Identitarianism travelled to North America through the filter of the much discussed ‘alt-right’. Often framed as an essentially American phenomenon, from its inception the alt-right drew heavily from various schools of European far-right thought such as the European New Right (ENR) that began in France in the late 1960s and the identitarian ideology and movement that descended from it. From alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer – who has described himself as an identitarian – attempting to start an explicitly identitarian activist organisation (the failed ‘Operation Homeland’ project) in December 2017, to US alt-right group American Identity Movement (formerly ‘Identity Evropa’) embracing European identitarian activist tactics, it is clear that the alt-right looked across the Atlantic to draw on both identitarian ideas and identitarian tactics.
Central to identitarianism is the rejection of liberal multiculturalism and the promotion instead of ‘ethnopluralism’: the idea that different ethnic groups are equal but ought to live in separation from one another. European identitarians’ desire for ethnopluralism, and attachment to such a strict notion of ethnic and cultural identity, draws especially from a conspiratorial fear that the continent will succumb to “Islamification” from mass migration, which would eventually lead to a “Great Replacement” of “indigenous” Europeans. In the US this has caught the attention of members of the far right who believe that similar demographic “threats” are posed by migrants, with Muslim migrants again being a particular focus. As the Anti-Defamation League reported in June 2017, Identity Evropa were at the helm of popularising a slogan drawing on the same theme – “You will not replace us” (at times interchanged for, “Jews will not replace us”) – amongst the alt-right that year.
Though not an exact copy, the importation of ENR thought to America was integral to the development of the American alt-right. In a December 2017 Buzzfeed profile of leading ENR philosopher, Alain de Benoist, the thinker recognised that some within the alt-right consider him “their spiritual father” though he did not consider them his “spiritual sons”. Nonetheless, de Benoist spoke at the 2013 conference of Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute, which is now part of the AltRight Corporation, and it was his Manifesto for a European Renaissance, co-authored with Charles Champetier and translated into English in 1999, which introduced notions such as ethnopluralism to the English-speaking world more widely. This importing of far-right ideology continued, with key contemporary European identitarian thinkers like Martin Semlitsch (AKA Martin Lichtmesz) speaking at a 2017 conference of white supremacistUS organisation, American Renaissance.
Moreover, the ideological exchange is very much in both directions, with Semlitsch, who is also a close associate of European identitarian street movement, Generation Identity (GI), for example translating The Way of Men by US alt-right figure, Jack Donovan, from English to German in 2016.
While prominent alt-right figures had long been looking across the Atlantic at the European Identitarian movement, it was the headline grabbing Defend Europe campaign in the summer of 2017 that really catalysed American far right interest in Generation Identity (GI). This involved GI activists from across Europe disrupting the work of NGOs working to save the lives of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean, initially by blocking an NGO ship in May 2017 in Sicily, and later in the summer of that year by chartering a ship and sailing into the Mediterranean to further disrupt their work.
The action, which failed to achieve its stated objectives,, nonetheless galvanised the international far right and demonstrated their current capability to work cooperatively on a global scale, including numerous North American actors. Defend Europe initially received wider attention via US vlogger Brittany Pettibone and Canadian vlogger Lauren Southern and had crowdfunding coming in from across the world on US alt-right troll Charles C. Johnson’s WeSearchr site. It also had media support from far-right news outlet Breitbart News Network, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke, alt-right figures Richard Spencer and Jared Taylor and leading alt-right neo-nazi website, The Daily Stormer.
To capitalise on GI’s new found fame, co-leader of the Austrian branch of GI and de facto spokesperson for the movement, Martin Sellner, visited the US to meet with members of the alt-right during Milo Yiannopoulos’ failed “Free Speech Week” in Berkeley, California in September 2017.During his time there Sellner spoke with Southern and Pettibone, and the three agreed that the issues are the same for America and Europe (and Australia and New Zealand), with Sellner adding that the exchange between Europe and America was at this point really one of “tactics”. Reaffirming that it is indeed an exchange, Pettibone noted that: “We’ve mastered the online activism and you’ve mastered the in-real-life activism”.
The adoption of GI’s tactics by North American far-right groups is best seen in the aforementioned Identity Evropa (IE) a US identitarian youth movement founded in 2016 which rebranded as the ‘American Identity Movement’ (AIM) in March 2019. In an interview with Greg Johnson of US alt-right publishers Counter-Currents Publishing in the same year, IE’s founder Nathan Damigo told Johnson that European groups including Generation Identity: “[…] got me really excited and motivated because I could see [their] models and say ‘hey we can do this here in America […] that seems to be working over there so why not build a model over here?”.
The American alt-right as a whole reconsidered its public image following the events of 2017 – not least due to the murder of anti-fascist protestor, Heather Heyer, at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August. As the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) note, the response of IE was to “[double] down on their identitarian label”. Vlogger Brittany Pettibone spoke with new IE leader Patrick Casey, in January 2018 and he confirmed that they “want to have a very identitarian aesthetic [and] approach and we want our rhetoric to be identitarian.”
This US identitarian venture was soon offered support by a notable European partner in the form of Arktos Media, a key publisher of alt-right and European New Right texts based in Hungary, who in September 2017 partnered with IE to “promote Identitarian literature with [US] students.â€ This partnership likely came about through William Clark, Former Registrar and North Atlantic Regional Coordinator for IE who became head of Arktos’ US operation in February 2018.
