Elon Musk-funded nonprofit run by MIT professor offered to finance Swedish pro-nazi group | Expo.se

Elon Musk-funded nonprofit run by MIT professor offered to finance Swedish pro-nazi group

Publicerad 2023-01-13 09:46

The far-right media profile Markus Andersson's foundation was granted 100,000 dollars by the organization that Max Tegmark leads. A decision that was later revoked.

The US-based and Elon Musk-funded Future of Life Institute, run by MIT professor and Swedish citizen Max Tegmark, offered a grant of $100,000 to right-wing extremists in Sweden, an Expo investigation reveals. Tegmark initially denied offering any funds, then referred all questions to a law firm – which says that no money will be paid out, while refusing to explain the grant offer.

In the fall of 2022, a Swedish right-wing extremist with a central role in running the pro-nazi media platform Nya Dagbladet received a message: the foundation to promote “independent journalism” that he was in the process of setting up had been approved a major grant of money. The sum of $100,000 – about one million in Swedish currency – was to be paid out as soon as the extremist could show that the foundation had been officially registered.

The promise of financial support was signed ”Prof. Max Tegmark President, Future of Life Institute”.

The person to whom the signature belongs has a high profile: the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) physics professor and public figure Max Tegmark. Well-known in Sweden as well as internationally, Tegmark was named “Global Swede of the Year” in 2020 and is frequently invited to debate issues of artificial intelligence and nuclear weapons. He is considered to be one of the world’s most influential critics of AI. Max Tegmark is also an international fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) since 2021.

The documentation that the Stiftelsen Nya Dagbladet sent in to the County Administrative Board shows that they received a declaration of financial support.

The Future of Life Institute (FLI) is a private nonprofit organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts whose stated mission is “to steer transformative technologies” – such as AI and biotech – “away from extreme, large-scale risks and towards benefiting life”.

FLI was founded in 2014 by Max Tegmark along with several others, including the co-founder of Skype, Jaan Tallinn. Tegmark is the president of the institute, which, in addition to a board of directors and its staff, maintains an external advisory board. The advisors are mainly professors at high-ranking universities, but also include the owner of Tesla and Twitter, Elon Musk, and the actor and director Morgan Freeman.  

FLI is active on the international stage: it has counseled the United Nations and the European Union on issues concerning the risks of artificial intelligence. The group also produces informational material and organizes conferences and events to promote its message.

The institute is funded through donations. Last year, for instance, FLI received four million dollars from Elon Musk’s foundation, according to Fortune Magazine.

FLI, in turn, offers grants of funding to others who apply for them. According to their website, the Future of Life Institute approves grants to individuals and groups who work on projects that align with the institute’s mission. These grants will often be in the magnitude of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The institute has a “grants team” of three members, of whom Max Tegmark, the founder and President, is one.

Max Tegmark, ordförande för Future of Life Institute.
Max Tegmark, President of the Future of Life Institute. Photo: Peter Cederling

Setting up an extremist foundation with FLI’s support

This fall, the Swedish pro-nazi media platform Nya Dagbladet filed paperwork with the government administrative board in Dalarna County, Sweden, to officially register a foundation. According to these filings, the Future of Life Institute and Max Tegmark intend to support the extremist foundation with the sum of $100,000. Nya Dagbladet notified the government of Tegmark’s promise of support as part of the application process, subsequent to the initial filing.

The Nya Dagbladet Foundation held its first, constitutive meeting on 1 August in the town of Avesta, in Dalarna, Sweden. The foundation’s board of directors consists of the senior editors of the right-wing extremist, conspiracist media platform Nya Dagbladet. The foundation’s stated purpose is to ”promote independent journalism in Sweden”.

Markus Andersson, editor-in-chief and formal publisher of the Nya Dagbladet website, was appointed board chairman.

The Dalarna County Administration, however, which was processing Nya Dagbladet’s application to register the new foundation, had questions. In addition to pointing to a few minor technicalities, the County official handling the application expressed doubts that the initial funding set aside by Nya Dagbladet for running the foundation – around $9,500 – would be enough to make it viable. This sum had been transferred to the foundation as a gift by Aeon Media AB, the company that Nya Dagbladet’s website is run through and whose CEO is Markus Andersson, the platform’s editor-in-chief.

At this point, in response to the County official’s concern about the foundation’s modest funds, Andersson submitted additional filings stating that he has been promised external funding.

“The big donor is an American foundation which has approved an application of 100 000 dollars intended for to [sic] the purpose of promoting independent journalistic [sic] in Sweden through the Nya Dagbladet foundation”, Andersson stated to the County Administrative Board in early September.

The County responded that they cannot take into consideration money that has yet to be granted, and instead directed Nya Dagbladet to revise the foundation’s formally stated purpose.

Nazism, pro-Russian propaganda and conspiracy theories

The antisemitism of ND

In recent years, Nya Dagbladet’s rhetoric has become increasingly and overtly antisemitic and pro-nazi.

The editor-in-chief Markus Andersson wrote in an editorial on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 27 January, 2020: “Few, hardly any, dare point out the unsustainable [flaws] in the official story about the holocaust which today is spoken of in the singular and written with a capital letter [H].”

In the text, Jews are accused of “false million-murder [sic] allegations”. Andersson writes: “The number six million killed Jews has been shown to have a religious significance, and this assertion has occurred several times in history long before the second world war without any basis in reality.”

