• Martin Sellner, Austrian leader of the Identitarian movement. (SBS Dateline)
In part 2 of our far right special in Europe, Dateline goes to Vienna to meet a secretive group of young hipsters, whose headline-grabbing stunts are appealing to a new breed of far right nationalists.
Airdate: 
Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - 21:30
Channel: 
SBS

During the day Martin Sellner studies law and philosophy.

His nights are often spent at a secret location in the heart of Vienna – a two story terrace that looks abandoned. It’s the headquarters of a growing youth movement across Europe; the Identitarians.

“We see ourselves as the voice for a forgotten generation,” Martin tells Dateline reporter Evan Williams. “We are a pan-European youth movement from France, Germany, Austria, Italy and we want to create political change in this country.”

Founded in France, the movement has become popular among young people who feel swamped by multiculturalism and feel they have no place to vent.

Martin is the group’s Austrian leader, and believes their work is critical to preserving Europe’s cultural identity.

“We are at the brink of being replaced by immigrants, who neither assimilate nor integrate into society,” he says.

“We are afraid that this process of Islamisation will…utterly destroy our identity and our democracy in the future.”

While the group is still relatively small – Martin says there are around 400 core activists and 10,000 supporters or donors in Austria – its public stunts are gaining it a much wider audience on social media.

“If you have a good video that’s going viral, it’s almost as efficient as an action,” he says.

In one of the most widely publicised Identitarian stunts, the group gathered in the middle of the night and, using a cherry picker, covered a statue of Austrian monarch Empress Maria Theresa with a burqa.

“The message was if you don't stop what's happening now, that will be the future of Vienna,” he says. “All our heritage, what she was fighting for, what she built up, it’s destroyed now by our politicians.”

For Martin, his group’s message is critical to the future of Europe. For others, it’s simply discriminatory hate-mongering.

Andreas Peham, an expert on far right groups like the Identitarians, says they represent the same values as other neo-Nazi groups, despite their denial of this comparison.

“Martin Sellner is an almost classic example of the developmental pathway people can take on the extreme right,” he says.

Andreas believes Martin and others in the Identitarian movement had their core political values shaped by those in neo-Nazi groups. He refers to photos and other documentary evidence, including a photograph from 2008 where Martin is pictured with a prominent face of the far right, Gottfried Küssel, who is currently imprisoned on charges of Nazi revivalism. In Austria, Nazism is illegal under constitutional changes made after the Second World War – which were enacted to begin the process of de-Nazification.

Austria’s intelligence services are also watching the group as a potential security threat, and across Europe their activism is generating opposition among other youth movements.

Dateline visited an anti-fascist group in Berlin, who were running a workshop on how to counter right-wing slogans from groups like the Identitarians.

“They say to themselves they’re not left-wing, they’re not right-wing, but they’re patriotic for the country, for the people,” says Anna Müller, who organised the session.

“[But] they’re really far right and very conservative in all ways, basically.”

Martin says German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open borders to one million Syrian refugees last summer helped “create” the movement and prompted others to speak up and join them.

Much of the Identitarians’ fear of and hostility towards immigrants stems from what they term ‘The Great Replacement’ of white Europeans.

They believe they need to retake and protect Europe from foreigners, particularly Muslim immigrants. Martin takes Dateline to one section of Vienna that he says has a growing immigrant population. He’s afraid these mostly Muslim communities will supplant Austria’s white heritage.

“The problem is the dynamics of demographics,” he says. “The thing is, this section of Vienna is growing. It’s the future of the whole city of Vienna.

“We deserve a country and a culture of our own.”

As a new nationalism sweeps through Europe, it’s the wider acceptability of Identitarian ideas, especially among the young, that could move politics to the right for many years to come.

With elections in major European countries on the horizon, the stakes for the future of the continent couldn’t be higher.

Watch the full story at the top of the page.

'The new face of the Far Right'

More

The phenomenon of far-right nationalism is being fueled by existential terror
In the wake of Brexit and Donald Trump's election, new far right nationalist movements are spreading across Europe.
Europe’s new nationalism is here to stay
A rising tide of nationalism and opposition to globalisation sweeping through Europe is not going away.
The new face of the Far Right
What are the main factors driving Europe's surge to the right and how have right wing movements been able to appeal to a new base?
An encounter with Europe’s new right wing activists
The face of the new far right in Europe is not what you’d expect, writes Dateline reporter Evan Williams.

