Austria: what a gun stash of suspected neo-Nazi says about far-right extremism in Europe
Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said of the raid: âCoherent 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.
In Austria, as elsewhere in Europe, the neo-Nazi scene includes virulent strains of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism.
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.
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.
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.
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 GÃ©nÃ©ration Identitaire in France and Neue Rechte (Nouvelle Droite) in Germany.
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.
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.
In both Germany and Austria, the most extreme factions speak of âX Dayâ – an apocalyptic fantasy where democratic institutions crumble in a wave of violence and a neo-Nazi state is born.
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. .
“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.
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.
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.