The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2023-11-03/the-eugenic-circus-comes-to-town/

The Eugenic Circus Comes to Town

A Downtown hotel is hosting a natalist, eugenics-aligned conference in December. Why Austin?

By Brant Bingamon and Maggie Q. Thompson, November 3, 2023, News

A conference is coming to the shores of Lady Bird Lake next month that hopes to save humanity from an impending population collapse. Appearing with it will be a cavalcade of speakers that put the "fringe" in fringe science.

The Line Hotel will host the Natal Conference, billed as a "gathering of the brightest minds in the world in search of new solutions," on Dec. 1-2. It's difficult to sort the conference's 16 speakers into neat groups, but in broad strokes, they range from those seeking a return to conservative, 1950s gender roles to right-wing figures whose ethos is "no enemies to the right," a philosophy that conservatives should collaborate on common issues with even the most extreme right-wingers, including Nazis. Also in the mix are academics and science enthusiasts whose talking points hearken back to early 1900s eugenics.

There really is solid evidence of a global population nosedive in the near future. Respected demographers, including UT-Aus­tin economic demographer Dean Spears, predict the human population will peak sometime between the 2060s and 2080s. "And then we shrink," Spears wrote in a New York Times op-ed last month. "Humanity will not reach a plateau and then stabilize. It will begin an unprecedented decline." He explains that any continued birth rate of fewer than two babies per two adults creates a population that shrinks with each generation.

In his Times piece, Spears urges inclusive conversation right away about strategies to boost birth rates, because extremists "may someday call depopulation a crisis and exploit it to suit their agendas — of inequality, nationalism, exclusion or control. Paying attention now would create an opportunity to ... avoid the disasters that happen when governments try to impose their will on reproduction."

In reality, nationalists on the internet, and those willing to fraternize with them, have already latched onto the depopulation fear. They haven't defined consistent policy goals yet, but speakers at the Austin conference variously advocate for the "permanent defeat of the left" and that "babies are good, more babies are better." (We'll get into that later!)

No Enemies to the Right

Kevin Dolan says he's the man behind it all. We tried, but weren't able to reach him for comment, but on the Cutting Against the Grain podcast in July, Dolan talked about organizing the conference. In other statements, he's pretty clear about his goals.

"I think that the pronatalist and the eugenic positions are very much not in opposition; they're very much aligned," Dolan said in June on the Jolly Heretic podcast, hosted by Edward Dutton, a geneticist who is one of the conference's speakers.

Dolan was fired from his job as a data scientist in 2021 after being doxxed and exposed as the man behind the Twitter persona @extradeadjcb, The Guardian reported in September. That handle is also listed on the conference website as Dolan's. He often tweets about keeping immigrants out of the U.S. In a 2019 tweet, he told a commenter with claimed Apache ancestry that he's "lucky we let you live in Arizona," because the Apaches "got royally butt-raped by whitey lol Better keep a bag packed, we're building the wall." Just a few months ago, he retweeted a video suggesting Black people move "back to Africa" and wrote, "This is probably the closest thing to a practicable solution to the race problem in America."

Charles Haywood, another conference speaker, credits himself as the originator of the concept "no enemies to the right." He explained the goal on IM-1776, an online publication whose editor, Ben Braddock, is also part of the conference. "What is our end?" Haywood asked. "That is easy — winning. What is the winning condition? It is the total, permanent defeat of the Left, of the ideology at the heart of the Enlightenment." Speaking on the Subversive podcast hosted by Alex Kaschuta, he explained: "Let's say there's some guy who says white people are No. 1, white people should be in charge ... if that guy wants to work with me on gun control, I don't care what that guy thinks in his spare time about white people."

Haywood's stance is so radical that other, very extreme conservatives – such as Rod Dreher of The American Conservative – have condemned it. But that hasn't stopped Haywood from spreading his influence through the far-right online community. He has written for publications and appeared on podcasts sponsored by the Claremont Institute, for example, including The American Mind and The New Founding podcasts.

