How Sweden Became “The Most Alt-Right” Country In Europe
Alt-right activist Richard Spencer is building a global media company with partners from Sweden, a country with an alt-right of its own that’s helped transform national politics.
STOCKHOLM — The white nationalist Richard Spencer is partnering with two Swedish outfits to create a company they hope will become a media giant and keep race at the center of the new right wing.
It is envisioned, one co-creator said, as a “more ideological Breitbart.” Called the AltRight Corporation, it links Spencer with Arktos Media, a publishing house begun in Sweden to print English-language editions of esoteric nationalist books from many countries. The other Swedish partner is Red Ice, a video and podcast platform featuring white nationalists from around the globe.
It was natural for Spencer to turn to Swedes as partners in the new enterprise, given the country’s history as an exporter of white nationalist ideas. But forging formal bonds between nationalists across the Atlantic makes even more sense today, when the politics of Northern Europe is heavily driving the politics of immigration and Islam in the United States.
Sweden has been a key center of white nationalism for decades. In the 1990s, it was a world capital of “white power” heavy metal bands; today, it teems with websites and podcasts promoting a new language of white identity. Nationalists have built this network in a country that immigration opponents worldwide have been closely watching with the belief that it will be the first Western nation to collapse beneath the weight of Muslim immigration.
“It's almost like Sweden is the most alt-right.”
With a population of just under 10 million, Sweden accepted around 240,000 asylum-seekers in 2014 and 2015, the largest number per capita of any nation in Europe. Sweden also has one of the fastest-growing nationalist parties, the Sweden Democrats, which grew out of skinhead and neo-Nazi circles in the 1990s and is now polling as Sweden’s second-largest party.
Spencer would not discuss details about the AltRight Corporation’s funding, but told BuzzFeed News he was devoting all of the resources that once fed his National Policy Institute to the project, totaling “six figures.” The National Policy Institute’s longtime backer William Regnery II — a member of the family behind conservative company Regnery Publishing — said in an email to BuzzFeed News that he had made the largest contribution to its startup capital.
For Spencer, this is partly a play to reclaim his place in the nationalist vanguard that helped elect Donald Trump but has since kicked him to the curb. Spencer coined the term “alt-right,” but he has always been small-time compared to outlets like Breitbart and Infowars. He lost what little cachet he had among more mainstream fellow travelers when The Atlantic captured video of him leading a Nazi-esque “Hail Trump” salute in November. By the time an AltRight Corporation board member formally unveiled its creation at a February conference in Stockholm, many Americans thought of Spencer as the racist who got punched on camera during Trump’s inauguration.
Spencer, who now wears what he calls “Clark Kent glasses” to avoid being recognized on the street and punched again, told BuzzFeed News that the immediate goal of the new company was to “displace the conservative movement” in favor of his brand of nationalism — which aims to create a white “ethno state.” Though it would look like a news site, he said, the new Altright.com would “create a consciousness that something like an ethno state would be possible when the contingencies of history allow.”
And why Sweden? In all of Europe, Spencer said, “It's almost like Sweden is the most alt-right.”
Sweden’s leaders and major news outlets were caught completely off guard when Trump said at a February rally, “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. … They took in large numbers [of immigrants]. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.”
There had been no terrorist attack the night before, Trump clarified on Twitter the next day. He was instead referring to a segment on Fox News with an American discussing his film claiming Swedish police were covering up a wave of immigrant crime.
Swedish politicians and newspapers scrambled to disprove Trump’s assertion, but nationalist outlets were more than ready for a moment like this. Sweden had become a well-established punching bag for the American right, who view it as the pinnacle of progressive smugness and who delight in mocking trends like transgender-friendly restrooms and gender-neutral pronouns. When Sweden’s leaders welcomed refugees in 2014 and 2015, it offered the perfect laboratory for the American right to prove that progressive idealism would inevitably cause disaster at the hands of Muslim immigrants.
“There is a sort of sick interest there, but there is also, I believe, an unconscious desire among many in the Alt-Right for them to be made an example of,” said Andrew Anglin, of the unapologetically racist website the Daily Stormer, who had been describing this refugee policy as genocide against Swedes as far back as 2013. “Sweden is set to be the first white country to commit suicide through immigration. ... The Islamic revolutions in Europe are going to be very painful, and they are going to be bloody, and I think that after one has taken place, the populations in the rest of Europe and in the diaspora will be ready for reevaluating what we are doing to our countries and why we are doing it.”
Most anti-immigrant conservatives would repudiate Anglin’s brand of trolling racism, but even they often single out Sweden as a warning to the West.
