Over the past three years, the far-right have raised their profile across Europe and the USA. There have been large-scale protest rallies, increased incidences of hate crimes against minorities, internationally coordinated misinformation campaigns during important elections, attempts to intimidate political opponents out of office, and a number of successful terrorist plots. Following the US elections and the emergence of the alt-right on the public stage, far-right movements have been emboldened. Pan-European neo-fascist group Generation Identity have been at the forefront of developing the tactics of this new far-right movement. Now they are trying to establish a permanent foothold in the UK.
In the UK, many formerly dominant far-right groups have, over the last few years, become fragmented. The prominent neo-Nazi group National Action was banned under the Terrorism Act at the end of 2016. And last week, the last British National Party (BNP) councillor in public office announced he would not stand for re-election. However, a new and more adaptable far-right is looking to move in on this territory in the UK.
Generation Identity are a prominent and well-funded neo-fascist organisation active since 2012 in France, Germany, Hungary, Austria, and elsewhere in continental Europe. UK Generation Identity launched in October 2017. They advocate for ethnic cleansing (‘remigration’) and the ‘reconquista’ of social spaces from ideas of multiculturalism and diversity. UK anti-fascist groups have labelled them ‘Nazi hipsters’ on account of their attempts to rebrand fascist politics. This Saturday 14 April, the new UK branch of Generation Identity is holding a conference in London, hosting neo-fascists from across Europe to discuss their strategy going forward.
The French branch Generation Identitaire led the 2017 Defend Europe campaign, which raised $200,000 from donors across Europe and the USA to charter a ship with the aim of intercepting migrants crossing the Mediterranean and disrupting life-saving NGO rescue operations. The German branch Identitäre Bewegung, along with several other prominent far-right groups, played a central role in the unexpected success of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Germany’s Bundestag elections in September 2017. An ITV Exposure investigation earlier this year revealed Generation Identity have been running military-style training camps in Europe, which British far-right activists have attended.
Generation Identity are well-funded, internationally connected and extremely ambitious. At present their focus is predominantly on PR and media stunts in the UK – banner drops off Westminster Bridge and outside Birkbeck University in London – trying to rehabilitate their politics from the typical image of the far-right. They make use of clever marketing, young, clean-cut spokespeople and carefully chosen language to mask their fascist beliefs, deliberately eschewing the use of terms like ‘race’ and ‘white people’ to avoid being labelled racists. Instead, they speak of ‘European culture’ and deploy a highly racialised version of identity politics that visualises white Europeans as victims of a ‘great replacement’ – a white nationalist narrative (similar to the narrative of ‘white genocide’ popular in the USA), which plays on fears of cultural displacement to fuel hatred of migrants and minority groups, particularly muslims.
As part of this narrative of victimhood they have also taken up the popular right-wing call to arms in defence of freedom of speech. The banner they dropped at Birkbeck University – originally intended for the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) next door – read “Happy Easter”. The video footage of the banner drop they released later the same day framed the far-right activists as defenders of the right to celebrate the traditional Christian holiday, under attack by several aggressive students, who were demanding the far-right activists leave their campus. The cutting of the video frames students, alarmed at seeing a known neo-fascist group on their campus, as aggressors.
While Generation Identity work hard to publicly present themselves as distinct from the far-right’s racist and violent past, the mask often slips. Famous racist and former leader of the EDL Tommy Robinson promotes and shares Generation Identity videos frequently in order to rally support and funding for them from the extreme right. Austrian Generation Identity co-leader Martin Sellner, who visited London for the launch of UK Generation Identity in October 2017 was caught on camera at a strategy meeting attended by neo-Nazis (and secretly filmed by ITV) using a racial slur against Pakistani people and discussing the ‘Jewish Question’ and ‘Muslim Question’. A number of ex-National Action neo-Nazis have recently been identified as new members of Generation Identity. There is clearly a porous boundary between new far-right groups such as Generation Identity and other neo-Nazi and extreme right groups.
A 2017 report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue entitled The Fringe Insurgency, explains that far-right groups around the world are increasingly collaborating to achieve common goals, such as keeping refugees out of Europe, removing hate speech laws and getting far-right politicians to power. This is despite often stark differences in their publicly stated ideologies and public image.
The report states that although different groups’ communications are tailored to different audiences and highlight topics ranging from white nationalist activism to freedom of speech protection, this has worked to increase the profile of all groups. This is not just a shift in the range of ideas tolerated by public discourse, it is the result of direct coordination: the most extreme fringe groups attempt to penetrate new audiences and mainstream their ideologies by using less extreme groups as strategic mouthpieces. A number of far-right leaders in the UK such as Tommy Robinson are aligning themselves with Generation Identity as a more acceptable face for their politics, and have spoken at their demonstrations.
To achieve their shared goals, far-right and extreme-right activists across the globe have developed common tactical playbooks with which to manipulate the public and disrupt democratic processes. And following major successes over the last few years, this tactical convergence has only accelerated: from international coordination of activities such as fundraising for the Defend Europe campaign, to the instrumentalisation of traditional and new media through coordinated online activism and media stunts, such as the disinformation campaign planned on the extreme-right platform Discord in the German elections in September.
Despite these new tactics and international support, UK Generation Identity initially struggled to gain serious traction following their launch in October 2017. With their initial strategy meetings infiltrated by reporters and subsequent meetings disrupted by anti-fascist activists, membership growth was slow. However, their recent actions – a series of banner drops in Dublin and London and talks in defence of free speech – have helped in re-motivating their following.
After the London conference on Saturday 14 April, Generation Identity will also hold a demonstration on Sunday 15 April at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. This will be followed by further far-right mobilisations planned across the UK in the next month. The London conference is an attempt to re-launch Generation Identity in the UK with the support of a wide coalition of European Generation Identity groups and other neo-Nazi organisations. Although it is expected that they will be met with strong resistance from anti-fascist groups, community organisations and students.
Demonstrations against racism and fascism have been planned for the weekend. Follow @OpposeGI and @Ldnantifascists for more information.