The five features of the contemporary far right – Birkbeck Talking Europe vlogcast, episode 6
Accompanied by a blogpost at Birkbeck Politics’ 10 Gower Street blog.
Blogpost full text below the fold…
We recorded the sixth episode of the Talking Europe vlog series in October 2019. A week before, during Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, a gunman, heavily armed with home-made weaponry, had tried to storm a synagogue in the eastern German town of Halle, shooting one woman before driving to a kebab shop opening fire again. A massacre was averted, but there are tens of thousands far right activists in Germany, who are increasingly following the US far right in turning to militarised violence.
In this episode of Talking Europe, I looked at how this appalling incident exemplifies five key features of the contemporary European far right.
First, the globalisation but also simultaneous Europeanisation of the far right. Although we can trace the globalisation of white nationalism back to the postwar period, the current wave of right-wing extremism is marked by increasing density of and speed of global links between activists, including “lone wolf” activists like the Halle shooter. He live streamed his attack in (bad) English and had shared his manifesto on English language chat boards. The English signified his attempt to connect to a global audience, and his manifesto showed that his influences and reference points were global, including both Norway’s Anders Brevik and the March Christchurch shooter in New Zealand, describing them as his “role models”. But, like those two mass murderers, he explicitly highlighted Europe as the focus of his attention. The current wave of far right activism is obsessed with the continent of Europe, seeing the continent as a whole as a space profoundly under threat from globalist conspiracies and demographic invasion. Breivik’s manifesto was entitled A European Declaration of Independence, and spoke of Islamisation, feminism and “cultural Marxism” undermining “the fabric of European culture”. Historical battles between Christendom and its others for continental control feature prominently in these manifestos; for example, the Balkans have a central role in current right-wing mythology, notably in the Christchurch manifesto, as does the Ottoman defeat at the gates of Vienna.
Second, demographic conspiracy theories. The Halle shooter said “declining birth rates in the West [act] as a scapegoat for mass immigration”. The specific form of demographic invasion that the Halle gunmen is invoking is most commonly known as the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, whose most important theorist is the French writer Renaud Camus, who wrote a book of that name. (The Christchurch shooter used the same title for his manifesto too.) This theory asserts that a deliberate policy by so-called “replacist elites” aims to use mass migration, in particular from Muslim lands, along with low birth rates, to eliminate the white population of Europe. It has more explicitly racist variants (it has been taken up by the Identitarian Movement, for example, and is closely related to the idea of “white genocide” popular with fascists across the Atlantic) as well as more populist support from political parties (such as the Freedom Party of Austria, the French Front National, German Alternative für Deutschland and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang), as well pseudo-academic versions based on spurious use of demographic statistics.
Third, anti-feminism. The Halle shooter said “feminism is the cause of declining birth rates in the West“. Fascism has always been anti-feminist, but anti-feminism plays a central role in the current wave of far right activism, which should be seen partly as a kind of backlash against the gains of second wave feminism. Across the far right, from the populism of Spain’s anti-feminist Vox party, via the Proud Boys in America, to far right terrorists like this one, themes drawn from the so-called men’s rights movement as well as the “incel” (involuntary celibate) subculture have blended with fascist ideas, with social networks dedicated to extreme misogyny becoming a prime recruiting ground for the far right, with often murderous consequences.
Fourth, the intertwining of antisemitism and Islamophobia. This gunman spoke about “the Jew” being “the root” of both feminism and mass migration, but turned on a Turkish kebab shop and used the derogatory term “kanak” about Middle Eastern Germans. As US anti-fascist researcher Spencer Sunshine puts it, “Islamophobia Is the glue that unites diverse factions of the far right” today, but antisemitism remains the esoteric core of fascism and white supremacism. The Jew and the Muslim are the two figures who have been the constitutive outsiders who have defined the European continent since the Middle Ages, so it is not surprising that a Europeanised far right would be obsessed with them. One Islamophobic version of the great replacement theory is “Eurabia”, a conspiracy theory about a European continent conquered by Muslims through migration and breeding, popularised by the Israeli writer Bat Ye’or, who blames the EU for the takeover. But in many versions of the great replacement it is Jews, associated with secret conspiratorial power, who are seen as the agents behind mass migration, using Muslims, portrayed as inherently violent and bloodthirsty, to physically replace white Christians. We saw a variant of this same conspiracy theory in last year’s Pittsburgh shooting, where the synagogue was targeted because of a Jewish charity that gunman held responsible for mass migration of Syrian refugees to the US. But we can also see it in more mainstream right-wing discourse about “globalism”, which frequently blames the Jewish financier George Soros for mass migration, inspiring Cesar Sayoc’s failed mail bombing plot a year ago.
Fifth, and lastly, the gamification of right-wing terrorism. All of the recent far right shootings have been framed by their shooters using imagery and language taken from Gamer subculture, including using a helmet cam to broadcast the attacks online as an FPS (first-person shooter) game, or talking about killings as “achievements” within the game. Mass shooting as a virtual spectacle serves both to terrorise minority populations and as a form of what analyst Robert Evans calls “inspirational terrorism” to engage a global audience.
The far right poses a particular danger today because it is both becoming more extreme in its actions – killing nearly 100 people in terrorist incidents in the last 12 months – but also because its ideas are seeping into the mainstream. Euro-nationalism, demographic conspiracy theories, anti-feminism, Islamophobia and antisemitism are all themes of the mainstream right as well as the terrorist right. The five dynamics described in this video are driving forwards the current wave of right-wing terrorism in Europe and globally, and as long as they continue unchecked, we are – tragically – likely to see more such attacks.