Breitbart has produced hundreds of stories about Sweden in the past several years, with headlines like “Sweden ‘Facing Collapse’ Thanks to Migrant Influx, Foreign Minister Warns” and “Europe’s Rape Epidemic: Western Women Will Be Sacrificed at the Altar of Mass Migration.” Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton and then-representative Mike Pompeo (who is now CIA director) published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal after a visit to Scandinavia in 2016, writing that Sweden’s “radical policy occurred with little debate because political correctness pervades Sweden” and that “Sweden’s failures have been repeated in Germany, France, Austria and elsewhere.”
Breitbart has produced hundreds of stories about Sweden in the past several years.
Some in Sweden shared their views and felt their opinions were deliberately censored by the major news outlets. So, like the American alt-right, they started building communities online. The Reddit-like platform Flashback had forums on immigration as early as 2007 with threads to highlight immigrant crimes and to denounce mainstream journalists as “racists who hate Swedes.” A recent study found that half of Swedes get their news from what are known as "alternative" sites, and 1 in 5 say they don’t trust the traditional media at all. (That’s about the same level of distrust as the Pew Research Center found in the US last July.)
The problem for those who had been certain Sweden would implode is that neither law enforcement nor news outlets ever reported a crisis. Swedish officials and mainstream newspapers say that’s because there isn’t data showing that immigration had caused a major spike in crime. Immigration opponents say there is a cover-up — they claim trends in the same statistics actually show a spike in crime. And they see the fact that the police don’t report the national origin of criminal suspects as evidence that officials are intentionally hiding the problem.
This turned the debate into a fight of anecdotal reporting. Mainstream newspapers didn’t pay a lot of attention to isolated crimes — whether car burnings or sexual assaults — because they don’t see them as part of a bigger news story. News outlets also don’t routinely report a suspect’s ethnicity or national origin, in keeping with ethics guidelines that say not to include such information when it is "irrelevant." So alternative sites started writing about them one by one, feeding the idea that the mainstream media has been covering up the truth.
One of the biggest of these alternative outlets is called Avpixlat — which means “unpixelated” — a name that takes a dig at what immigration opponents say is a key tactic in covering up immigrant crimes: News outlets generally pixelate the images of alleged criminals, a practice intended to avoid libeling someone who might turn out to be innocent. Critics say they’re trying to hide skin color, which might reveal a suspect's ethnic background.
“The media establishment in Sweden is totally liberal-left,” said Avpixlat publisher Mats Dagerlind during a March interview in his apartment overlooking downtown Stockholm. His shoulder-length blonde hair and earrings give him the look of an aging rocker — he plays bass and has a home recording studio — and he wears a Hammer of Thor around his neck, a symbol used by revivalists of ancient Nordic religion and an emblem sometimes used by white supremacists.
“We accuse establishment media for spreading fake news and they throw the accusation back at us,” Dagerlind said.
Avpixlat has published some unquestionably fake news, most recently when it ran a photograph of someone it claimed was the Uzbek man who crashed a truck into a crowd in central Stockholm in an April 7 terrorist attack that killed five people; the photo was of someone else entirely. It also recently published a column outlining a widespread anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews conspired to promote multiculturalism in the 1960s so that Sweden would no longer be Swedish.
Dagerlind said he felt Trump’s comments about Sweden and the international scrutiny that followed had helped them get the upper hand in the fight over whose news is fake. He felt they’d been painted as peddlers of a “big conspiracy theory in Sweden that the media isn’t reporting fairly,” but now that the debate has spilled over to the English-language media — whether it’s major TV outlets or Breitbart — it's impossible for them to be dismissed.
But Sweden’s leaders — and major media outlets — think this assertion is ridiculous.
“They're painting a picture of, 'No one is listening to us, our agenda is not being referred to,' and so on — it's their way of treating themselves as victims in the debate,” Sweden’s immigration minister, Morgan Johansson, told BuzzFeed News. “Well, that's their narrative ... [but] no other issue has been more covered in the past years.”
The leaders of the new right-wing media in the US and UK have been sending help to bolster like-minded Swedes. In the hours after Trump’s rally in February, Paul Joseph Watson, a popular British anti-Muslim YouTube personality and editor with the US site Infowars, offered to pay for any “journalist claiming Sweden is safe” to visit the country’s “crime ridden migrant suburbs.” Former Vice reporter Tim Pool took Watson’s money and used it to jump-start a crowdfunding campaign he’d launched for a project called “Investigating Swedish Crime Wave.”