Still with us? The rabbit hole gets deeper. The Claremont Institute itself will have an enormous presence at the Natal Con­ference. The Bulwark, an anti-Trump conservative news site, has described the institute as "America's Trumpiest think tank." As a New York Times magazine piece put it this summer, the Claremont Institute "made the intellectual case for Trump. Now they believe the country is in a cultural civil war." One of Claremont's senior fellows, John Eastman, is currently under indictment for helping Trump try to steal the 2020 election.

Two editors for the Claremont's American Mind publication will speak at the conference, as will a pseudonymous right-wing personality associated with the Claremont – Raw Egg Nationalist. He's a Tucker Carl­son favorite who has authored books promoted by the neo-Nazi publisher Antelope Hill, warning that the modern diet is poisonous and recommending the consumption of mass quantities of raw eggs. (He also was one of the proponents of the conspiracy theory that there is fetal tissue in Pepsi.)

Another pseudonymous Natal Conference speaker, Peachy Keenan, is an anti-woke activist and proponent of home-schooling. Keenan's recent book Domestic Extremist includes chapters titled "Babies Are Good, More Babies Are Better," "Your Career Is Overrated," and "Feminism Is How the Unpopular and Undateable Cope With Life."

The Human Hierarchy

Eugenics, an early 20th-century movement, was defined by the erroneous belief that desirable and undesirable traits are inscribed in genes and that social policy could surpass natural selection to create a superior species. That reasoning was a basis for Nazis committing genocide. The fact that natalists pair white nationalism with pseudoscientific genetics talk isn't surprising to Jonathan Marks, a UNC Charlotte anthropologist and expert in the history of eugenics. "What's new is the encouragement of people they think are good to have more babies."

Razib Khan – one of two conference speakers with an Austin address – has spent the last decade blogging and speaking on podcasts in support of the idea that race is a biological truth. Khan is a genetics Ph.D. program dropout. "Basically, he gave up a potential scientific career to be a darling for the racist factions of the right," said Aaron Panofsky, a sociologist at UCLA's Institute for Society and Genetics. An article authored by Panofsky and other sociologists identified Khan, specifically, as one of the faces of a "loosely organized, mostly-online movement of amateur science enthusiasts (with a few ties to professional scientists) aiming to corral contemporary genetics toward racial realism and hierarchy."

There's broad scientific consensus that race isn't genetic, but "a social category invented to justify slavery," as a 2021 article in the journal of Evolution, Med­i­cine, & Public Health put it. Khan, though, has discussed "race" as something akin to species. In a 2012 blog post for Discover he asserted that African tribes should be considered "distinct races." In the same blog, he questioned whether African "Bushmen" should be considered human while bonobos are not, asking, "Where do you draw the line?"

In 2021, Khan hopped on a podcast with Richard Hanania – a recent visiting scholar with UT. Hanania has the ear of Elon Musk and other "Tech Right" figures, but he was exposed by HuffPost in August for writing flamboyantly racist pieces for white supremacist blogs under a pen name 10 years ago. (He's since said his views have changed.) Hanania and Khan's conversation revealed a basic belief they share: "We're not all fully human, right? There are other species within us," Hanania said. Khan responded affirmatively: "If you talk to a paleoanthropologist, they'll agree with you exactly the way you said it. ... The anthropologist John Hawks points out that there are modern humans who do reach a lot of the Neanderthal metrics."

So, do paleoanthropologists agree that we're not all fully human? "No," said John Hawks, the scientist Khan referenced. "No paleoanthropologist believes that there are different species in humans today. That is absolutely clear. Scientific evidence shows that all humans today are the same species from the same origin with only very minor differences, mostly within populations. We're 99.9% genetically alike." As for Neanderthal DNA, Hawks has found that roughly as much as 2% of human DNA comes from Neanderthals, but those genes don't cause observable traits like skin color or behavioral differences.

Makin’ Babies

There is evidence that some government policies encourage more births, but those findings aren't mentioned on the Natal Conference's bare-bones website (natalism.org). And among the myriad sociologists, demographers, and other academics who have dedicated their careers to studying birthrates, none are on the speaker list.

