Identitarians say: Get active or be “replaced” by migrants. It’s no surprise some take this as a call to violent action.
Despite regularly saying they are a non-violent movement, those who spread the perception of an impending “threat” of demographic change and argue that Islam and Muslims are incompatible with the West should be held accountable if a follower believes violence is the only feasible response.
Away from the internet culture references and trolling found in the Christchurch murderer’s manifesto, were numerous implicit and explicit references to key elements of the “identitarian” political ideology. At its core, identitarianism espouses the view that non-white and, especially, Muslim migrants pose an intrinsic threat to white, non-Muslim Europeans.
You may not have heard of “identitarianism”, but if you have followed the growth of the far right in recent years I’m quite sure you will have come across some of its tropes. Europe has its own key identitarian movement, ‘Generation Identity’, as do other countries including the US and Canada, Australia and, up until after the Christchurch attack, New Zealand. Worryingly, the movement has also found some mainstream party support too.
The likes of Generation Identity generally espouse non-violent methods, though they aim to introduce what are necessarily harmful policies. They also tell their supporters that time is running out for them. Whilst they can’t control how others will respond to this alarm, if some choose violence, the non-violence of identitarian ideologues is beside the point: we must stop them spreading their propaganda to stop similar responses.
Don’t be fooled – the Christchurch murderer was an identitarian
The Christchurch killer’s manifesto fundamentally drew on identitarian ideology. Its very title – “The Great Replacement” – is the central idea perpetuated by Generation Identity and the wider identitarian movement, and one of its core demands – “ethnic autonomy” – likewise corresponds to the identitarian desire for “ethnopluralism” (the idea that ethnic groups should live separately to “preserve” them).
Amongst the inscriptions on the killer’s gun was also a reference to a recent target of campaigns led, more than any other activist group online, by Generation Identity, against the UN Migration Pact. Within the manifesto an entire section also calls for violence against NGOs who have “ferr[ied] the invaders to European shores aboard their own vessels”. More than any other activist group (online and off), Generation Identity has campaigned against NGOs working in the Mediterranean.
Identitarians will argue that the killer never mentioned them by name and so was not influenced by them – do not be fooled by this. The manifesto and his actions were, above all else, the result of an identitarian ideology that drove him to action.
Much of the press has focused – in a manner that has only helped identitarians – on the “hipster” image and the media and tech-savvy direct actions of Generation Identity. They are wrong to focus on the spectacle of this group. If they report on them at all, they should instead be drawing attention, time and again, to the danger inherent in the ideas these actions are trying to spread. Anything else is playing into a deliberate identitarian tactic.
Having a deep, long lasting cultural influence on society – rather than just getting a sympathetic party elected – is the aim of identitarian activism, and is crucial to its success. Core to identitarianism is the notion of ‘metapolitics’: shifting the accepted topics, terms, and positions of public discussion so as to create a social and political environment more open and potentially accepting, of its ideology.
A Web of Influence
The Christchurch killer’s familiarity with far-right internet culture is clear, but it is clear too from the manifesto that this online environment has become very accepting of an identitarian outlook.
His gun’s inscriptions referenced multiple historical battles, for example, that have been used by identitarians for decades as symbols of people “resisting” the “Great Replacement” of white Europeans. Though some of these were popular online already amongst the far right due to the international anti-muslim ‘Counter-Jihad’ movement, groups like Generation Identity have been adept at spreading them further across social media.
We live in an age where people encounter endless streams of information online which are open to abuse, and many of these people are seeking answers from these sources as they are less attached to conventional political organisations. In this regard, identitarianism is perfectly suited for our social media manipulation age: identitarians aren’t candidates trying to win the support of an electorate, they are activists trying to change the way people think about migration, race and identity for the worse.
As Martin Sellner, co-leader of the Austrian branch of Generation Identity, told a far too lenient Australian journalist in 2017 when showing him around his home office where he records his English-language videos popularising identitarianism, “[…] for us we’ve seen that a good video that can go viral […] it’s almost as efficient as an action.”
At the same time, like others in the online far right trying to influence politics by planting the seeds of their ideas into discussion, identitarians may try to do so without drawing attention to themselves. For example, recently Generation Identity ran a campaign against a United Nations pact to ensure safer migration, and shared leaflets online which had no reference to the group.
