Members of Generation Identity relax at their headquarters in Halle, Germany
Katrin Bennhold, New York Times, December 27, 2018
Christmas carols were playing and the scent of ginger hung in the crisp December air. Students sold organic plum compote and served mulled wine in biodegradable cups made from sugar cane. But then there were the postcards.
“Islamization? Not with us,” read one. “Defend yourself! This is your country,” urged another. “Fortress Europe,” said a third. “Shut the borders.”
This was no ordinary Christmas market, but one hosted by Generation Identity, a far-right youth movement under observation by several European intelligence services. Part hippie, part hipster, the activists of Generation Identity are one result of a broad image makeover the far right has tried to give itself in recent years.
Better dressed, better educated and less angry than the skinheads of old — at least in public — they see themselves on the front line of a counterrevolution fought by a loose but increasingly well-networked web of actors in politics, publishing, civil society and business who call themselves the “new right.”
Their aim: to bring down liberalism and rid Europe of non-European immigrants.
The “new right” seeks to distance itself from the “old right,” which in Germany means neo-Nazis. Many analysts and officials consider this little more than clever rebranding. But they worry that it could allow groups like Generation Identity to act as a conduit between conservatism and extremism and draw young people into their orbit.
The number of committed Generation Identity followers in Germany is relatively small, estimated by Germany’s domestic intelligence service at 400 to 500, and there are thought to be a few thousand Europewide. But officials say the number of sympathizers is far larger.
Despite a ban from Facebook, which deprived the group of an important campaigning and fund-raising platform, its members continue to be active on YouTube, Twitter and the Russian platform VK, where slick branding amplifies their message.
Several Generation Identity activists have a past in avowed neo-Nazi circles. But their methods are straight out of a leftist playbook.
Bought by the secretive Titurel foundation, which was set up by a wealthy Bavarian donor, Generation Identity’s headquarters also houses a bar, a library and communal living space.CreditLena Mucha for The New York Times
They study Gandhi and Gene Sharp, a guru of nonviolent resistance. They experiment with communal living and organic gardening. And like leftist student rebels in the 1970s or militant environmentalists in the 1990s, they stage attention-seeking flash-mob protests.
Last year, they chartered a boat in the Mediterranean to stop refugees from coming to Europe. This year they hired helicopters and temporarily closed an Alpine pass in France. In Vienna, they once covered a statue of Empress Maria Theresa with a burqa. In Berlin, they climbed onto the Brandenburg Gate to unfurl a banner that read “Secure borders — secure future.”
“We are a kind of Greenpeace for Germany,” said Philip Thaler, a 25-year-old political-science student and a co-founder of the Halle chapter of Generation Identity.
Liberals are furious when far-right extremists are normalized. But it is one of the wrinkles of the new right that their lifestyles are familiar and modern — and so are some of their ideas: They bemoan rising inequality and a consumerism bereft of moral meaning.
When it comes to migration, they have purged their language of crude racism. Instead of “Germany to the Germans” or “foreigners out,” they call for “re-migration” — meaning sending immigrants who do not assimilate back to their ancestral homes.
They call themselves “ethnopluralists,” arguing that all cultures would thrive by remaining broadly homogeneous, and accuse liberal politicians of engineering a “great replacement” to supplant white Europeans with Muslims.
In this worldview, it is liberals who are undermining Western democracy by overstretching the welfare state and allowing fundamentalist Islam into the country.
“The utopia of multiculturalism was an experiment, but it has failed,” says Martin Sellner, the charismatic 29-year-old Austrian leader of the movement whose fiancée is an American YouTuber with links to the alt-right. “Like communism, cosmopolitanism has failed.”
The intellectual veneer on what is ultimately an argument against pluralism is typical of the new right, Mr. Kramer said. “When you break it down, it’s nothing but the racial theories that existed under the Nazis,” he said.
But inside, the ecosystem of the “new right” comes into focus: Bought by the secretive Titurel foundation, which was set up by a wealthy Bavarian donor, the building houses a bar, a library and communal living space for the activists of Generation Identity.
Up the stairs is a crowdfunding organization called “One Percent” and a far-right clothing label. There is also an office of the Institute for State Politics, a far-right think tank co-founded by the prominent publisher Götz Kubitschek, the new right’s intellectual godfather in Germany.
Officially, the AfD has no links to Generation Identity. But in Halle one recent afternoon, the links were openly touted.
“We have street activists, we have a think tank, we have a publishing house and we have a political party in Parliament,” said Simon Kaupert of One Percent.
Franziska Schreiber, who left the AfD last year and has written a book about the party, estimates that “at least half the members of the AfD’s own youth wing are followers of Generation Identity.”
Thomas Haldenwang, the new domestic intelligence chief, speaks of a “new dynamic on the right” and announced recently that he would increase the number of agents dealing with the far right by 50 percent. In January, his office is expected to decide whether the AfD will come under general observation.
“We’ve known for a long time that numerous followers of Generation Identity work for the AfD in different parliaments,” said Konstantin von Notz, a lawmaker of the Greens party and deputy leader of the parliamentary committee that oversees the intelligence services. “A deliberate infiltration of democratic institutions is taking place.”
Despite having cleaned up their language, Mr. von Notz said, “They are deeply anti-Democratic, often very anti-Semitic and openly racist.”
At the recent Christmas market, activists disputed this. But they openly expressed their admiration for Hungary’s semi-authoritarian prime minister, Victor Orban, and Italy’s nationalist vice premier Matteo Salvini.
“We don’t want to become minorities in our own countries,” said Alex Malenki, a 26-year-old business student from Saxony who posts video blogs on YouTube.
That some of their views can now be heard in Parliaments and on the street gives them a new quality. “The question is: Can we still stop it?” Mr. Kramer said. “That’s a question that concerns our liberal democracy.”