Late last week, a Finnish-made vessel known as the Suunta arrived off the coast of Italy. It will soon launch a “mission” in the Mediterranean Sea. Those on board—individuals part of a Defend Europe campaign—aim to “document the doings of the NGOs” and “expose their collaboration with the human smugglers” off the Libyan coast.
In May of this year, prior to the current campaign, members of Defend Europe were detained by the Italian coast guard for attempting to prevent an NGO ship, the Aquarius, from leaving the port of Catania. Last month, the group claimed to have acquired a ship, and was fundraising money to sail it into the Mediterranean. As of today, they have raised over $100,000.
“Every week, every day, every hour – ships packed with illegal immigrants are flooding into European waters,” the fundraising page states. “We are losing our safety and our way of life and there is a danger that we Europeans will become a minority in our own European homelands.”
Defend Europe is a crowd-funded mission launched by Generation Identitaire, designed to disrupt the flow of migrant traffic in the Mediterranean. Identitarianism is a pan-European movement which focuses on the preservation of traditional values and "European" identity. They are vehemently nativist, anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-liberal and anti-left wing. Individual members of the group express support for white supremacism, and their anti-globalist rhetoric is often dog-whistle anti-Semitism.
The movement behind Defend Europe started in France in 2002 as Génération Identitaire, a youth splinter group of the Nouvelle Droite (the New Right). Since then, Identitarian ideology has spread throughout Europe, with associated groups appearing in Scandinavia, Germany, Italy, and Austria, as well as in the United States. The movement has close links to other extreme-right groups, including Hungarian and Polish neo-Nazis. Richard Spencer, who many see as a founding figure of the alt-right movement, also subscribes to Identitarian ideology.
Our research suggests that the Identitarian movement is worrying in particular because it represents an increased cohesion in far-right ideology globally, and a growing connectivity between different groups. Counter-jihad groups across Europe are increasingly teaming up with Identitarians, and Eastern European neo-Nazis. Where previously these groups were disparate and often opposed to one-another, their convergence on common goals suggests a new preparedness to work closer together, and an increasingly unified world-view.
Scottish Dawn, a group with close ties to the banned National Action model themselves on the Identiarians and utilise the same imagery. Alt-right support for these groups is also growing with the Daily Stormer and 4chan /pol/ chatrooms discussing ways to mobilize support for them. These groups have already proven themselves more than happy to try and meddle in European elections. If they start to coordinate their online influence with the Identitarians offline operations, however, (as has been suggested with the Defend Europe mission) then this would represent a significant strengthening of far-right ideology globally.
The Defend Europe campaign, led by, amongst others, the Austrian head of the Identitarian movement Martin Sellner and Canadian journalist Lauren Southern, was crowd-funded globally, and also gained the support of the far-right internationally, particularly in the United States. David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of the KKK, recently tweeted the fundraising page for Defend Europe and urged his supporters to back the campaign.
The Daily Stormer, an American neo-Nazi news site also published several articles supporting the campaign. “Right now, the negroes believe that Europeans will come and pick them up to bring them to our countries. If some European boats instead come to sink theirs, that should have a chilling effect on the invasion,” one article stated. Another went even further: “The only thing that’ll stop the shit-skins from flooding Europe, and remove the ones already here, are more actions like what the Identitarians here have done, but on a massive scale, and with more and more radical means.”
According to Joe Mulhall, a senior researcher with Hope Not Hate, those behind the Defend Europe campaign explicitly began to moderate their tone as mainstream media began to pay more attention. Hope Not Hate is worried, says Dr. Mulhall, that the group will explicitly block NGO ships. “We are of course incredibly worried that this could hinder lifesaving efforts,” he says.
Mulhall is rightly worried that having a bunch of untrained and unskilled individuals on the open seas, picking up asylum seekers with no medics on board, could easily end in disaster. As he says, “This is why it is so important to state clearly that despite whatever disingenuous justifications Defend Europe offer for their possibly life-threatening plans in the Mediterranean, this is in reality a far-right project, being carried out by far-right activists, motivated by anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant xenophobia.”
The increased spirit of cooperation and a commonality of purpose amongst these actors needs to be met with new tactics and increased cooperation between those who seek to disrupt and dismantle the extreme right globally. In many ways the far-right pose less of a threat than jihadist movements precisely because they are less connected, and have a looser ideological coherency. If the trends we are already seeing in Europe continue, and far-right groups continue forge bonds across the Atlantic to focus on common goals, then the threat they pose becomes significantly greater.
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