In recent years, populist and nationalist ideologies have gained popularity in parts of Europe. Along with wins by right-wing political parties, extremist groups and indidivuals have increased their activities, up to and including violence. This article focuses on but a few of the areas in which right-wing extremism is popular, and why it should not be ignored.
Who are the groups?
In Germany, the events in Chemnitz were just another example of violence by right-wing groups. In late August 2018, neo-Nazis and hooligans took to the streets of Chemnitz for a right-wing rally that turned into two days of rioting and violence. On 14 September, right-wing extremists attacked people on the island park of Schlossteichinsel, a popular hangout in Chemnitz for young people, including refugees. Following that attack, German police arrested several people who were part of a neo-Nazi terror cell. Officials believe the group behind the riots, Revolution Chemnitz, was using the riots as a trial run for a later terror attack. The alleged leader, Christian K., has named as their enemies “Merkel zombies” and the “media dictatorship and its slaves.” He has also described notorious neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground (NSU) as a “kindergarten nursery-school group.” The socio-economic stagnation in Saxony has made the region an ideal breeding ground for far right groups. But it’s not just economics. Oldschool Society and Gruppe Freital are other groups in the region, both of which have carried out attacks on refugee housing. Sturm 34, another group, is named after a Weimar-era paramilitary group once led by Hermann Göring.
Germany is not the only country in Europe to see a rise in far-right groups. Sweden is home to the neo-Nazi group Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR), who according to the Swdish Security Service, want to establish a totalitarian regime through revolution. NMR members have been linked to the bombing of a refugee center in Gothenburg, and to the plot to murder journalists. They are considered one of the most violent groups in Sweden.
Austria is another country which is dealing with a rising popularity of the far right. The Identitarian movement, an anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant group branded by some as “hipster right,” has been known to use tactics of intimidation previously seen by the far left. Members have scaled buildings, spraying fake blood, scattered leaflets, stormed migrant gatherings, and even organized a ship to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean to “defend Europe.” In May 2018, the movement was dealt a blow after 17 members and sympathizers were arrested.
To the east, the Hungarian National Front is a paramilitary group led by neo-Nazi István Györkös. Slovakia is home to Róbert Švec’s fascist-leaning Slovak Revival Movement. But far right ideology and violence is not consigned only to organizations. Lone actors and small groups are just a susceptible to right-wing ideology, and capable of violence. June 2017 saw a “self-radicalized” man attack people attending a mosque in Finsbury Park, north of London. The following month, a French nationalist and admirer of Anders Breivik was arrested for plotting to kill French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron was again the target of a small far right group arrested in early November 2018.
Why have they gained popularity?
Far right groups are not new to Europe. Old prejudices have been reignited. Policies and actions by certain countries over the last several years have allowed these groups gain popularity, even among “regular” Europeans. The surge in immigrants, economic migrants, and asylum seekers – caused in part by the war in Syria – has stirred animosity. The narrative is that the immigrants and asylum seekers are taking jobs, and bringing in crime, and failing to assimilate into European society. A string of terror attacks and a general Islamophobia have also contributed to the rise in right-wing groups. Resentment and racism have re-emerged in the name of security. The groups’ messages of xenophobia, failed multiculturalism, overzealous political correctness, and loss of “European culture” have resonated with people resentful of European leaders’ policies of welcoming migrants, especially those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Why is this important?
While violence from the far right makes up a small percentage of overall crime in Europe it has shown an increase since 2014. For example in 2017, Germany recorded 5,761,984 crimes, of which 312 were attacks on asylum shelters, and 1,504 were anti-Semetic offenses.
The threat of right-wing extremism remains fluid. Individuals and groups do not always adhere to the same ideology, and this is reflected in their crimes. The right-wing extremism is not a grave threat to Europe, but it is one that can be highly dangerous. The nature of their crimes is such to be indistinguishable from other forms of crime, but have included acts of terrorism.
As the right-wing groups and political parties gain popularity, it can move beyond domestic threat. Reports of Russian support and financial backing is worrying from a national security point of view. Russia backs Germany’s far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The two Swedish neo-Nazis who bombed an asylum center had previously taken a paramilitary training course in St. Petersburg. Russian GRU officers attended training sessions at the Hungarian home of Györkös. Russia’s support and influence goes beyond right-wing and neo-Nazi organizations; their support extends to football hooligans (also called “ultras”), biker gangs, and even fight clubs.
By supporting these groups and political parties, Russia is working to accomplish its goal of destabilizing the West, and establishing influence in Western countries through proxies. Through willing participants or not, Russia is taking advantage of the resentment and anger.
What has or is being done?
Germany has in place laws against denying the Holocaust, and against displaying swastikas and Nazi symbols. It has also banned some neo-Nazi and extremist groups, as well as online platforms. Their effort to combat right-wing extremism comes late for some, especially in the wake of a string of right-wing violence since the reunification of Germany. In 2001, Germany’s domestic security Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) created an exit program to encourage young people to leave right-wing extremism. More recently, German courts have been stricter with its sentencing of perpetrators of right-wing crimes, and the rate of right-wing extremism violent crime has decreased 34% from 2016 to 2016. However, the overall rate of right-wing crime is up 17% since 2014.
Sweden has set up a successful exit program. The Nordic Resistance Movement was recently banned in Finland. The move, praised by scholar Magnus Ranstorp, shows what some authorities are willing – or not- to tolerate.
In 2018, Austria’s Federal Ministry of the Interior released their “Austrian Strategy for the Prevention and Countering of Violent Extremism and Deradicalisation”. In it they lay out their objectives for prevention violent extremism through education, societal and media roles, as well as government cooperation.
A combination of counter-extremism methods need to be utilized in effort to combat right-wing extremism in Europe. Traditional security methods may not effective detect and counter right-wing activities. The groups and individuals use tactics to blend in to society. This, along with foreign influence, makes them potentially dangerous threat to Europe.