LONDON — A leading French anti-racism organization has called for a European white nationalist movement to be banned, days after Austria said it was considering dissolving the same group following news the Christchurch massacre suspect made a donation to it last year.
SOS Racisme told BuzzFeed News that France’s government should act against Generation Identity, “before the worst also happens here.”
Austria revealed this week that the man suspected of killing 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand this month had made a €1,500 ($1,685) donation to a Generation Identity chapter in Austria in 2018.
“We can now confirm that there was financial support and so a link between the New Zealand attacker and the Identitarian Movement in Austria,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said, using the group’s official name in Austria.
SOS Racisme’s warning came on the same day the French chapter of Generation Identity staged a demonstration in an immigrant neighborhood in a Paris suburb, burning flares and unfurling a banner from a government welfare building that said “Money for the French, not foreigners.” Members of the group also shouted chants calling for immigrants to “remigrate” out of France.
SOS Racisme said Generation Identity should banned under French laws against inciting racial hatred.
“The words always precede the acts, the government must act firmly and immediately to dissolve this group and affiliated local branches … before the worst also happens here,” SOS Racisme said in a statement.
SOS Racisme director Dominique Sopo told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview that the group has repeatedly called for banning Generation Identity, filing its last complaint with the French Interior Ministry in January. He noted that the group grew out of another organization that was banned following a foiled plot to assassinate the French president in 2002, and said it was inevitable that its rhetoric would lead to violence again.
“We’re not talking about any movement. We’re talking about a movement which is descended from violence,” Sopo said. “At some point there will be somebody who will make the leap of physical violence, as was the case with Christchurch.”
Generation Identity, founded in 2012, has helped popularize a conspiracy theory known as the “great replacement,” which claims European governments are importing Muslim immigrants to “replace” white workers. The Christchurch shooter called his manifesto “The Great Replacement.”
A French Interior Ministry spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. Frederic Potier, director of the French anti-discrimination agency known as Dilcrah, told BuzzFeed News, “We are monitoring their activities in France,” but “we can’t forbid the groups in France without specific proof” they have violated the law.
Austrian Chancellor Kurz announced Wednesday that the country’s security services had raided the home of the Identitarian Movement of Austria to investigate the donation from the Christchurch shooter. The revelation also led to calls for Generation Identity to be banned in Germany, where it has ties to the far-right party that leads opposition in the national legislature, Alternative for Germany.
Identitarian Movement of Austria leader Martin Sellner said in Twitter DMs to BuzzFeed News that the group had no meaningful ties to the Christchurch shooter. The donation was made online, and he maintains the group can’t control who donates to it. A spokesperson for the French Generation Identity did not respond to a request for comment.
Generation Identity is perhaps best known for a 2017 stunt in which Austrian, French, and Italian members sailed the Mediterranean in an attempt to stop rescues of migrant ships crossing to Europe from Africa. The effort, branded “Defend Europe,” was promoted widely by right-wing YouTubers and got extensive press coverage, helping Generation Identity raise more than $100,000 online.
Rita Katz, CEO of the security firm Site Intelligence, told BuzzFeed News in an email that the fact that Generation Identity has been allowed to operate so freely in Europe is a sign that security officials have a double standard when it comes to policing white nationalists.
“You would not see anything close to this level of uninhibited activity if we were talking about ISIS,” Katz said. “White nationalists, Neo-Nazis, and other far-right extremists post countless threats, incitements and instructions for attacks, hate propaganda, and other dangerous content — often uninterrupted by platform administrators and overlooked by regulating agencies.”
Facebook, which this week said it would ban white nationalist and white supremacist content, actually began removing Generation Identity pages in Europe last spring, saying the group “promotes violence.” But it has remained active on other networks, and Sellner has nearly 100,000 subscribers on YouTube.
Statistics collected by the EU law enforcement agency Europol show EU states reported 33 attacks committed or attempted by people identified as “jihadis” in 2017, but only five among people classified as right-wing. The largest number of terrorist incidents, 137, reported that year were actually carried out by regional separatist groups — like Northern Irish groups in the UK or Basque separatists in France — and there were 24 incidents involving far-left groups.
But this could also be about how far-right violence is categorized, said a European Union official who asked not to be named so he could honestly discuss dynamics within the bloc. There may be a tendency to classify attacks motivated by racial or religious bias as hate crimes rather than terrorism, and the EU does not have uniform requirements for reporting or policing hate crimes.
For example, Sweden reported zero far-right terrorist attacks in 2017, even though two members of a neo-Nazi organization bombed a shelter for immigrants that year after training with Russian paramilitaries.
And while the official said he believes security officials throughout Europe take the threat of right-wing violence seriously, one area where he said needed improvement was online monitoring. Europol’s online terrorist monitoring unit is focused almost entirely on Islamist content, he said.
Europol spokesperson Claire Georges told BuzzFeed News, ”Given the events of recent years in Europe, it should not surprise you that additional attention has been given to the jihadist threat. This does not mean that other forms of terrorism and extremism are treated to a lesser extent, by any means.” However, a section on “The use of the internet by terrorist groups” in a 2018 Europol threat assessment is dedicated entirely to far-right terrorism.
Ryan Broderick contributed additional reporting.