Credits

Reporter: Evan Williams

Producer: Joel Tozer, Anna-Lena Janzen

Camera: Ben Emery

Fixer: Jakob Tzigane, Tina Naber

Editor: Simon Phegan

Transcript

A training camp in the French Alps a few months ago, it looks like good, clean fun. But look more closely and you see the symbols and slogans revealing the true purpose of this retreat. This is a boot camp for a new movement of far right youth. They call themselves the Identitarians.

MARTIN SELLNER, IDENTITARIAN LEADER, AUSTRIA: We see ourselves as the voice for a forgotten generation. We are a pan European youth movement from France Germany Austria Italy and we want to create political change in this country. Free and open debate about issues like mass immigration and Islamisation because we want to defend the identity of Europe.

And this is Martin Sellner, the young social media-savvy leader of the group in Austria. I've come to Vienna to meet Martin and get a glimpse inside this usually secretive group.

REPORTER:  How are you?

MARTIN SELLNER:  Fine.

REPORTER:  Good to see you.

MARTIN SELLNER:   nice to see you as well.

First, I notice threatening graffiti on his gate.

MARTIN SELLNER: This says, "Martin, you are dead."

REPORTER:  How does that make you feel?

MARTIN SELLNER: Yeah, in a way it shows those people really think we are not allowed to exist. Welcome to my home.

REPORTER:   This is a nice place. What is in here, Martin?

MARTIN SELLNER: Well, this is my info war Home Office.

REPORTER:  Info war?

MARTIN SELLNER: Yeah, it really is an info war, in fact. For us, we have seen that a good video, a good video that can go viral. You can sit here if you want. If you have a good video that is going viral it is made almost as efficient as action.

It is from here that Martin uploads blogs, vlogs and videos of his group's carefully planned publicity stunts to thousands of followers.

MARTIN SELLNER: Every time people see a report about our action in the media, they are just one mouse click away from our own point of view. I see it as an emotional barrier between us and the population that's been created by the media. They are portraying us as monsters, demons, you know.

REPORTER:  Well, fascist right-wing neo-Nazis, right?

MARTIN SELLNER: Exactly, exactly.

This recent stunt brought global attention. They scaled up and covered the statue of a famous Austrian Monarch, Empress Maria Theresa - with a burka.

REPORTER:  And what was your message to people? What were you trying to say to them?

MARTIN SELLNER: The message was if you don't stop what's happening now that will be future of Vienna. All our heritage, what she was fighting for, what she built up, it's destroyed now by our politicians.

REPORTER:  Many people would say particularly right now, given what's happened with the Syrians in particular, these are just people who are needing sanctuary from war, they are just refugees. Austria is a wealthy country, Europe can afford to take some of these people and give them all future.

MARTIN SELLNER: I think Europe can definitely afford to help those people but it would be much better to help them in the areas around Syria and Turkey.

Martin says by showing his face he risks being called a Nazi, losing jobs or even being attacked by the anti-fascists. But Identitarians believe they’re fighting for what it means to be a white European…

MARTIN SELLNER: People forced us to decide between their ideology and dogmatic multiculturism and diversity and the fringe group of neo-Nazis going back to the 30's. But there is a mass of people who just want to go a third way. And now when you have real alternatives like populist patriotic parties and patriotic movements like we are, we are thriving and within just a few years we are successful, more than any right wing or patriotic movement before.

Identitarians are tapping in to a growing number of young Europeans who fell swamped by multiculturism and feel they have if place to vent. Inspired by online dating sites, Martin's developed a way to bring together others who share his views.

MARTIN SELLNER (Translation): Zoom out to see hundreds of users across Vienna.

But instead of lonely singles, it connects to so-called patriots.

ALINA WYCHERA (Translation): Amazing.

MARTIN SELLNER (Translation): Brilliant, isn’t it?

Today he's explaining how it works to one of the first female members of the group.

MARTIN SELLNER:  I had this idea for the app. To make it easier for people because at the moment you can come out as gay or whatever no problem, but coming out as a voter for patriotic party or as an Identitarian, it's very risky, so we want to give people an easier way to do this.

Alina says anti-fascist have threatened her because she is a high-profile Identitarian.

ALINA WYCHERA, IDENTITARIAN MEMBER:  I get it all the time from the beginning and it's not really a pleasant thing. Yeah.

REPORTER:  Do you really? What sort of threats do you get?

