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Exclusive: Saurabh Sharma, NatCon Conference: “Every Piece Of Content Got Maybe A Hundred Times The Attention It Would Have Otherwise Gotten”

If you were on Twitter/X dot com or watching the news last week, you doubtless saw that the National Conservative Conference became embroiled in controversy as the Mayor of Brussels and the Belgian police tried to shut down the conference they were having in Brussels. The controversy blew up over the internet and in the news. Cops! Lawsuits! Politics! We caught up with Saurabh Sharma, Executive Director of the Edmund Burke Foundation, which organizes NatCon, to find out what happened. Our interview was conducted over Signal Voice Call, transcribed, and lightly edited for clarity.

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PolicySphere: First of all, please tell us who you are and what NatCon is.

Saurabh Sharma: I’m Saurabh Sharma, I’m the president of American Moment and the executive director of the Edmund Burke Foundation. The Edmund Burke Foundation has been putting on conferences in the United States and in Europe since 2019. We’ve had three conferences in the US, with a fourth one upcoming here this Summer. And now this is our fourth in Europe–one in Rome, one in Brussels, one in the UK, and this was the second one in Brussels. The conferences are built around what the name is, that is to say, national conservatism. They’re conservative conferences, meant for people of a center-right persuasion, but maybe not the center-right persuasion of the liberal right wingers that have been in charge of many Western democracies for the last several decades–a conservatism that that really puts a primary focus on strong families, on sovereignty, looks critically at corporate power, and really re-evaluates a lot of the dogmas that have been present in center-right thinking for the last few decades.

PolicySphere: And to be clear, within that broad sensibility, you are pretty ecumenical. NatCon is not a bunch of neo-Nazis.

Saurabh Sharma: Yeah. I mean, the fact that the organization is chaired by someone named Yoram Hazony, who’s an Orthodox Jew and someone named Saurabh Sharma, I mean, it’s sort of a trite point, but it really doesn’t doesn’t pass muster that it’s a group of raving white nationalists. It just doesn’t make any sense.

PolicySphere: “Are you a Nazi, Mr. Finkelstein?”

Saurabh Sharma: (Laughs) No, I am not. We are ecumenical because there are so many different tendencies that come together in a movement like this. You have everyone from religious traditionalists that are now much more open minded on, say, economic policy, to technological progressives that recognize that strong nation states and cultural self-confidence are essential to their priorities, to more secular nationalists that really prioritize the nation and other things like that. There really are quite a few different paths that someone can take to being part of National Conservatism’s tent, and the conferences have always reflected that.

PolicySphere: So what happened exactly in Brussels? Our understanding is even before the conference started, you guys had to change venues twice. Is that right?

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Saurabh Sharma: Yeah. So I can give you a little bit of the order of operations here. There was a venue called Concert Noble where we actually had hosted a national conservatism conference before, and it had gone on without any controversy. And yet, they pulled out at the end of the week prior to the conference, citing security concerns. And so we immediately had to scramble–over the course of a weekend, mind you–to find an alternative venue. And we did. We were going to go to Sofitel. We had a signed contract in hand. And then, just a few hours after they confirmed, they told us, no, we’re out too. And that’s the moment where we realized there was something fishy going on, and we realized that the Mayor of Brussels was putting significant political pressure on these venues and encouraging them to not host the conference. And so we ended up at a third venue, one, you know, a little bit more avant garde than the others, shall we say. It was like a sort of concert hall. Even calling it a concert hall feels too extravagant. It was basically a warehouse. But we sent out the information for that venue, and we began to have the conference the morning of Tuesday. At the start, everything went fine. Everyone shows up, everyone’s excited. The drama of it was just interesting and amusing at that point. I’m actually chairing a panel, around noon-ish, and I suddenly start getting text messages from my colleague–I had my phone on my lap for my notes– saying that the police were on their way to shut the place down. So I sort of keep things cool and keep chairing the panel-

PolicySphere: “Mr President, a second plane has hit the World Trade Center.”

Saurabh Sharma: (Laughs) Exactly. That’s very much the feeling that I had. I’d be curious if the cameras picked up any funny facial expressions. Anyway, the police arrive. Three cops. And they inform the people at the front of the venue that the event is closed. And this is where a conventional conservative conference would say, all right, the coppers are here, we’re going to have to shut up and go away. But we decided to keep having our conference. Nigel Farage was the next speaker, and he went up. Then Suella Braverman went up. At some point, the cops came inside. They made their way through the foyer, they’re coming in, and we’re encouraging them to come in to have a conversation with the organizers. And when they walk in, they see hundreds of people, cameras pointed at them, including from eight different major news stations across Europe, and the conference going on as planned on stage. At this point, they literally said to us “We are not playing this game.” And they turned around and walked back outside. And so they proceeded to perch up outside. And we realized that their plan was essentially to take the conference hostage. So, since they weren’t going to be able to frog-march hundreds of attendees out, instead they decided to basically barricade the front with police bodies. They eventually got up to 12 to 15 police officers. And they said no one is allowed inside–including MEPs, who have diplomatic immunity in Brussels, mind you, including British MPs, including well-known figures like Cardinal Muller and Eric Zemmour… Nope, no one’s allowed inside. Our lawyer was not allowed inside! Essentially, people could leave, but if they left they wouldn’t be allowed back in–they were trying to kill us by attrition. And so everyone sort of buckled in. We heated up the hors d’oeuvres that were planned for the evening and said, all right, this is going to be everyone’s lunch, since the police also made our caterers pack up and leave. And so we didn’t have our lunches available, but we decided to make do with these little small plates. And we basically continued the conference throughout the day. Cardinal Mueller and Miriam Cates somehow managed to find their way inside–I’ll leave it up to historians and investigators to figure out how they might have done that. And so we ended up finishing the conference that day, and it ended up going fine. We ended up having a big dinner in the venue. But we were in court simultaneously. We began legal proceedings against the Sofitel, against the Mayor of Brussels.

