From rhetoric to concrete ties, the dangerous identitarian movement has concerning links to the new far-right bloc in the European parliament. It’s time to take a closer look.
In the lead up to the recent European Parliament election, Germany’s Alternative fur Deutschland party (AfD) called for a policy of ‘remigrating’ immigrants in their manifesto, whilst Heinz-Christian Strache (recently ousted after a corruption sting) of the Austrian Freedom Party, told a journalist that his party fought against “population replacement”. Jordan Bardella, the lead MEP candidate for France’s Rassemblement National (who is now elected), told an interviewer that his home suburb was witnessing “a substitution of [its] population”.
Whilst such policies and statements are concerning enough by themselves, they also raise important questions about where these politicians acquired these ideas.
In all these cases, they evoke, very explicitly, elements of the ‘identitarian’ ideology which espouses the view that non-white and, especially, Muslim migrants pose an intrinsic threat to white, non-Muslim Europeans in the form of a “Great Replacement” and that “remigration” is the needed response. The Great Replacement is a conspiracy theory that claims white Europeans are being “replaced” by migrants. Remigration is a policy of repatriating and lowering the standards of living for non-white migrants and Muslims in Europe.
Both ideas are central tenets of the far-right European identitarian movement which is comprised of a broad network of parties, think-tanks, activist organisations, venues and publications, all espousing similar ideas. At its centre is the pan-European youth movement Generation Identity (GI) that launched in France in 2012.
GI’s modus operandi is influencing public debate through media-savvy campaigns and actions, what is known as ‘metapolitics’. Identitarian metapolitics focuses on 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. It comes from a belief that this is required before electoral and policy support for their views is possible. Indeed, GI will often not focus on campaigning in support of parties, opting instead to try and inject terms like “remigration” into public life.
We have already seen this influence on other far-right actors. Following the Christchurch attack in March 2019, many drew attention to the fact that the perpetrator named his manifesto ‘The Great Replacement’. Moreover, it later came to light that he had been had been in contact with the Austrian branch of GI and had donated sizeable sums to both they and the French branches. More recently, in April, a police raid of a football hooligan network in Cottbus, Germany found GI propaganda alongside nazi material and weapons.
Yet, as is clear from the above statements and policies, GI’s metapolitical push appears to be reaching parties now too. To add to this, concrete ties between the street-based European identitarian movement and radical and far-right political parties have grown in recent years. With the European Parliament in flux as a new far-right bloc emerges led by Matteo Salvini’s Lega party, now more than ever we must pay close attention to what connections exist between the halls of power in Brussels and this dangerous far-right movement.
In their own words
An interim report from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) looking at malign influence operations aiming to swing the 2019 European Parliament elections, found signs that the mainstreaming of identitarian ideas was beginning to shift from identitarian activists to sympathetic parties themselves. As they note:
On Twitter there were 20,899 “Remigration” tweets in 2016, a number that rose to 47,353 in 2017 and reached its peak to date with 55,013 tweets in 2018. The Identitarians had almost a monopoly on the top tweets containing the word remigration until the end of 2017. However, from 2018 onwards, the lists of the most shared remigration tweets have included official AFD accounts claiming that Syrian refugees should be deported, and that for “Turks” who “do not want to integrate”, “remigration” might be the best option.
Showing it is coming as much from the base of the party, they add that in a sample of 328 official AFD pages on Facebook, the term remigration “had been used in waves, but increasingly frequently in March , when the term appeared in the AFD’s official election programme”. In France, whilst they do not specify whether the boost came in part from the Rassemblement Nationatal, ISD highlight that in the course of two weeks during the election campaign, “over 1,500 tweets in France contained the hashtag #remigration, potentially reaching over two million users.”
Though further research needs to be done into the mainstreaming of identitarian ideas, language and policies, this research, as well as the examples from parties and politicians themselves mentioned earlier, should give us cause for concern. Not least, because this ‘metapolitical’ approach to slowly influencing politics is a conscious aim for the European identitarian network and, especially, GI. To explore this further, however, we need to also understand the key avenues GI have to reach parties more directly.