ALINA WYCHERA:  It’s really rude. It's really personal. I don't know, they call me a whore and slut and they want to hurt me.

This is Martin's crowd-funding video for the app. He says it was suspended by funding site Kickstarter after allegations of hate speech.

MARTIN SELLNER: We just need to activate these devices in the culture war, in the info war to disrupt the firewall of political correctness and connect the silent majority.

During the day Martin Sellner studies law and philosophy. His nights are often spent here at the secret headquarters of his Identitarian movement where he's agreed to take us. Tonight, they're planning an Identitarian stunt, something they have become famous for.

MARTIN SELLNER (Translation): Today we state that we’re up for the fight. We show these people and Austrians in general a sign of hope that we’ll fight this. We’ll use Facebook. People expect a strong signal from us. 

Austria's intelligence services are watching them as a potential security threat. In the room, I see mainly young men. They're part of a core group of some 400 Austrian members and Martin says, there are about 10,000 sympathisers and donors across the country.

MARTIN SELLNER (Translation): Okay, I’ll see everyone at the action. So we meet at 8p.m., outside the Burgtheater.

Tonight, they are protesting against the city council, which wants to change the name of an historic landmark - a change they see as an attack on Austria's white Christian identity.

MARTIN SELLNER: That's the Heroes Place, the most historic place in Vienna. It is next to parliament. All of Austria's history is taking place here.

PHILLIP (Translation): There are plans to rename it “Republic Square”. That’s to remove its history, to rob it of its history. That’s what we Identitarians want to prevent. For us, history has meaning, both positive and negative. History and remembrance are core parts of our identity.

Martin uses an online call-out for more Identitarians to join the action.

MARTIN SELLNER (Translation): Five to ten minutes max. Before the police come.

PHILLIP (Translation): Yes it would be an awful thing if the banner burned. Stand a metre or two away.

Their stunt is right inside the square. Their banner says, 'Heroes Place Stays'.

MARTIN SELLNER (Translation): Flares ready, everybody!

They are well equipped to do a Facebook Live which instantly attracts hundreds of views.

MARTIN SELLNER (Translation): The Identitarians have decided to draw a line. Our message for politicians is clear, Heldenplatz stays.

GROUP (Translation):  Europe, Youth, Reconquista!  Europe, Youth, Reconquista!

Europe Youth Reconquista - the last word referring to a key Identitarian belief that they need to retake and protect Europe from Muslim migrants, after a few minutes, they get word the police are on their way. We separate from Martin and arrange to meet up with everyone back at their secret HQ. So after getting the banner unfurled successfully and dispersing without the police stopping them, they're going to go back and get the video that they took of this out on social media and that's what made, makes this group different. They mount these events, maximum publicity; get it out on social media straight away.  Within minutes of the stunt, Martin and his online team are writing a press release explaining their action and upload a video to YouTube. They say each stunt is carefully planned to stay just within the law.

MARTIN SELLNER (Translation): You write something for the press.

The Facebook Live video has more than 18,000 views. You get a real sense of their popularity when you read the comments. "Europe's youth is awake", "very cool action", "Respect", "I love you". This action speaks to directly to their main target - 15 to 25-year-olds who get most of their news and much of their views from social media. The next day Martin wants to show me a place in his city where he feels extremely uncomfortable and angry.

MARTIN SELLNER: And this is like in an area in Vienna where many migrants live. It is like a Turkish street market now.

REPORTER:  So it has changed a lot?

MARTIN SELLNER: Absolutely.

A once Austrian market that is now almost completely Turkish and Muslim.

MARTIN SELLNER: The problem is the dynamics of demographics. The thing is this section of Vienna is growing. It's the future of the whole city of Vienna. We deserve a country and culture of our own.

REPORTER:  I mean, this is just a small action. Surely, there's enough Austrians of what you think is the correct decent to be able to balance it out.

MARTIN SELLNER: If you look at the younger generation, we have 60-70% of the children who already have migration backgrounds and so within us a few decades, the population has been completely replaced.

This kind of rhetoric has landed Martin in trouble, Identitarians call it the "the great replacement", others consider it hate speech.

MARTIN SELLNER: Just the things I told you, just the facts that I stated, are already considered hate speech in Austria. If you say we are becoming a minority in our country.

REPORTER:  You've had hate speech changes against you because you've said that?

MARTIN SELLNER: And I have at the moment a hate speech charge running against myself because, I put a banner with the slogan's "Islamisation kills" on a roof.