PolicySphere: We saw bits of his statement. It seemed nakedly political.

Saurabh Sharma: Yes. He had two utterly unacceptable reasons for canceling the conference. One, he said that there was a security risk because of Antifa. And therefore we had to cancel it. So literally a heckler’s veto. Because two dozen malcontents were making some noises 30 feet away from the conference, our conference is not allowed to exist. The second he weaved in throughout his statement, which is to say, we really need to be saved from ourselves because there are traditionalists and homophobes and euroskeptics at this conference. And so it was utterly arbitrary. 

PolicySphere: How did it go the next day?

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Saurabh Sharma: The cops had made it very clear that they weren’t going to let anyone else in the next morning. But at 2 in the morning, we finally got an injunction from the Brussels courts allowing our conference to go on. At this point, four different European prime ministers had commented on the controversy: the Prime Minister of the UK, the Prime Minister of Italy, the Prime Minister of Belgium and the Prime Minister of Hungary. It was quite something. I think it became an embarrassment for everyone involved. And it really underlined the point of the conference. This conference and the reaction to it showed what’s at stake in these upcoming elections in June. Europe can be a continent of independent nations charting their own trajectory in mutual cooperation, or it can be a totalitarian theocracy headquartered in Brussels with arbitrary left wing rule and tyranny upon, upon the constituent peoples of the Continent. Brussels proved what exactly is at stake and, and perhaps the most aggressive way possible.

PolicySphere: While all this was happening, there were a number of liberal or moderate conservatives, libertarians, and other such people, people that national conservatives like to poke fun at and maybe insult on Twitter, but a lot of them said versions of ‘I disagree with the Nat cons, but this is horrible, they should absolutely have the right to have their conference.’ And we thought that was heartwarming and pleasant. Do you want to comment on that?

Saurabh Sharma: Sure. We appreciate defense from any corners of the right or left or center. It’s always nice when people stand up for us. I do think, as a posture, it’s always worth considering that when left wingers are embroiled in controversy, they almost never caveat their defense of their ideological allies or, you know, partisan compatriots. It’s always this ruthless defense. And so I do think that, you know, the ad infinitum caveating of defenses of your allies does get a little bit tedious after a while. But, you know, we certainly appreciate defense from any corner, whether left, right or center.

PolicySphere: So in the end, all was well, and you were able to finish the conference. But are there going to be further repercussions? Are you going to continue suing? 

Saurabh Sharma: We will definitely pursue every legal challenge to its logical end. Existential risk might be a strong word, but conservative organizations in Europe are not exactly the most well-funded, so things like this can be really destructive. It’s not like we have unlimited money to host these things and unlimited organizing capacity. So we are hoping that some good precedents come out of this event such that in the future conservatives can organize freely and effectively in liberal European cities, especially Brussels, which is the center of the Borg in Europe. And we are certainly not deterred by things like this. Every single speech that we had planned on having at the conference ended up happening. And every piece of content got maybe a hundred times the attention it would have otherwise gotten. I found myself explaining to Europeans the term the Streisand effect at least two dozen times this week–and as a Zoomer myself, I had to refresh myself on who exactly Barbra Streisand was. So in the end it’s been a fun week. 

PolicySphere: All right. What’s next for NatCon and the Edmund Burke Foundation?

Saurabh Sharma: Well, we’re going to keep going. Expect an announcement, probably later this week, if not a little bit sooner than that, about NatCon 4 in the United States. In the same way that this conference was meant to be a prelude before a choice that the people of Europe will make on their destiny, the United States is facing very similar choices this year, and we think it was very important to organize national conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic. And so we’ll be doing so in Washington, DC this Summer. So stay tuned for that. And we fully expect national conservatism’s momentum to only accelerate. When national conservatism was first constituted as an organization and as a movement it was understood that though there was certainly popular backing for these ideas, the elite organization was very anemic. But that’s changed. You know, in many of these countries, we are making rapid gains in the intellectual, political, academic spheres. And now it’s time to adopt the posture of the leaders of the right, not just insurgents. And we are doing so, with the care and humility that is appropriate, but also a recognition that, now that we’re getting power, we have to use it and we have to deliver for peoples across the world. And so that’s an exciting, challenging and a highly productive prospect.

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