Austria: what a gun stash of suspected neo-Nazi says about far-right extremism in Europe

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

It was not the first action against suspected 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 create a “respectable militia” that “would overthrow the system”.

Support for Nazism is a criminal offense 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.

Bernhard Weidinger, who studies the far right at the Austrian Resistance Documentation Archives in Vienna, says the criminalization of Nazi ideology made it neither particularly strong nor organized.

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

Neo-Nazi activity in Europe is frequently associated with motorcycle gangs, organized crime and football fans. In Austria, a group called Immortal follows club Rapid Vienna, occasionally displaying the Reich’s War Flag during matches. In Italy, fan groups known as Ultras are adopting fascist slogans and nicknames.

Austrian neo-Nazi activists frequently connect with similar groups in Germany, officials say, because they see themselves as part of a larger German Reich. After the seizure of another arsenal of weapons at the end of 2020, the Minister of the Interior Nehammer talked about links between the five arrested individuals and extreme right-wing cells in Germany, as well as links to organized crime and drug trafficking.

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

In January of this year, an Austrian rapper by the name of Mr. Bond was arrested and charged with “producing and disseminating Nazi ideas and inciting hatred”. One of his neo-Nazi songs was used by a man while he was live streaming a deadly attack on a synagogue in Germany in 2019.
Some of the guns that were seized from a house in Baden, Austria in October 2021.
The 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 anti-Semitism was a growing problem in their country. The discoveries were as part of a ComRes / CNN survey exploring anti-Semitism in seven European countries.

In Austria, 12% of people aged 18 to 34 said they had never heard of the Holocaust. Austria also had the most people in the survey – four in 10 adults – who said they knew “a little” about the Holocaust. And a third of Austrians (32%) said Jews have too much influence over business and finance around the world, echoing a long-standing anti-Semitic trope.

The conclusions came from a ComRes survey for CNN of 7,092 adults online in seven countries between September 7 and 20, 2018. Data has been weighted to be representative of each country by age, gender and region.

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

The bronze statue, four meters high, has been degraded but still occupies a prominent place in a square in Vienna. City officials decided this month that it will remain in place but be put 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. His boss, Martin sellner, visited the statue after being smeared with the word “Shame”.

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

Austrian authorities prosecuted him and 16 others under 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 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 been in contact with him.
How the
Seller said in a video statement that he had nothing to do with the attack and said the money would be donated to charity. Even so, Bernhard Weidinger told CNN, the connection seriously damaged the IBO in the eyes of much of the public.

Analysts distinguish 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 (Nouvelle Droite) in Germany.

However, both Identitarians and neo-Nazi ideologues took advantage of the conspiracy theories that flourished with the QAnon movement and protests against vaccination policies during the Covid-19 pandemic. Sellner said such moves should be exploited for the one problem that really matters: resisting mass migration.

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

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

Almost 40,000 people attended a berlin rally in August of last year to protest against the containment but also against the “deep state”. The event was marked by the number of extreme right-wing groups that have joined (like the German Reichsburger movement) and for its adulation of then-US President Donald Trump.

In a video message, Sellner told the protesters they could mobilize a “broad and patriotic mass” to fight the “grand strategy” of the global elites. Members of the Reichsburger group tried to force parliament, a symbolic act intended to recall the burning of the Reichstag by the Nazis.

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In both Germany and Austria, the most extreme factions speak of “X Day” – an apocalyptic fantasy where democratic institutions crumble in a wave of violence and a neo-Nazi state is born.

It was a recurring theme on Nordkreuz’s Telegram channel, a German group of far-right extremists which included police and former soldiers. Another such group was Chemnitz Revolution, which foresaw an attack intended to accelerate “a turning point in history”.

Mainstream law

There is a certain 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 should be founded on tradition, respect for the culture and history of European states, respect for the Judeo-Christian heritage of Europe and the common values ​​which unite our nations” .
Lena Floerl (R), 25, takes part in a 'shame vigil' on October 6, 2020, to prevent city authorities from removing graffiti from the statue of Karl Lueger, a former mayor of Vienna famous for his views anti-Semitic.

“At a time when Europe faces a severe demographic crisis with low birth rates and an aging population, developing family-friendly policies should be a response rather than mass immigration,” said they stated.

Sellner and other Identitarians used almost exactly the same language, “Grand Replacement” warning in which white Europeans are overwhelmed by a migratory tide.

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

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Indeed, some FPO members had an ambivalent relationship with the neo-Nazi fringe in Austria. In 2018, a senior official, Udo Landbauer, resigned his post because of a previous association with a group accused of being neo-Nazis. Landbauer denied being aware of the 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 where groups grow and transform rapidly. Much of it is online or underground, but it has been given new impetus – both in Europe and America – through lockdowns, vaccination warrants and an epidemic of conspiracy theories.

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

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

The IBO responded on its website that: “Austria thus partially and deliberately abolishes democracy for two patriotic groups. Autocratic censors will not get rid of us.

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