These are similar slogans to those used by neo-Nazi and fascist groups. But Martin's urban charisma and clever phrasing is helping the Identitarians rebrand what far right means in Europe. As a result of Identitarian cells are forming in many European cities. Martin says that Angela Merkel's decision to open borders to 1 million Syrian refugees last summer helped create the movement and prompted a high-profile action in Berlin.

REPORTER:  What is the difference? You're accused of being neo-Nazi, of being fascist, of being right wing. Many of the things you say, they say as well. What is different between you and them?

MARTIN SELLNER: The core message is we respect every culture. We think that normal migration is something that is always happening and will always happen, but what we don't want is the massive immigration and demographic replacement of people in Europe. It's against massive immigration, non-European, Islamic, mass immigration.

REPORTER:  So non-European sounds racist?

MARTIN SELLNER: Why? If you say more diversity, you always mean less Europeans and that's in a way in my view is racist in itself.

REPORTER:  Is it fair to say that you use fear because of the way you mention, the Jihadis, you mention the takeover of communities, you're using fear in a way to further that goal?

MARTIN SELLNER: I think that is completely wrong. The fear is real. The fear is there. You ask the people I talk to. We are giving them hope and we are trying to take this anger and frustration and fear and fuel it into a democratic change - activism - peaceful non-violent activism.

REPORTER:  So this is your mum's apple strudel?

MARTIN SELLNER: Absolutely, yeah. Absolutely home-made. Typical Austrian food. It is amazing.

REPORTER:  How do they feel about your work?

MARTIN SELLNER: They would prefer me to have a real job and I think they would have preferred if I finished my law studies and be a lawyer now, but in a way they understand what I need to do. Most of the time they are concerned of course because of attacks and so on.

REPORTER:  Do they agree with your views? Do they have the same point of view?

MARTIN SELLNER: I think overall they are Conservative. Christian. They have traditional ways. They don't have to agree with everything I say to think that I have the right to do it. They just want me to do what I believe in and what I need to do.

REPORTER:  That sounds like it leads to some interesting conversations at home?

MARTIN SELLNER: Absolutely.

REPORTER:  Is there a particular moment in your upbringing or life that got you on this path?

MARTIN SELLNER: I grew up in the suburbs in Vienna in a middle-class Aryan family. I know that my political consciousness as an activist was formed at school when I was about 15-16 years old and when I suddenly realised that everyone wants me to think in a certain way and I became patriotic at that moment and I realised they don't want me to be one and that is when I somehow became rebellious, in a way.

Identitarians try to distance themselves from the more extreme far right. But there are those who are not so sure. In a Vienna back street there is a group paid by the government to study the far right. Andreas Peham is a lead researcher here and he's been studying Martin's growing far-right profile over a decade.

ANDREAS PEHAM, RESEARCHER (Translation):   Martin Sellner is an almost classic example of the developmental pathway people can take on the extreme right. In 2010 and 2011, within his closest circle, arrests and search warrants started happening. He had that choice… What to do? Continue as before? That would mean jail. Or do something different.

REPORTER:  The Identitarians say that all they are interested in doing is protecting Austrian culture and identity. Is that the same in any way to what the far right is saying?

ANDREAS PEHAM (Translation): The Identitarian movement is a “movement” that has originated from neo-nazism. This means that the leading activists, the founding and leading members of the Identitarian movement all come from the organised, militant, extremist right, which we also call neo-nazism here in Austria. I count Identitarians like many others on the extreme right, including in the past among those who identify as “the new Right” to try to get away from Hitler and the shadows of t he past.

We have several documents or evidence supporting Martin Sellner’s neo-nazism past. That’s Gottfried Kussel, what’s important here and shows their closeness is that Martin Sellner walks directly behind Austria’s most senior and dangerous neo-nazi. He’s currently in jail.

REPORTER:  So these are known neo-Nazis?

ANDREAS PEHAM: This is neo-Nazi, this is neo-Nazis. This guy Martin Sellner says, "No, I am not neo-Nazi any longer."

REPORTER:  Your own past, in the past you have been a member of the neo-Nazi group.

MARTIN SELLNER: In fact, it was not a certain group but it was like the nationalistic scene in Austria, the far-right scene with diverse groups and associations. When I was 16-17, as I said, I started to think in a patriotic way. In fact, it was the only role that society offered me in a way. So the only identification model I had as a patriot who wanted to become active on the street. The only demonstrations that existed were organised by those people.