Had they wanted to look there, Norway has provided an interesting case study, having implemented parent-friendly policies that include work breaks each day for breastfeeding, nearly a month of sick days to care for children, and affordable, subsidized child care centers. In 2011, sociologists discovered that such policies led to substantially more births. They wrote that creating enough open child care slots for 60% of preschoolers could raise a country's birth rate to two children per woman. Quebec also experienced a baby bump in the early Aughts after taking a Nordic-inspired policy approach, which included child care assistance and more parental leave. After these policies took effect, birth rates rose from 1.45 to 1.74 kids per woman over nine years.

Two stars of the upcoming conference, Malcolm and Simone Collins, dismiss those studies, arguing that the effects aren't great enough, but that creating a new religion could encourage more births. The Collinses are thought leaders of the pronatalist movement. According to The Telegraph, they currently have three children but plan to have eight and hope each of their descendants will have eight more, recharging the world's population. In 2021, the couple, with the financial support of an Estonian tech billionaire, established pronatalist.org, a nonprofit that, according to The Telegraph, is "lobbying governments, meeting business leaders, and seeking partnerships with reprotech companies and fertility clinics."

Though the Collinses say they're not racist, in their interview with Kaschuta they spoke of supporting in vitro fertilization to select for embryos suited to different professions, and generally they talk about all sorts of traits being genetic, including political leaning and various types of intelligence.

"Any sort of intervention in genetics is seen as eugenics and the far-right," Kaschuta said to the Collinses during their latest podcast together. "This [natalism movement] could have much wider applications that are not necessarily just for your local skinhead association."

So Why Austin?

So why is a fledgling far-right movement choosing to peek out from behind podcast mics and keyboards and travel to the deepest blue city in Texas?

In an article in Insider last November, 23andMe co-founder Linda Avey said natalism is "big here in Austin." That is certainly true for the tech world's most famous citizen, Elon Musk. He's never slapped the label on himself, but he has 10 children with three different women and famously says things like, "If people don't have more children, civilization is going to crumble," as he told The Wall Street Journal in December of 2021. An anonymous source who worked with Musk for several years told Insider that Musk is "very serious about the idea that your wealth is directly linked to your IQ" and that he wanted "all the rich men he knew" to have as many kids as possible.

Insider argues the natalism movement is a product of Silicon Valley and that it stemmed from the longtermism philosophy coined and described by Oxford professor William MacAskill. In 2022, Musk tweeted that MacAskill's book about longtermism "is a close match for my philosophy." Former longtermist Émile Torres now describes the philosophy as "eugenics on steroids." In an interview with Current Affairs, he said that the longtermist view implies that we "should prioritize saving the lives of people in rich countries over the lives of people in poor countries."

Our local university could have something to do with the conference being here. UT-Austin has become increasingly friendly to the far right. In 2020, UT established the right-wing-donor-funded Salem Center for Policy, whose infamous hire Richard Hanania tweeted in May that we need "surveillance of black people. Blacks won't appreciate it, whites don't have the stomach for it." We emailed Salem Center director Carlos Carvalho to ask if he has any connection to the Natal Conference's organizers, but he didn't respond. The conference previously included one speaker from UT – professor Mark Regnerus (whose name has since disappeared from the speaker list). He's a sociologist who contended in a 2012 study that gay parents are worse than straight ones. In response, 200 academics signed a letter condemning him for faulty research methods.

But who knows why they chose Austin? We certainly don't. It's not even clear what specific policies the natalists hope to enact.

Natal organizers hadn't responded to our questions as of our deadline, but here's how the conference's website explains its mission: "By the end of the century, nearly every country on earth will have a shrinking population, and economic systems dependent on reliable growth will collapse. Thousands of unique cultures and populations will be snuffed out. Governments have tried everything in the standard technocratic toolset – tax incentives, subsidized child care, propaganda – and nothing has worked. We are gathering the brightest minds in the world in search of new solutions."

For $500, attendees can hear speakers deliver remarks Friday and mingle with them at an afterparty. For $1,000, attendees can also engage in a "deep and honest conversation" with the speakers Saturday, after "some light vetting," as they gather in private workshops to "develop solutions." Vetting makes sense – you wouldn't want any crazy people getting in.

Copyright © 2024 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.