Right-wing sites from Spencer’s brand-new Altright.com to Breitbart closely watched Pool’s daily dispatches, which at first showed Sweden’s immigrant suburbs to be pretty calm. Pool finally gave them a video to cheer about when the police stopped him from recording and escorted him from a Stockholm suburb — off camera, Pool said, men were beginning to put on masks and the police warned the situation could turn violent.
Pool was being guided that day by Chang Frick of an alternative site called Nyheter Idag. Pool did not disclose that Frick had once been elected to a local office as a member of the nationalist Sweden Democrat party, or that Frick was asked to start Nyheter Idag by a senior Sweden Democrat member of Parliament named Kent Ekeroth. (Pool told BuzzFeed News these were facts he didn't know.)
The alternative media infrastructure in Sweden today is as big and fractious as the new right-wing media is in the US. It ranges from Nyheter Idag, which is less reflexively anti-immigrant and does real reporting on things like car burnings in Stockholm’s immigrant suburbs, to the more ideological and sensational Avpixlat. (The two sites often feud even though the MP Kent Ekeroth is directly involved in managing Avpixlat’s finances.)
The largest of these sites today is called Fria Tider (Free Times) — which was created by a faction that broke from the Sweden Democrats after the party dropped its call for non-European immigrants to be removed from Sweden.
The diverse alternative-media landscape has created an ecosystem where the most extreme ideas can flourish and break into the mainstream.
Take the case of Ingrid Carlqvist, whom Fox Business presented as a “Swedish columnist” in a segment on Feb. 21 after Trump’s Sweden remark. She once worked for mainstream papers, then moved on to “counter-jihadist” projects and collaborated with an editor of a Sweden Democrat–funded magazine.
Carlqvist told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview from her home in southern Sweden that she is also compiling evidence that “Jewish leaders” were on the front lines of “changing Sweden from homogenous to multicultural society.” She also recently questioned the Holocaust on Twitter and was a guest on a podcast produced by a self-proclaimed Nazi organization.
“We have to get as many Muslims as possible to want to move from Sweden,” she said in that broadcast. “After that, all politicians, journalists, organizations, and groups who contributed to making this possible will be put on trial ... for treason.”
She also is also producing a “Norse News” video series with Red Ice creator Henrik Palmgren, who serves as the AltRight Corporation’s media director.
It’s not hard for Swedish alternative media figures to get their message into the international conversation, Palmgren told BuzzFeed News.
“There are simply so many people on the international stage, America included, that are interested in what is happening in Sweden and why…you realize that even talking about the subject is going to give you an amount of listener and viewership that maybe another country wouldn’t do,” Palmgren said via Skype from his studio near Gothenburg, sporting a side-shave haircut like Spencer’s and a Hammer of Thor necklace like Dagerlind’s.
The alternative media is fighting an “information war” against their government in the international press, he said.
“It’s part of the strategic battle, if you will — the war of ideas,” Palmgren said. “We’re a media outlet that provides a service, which is to give people an idea of what many of these, you know, ‘horrible evil people’ actually think and what they say.”
One of the original “horrible evil people” of the Swedish internet, Daniel Friberg, is co-editing the new AltRight Corporation site with Richard Spencer.
In a career spanning two decades, Friberg helped reshape the landscape of Swedish nationalism from a fringe world of skinheads to a multimedia movement that has transformed national politics.
“Media organizations are the new structure of the [nationalist] scene — it’s not political parties, and it’s not record labels, and it’s not music magazines,” said University of Colorado professor Benjamin Teitelbaum, who charts the modern history of Swedish nationalism in his book Lions of the North. “You can trace the history of the radical right of the North just by looking at what [Friberg’s] done.”
Today, Friberg runs Arktos Media. He began his publishing career when he was just 18 years old, putting out a magazine under a pseudonym borrowed from a former leader of Sweden’s fascist party. But in the mid-2000s he embraced a new vision of white nationalism and discovered the power of the internet to get around established media.
“I’m kind of the Bill Gates of the Swedish alt-right,” he quipped during a phone interview from Budapest, where he now lives.
Swedish nationalist circles of the 1990s were mostly a fringe world of street gangs that openly displayed their Nazi and fascist sympathies. Friberg founded his first company, the Nordic Press, in 2001 to publish books, but its lifeblood was selling the “white power” records popular among skinheads, who saw themselves as the “foot soldiers” for the Sweden Democrats, a former leader told BuzzFeed News.