REPORTER:  What has changed in you since you were a member of that group and now? Has there been a change or do you have the same views?

MARTIN SELLNER: I really changed because I think from a certain time I really believed the stuff those people believed. So being a part of a superior culture and so on and blaming certain groups for everything. Now, I understand that it's a systematic problem. It's not a group of people or the Muslims or the Jews or anyone who is completely responsible for everything and if you get rid of those people then everything will be fine. It's a systematic problem and if you have to rationally think about the reasons and then with emotional vision, create a change. That's what we believe in now as an Iidentitarian movement.

Identitarians say their actions are against policies, not people. But at a recent protest at this university theatre, they did target individuals who were performing a play about refugees and many saw the attack as violent. Actors Johnny and Laila, both Syrian refugees, were performing on stage at the time.

JOHNNY, ACTOR:  I mean, I was afraid because I don't know what is possible to happen. You know. It could be with guns, they could be with anything.

LAILA HAJULAH, ACTOR (Translation): At the beginning I was shocked, you can’t imagine. When you are on stage performing and you are in a different world altogether… You feel there are people screaming and running. Many people, children are crying, elderly people are crying, it was a very scary situation.

Martin's Identitarians sprayed fake blood over the stage to remind people of the Bataclan terror attack in Paris.

JOHNNY:  It's really opened my eyes to a lot of things because before this accident, I thought like Vienna or Austria is the rabbit hole, the wonderland and everything is fine and safe.

MARTIN SELLNER: I think, yeah, there was the most controversial action we did. But there I think there was a lot of wrong reporting about this action.

REPORTER:  The problem is that of course it seems to tar all Muslims and Syrians with the terrorist brush.

MARTIN SELLNER: No, no. In fact, it was directed against the audience in the room. Those people were from the upper class in Vienna and I think that - it doesn't, it's not - I don't think it's an aggression against all Muslims to that with Islamisation and Muslim immigration is a risk of terrorism arising. I think it's just a complete neutral and objective fact.

We've come to Berlin to meet those opposing Martin's vision. On the capital as streets we witness the deep divisions between far left and far right that are now sweeping Europe.

CROWD:   Nazis out! Nazis out! Nazis out!

These protesters are not Identitarians. They're openly far-right extremists. But they do share some similar anti-Islam sentiments.

CROWD:  Deport them! Deport them! Deport them! Deport them! Deport them! Deport them!

ANNA MULLER, ANTI-FASCIST ACTIVIST(Translation):  Welcome to the “armchair fighters”.

In this cafe the anti-fascist resistance are learning how to counter right-wing slogans.

ANNA MULLER (Translation):  The inner circle gets a right ring racist slogan. Read it out, or shout it out. The outer circle responds as quickly as possible.

WOMAN (Translation):  They want to come because Merkel invited them… no way! 

WOMAN 2 (Translation): How? Did she write personal letters or what?

WOMAN (Translation):  No, but she announced it to the media.

Among them is Natalie, who is the voice of a left-wing anti-fascist group who sees its main role as challenging far-right movements like the Identitarians.

NATALIE GOLDMAN, ANTI-FASCIST ACTIVIST:  So what I actually try to do and I think they do it quit successful, is they want to make Nazis trendy and hip again.

ANNA MULLER:  They say to themselves, they are not left wing, they are not right wing, they are like patriotic for the country, for the people.

REPORTER:  What are they really?

ANNA MULLER:  Very far right, they are really far right and very Conservative in all ways basically.

REPORTER:  Should there be more controls on who is actually coming in?

NATALIE GOLDMAN:  No. Definitely not. What will you manage by that? Nothing right now.

MARTIN SELLNER: We now have different cultures and societies living in Europe and we are on the brink of being replaced by immigrants who haven't simulated or integrated into our society and they are changing the face of certain areas in Europe and we are afraid this process of Islamisation will destroy our identity and democracy in the future.

The name Martin Sellner is one you may hear more of and the Identitarians is a group that may also become more familiar in the future. So, as a new nationalism sweeps Europe, it's the wider acceptability of Identitarian ideas, especially among the young, that could drag politics more to the right for many years to come.

 

reporter
evan williams

story producer
joel tozer
anna-lena janzen

camera
ben emery

fixer
jakob tzigane
tina naber

story editor
simon phegan

translations
claudia mcquillan
felicity mueller
dalia matar

original music
vicki hansen

25th April 2017