When insurgents stormed the Capitol in Washington this month, right-wing extremists across the Atlantic cheered.
Jürgen Elsässer, editor-in-chief of Germany’s best-known far-right magazine, followed the riot live from his sofa. “We look at everything like it’s a football game,” he said.
Four months earlier, Elsässer had taken part in a march in Berlin where a crowd of far-right demonstrators attempted, but failed, to forcibly invade the seat of the German Parliament. The parallel caught his attention.
“The fact that they were able to enter the building gave us hope that there was a plan,” he commented. “It was clear that this was something of a much bigger dimension.”
And is. The followers of far-right racist movements around the world share more than one common cause. German extremists travel to the United States to participate in shooting tests. American neo-Nazis visit their colleagues in Europe. Activists from different countries are strengthening their ties in training camps ranging from Russia and Ukraine to South Africa.
Right-wing extremists have traded ideology and inspiration on the fringes of society and in the deepest corners of the Internet. Now, the events of January 6 on the United States Capitol have highlighted their violent potential.
In discussions on their online networks, many dismissed the Capitol invasion as a mess of amateurs.
Some echoed lies broadcast by channels linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory in the United States, claiming the riot was designed by the left to justify a crackdown on supporters of President Donald Trump. But many others saw the Capitol invasion as a lesson – something that showed them how to move forward and pursue their goal of toppling democratic governments in a more coordinated and concrete manner.
It is a threat that intelligence officials, especially in Germany, take very seriously, so much so that immediately after the violence in the United States, German authorities stepped up security around the seat of parliament in Berlin, as far-right protesters attempted to forcibly invade Aug. 29, many of them waving the same symbols and flags as the insurgents in Washington.
President Joe Biden has commissioned a comprehensive assessment of the danger posed by violent domestic extremism in the United States.
German officials have so far said that no full attack has been detected in Germany. But some fear that the consequences of what happened on January 6 have the potential to further radicalize Europe’s far right.
“The far right, coronavirus skeptics and neo-Nazis are restless,” commented Stephan Kramer, director of home intelligence in the state of Thuringia, eastern Germany.
There is a dangerous mixture of enthusiasm that insurgents in the United States have moved so far and frustration because it hasn’t actually sparked a civil war or a coup, Kramer said.
Online and face-to-face dating
It is difficult to know exactly how deep and lasting the links are between the American far right and its European counterpart. But officials view the network of diffuse international ties with growing concern and fear that the networks, which already felt strengthened in the Trump era, would be even more determined since Jan.6.
A recent report commissioned by the German Foreign Ministry describes “a new extremist, transnational, violent, apocalyptic and leaderless movement” that has emerged over the past ten years.
Extremists are inspired by the same conspiracy theories and narratives about the “white genocide” and the “great substitution” of European populations for immigrants, the report concludes. They travel the same spaces online and meet at far-right music festivals, MMA events, and far-right public events.
“The neo-Nazi scenarios are well linked,” said Kramer, the German intelligence officer. “We’re not just talking about ‘likes’ on Facebook. We are talking about neo-Nazi trips, meetings and celebrations between them.
The training camps concern the intelligence and police services; they fear that this type of activity will create the basis for more organized and deliberate violence.
Two white nationalists who spent time in an extremist Russian Imperial Movement paramilitary camp outside of St. Petersburg were later accused by Swedish prosecutors of planning bombings against asylum seekers in the country.
Last year, the US State Department called the Russian Imperial Movement a terrorist organization. It is the first white nationalist group to receive this classification.
In 2019, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that American white supremacists had left the country to train with foreign nationalist groups. A report the same year by the non-partisan think tank Soufan Center concluded that up to 17,000 people from other countries, many of them white nationalists, traveled to Ukraine to fight on both sides of the separatist conflict there. . Most were Russians, but there were several dozen Americans among them.
Sometimes right-wing extremists inspire each other to kill.
