hazte Oír y Citizen Go financiada desde América. August 5, 2021. Contralínea: https://contralinea.com.mx/interno/semana/la-derecha-europea-de-hazte-oir-y-citizen-go-financiada-desde-america/.
Delgado, op. cit. p. 94.