50.50: Investigation

Spanish anti-LGBT group battled Google to suppress links to secret society

WikiLeaks files show HazteOir, which uses ‘free speech’ arguments to oppose LGBT rights, fought to hide ties to the El Yunque society

danae.jpg Diana Cariboni
Dánae Vílchez Diana Cariboni
14 October 2021, 11.49am
Ilustración: Inge Snip

Ultra-conservative Spanish group HazteOir – which uses ‘free speech’ arguments to campaign against LGBT rights – battled Google to “suppress” reported links to a controversial Catholic secret society, according to files released by WikiLeaks.

This secret society is called El Yunque (‘The Anvil’). It is a religious, anti-communist group founded in Mexico on the 1950s. It doesn’t have a website or official registration, but is believed to be active across Latin America and in Spain.

Investigative journalists at leading outlets including El País have documented how El Yunque and HazteOir have worked together. This is particularly controversial in Spain where secret organisations are banned by the constitution.

Articles by media outlets were among 150-plus links appearing in Google searches that HazteOir tried to get the tech giant to “suppress” (their words) in 2015 – as well as “related searches” including its name and words such as “far-Right”.

When a direct request to Google failed (the company said “including these news [reports] in Google’s search results continues to be relevant and of public interest”), HazteOir took its fight to a Madrid court, the WikiLeaks files show.

Their court filing asked Google to "rectify their decision”, compensate them in cash and sign a confidentiality agreement, so that Google “will not be able to place the suppression on record nor report it to third parties” including the media outlets.

In September 2015, the court convened a ‘conciliation hearing’ to be held the following month. It is unclear what happened next; there are no later files in the WikiLeaks release and the links HazteOir targeted remain in Google’s search index.

HazteOir ‘needs to accept there are journalists who may investigate them’

The WikiLeaks files – 17,000 internal documents from HazteOir and its sister organisation CitizenGo, dating from 2001 to 2017 – provide an unprecedented look into the inner workings and strategies of these groups.

Their actions to suppress information, detailed in these files, also contrast with “their rhetoric of defending ‘free speech’,” said Isabel Marler, lead of the Advancing Universal Rights and Justice programme at the AWID global women’s rights group.

“Their narrative is all a guise,” Marler told openDemocracy, “designed to make what is an extreme, discriminatory agenda sound more acceptable.”

HazteOir has called its activities – including sending buses emblazoned with anti-trans messages and slogans like “Stop feminazis” across Spain and elsewhere – “a beacon of light for the dissidents of political correctness”, and “the realisation of the freedom of expression” guaranteed by the Spanish constitution.

WikiLeaks files

The WikiLeaks release includes 38 sub-folders of strategy documents to limit public information about reported connections between HazteOir and El Yunque.

The subfolders contain documents related to different cases of information identified and targeted by the Spanish group for attempted suppression, including news reports and other public statements from former HazteOir members.

In its request to Google to “suppress” related links, HazteOir and eight individuals said this content had negative “consequences” on their “state of mind”, prompted “rejection” in their public and private lives, and damaged their careers.

Google did not respond to openDemocracy emails about this story. HazteOir also did not respond to requests for comment or information.

El Yunque is infamous in Mexico for its perceived role in violence against left-wing students and others during the 20th century. Journalists have also documented connections between the society and politicians in Mexico and Spain.

In 2019, openDemocracy revealed how HazteOir and its sister organisation CitizenGo were working to drive voters in Spain and across Europe towards the far Right – acting as an unofficial ‘Super PAC’ with “attack ads” against opponents.

Joan Barata, lawyer at Spain’s Platform for the Defence of Freedom of Information and a fellow at Stanford law school’s Center for Internet and Society, said that HazteOir “needs to accept there are journalists who may focus on investigating them, or people who may speak about them [...] even give negative opinions.”

“The need for this information to remain [online] prevails because it is of public interest,” Barata told openDemocracy. “Therefore, the attempt to try to delete it – well, I think that is an attempt to wash their image, but it’s not legally supported.”

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