Germany’s Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) party have long been the subject of scrutiny over connections to the country’s branch of GI.
In 2018 identitarian activist Simon Kaupert – himself formerly working for the AfD – told The New York Times at an identitarian event in Germany that, “We have street activists, we have a think tank, we have a publishing house and we have a political party in Parliament”, and claimed there are “dozens” of GI supporters working for the AfD.
At the same event, Franziska Schreiber, a former leading member of the AfD’s youth wing, Junge Alternative (JA), told the reporter that she estimates “at least half the members of the AfD’s own youth wing are followers of Generation Identity.” The event itself was held in GI Germany’s headquarters in Halle, a venue which has gained attention for having been the location of the second office of AfD politician, Hans-Thomas Tillschneider. In April 2019, it was revealed that Daniel Fiß, co-leader of the German branch of GI, had been working for AfD MP Siegbert Droese since March 2019.
In 2017, leaks from an internal WhatsApp group for AfD officials and members in Saxony-Anhalt showed they were supportive of GI but knew they must hide this publicly. However, there are recent indications that the party is becoming more relaxed about this, at least when it comes to the broader broader German identitarian network. In May 2019 the party held a conference in the Bundestag to launch its ‘Congress of Free Media’ which aimed to bring together sympathetic “alternative media outlets” with the party’s parliamentary group. Amongst these were the increasingly ignored British far-right social media personality Milo Yiannopoulos, but more importantly GI-sympathetic German vloggers such as Oliver Flesch
and Götz Kubitscheck, a leading figure in the German ‘New Right’ scene who has multiple connections to the European identitarian movement.
That the AfD should be so welcoming should be no surprise, moreover. Connections between the party and far-right activists are so numerous that in January of this year Germany’s domestic intelligence agency announced it would begin monitoring a faction of the party associated with AfD politician Björn Höcke, the party’s youth-wing, and even consider monitoring the entire party.
The connections between Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) and the identitarian network are even less surprising than in Germany, given it was France where the ideology originated and was the launchpad of the first identitarian organisations in the early 2000s. Nonetheless, the extent to which identitarianism has rooted itself within the RN is deeply concerning.
Le Pen herself told The Irish Times in February 2019 that the RN has welcomed former members of the identitarian movement, and added that she didn’t see “what is reprehensible” about French identitarians demonstrating with banners against migrants.
Most damning, however, are the revelations from Al Jazeera’s documentary investigation into French identitarians which aired in December 2018. In addition to capturing activists encouraging and engaging in racist and anti-Muslim violence, it revealed extensive links between GI activists and the RN, including that GI activists worked for senior party members. It also showed numerous senior RN figures attending an identitarian bar in Lille and expressing their support for GI, including Nicolas Bay MEP and Christine LeChavalier MEP. LeChevalier said that many other RN members would like to attend, and stated that “Marine [Le Pen] isn’t personally against this.”
The broader French identitarian network also maintains links to the RN through Marion Marechal Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s niece and a former RN politician. Marion stepped away from electoral politics in 2017 and opened a school in 2018 in Lyon, ‘ISSEP’, for training future political leaders. Pictures emerged in the same year of Clément Galant (President of the French GI), and Romain Espino (Spokesperson for the French GI) alongside Marion at an event at ISSEP.
More recently, in April 2019, Le Monde reported that she attended the sixth annual conference of the Iliade Institute in Paris, which is tied to the Nouvelle Droite movement that helped develop identitarianism. Espino also spoke and GI was praised by numerous speakers. Jean-Yves Le Gallou, a founding member of the Nouvelle Droite and a co-founder of Iliade, also spoke at the event before heading to a conference held by US white nationalists American Renaissance in May, where members of the UK branch of GI and of the US identitarian group, American Identity Movement, were also in attendance.