The hate manifestos of Anders Breivik, who slaughtered 77 people in Norway in 2011, and Dylann Roof, an American white supremacist who four years later killed nine black worshipers in North Carolina, influenced Brenton Harrison Tarrant, who in 2019 broadcast via live stream his massacre of more than 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Entitled “The Great Substitution,” Tarrant’s manifesto, in turn, inspired Patrick Crusius, who killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas, as well as a Norwegian sniper who was overpowered when he attempted to shoot people in a mosque in Oslo, Norway. .
Many right-wing extremists immediately interpreted what happened on January 6 as both a symbolic victory and a strategic defeat that should serve as a learning curve.
Elsässer, editor-in-chief of “Compact” magazine, which the German domestic intelligence agency calls extremist, described the Capitol invasion as “an honorable attempt” that failed due to insufficient planning.
“The invasion of a parliament by demonstrators as the start of a revolution can work,” he wrote the day after the invasion. “But a revolution can only be successful if it is organized. At the H moment, when you want to overthrow a regime, you need a plan and some kind of staff. “
Among those who felt encouraged by the mobilization observed on January 6, figure Martin Sellner, Austrian leader of the far-right European movement Geração Identidade, which advocates non-violence but popularizes ideas such as “the great replacement”.
After the Capitol invasion, Sellner wrote: “The anger, the pressure and the revolutionary spirit among the patriots is in principle a positive potential. Although having disappeared unnecessarily during the invasion of the Capitol, leaving behind only a few memes and viral videos, it would be possible to form an organized and planned strategy for a more effective resistance ”.
With his close ties to activists across Europe and the United States, Sellner, who said in an interview that Trump would be even more dynamic in opposition, embodies the reach of an increasingly globalized movement. He is married to Brittany Pettibone, an American right-wing YouTuber who once interviewed European extremists known as British nationalist Tommy Robinson.
Growing influence in Germany
Several members of the Proud Boys, who Trump, in a phrase that was to become famous, ordered “to back down and stand on hold” were among the insurgents who invaded Capitol Hill.
On October 19, the Proud Boys shared in one of their groups on Telegram that in recent months they have seen “a huge increase in the support we are receiving from Germany”.
“A high percentage of our videos are shared in Germany,” said a message from the Telegram group which was also translated into German. “We appreciate this support and we pray for your country. We stand in solidarity with the German nationalists who do not want to see migrants destroy their country.
And just as America exports conspiracy theories from QAnon to the other side of the Atlantic, disinformation and conspiracy theories from Europe are also coming to the United States.
Within days of the US election, QAnon supporters in Germany were spreading disinformation which they said proved the election was rigged from a CIA-run server bank located in Frankfurt – despite million votes were cast on paper and sent by mail.
The disinformation, which German researcher Josef Holnburger identified as coming from a German-language account, has been reproduced by at least one local branch of Alternative for Germany, a radical right-wing political party known by its German acronym, AfD.
It was also highlighted by US Congressman Louie Gohmert and Trump ally Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor. From them it went viral. According to Holnburger, this was the first time this had happened with a German QAnon conspiracy theory in the United States.
According to Miro Ditrich, a specialist in far-right networks, transnational links function more as an inspiration than as an organizational aid. “It’s not so much about forging a concrete plan as it is about creating violent potential,” he said.
But experts remain skeptical of the potential for more lasting transatlantic relations between far-right groups. For Anton Shekhovtsov, of the University of Vienna and a specialist on the European far right, almost all these attempts made since World War II have failed.
There is even a difference of opinion among supporters of the far right as to the value or viability of these alliances. For many, the idea of an international nationalist movement contains an inherent contradiction.
“There is a common climate and an exchange of ideas, memes and logos,” said Sellner, the Austrian far-right activist. “But the policy areas in Europe and the United States are very different.”
Rinaldo Nazzaro, founder of the white international nationalist group The Base, now lives in voluntary exile in St. Petersburg, Russia, but has said he has no interest in forming links with Russian nationalist groups.
“American nationalists have to do the heavy lifting on their own,” he said. “External support can only be complementary at best.”