What an astonishing cache of weapons discovered in the home of a suspected neo-Nazi says about far-right extremism in Europe

Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said of the raid: “Constant action against right-wing extremism is not only part of the historical responsibility, but also a clear defense of our democratic coexistence in Austria.”

It was not the first action against alleged neo-Nazis in Austria this year. In July, police seized automatic weapons and hand grenades in coordinated raids against a motorcycle gang whose leader planned to establish a “respectable militia” that would “overthrow the system.”

Supporting Nazism is a crime in Austria. The most prominent neo-Nazi figure is Gottfried Kuessel, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2013 for spreading Nazism online. It was his second conviction.

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Bernhard Weidinger, who studies the far right at the Austrian Resistance Documentation Archive in Vienna, says the criminalization of Nazi ideology has ensured that it is neither particularly strong nor organized.

“But what we do have is a very high frequency of weapon finds,” he told CNN.

Neo-Nazi activity in Europe is frequently associated with motorcycle gangs, organized crime, and soccer fans. In Austria, a group called Immortal follows the Rapid Vienna club, sometimes displaying the Reich War flag at matches. In Italy, fan groups known as Ultras adopt fascist slogans and nicknames.

Austrian neo-Nazi activists frequently connect with similar groups in Germany, according to authorities, because they perceive themselves as part of a larger German Reich. Following the seizure of another arsenal of weapons in late 2020, Interior Minister Nehammer spoke of links among the five detainees and far-right cells in Germany, as well as connections to organized crime and drug trafficking.

In Austria, as in the rest of Europe, the neo-Nazi scene includes virulent strains of both anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism.

In January this year, an Austrian rapper named Mr. Bond was arrested and charged with “producing and spreading Nazi ideas and inciting hatred.” One of his neo-Nazi songs was used by a man while he lived broadcasting a deadly attack on a synagogue in Germany in 2019.
Some of the weapons that were seized from a home in Baden, Austria, in October 2021.
That attack came a year after a third (35%) of Austrians told CNN that Jews were at risk of racist violence in their country. Almost half (45%) said that anti-Semitism was a growing problem in their country. The findings were part of a ComRes / CNN poll explore anti-Semitism in seven European countries.

In Austria, 12% of people between the ages of 18 and 34 said they had never heard of the Holocaust. Austria also had the highest number of people in the survey, four out of 10 adults, who said they knew “only a little” about the Holocaust. And a third of Austrians (32%) said that Jews have too much influence in business and finance around the world, echoing an old anti-Semitic trope.

The findings come from a ComRes poll for CNN of 7,092 adults online in seven countries between September 7-20, 2018. Data was weighted to be representative of each country based on age, gender, and region.

Austria is dealing with the legacy of anti-Semitism in other ways. For almost a decade, a statue in Vienna has been at the center of that turbulent history. It is from Karl Lueger, mayor of the city at the beginning of the 20th century. Lueger exploited anti-Jewish sentiment in his candidacy for office, emphasizing Christian and Germanic supremacy, and Adolf Hitler greatly admired him.

The four-meter-high bronze statue has been defaced but still stands in a prominent position in a Vienna square. City officials decided this month that it would remain in place but in context.

One group that took up the cause of protecting the statue was the Identitäre Bewegung Österreich (IBO) – the Austrian branch of a European movement that describes itself as identity. Their leader, Martin Sellner, visited the statue after it was smeared with the word “Shame.”

Sellner has become a benchmark in the identity movement that opposes mass migration and wants Europe to have a homogeneous white and Christian identity. They see that this identity is being sold by political elites committed to multiculturalism.

Austrian authorities prosecuted him and 16 others using anti-mafia laws in 2018, charging them with hate speech and criminal association. After a high-profile trial, they were acquitted.

More damaging to identitarians in Austria was the revelation that they had received a donation of the man who carried out the attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019, and that Sellner had contacted him.
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Sellner said in a video statement that he had nothing to do with the attack and said the money would be given to charity. Still, Bernhard Weidinger told CNN, the connection seriously hurt the IBO in the eyes of much of the public.

Analysts make a distinction between traditional neo-Nazis, whose activities are based on violence and crime, and emerging identity groups, which are political. In addition to Sellner and the IBO in Austria, they include Génération Identitaire in France and Neue Rechte (New Right) in Germany.

However, both identity ideologues and neo-Nazis have taken advantage of the conspiracy theories that flourished with the QAnon movement and protests against vaccination policies during the Covid-19 pandemic. Sellner has said that such movements should be exploited for the only problem that really matters: resisting mass migration.

In Vienna, Gottfried Kuessel, now out of prison, and others previously associated with neo-Nazism joined the marches against the lockdown.

Weidinger says it’s remarkable that they also seem to have drawn a younger generation, people in their twenties, to join them. They have also started organizing their own protest for the first time in many years, he told CNN.

Almost 40,000 people attended Berlin rally in August last year to protest against the confinement but also against the “deep state”. The event was notable for the amount of far-right groups that rallied (like the German Reichsburger movement) and for his adulation of then-US President Donald Trump.

In a video message, Sellner told protesters that they could mobilize a “broad patriotic mass” to fight the “grand strategy” of global elites. Members of the Reichsburger group tried to make their way into parliament, a symbolic act meant to remember the burning of the Reichstag by the Nazis.

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In both Germany and Austria, the most extreme factions speak of “Day X”, an apocalyptic fantasy in which democratic institutions will collapse in a tide of violence and a neo-Nazi state will be born.

It was a persistent topic on the Nordkreuz Telegram channel, a German group of far-right extremists which included policemen and ex-soldiers. Another such group was Chemnitz Revolution, who planned an attack designed to accelerate “a turning point in history.”

The ‘mainstream’ law

There is some ideological overlap between identity groups and established right-wing parties in Europe, such as the Freedom Party in Austria, the National Rally (formerly the National Front) in France, and Matteo Salvini’s Northern League in Italy.

In July, 16 far-right parties signed a declaration on the future of Europe, warning that “European nations must be based on tradition, respect for the culture and history of European states, respect for the Judeo-Christian heritage of Europe and the common values ​​that unite our nations.”
Lena Floerl (right), 25, participates in a

“At a time when Europe is facing a severe demographic crisis with low birth rates and an aging population, pro-family policymaking should be an answer rather than mass immigration,” they said.

Sellner and other identitarians have used almost exactly the same language, “Great Replacement” warning in which white Europeans are inundated by a migratory tide.

Bernhard Weidinger says that identitarians offer what he describes as “critical solidarity” to the Freedom Party (FPO), which dominates the right in Austria. He says the Freedom Party is now in opposition in Austria after a stint in a governing coalition that has leaned more to the right, depriving the IBO of its own territory.

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In fact, some FPO members have had an ambivalent relationship with the neo-Nazi fringe in Austria. In 2018, a senior official, Udo Landbauer, resigned his charge due to a prior association with a group accused of being neo-Nazis. Landbauer denied knowing about anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi content in a book published by the group.

The European far right is a fractured environment, where political activism and calls for violence overlap, and groups grow and transform rapidly. Much of it is online or clandestinely, but has been given a new boost, both in Europe and the United States, by closures, vaccination mandates and an epidemic of conspiracy theories.

Where it coalesces, at least in spirit, is on issues of cultural identity and migration, which groups like the Austrian IBO see as an imminent existential threat.

In June this year, the Austrian parliament passed a law banning the symbols of the IBO and another group, “The Austrians,” essentially combining them with terrorist groups.

the IBO replied on their website that: “Austria, therefore, is partially and deliberately abolishing democracy for two patriotic groups. The autocratic censors will not get rid of us.”


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