In the run-up to the 2022 elections in Sweden, another of the platform’s editors, Per Nordin, urged readers to vote for the violent nazi extremist group the Nordic Resistance Movement, instead of a rival white supremacist party, Alternative for Sweden.

Nordin criticized Alternative for Sweden for not having “the intention to recreate a Swedish Sweden” or “abolish the influence of the Jewish lobby”. He praised the Nordic Resistance Movement because “their fundamental goals, including not compromising on the question of the survival of the Nordic peoples and the struggle against Jewish racism, have proven to be consistent and seriously meant”.

The platform Nya Dagbladet (”The New Daily”, in Swedish) was set up in 2012. Markus Andersson, the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher, has a political background in the now-defunct extreme right-wing party the National Democrats (ND), where he once held a leading position.

Like the ND party, Nya Dagbladet’s ideological position is one of “ethnopluralism” – a racist far-right doctrine that ethnic groups must be separated from one another and live each in their own territory.

Nya Dagbladet presents itself as an “independent daily newspaper”, but also promotes a campaign to defend “ethnic rights”, the purpose of which is stated to be to “contribute to a healthy population development, and joy and vitality for the people you belong to”.

On its website, Nya Dagbladet publishes right-wing extremist content such as the racist myth of an ongoing “population replacement”, Holocaust revisionism, claims that Muslims are attempting to conquer Europe, and conspiracy theories related to the covid-19 pandemic.

For several years, Nya Dagbladet has also had a pro-Russian orientation. In September, the platform published an article based on a fake report incorrectly said to have been produced by an American think tank. The article became notorious after it was shared by the Embassy of Russia in Sweden.

Nya Dagbladet applied to the Swedish Press and Broadcasting Authority for public funding in 2020, but was turned down. The platform reacted angrily to the decision, and published a series of articles where specific officials at the agency were named and pictured. The publications caused distress among employees at the agency who felt menaced and pressured, as Dagens Nyheter reported at the time. The following year, Nya Dagbladet made another application for public funding; this time they were successful and received about $30,000 in various grants.

Flat denial

On 20 October, 2022, the Dalarna County Administrative Board officially registered the Nya Dagbladet Foundation – which means it now formally meets the conditions laid out for the promise of money made by the Future of Life Institute and Max Tegmark.

When Expo reached Max Tegmark for comment, he was terse. In mid-December, we put a number of questions to him by email about why FLI had decided to finance the extremist Nya Dagbladet. Tegmark flatly denied they had done so:

“Where did you get this incorrect information about Future of Life Institute? We have not approved grants to any person or organization in Scandinavia.”

He also wanted to know where the Nya Dagbladet Foundation claims such an agreement with FLI. After Expo showed him the letter of intent bearing his signature – which had entered into public record when Nya Dagbladet submitted it to the County Administration of Dalarna – Tegmark stopped answering our emails.

Learn more about Expo Foundation here.

“Please direct any further questions to Max”

Following Tegmark’s failure to respond to our questions, we reached out to the Future of Life Institute’s board of directors and its grants team and asked for comment. On 18 December, board member Anthony Aguirre wrote back:

“I can confirm that FLI hasn’t paid any money to the organization you mention and doesn’t plan to. Please direct any further questions to Max.”

Aguirre also stated that the reason that Tegmark stopped responding is likely due to personal circumstances. He did not, however, address any of Expo’s questions concerning the letter of intent or circumstances surrounding the grant application. Further questions to Tegmark also went unanswered.

A few days later, we asked Aguirre whether Tegmark had indicated to him that he intended to answer our questions, or whether the personal circumstances keeping him from doing so meant that someone else at the institute might answer the questions in his stead.

The response came two days before Christmas in a formal document sent by the law firm Dentons US LLP, representing the Future of Life Institute. The document repeats that no funds have been disbursed to the Nya Dagbladet Foundation, and that there are no plans to do so.

“This decision was made by FLI and its Board prior to any inquiries by your organization”, the legal representative wrote, and further stated that the decision had been preceded by detailed due diligence. “Any implication to the contrary would be false”, the letter claimed.

The document ended by saying: “Please direct all further communications to the undersigned counsel.”

Isac Boman och Markus Andersson från Nya Dagbladet.
Isac Boman and Markus Andersson from Nya Dagbladet at a demonstration against corona restrictions. Both are part of the board of the newly formed foundation. Photo: Expo

In an email sent on 28 December, the representative wrote: “We are taking your questions under advisement and will respond in due course.” After this, no messages have been forthcoming.

The only connection that Expo has been able to establish between Max Tegmark and the extreme right-wing media platform Nya Dagbladet is in the form of Tegmark’s brother, the journalist Per Shapiro, who for the past few years has been a recurring writer for Nya Dagbladet. Shapiro also runs the conspiracy theory-promoting podcast Folkets radio, whose episodes are presented on Nya Dagbladet’s website under the heading “radio reports”. Max Tegmark has, himself, appeared on his brother’s podcast. Whether this connection is significant with regards to the promise of funding from Max Tegmark and the Future of Life Institute to Nya Dagbladet is one of the questions we have been trying to put to them, but neither Max Tegmark nor his brother Per Shapiro have commented.

Shapiro told Expo that he is happy to answer questions concerning his journalism, but that he does not want to answer questions concerning whether he has been involved in contacts between Nya Dagbladet and FLI.

“I have no comment on that”, he stated in response to our questions.

Markus Andersson, the editor-in-chief of Nya Dagbladet, had little to say to Expo upon hearing our questions about the newly-registered foundation, ending the call with the words: “You may not ask any questions at all. You can go to hell.”

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