The Far Right’s Roots in Europe

21st January 2019

In recent weeks I have addressed the rise of the extreme right in both the United States and the United Kingdom. In both countries, we are witnessing the proliferation of right-wing organisations that are committed to visiting terror on innocent civilians. To name a few, these groups include the Rise Against Movement, the Atomwaffen Division, the National Front, and the Base. Clearly, we can no longer frame discussions under the guise of a forever elusive lone wolf. Policymakers and counterterrorism officials must adopt an approach proportionate to the threat posed by the extreme right, but that also directly recognises the ideological foundations that fuel this brand of terrorism. The case for this grows ever stronger when one looks further afield to continental Europe, where the rise from the right continues.

In the late summer of 2011 Mark Danner wrote an article titled ‘After September 11: Our State of Exception’. Here, Danner details how the aftermath of 9/11 led to an America where torture and extraordinary rendition, practices which were previously considered anathema to American values, became woven into the fabric of the country: ‘the improvisations of panic are the reality of our daily lives.’ When Anders Breivik murdered 77 in Norway in 2011, Europe suffered an attack that had the potential to create an equivalent state of exception in Europe, one where the traumas experienced at the hands of the extreme right would have strengthened governments’ counterterrorism policies and complicated their moral restraint.

To the continent’s credit, European governments have not embraced the same improvisations of panic that are still in full view across the pond at Guantanamo Bay. However, the magnitude of Breivik’s attacks have been followed by years of alarming inaction, and the threat from the far right has continued to grow. As the 2018 EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report shows, Europol numbers for right-wing extremist offences have nearly doubled on the year.

While these numbers may pale in direct comparison with the numbers for Islamic extremist offences, there remains a great danger to be overlooked. Mark Rowley, the UK’s former Metropolitan Police’s former head of counterterrorism said the following in August 2018 about the dangers of failing to recognise this threat:

‘If we sleepwalk into it, then I think there is a real danger we give them more scope to get stronger. They’re repackaging their aggressive intolerance and sometimes thinly disguised advocation of violence, they’re repackaging that and attaching it to mainstream political debate.’

This warning is underlined by the rise in extremist organisations across the continent. In 2018, the EU reported neo-Nazi groups including ‘the Generace Identity (Generation of Identity) movement and the Pro-Vlast movement in the Czech Republic, the group Soldiers of Odin in Belgium and the Blood and Honour organisation in Portugal.’ More so than the numbers however, the real threat is borne from a galvanised effort from the far right to penetrate the political mainstream.

October 2018 saw seven arrests made in Germany of men accused of forming the group ‘Revolution Chemnitz’, which many attribute to increasing confidence on the part of right wing extremists in Germany ‘due to the success of Alternative for Germany, a far-right, anti-immigration party that is now polling at around 18 per cent nationally.’ These arrests represent a microcosm of the wider ideological expansion of far right ideas seen in Europe today. The Identitarian Movement, a continent-wide embrace of the extreme right now has roots in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands through the following groups:

  1. Identitare Bewegung (Germany) – 21,800 Twitter followers
  2. Identitare Bewegun Osterreich (Austria) – 15,400 Twitter followers
  3. Identitair Verzet (The Netherlands) – 2,600 Twitter followers

While the Dutch contingent commands a significantly smaller following on social media, the collective message sent is alarming. Anders Breivik’s actions were never attributed to a wider group, but he aptly ‘demonstrated just how much carnage a single competent and determined terrorist can wreak on an unsuspecting population.’ The Identitarian Movement provides a grassroots foundation for future individuals like Anders Breivik, and that’s a warning we should heed.

As Jonathan Stevenson correctly points out, ‘transatlantic cooperation on jihadist terrorism became robust after 9/11, and has since evolved and adjusted quite nimbly to changes in threat perceptions and patterns.’ In other words, we have demonstrated quite aptly our ability to coordinate internationally against an perceived threat. Accordingly, as Stevenson continues, ‘there are no major institutional, bureaucratic or operational reasons that transatlantic partnerships and modes of cooperation painstakingly developed since 9/11 to deal with jihadist terrorism could not be readily applied to structurally comparable right-wing terrorism.’ The evidence is clear, the United States, Great Britain, and wider Europe are all witness to the growing threat. What’s more, the key traits of improved organisational structure, increased sophistication, and an effort to penetrate the political mainstream persist throughout each case.

It is time for a renewed framework that encapsulates these risks which lie in plain sight for us all.