IE/AIM leader Patrick Casey pushed forward with this approach, again explicitly drawing on the GI influences that Damigo had cited. In a post on his Maker Support funding page in January 2018 Casey responded to Brad Griffin (AKA Hunter Wallace) of the Occidental Dissent blog, explaining how his organisation “[…] want to depathologize ethnic/racial identity”, something he believed Generation Identity “has proven […] can be done”. As the SPLC noted, “Casey drew a distinction between “1.0” white nationalists like Griffin and identitarians like himself who, through the creation of their own culture, memes, and unique content, have created a space that appeals to a younger generation.”
This focus comes through in IE/AIM’s activism, which imitates common actions carried out by GI, such as banner drops, helping exclusively white homeless people and leafleting and engaging in “open dialogue” events on university campuses. At a deeper level, IE/AIMâ€™s activism consciously follows the identitarian “metapolitical” strategy: the shifting of accepted topics, terms, and positions of public discussion in order to create a social and political environment more open and potentially accepting of identitarian ideology. It comes from a belief that societal acceptance is required before electoral and policy support can be successful. Like GI’s efforts to mainstream discussions around “protecting” Europeans from multiculturalism and immigration, IE/AIM site claims at the time of writing that they bring attention to the need to preserve “America’s historical demographics in the face of mass immigration”.
In addition to smaller groups increasingly relying on identitarian themes – such as the Toronto-based Students for Western Civilization and the Quebecois group Atalante Québec – Canada is home to what appears to be the first North American branch of GI, though its affiliation to GI is somewhat ambiguous. Though their Facebook page appeared in 2012, their website states:
ID Canada started off as Generation Identity – Canada back in December of 2014. As of August 2017, the organization came under new leadership. The new leadership team came to the quick realization that while the vast majority of our core Canadian tenets come from Europe, this organization needed its own unique Canadian brand. On January 1st, 2018, we officially re-branded as ID Canada.
During 2018, ID Canada also come out in support of Canadian white nationalist Faith Goldy for her Toronto mayoral candidacy, and it was revealed that ID Canada activists had been assisting her. The group claimed in 2018 to have chapters in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Sudbury, Vancouver, Alberta, Manitoba, London and Prince Edward Island, which includes chapters on the east coast officialised in May 2018. At the time of writing they claim to have “hundreds of members and affiliates, spanning every major city across Canada” with expansion “into other cities and regions” occurring “rapidly”. The extent of their chapters and numbers of their membership, however, are likely exaggerations. Whilst still regularly active in their postering and stickering campaigns, ID Canada’s claims to have “hundreds” of supporters continues to not be borne out by their actions, which are typically small banner drops featuring only a handful of activists.
Offline interaction between North American and European identitarian groups and figures remains sporadic but online the transatlantic connections are much more established and regular. There has, however, been a significant recent in-person connection made in 2019 at the time of writing.
In May HOPE not hate revealed that UK GI activist Nick Sclanon had travelled to the US far-right American Renaissance conference, which hosted members of the extreme US far right including members of AIM. That Scanlon met with AIM and attended the American Renaissance conference is also telling about GI’s growing willingness to openly associate with extreme, open white supremacists and antisemites. Antisemitism, in particular, is an area of far-right politics the identitarian movement in Europe has tried to avoid (public) association with, but this visit comes after AIM’s antisemitism has been revealed on numerous occasions.
Leaks from the group have confirmed that “membership require[s] applicants to be of wholly European non-semitic descent” and revealed their internal conversations to be rife with, in addition to racism and homophobia, “anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial”, as the Anti-Defamation League note. Of course, this is a conference which featured out-and-out neo-nazis, so GI’s willingness to attend should leave little question of their acceptance of antisemites. Indeed, Scanlon himself continued his interactions with antisemites after visiting, telling American white nationalist James Edwards on Twitter about his return from the conference. Edwards hosts the far-right Political Cesspool podcast which has featured, amongst other, former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and Holocaust denier Willis Carto.
Notable also was the invite of French far-right thinker Jean Yves Le Gallou to the American Renaissance conference in question. Gallou was a member of the GRECE organisation, integral to the development of the European New Right and, so in turn, identitarian ideology that birthed the movement today. Gallou continues to be an active figure in the French identitarian network, co-founding the Iliade Institute think-tank in France in 2014, the 2019 conference of which featured French GI spokesman Romain Espino. It is unclear whether the invite of AIM, Gallou and a representative from GI UK is an effort by American Renaissance to help foster a connection between the US, UK and European identitarian movements, but doubtless the event acted as an opportunity to foster such a relationship regardless.
Identitarianism in North America has been a mixed-success. Its ideas and model of activism have managed to travel across the Atlantic and have found support from the American and Canadian far right, who have looked across to Europe and seen a dynamic far-right movement that has successfully attracted younger activists and garnered international headlines.
Despite their efforts to emulate this success, they have been inextricably linked to alt-right, a movement which has been thoroughly tainted since the events at Charlottesville. As the American Identity Movement’s rebranding from Identity Evropa exemplifies, identitarians in the US and Canada will continue to make every effort to distance themselves from this association. This may see them reach further abroad to cement their ties with identitarians elsewhere, the invite of French and British identitarians suggests, though here too they now must deal with the horrific attack in Christchurch and its links to the identitarian movement.