Just hours after being refused entry to the port of Valletta in Malta, Defend Europe have release a statement bringing an end to their 'first mission'.
Today’s setback was clearly the final straw for a project that has been dogged by mishaps and opposition since it first started.
Despite trying to claim the ‘mission’ as a victory – “It was a success. Undisputedly. Totally” – the reality is that since launching the project back in May, the Defend Europe team have spent tens of thousands of Euros, raised from across the international far right, but have very little to show for it.
Alongside anti-racists groups and NGOs from across Europe, HOPE not hate has helped undermine Defend Europe at every turn. From defunding their mission and revealing their ship’s owner’s criminal past, to helping close numerous ports to their ship and delaying them to the point that they have had to pay unprecedented amounts for their fuel, we have shown that we will not tolerate far-right projects like Defend Europe.
A Failed Mission
Now that they have finally called it a day it is a good time to take a little look back at how the mission panned out.
In May HOPE not hate broke the story that three members of Generation Identitaire, accompanied by the Canadian alt-light journalist Lauren Southern, were detained by the Italian coast guard after they used a small boat and tried to block the ‘Aquarius’, a vessel operated by the NGO SOS Mediterranee and which has an onboard medical team from Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), from leaving the port of Catania.
On 26 June Defend Europe announced that they had finally secured the services of a ship to launch the next stage of their mission. However, this took much longer than they had hoped after their fundraising efforts had been interrupted on 13 June when, following pressure from campaign groups like Sleeping Giants, Paypal decided to freeze their account, forcing them to launch a new crowdfunding effort.
On 29 June HOPE not hate tracked their ship, the C Star (then called the Suunta), down to the East African port of Djibouti.
In early July HOPE not hate launched its first full briefing for the press and NGOs on Defend Europe, including details of their plans, their ship and their key activists. Two legal briefings for NGOs were also produced.
While the boat was still docked in Djibouti the project had caught the imagination of the international far right and support and donations from around the world began to poor in for Defend Europe.
David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist veteran, urged people to fund them, tweeting to his 40,000 twitter followers: “Defend Europe Identitarian SAR has a ship, now needs money to get to the Mediterranean. Donate now! #DefendEurope”.
The American alt-right also rallied to their cause with statements of support coming from Richard Spencer’s altright.com, Jared Taylor’s American Renaissance and the world’s leading Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, which published an article stating:
“This is a great initiative… These parasites need to be inculcated with a deep fear of making the trip across the Mediterranean sea. Right now, the Negroes believe that Europeans will come and pick them up to bring them to our countries… Godspeed, men. Your ancestors are proud.”
Support also came from more moderate right-wing alternative media sites, like Breitbart who gave a sympathetic interview to Defend Europe leader Martin Sellner.
On 17 July a HOPE not hate investigation exposed that the owner of the C Star, a Mr Sven Tomas Egerstrom, was a convicted fraudster who was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail.
At this stage Defend Europe were claiming that the ship would reach Europe in a matter of days so they could start their mission and they began to attract the attention of the international press.
This included Katie Hopkin’s who tweeted support for the mission and flew out to meet Defend Europe’s leaders in Catania, Sicily. In response HOPE not hate launched a campaign calling on the Mail Online to call Hopkins back to the UK. After both public and private pressure directed towards the Mail Online, Hopkins was withdrawn from Catania and her supportive articles of Defend Europe never materialized.
As the month drew to an end the C Star had still not arrived in the Mediterranean as promised. It then emerged that they had in fact been stopped before entering the Suez Canal after its captain could not present a satisfactory crew list, resulting in the ship being “arrested” and forced to anchor.
HOPE not hate and others had contacted the Egyptian authorities and the Suez Canal authorities to raise our concerns about the ship being allowed to enter the Mediterranean. Later Martin Sellner and his colleagues would release a video with the right-wing content creator Brittany Pettibone blaming HOPE not hate for the stalling of their vessel in the Red Sea.
More bad news followed when US-based fundraising website Patreon, after lobbying from HOPE not hate, removed users linked to Defend Europe, including leaders Martin Sellner and Patrick Lenart, and vocal supporter and activist Lauren Southern.
July ended in calamity as no sooner was the C Star released from its detention in Suez and allowed to enter the Mediterranean then it was again detained after docking in the Turkish Cypriot port of Famagusta. The credibility of the Defend Europe mission was left in tatters when it emerged that the ship chartered by far-right extremists to stop refugees entering Europe was allegedly carrying refugees aiming to reach Italy. The owner and senior officers of the C-Star were held in northern Cyprus over alleged “people smuggling”, after 21 south Asian men were found on board.
Finally, on the 31 July, after weeks of costly delays, Defend Europe activists finally managed to board the C-Star and begin their anti-refugee ‘mission’ in the Mediterranean in earnest.
Having spent over a month claiming they would begin their mission in the European port of Catania, Sicily – even summoning international press to the city for a supposed launch on 19 July – international and domestic pressure from NGOs, anti-racist organisations and politicians forced the extremists into an embarrassing change of plan. Instead of the choreographed Catania launch in front of the press, Defend Europe activists were forced to leave their base on Gagliani street in Catania and secretly fly to Cyprus to join the C-Star.
With the mission underway, August started with HOPE not hate revealing the real identity of key Defend Europe supporter and propagandist Peter Sweden (real name Peter Imanuelsen).
Over the next few weeks the C Star headed towards the SAR zone off the Libyan coast and began to film NGO ships in the region. However, supplies soon began to run dry and they headed towards Tunisia to refuel and resupply. Yet, upon hearing that the C Star was heading towards the port of Zarzis, local fishermen organised and successfully blocked the ship, forcing Defend Europe to look elsewhere for their much needed supplies.
Defend Europe’s inability to refuel became a real problem and for some time they floated off the coast of Tunisia motionless. Documents later leaked to HOPE not hate suggest that the C-Star likely refueled and took on supplies at the Ashtart Terminal, an oil terminal off the coast of Tunisia, before heading back towards the Libyan coast.
However, calamity struck again when on the 11 August the C Star suffered a “minor technical problem” and authorities ordered the NGO, Sea-Eye, to go and rescue the stranded Defend Europe vessel. While the technical problem was soon rectified and the ship went on its way the event was an embarrassing episode for Defend Europe.
HOPE not hate had long been worried about the state of the C-Star and its fitness to carry out the dangerous Defend Europe mission. So, after speaking to numerous maritime experts who studied hundreds of images of the vessel and raised serious concerns regarding the ship being substandard, HOPE not hate drew up a formal complaint and successfully requested an immediate inspection known as a Port State Control Inspection. The C Star vessel has now been classified “Priority 1” meaning next time it enters a European port it will stopped and inspected again.
The final straw for Defend Europe came on 17 August when, an alliance of NGOs, both local and international, including HOPE not hate, successfully managed to get the C Star banned from Maltese Ports. Later that day they announced the end of their mission and called a press conference for Saturday 19 August in Lyon, France.
Dr Joe Mulhall is Senior Researcher at HOPE not hate. Formerly he was a visiting lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London where he also completed his PhD on the postwar far right. He has published extensively on the international far right and discussed his research on the BBC, CNN and Channel 4 news among others. If you have a tip, get in touch at [email protected]Twitter