But Friberg came to believe that skinhead fashion was, in his words, “retarded” and that neo-Nazis’ “obsession with the second world war and the Third Reich” was “totally counterproductive.” He wanted a more intellectual kind of nationalism, one framed in a way that could gain traction in modern Sweden. Before nationalists could take political power, he believed, they first had to win the battle of ideas. And he arrived at this view just as the world was realizing the power social media had to upend public debate.
Friberg’s political transformation came in 2004, when he discovered the same school of thought that shaped Spencer’s worldview in the US. Called “identitarianism,” its founders said they rejected racism and recast nationalism using the logic of multiculturalism turned inside out. They argued that Europeans — like everyone else — have a “right to difference” that is threatened by waves of immigrants.
“I don’t believe in white supremacy — I believe in ethnopluralism,” Friberg said. “It means that every people and every ethnic group in the world has a right to self-determination and autonomy without anyone being superior or trying to force their will upon them.”
Identitarians also put winning at what they called “metapolitics” — changing the debate — ahead of politics. Friberg made that his mission in the mid-2000s by launching several websites in quick succession. There was a social network called Nordisk, dedicated to “Nordic Culture,” that grew to 25,000 members before being supplanted by Facebook groups. There was a Wikipedia-style platform called Metapedia — with entries like one on the German Nazi party that omits mention of the Holocaust — that’s now published in 18 languages. He also started an “online think tank” called Motpol — a name translating to “antithesis” — which was read by at least some Sweden Democrat leaders, who started talking about “metapolitics” themselves.
Mattias Karlsson, who now heads the Sweden Democrats in Parliament, has said that he liked early Motpol slogans, like “100% identity — 0% hate,” and shared the site's articles with the party’s top official. Karlsson is one of the leaders who helped the Sweden Democrats win its first seats in Parliament in 2010 after the party rebranded itself as a “social conservative party with a nationalist foundation.” This vision leaves open the possibility that people of immigrant backgrounds can fully assimilate if their numbers are kept down. This is far more flexible than Friberg’s “ethnopluralism,” and Karlsson called Friberg a “fascist” during a spat in 2015. But Friberg helped teach the movement how to hijack the language of diversity to rebrand nationalism.
The Sweden Democrats are now number two in the polls. Their meteoric rise owes much to real-world events; even the most left-wing parties agreed the borders needed to be closed and new immigration restrictions adopted in 2016. A poll released after the Stockholm truck attack in April showed the party would get 19% of the vote if the election were held today, giving them a shot at being part of the next government.
But the party learned important lessons from Friberg. It saw that its rise was helped by the alternative media’s assault on the mainstream press, and even got into the game itself by funding a number of outlets of their own.
Friberg’s impact has been such that even the Nazis, who saw Friberg as a traitor for adopting the watered-down nationalism of identitarianism, have learned to speak his language. Magnus Söderman — who led Sweden’s largest Nazi organization, the Nordic Resistance Movement, in the mid-2000s — told BuzzFeed News that he had “a real concern: [The identitarians were] going to take all these young people and put themselves in front of their computers — how will they be able to stand up for themselves?”
But now Söderman, who left the Nordic Resistance Movement in 2012, has become a creature of the internet with a website and podcast of his own. The Nordic Resistance Movement itself has not entirely abandoned old-school street tactics — several of its members were arrested in connection with bombing a refugee center in January — but it is now often known best by the name of its website, Nordfront.
“I’m kind of the Bill Gates of the Swedish alt-right.”
In December, Palmgren invited two of Nordfront's leaders onto a Red Ice podcast to promote their first podcast in English, which they say is intended to “normalize National Socialism.”
“The globalists have done everything they can over the decades now to keep people away from ... this ideology,” Palmgren said during that broadcast. But Palmgren and his guests were hopeful that new media outlets worldwide were finally giving them the chance to be heard. “You can’t just politically change things in one country and then turn around. … They need to be shown the truth.”
Just before Spencer was punched on Inauguration Day, he’d been asked, “Are you like the hipster version of the neo-Nazi movement?” Spencer wants the alt-right to be seen as something entirely new; he said, “Neo-Nazis don’t love me; they kind of hate me, actually.” Friberg has the same concerns and said he was uncomfortable with Palmgren’s broadcasts with the Nordic Resistance Movement.
But, Friberg said, “The alternative right is kind of a big-tent movement.” His plan with Spencer and Palmgren for the AltRight Corporation is to provide a hub that can bring white nationalists together worldwide.
“We wanted to create something global,” Friberg said. “Who better to do that than us?” ●
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