The branch of GI in Austria is very active and it’s co-leader, Martin Sellner, is the de facto spokesperson for the movement in Europe. Sellner and the Austrian GI branch have come under intense scrutiny recently after it was revealed that Sellner had received donations from the Christchurch mosque attacker and had been in contact with him. Given this, the future for the branch is uncertain. However, it is worth noting that, like France and Germany in particular, GI is embedded in a broader identitarian network in the country and the inroads made by this and GI into gaining support from the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) is no less concerning.
In 2018, Austrian intelligence services had reported a list 374 members of GI Austria, including a number of active members of the FPÖ. In April 2019, Austrian human rights organisation, SOS Mittmensch, found at least 48 links and points of contact between the FPÖ and the identitarian movement, affecting four then FPÖ-led ministries.
Just a month later, the New York Times reported concerns from Sybille Geissler, who leads the anti-extremism unit of Austria’s domestic intelligence service, that “her biggest challenge these days […] is that the far right is part of her own government”. This followed multiple incidents, including police confiscation of her domestic intelligence files and a colleague’s disinvitation from a 2017 European meeting on GI, it appears out of concern by foreign intelligence agencies as to the security of Austria’s own.
The Italian GI’s connection to the Lega party, fronted and Matteo Salvini, extends back at least to a February 2015 conference in Rome held by the think-tank, Il Talebano. The event featured Salvini, now Lega government minister Lorenzo Fontana, unsuccessful European election Lega MEP candidate Vincenzo Sofo (who spoke at the Iliade Institute conference mentioned above and is the fiancé of Marion Marechal Le Pen), Italian GI leader, Lorenzo Fiato, and two core, influential figures in the European identitarian movement, the German Götz Kubitschek mentioned above and Philippe Vardon from France (who is now also a senior Rassemblement National figure).
The partnership between Lega and the Italian branch of GI continued with the party’s support for the pan-European GI ‘Defend Europe’ campaign in 2017 which saw GI activists charter a ship to disrupt NGO vessels saving lives in the Mediterranean. Their cooperating saw the party hosting events alongside GI in Italy during the campaign, as a means to raise awareness of it and help grow local branches of GI across the country.
The openness of Lega towards GI activists continued into 2018 with Gian Marco Concas, a founding member of GI Italy and a participant in ‘Defend Europe’, being welcomed into the European Parliament by standing Lega MEP, Mario Borghezio, to hold a conference on the campaign.More recent collaboration is perhaps not even needed, given that the mainstreaming of the identitarian narrative appears to have worked on Lega for some time. In May 2016 Salvini had already told an interviewer that “An effort at ethnic replacement is underway: well-financed organizations are importing thousands of new farm slaves, paid 3 euros an hour, to erase Italians living here. This is a lucrative attempt at genocide.”
More recently, echoing the identitarian fear mongering narrative that Europe is under threat from ‘Islamification’, Salvini told journalists at a press conference in Budapest in May 2019 alongside Viktor Orbán, that “For our children, to leave behind an Islamic caliphate with sharia law in our cities is not something I want to do and I’m going to do everything in my power to avert this sad ending for Europe”.
It’s time to take a closer look
Whilst GI has received some significant blows recently given its revealed links to the Christchurch mosque attacker, the organisation remains dangerously close to numerous parties who have have greater solidified their place in Brussels following the European elections. Moreover, the wider identitarian network that supports them will no doubt do all they can to keep GI afloat, knowing that the street movement has had successes establishing ties to parties and advancing identitarian ideas into public debate through their metapolitical campaigns.
What’s more, as the AfD’s ‘Congress of Free Media’ and Marion Marechal Le Pen’s attendance at the Iliade Institute conference demonstrate, the distance of these parties to the wider identitarian network itself is closing, ensuring possibly even greater support for GI from the far-right political establishment itself.
Now that the dangerous ideology of identitarianism is under closer scrutiny, it is time we focus greater attention on the network that birthed GI in the first place and continues to support both it and this emergent far-right bloc.