In May’s presidential elections in Austria, Norbert Hofer, the candidate for the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPO), lost by less than one percentage point to his rival, Alexander van der Bellen.
But the FPO is not merely a ‘far-right’ political party. It is, more precisely, a neo-Nazi party which harbours an insidious fascist ideology inspired by Adolf Hitler.
If Hofer had won, he would have been the first neo-Nazi head of state in the European Union. While Europe breathed a collective sigh or relief at his loss, the narrowness of his rival’s victory reveals how close we are to a dangerous tipping point in party politics, not just in Austria, but across the continent.
The project was commissioned by the national hate crime charity, Tell Mama, as a four-part investigative series into the evolution of the far-right as a trans-Atlantic network.
The investigation explores the rise of the far-right as a trans-Atlantic network which, if current trends continue, is poised to win serious political victories across the Western world in a manner that could permanently deface the landscape of liberal democracy.
What is the true nature of the far-right parties that are rapidly growing in popularity?
What is their real relationship to Nazi ideology, given their often vocal public condemnations of anti-Semitism, and unabashed efforts to court the government of Israel?
And why are these parties growing in popularity in multiple far-flung nations simultaneously?
These questions and more are examined with a view to develop a big picture understanding of the phenomenon of the far-right’s resurgence. The investigation brings together a wide range of evidence indicating that the simultaneous consolidation of far-right parties and narratives across multiple Western democracies is not an unfortunate accident, nor simply the result of disillusionment with mainstream politics in the context of ongoing economic austerity and a corresponding breakdown of social cohesion.
While such factors are important, this investigation confirms that the ‘new’ far-right is not really as ‘new’ as might first be assumed, but continues to harbour and draw inspiration from a longstanding heritage of Nazi ideology, through a history of personal and institutional connections that until now have remained unrecognised.
Despite real divisions and even fundamental fractures, over the last decade the ‘new’ far-right increasingly operates as a tightly coupled network, enabling its disparate representatives to access greater resources, maximize their public reach, and collaborate on areas of agreement. As part of this process, this trans-Atlantic neo-Nazi network actively seeks to enter the corridors of political power by mainstreaming its core narrative, courting and infiltrating public institutions, and distancing its public image from negative associations with racism or fascism.
Far from being a haphazard effort, this investigation reveals that behind the resurgence of the far-right is a concerted and deliberate strategy to collectively accelerate their trajectory into government.
In doing so, neo-Nazi parties masquerading as simply ‘anti-immigration’ and ‘anti-EU’ have been able to exploit connections with legitimate right-wing groups and parties — from the Republican Party in the US, to the Conservative Party in Britain, to the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Germany — to gradually seed their toxic narratives within public discourse and advance their political credibility.
Although these parties instrumentalise opposition to anti-Semitism and support for Israel as a key route to garner public legitimacy, focusing their political ire on Muslims, Islam, immigrants and asylum seekers, the ideological roots unveiled by this investigation confirms that this is only tactical.
Anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred are, contrary to much conventional wisdom, fundamentally interrelated, precisely due the exclusionary character of the fascist narratives that underpin them. While anti-Muslim hatred is currently the operating animus of these movements, the moment this tactical position on Jews ceases to hold political value, the mask is likely to drop.
The anti-EU agenda of these neo-Nazi parties constitutes perhaps one of the greatest threats to international security since the Second World War. Whatever the faults and failures of the European Union — and there are many — this emerging trans-Atlantic neo-Nazi movement sees the collapse of the EU as essential to its fascist project of enhancing highly parochial conceptions of nationalist supremacy premised on excluding an array of ‘Others’ — Muslims, Jews, foreigners, the disabled and sexual ‘deviants’.
This is why so many of these neo-Nazi parties have come under the patronage of Vladimir Putin, who recognises in the potential resurgence of the Reich in Europe an opportunity to undermine the postwar US-led trans-Atlantic security architecture. Ironically, the very same pro-Putin neo-Nazi parties maintain alarming connections with mainstream Western political figures, such as Donald Trump and David Cameron.
Current debates over ‘Brexit’ and related issues concerning the EU such as immigration, the Euro, and so on, widely miss the mark because they fail to grasp what is at stake.
The US, the UK, and Europe collectively face the all too real possibility that multiple, tightly coupled neo-Nazi political parties could over the next decade reach the helm of governments. Informed public debate over the future of Europe remains as essential as ever — but the true nature of the far-right extremism that is growing in power across the West must be an integral part of this debate.