Georgia Tech hotel hosting conference by election deniers

A meeting of activists spreading debunked theories about the 2020 presidential election, vaccine misinformation, and conspiracy theories about supposed global “shadow government” will take place this holiday weekend in an unexpected place — the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The Nations in Action “Solutions and Strategy Summit” is scheduled to be held in the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center, a midtown hotel run by the Georgia Tech Foundation, the university’s non-profit fundraising arm. Nations in Action, an organization founded by former Georgia lobbyist and Republican activist Maria Zack, bills the conference as an opportunity “to learn strategies and tactics to win America back.”

“Gain the latest intel on election fraud, the shadow government, globalist control, and how COVID has been weaponized against us from the whistleblowers and insiders who know,” the group said on its website. “Receive training and brainstorm on strategies to restore government and stop bad actors (politicians, parties, media, and government officials).”

The speakers are fringe figures, some of whom have espoused antisemitic conspiracies about Jewish control of government and the media or debunked claims about alleged health impacts of 5G cellular technology, among other beliefs.

Mia Bloom, a Georgia State University professor and expert on extremist groups, said the descriptions of the panels for the conference mirror language commonly found on QAnon channels on Telegram. She said the fact that it is being held on Georgia Tech’s campus is troubling.

“This is disinformation and misinformation intended to distort reality … but it is being held at one of the most prestigious universities in the South,” she said. “I don’t know what Georgia Tech is charging, but it’s not worth their reputation.”

When reached for comment, Georgia Tech replied with a written statement through a spokesman that attempted to distance itself from the conference without condemning its content.

“Views expressed by individuals or groups staying at or hosting events at our hotel and conference center do not reflect the views of Georgia Tech,” said Blair Meeks, assistant vice president for external communications. “As long as guests are following established rules and guidelines, they may conduct their business in the manner they prefer.”

While such conferences themselves are not violent and their content is generally protected by the First Amendment, Homeland Security officials are increasingly worried about the impact of the spread of misinformation. In a bulletin released earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned the spread of “false or misleading narratives” may inspire groups or individuals to violent acts, particularly around elections.

“As the United States enters mid-term election season this year, we assess that calls for violence by domestic violent extremists directed at democratic institutions, political candidates, party offices, election events, and election workers will likely increase,” the bulletin states.

Nations in Action did not respond to an email seeking comment about the conference. Zack, who owns property in Cumming and Sarasota, Fla., is a proponent of the so-called “Italygate” conspiracy theory about the election. The debunked claim holds that an Italian defense contractor hacked the U.S. presidential election, switching votes from Trump to Biden. Zack claims to have personally delivered information on the theory to Trump on Christmas Eve 2020, and this spring brought those claims to a Kansas Senate committee hearing.

Richard Donoghue, a former acting deputy attorney general in the Trump administration testifying earlier this month before the House Committee investigating the U.S. Capitol riot, called the Italy theory “pure insanity” and “patently absurd.”

Once considered a fringe-but-persistent part of American culture, conspiracy theories ranging from vaccines plots to supposed election fraud to secret cabals of Satanic pedophiles have moved into the mainstream of American political life in recent years. New research by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found nearly one in five Americans agree with the basic tenets of QAnon’s web of conspiracy theories.

Bloom said conferences like Nations in Action are happening in states like Arizona and Michigan where the 2020 election results have been under constant assault by pro-Trump conspiracy buffs. Usually these meetings occur in lower-profile spaces. The fact that this conference is being held at the Georgia Tech Hotel gives it the “imprimatur of being legit,” she said.

“It will confuse people that it is endorsed by the university and what they are hearing is legitimate and scientific,” she said. “It makes Georgia Tech look like an accessory to spreading misinformation.”

It’s unclear how many people are scheduled to attend, but the event may aid in the spreading of misinformation with almost two dozen speakers on the program. It could also enrich Zach’s group. Tickets for the conference start at $199, but there is a $499 “VIP” option with reserved seating.

Georgia Tech benefits as well. The money raised by events at the hotel goes to the foundation, which in turn contributes millions to the university. Foundation President Al Trujillo and Georgia Tech President Angel Cabrera did not immediately return requests for comment.