Tory Ministers Michael Gove and Sajid Javid attended a secretive Neo-conservative conference on a luxury private island in America's Deep South, alongside leading Republicans and multimillionaire investors.
One of the main conference events was an "interactive" session on "Sci-Fi Weapons that actually exist today". According to the conference programme, this gave the mix of Republican donors and right-wing politicians the opportunity to "gain hands on experience with some of the newest defence technology", with the help of staff from leading arms firms.
The latest Register of MPs Interests reveals that the two British Ministers, Gove and Javid, were guests and speakers at the "American Enterprise Institute World Forum" in March.
The three-day trip to the conference, held on the luxury private offshore resort of Sea Island, Georgia, cost £1,922 each. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is one of the biggest Republican-oriented "think tanks" in the US. The American press commonly call their "World Forum" conference a "secretive" event. The normally publicity-seeking AEI issue no press releases about this "World Forum". Business publication Bloomberg describes it as a place where "Republican hopefuls can meet the people who may bankroll them or shape their ideas away from the scrutiny of the press."
Gove and Javid were the only UK politicians at the event, and have attended in previous years. Under UK transparency laws they only have to register attendance in the Register of MP's Interests, which they have done. However, VICE has obtained a full agenda and list of participants for the event, using the stronger transparency laws that apply to US legislators attending meetings.
Gove and Javid were among the speakers at the conference. The "participants" are made up of around 250 multi-millionaire political donors who support the AEI. A $25,000 donation to the AEI guarantees an invite to the three-day conference, held at the "private, coastal Georgia resort island surrounded by five miles of private, pristine beach". Local Georgia newspapers reported that over 50 private jets flew into local airports for the event.
Participants included billionaire investors like entrepreneur Philip Anschutz, and many other regular Republican donors. Some billionaires who have previously been associated with the Democrats, like Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz and former Google chairman Eric Schmidt, also attended.
Michael Gove spoke alongside Gary Schmitt on one conference panel titled "The New Empire Builders: China, Iran, Russia". Schmitt helped found and run the "Project for the New American Century", a key "Neoconservative" group that successfully advocated war with Iraq before 2003.
The timetable advertised the session Gove spoke at as follows: "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? They already are."
This meeting seems alarming in the context of a later event, led by Gary Schmitt, that asked, "Is the US military ready to fight and win potential conflicts against revisionist states?" – meaning China, Iran and Russia.
According to the programme, Schmitt also led the most bizarre session at the luxury conference, titled "Sci-Fi Weapons That Actually Exist Today: An interactive session on the Future of Warfare". This session offered the billionaires and politicians at the conference what they called "a show-and-tell session that your second-grade [ie. primary school] teacher could never have imagined. Participants will gain hands-on experience with some of the newest defence technology, including the opportunity to test out Lockheed Martins 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 Grummon and Raytheon will be available to answer questions and run the demonstrations."
Participants not only discussed future weapons like "lasers" or "sound waves and directed energy" in the Hotel "Beach Club", they also got to "fly" a warplane – presumably to see how it could bomb China, Iran or Russia.
Gove also spoke on a panel titled "Is Democracy in Crisis?" alongside Republican Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz and other speakers.
Sajid Javid joined a panel discussing whether 2017 was "the best year in human history" – was it all "economic collapse", or a year characterised by how "fewer are hungry, fewer are dying of disease"? Javid’s panel included speakers Frederick Kagan, another key figure in the Neo-Con “Project for the New American Century”; Glen Hubbard, chief economic and “deregulation” advisor to President George "Dubya" Bush before the 2008 crash; and Elliott Abrams, who was convicted for misbehaviour in President Reagan’s "Iran Contra" scandal of the 1980s, when the US armed Central American death squads with money raised by selling weapons to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
This year's AEI World Forum also showed that the Republican establishment is reconciling itself to President Trump. The 2016 AEI World Forum was widely reported as taking an anti-Trump line, but the 2018 agenda includes talks by Trump's Education Secretary, businesswoman Betsy DeVos; his Transport Secretary, former Murdoch executive Elaine Chao; and his National Security Adviser, General HR McMaster. Jeb Bush and Dick Cheney were also listed as speakers.
Veteran politician and former Richard Nixon Adviser Henry Kissinger also addressed the conference at an "in conversation" event over lunch at the Sea Island Beach Club.
Delegates could also enjoy "starlight chats" with speakers like Jonah Goldberg, author of Liberal Fascism – a book arguing that liberalism and the left is closely linked to fascism – before retiring to their "Uniquely designed rooms… defined by elegance, sophistication and comfort featuring gleaming wood furnishings, exposed beam ceilings, overstuffed chairs, hardwood floors, and handmade Turkish rugs."
VICE approached Gove and Javid for comment on this story, but has so far not received a response.
This article was updated at 17:30 on Wednesday 25th April.