The three-day trip to the conference, held by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), cost the conservative MPs £1,922 (US$2,690) each. One of the main conference events was an “interactive” session on “Sci-Fi Weapons that actually exist today.”
The AEI is one of the biggest right-wing think tanks in the US, and is considered a secretive neo-conservative event as the normally publicity-seeking institute issues no press releases about the conference. It’s kept so hush-hush that in 2015, Bloomberg News complained that no one would even confirm whether or not it had snowed.
Gove and Javid, the only UK politicians at the event, both spoke at the conference. Under UK transparency laws, MPs have to register attendance in the Register of MPs’ Interests. They do not have to disclose the nature or content of conferences, although the full agenda and list of participants for the event was leaked and published in a report by Vice.
Those who attended the conference were roughly 250 multi-millionaire political donors. A $25,000 (£18,000) donation to the AEI buys you a ticket to the three-day conference, held at the “private, coastal Georgia resort island surrounded by five miles of private, pristine beach.”
Gove spoke on one conference panel entitled “The New Empire Builders: China, Iran, Russia.” He appeared alongside Gary Schmitt, who helped establish the Project for the New American Century, a neo-con group that successfully advocated for the war with Iraq prior to 2003.
According to the timetable that advertised Gove’s session, “now is the era of the rise of the revisionist powers – Once great empires, these nations are led by imperial nostalgics bent not simply on accumulating power and wealth for themselves but also in changing the balance of power.”
“Can they succeed?,” it added. “They already are.” Gove also spoke on a panel called “Is Democracy in Crisis?” alongside former US presidential candidate Ted Cruz.
Javid, the secretary of state for communities and local government, joined a panel discussing whether or not last year was “the best year in human history”. He shared the panel with Frederick Kagan, another figure from the Project for the New American Century; Glen Hubbard, chief economic adviser to President George Bush before the 2008 market crash; and Elliott Abrams, who was convicted over his involvement in the ‘Iran Contra’ scandal of the 1980s – when senior administration officials in the Reagan era secretly facilitated the sale of weapons to Iran, which was under an arms embargo. The money from those sales was used to arm the right-wing human rights-violating Contra fighters, in their battle against the Nicaraguan government.
The secretive conference’s pièce de résistance was the session “Sci-Fi Weapons that actually exist today.” Billionaires and politicians alike were privy to a “show-and-tell session that your second-grade teacher could never have imagined,” read the event program.
Participants also got to “fly” a warplane – presumably to see how it could bomb their enemies… like Iran or Russia.
“Participants will gain hands-on experience with some of the newest defense technology, including the opportunity to test out Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet simulator and learn how to fly one of the most advanced planes in the US Military. Experts from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon will be available to answer questions and run the demonstrations,” the program said.