Explicitly or implicitly far-right spaces online are awash with identitarian tropes, highlighting how easily the Christchurch killer became immersed in its ideology.
Do not be fooled, identitarianism has an inherent connection to violence
Generation Identity and many other identitarian groups claim they are non-violent and that their ideas, if enacted, would be peaceful.
Generation Identity say that, in response to “The Great Replacement” of “ethnocultural” – that is, white – Europeans by non-white and, in particular, Muslim immigrants, they call for a set of policies under the banner of “Remigration”. These policies, properly understood, advocate forced removal and repatriation of said immigrants. It also advocates the use of lowering of living conditions (such as “cutting down the welfare state” and “de-Islamisation”, according to Generation Identity’s Martin Sellner) for non-white and Muslim migrants, a policy known as ‘self-deportation’, in the hope that they will leave of their own accord. The violent harms such policies would inflict by their nature are obvious.
This is a racial separatist worldview and the violence it requires should be plain as day, yet repeatedly coverage of those espousing identitarianism has fallen for activists’ deliberate framing of its ideas as having no logical, inevitable connection to violence.
Again, this is often because such ideas are cloaked in language deliberately used to hide their extremity from journalists (though, it shouldn’t be that difficult to realise what “remigration”, for example, involves). It is also because identitarians stress that they do not engage in violence themselves; their self-documented actions involve social media campaigns, handing out leaflets and dropping banners, for example.
Yet, this facade is not true. Just recently French Generation Identity members were exposed as engaging in racist violence and advocating terrorist attacks against mosques. Moreover, even those identitarians who do not engage in violence plant the seeds for it by giving their followers an ultimatum: Get active or be “replaced” by migrants. Whilst they may not publicly advocate violent action, if a follower believes that violence is the only feasible response, and believe time is running out, then identitarians who have inculcated in them a perception of an impending “threat” of demographic change should be held accountable.
As the Christchurch killer’s manifesto revealed, he followed this path. He stated that between April and May 2017 (whilst travelling through Europe) he went from believing his political goals could be achieved democratically to believing a “violent, revolutionary solution is the only possible solution”. He believed “Due to the threat of ethnic replacement and our own horribly low birth rates, we do not have 150 years or even 50 years to achieve positions of power”, and encouraged people to “[…] not suffer under the delusion of an effortless, riskless democratic victory. Prepare for war, prepare for violence and prepare for risk, loss, struggle, death.“
We must call out identitarianism for what it is
Identitarian ideas continue to gain ground, and people are not yet aware enough of the tactics used to spread them and their inherent connection to violence.
Identitarian groups are also aware that they must distance themselves as much as possible from this connection. Recently Identity Evropa, the key US identitarian group, attempted a rebrand, no doubt because they have been tied to the deadly events in Charlottesville in 2017 and because of a prior association (and continuing one) with violence.
New Zealand’s own fringe identitarian street movement – which has claimed it has no association with the Christchurch killer – announced after the murders that it is dissolving. But we shouldn’t have to wait for violence to play out to see these effects. Calling out hate for what it is can work. HOPE not hate stemmed the growth of identitarianism in the UK by exposing Generation Identity’s extreme links and their tactics.
Despite this, the UK group still demonstrates how identitarianism has an inherent connection to violence. On their site they recommend people read ‘The Camp of Saints’ by French writer Jean Raspail, a book that inspired the ‘Great Replacement’ idea. Referring to “invaders” coming to Europe, Raspail stated in 2016 that “without the use of force, we will never stop the invasion.”
Poring over the details of the material that extremists who carry out attacks publish is unwise, least of all when that is part of their plan for controlling the narrative after the fact, as was the case with the suspected mass-killer involved in the recent Christchurch attacks. Yet we must not overlook how the ideas such material rely on can play a role in catalysing extremism.
To counter this, each of us must school ourselves on how such media manipulation as was employed in this attack works and look into what we can do to take action to help others targeted by these hateful actors. One area where these combine is in calling out the ideas that are propagated by the far right for what they truly are. This can help undermine efforts to radicalise others and seep hatred into the mainstream by removing any veneer of normalcy these ideas have been allowed to accumulate.
Identitarian groups have made extensive, deliberate efforts to cloak their extreme views in recent times and have been met with a media reception that is far too welcoming. It’s time to call out this movement for what it is.