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Internet-savvy extremists

Marc von Lüpke / cscMarch 22, 2013

The German Identity Movement wants to conquer the Internet. It is spreading its anti-Islam, anti-multiculturalism messages through Facebook, YouTube and other social media, in particular to young people.

A screenshot from the Identity movement website
Image: http://identitaere-bewegung.de/

Last fall, one of Germany's most multicultural cities, Frankfurt, celebrated its Intercultural Weeks with the slogan, "open, tolerant, together." But three masked activists interrupted the opening with loud techno music. Dancing wildly, they held a placard which said "blast multiculturalism away" in front of the camera of a fourth accomplice. Shortly after, the video was on YouTube and received more than 24,000 clicks.

A German right-wing movement, die Identitäre Bewegung (The Identity Movement), took credit for the publicity stunt. Since last year, the movement has gained attention through its so-called "fun campaigns."

"100 percent identity - 0 percent racism," its website states, while calling for "the protection of the [its] continent from infiltration by foreigners, mass immigration and Islamization." The like button on the movement's Facebook page has been clicked more that 4,000 times.

'Neither right nor left'

Identity, or more specifically, the alleged German identity, is the fixed point of the Identity Movement, which has its origins in France. The movement focuses on spreading its message mostly on the net, via Facebook and YouTube.

It portrays itself as modern and fun, and boasts that it speaks openly about social problems. A clever strategy, says Johannes Baldauf of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation.

"It is a very professional presence, which is very attractive and has an unbelievable number of pop culture references that can be understood by younger people," said Baldauf.

A group of schoolchildren of different ethnicities (Photo: Frank Rumpenhorst/dpa)
The Identity Movement is against multiculturalism and political correctnessImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Several times a week, well-written articles steeped in pathos appear on the site, complemented by multimedia and an attractive design. They condemn political correctness - its ban on the use of certain words and expressions - and the alleged "anti-German" violence of foreigners. "We say what everyone's thinking," the movement states on its site.

They say they are not racists. But Alexander Häusler, an expert on right-wing extremism at University of Applied Sciences in Düsseldorf, disagrees. "They are clearly racist. They are making a major affront on Germany's multicultural society, composed of immigrants. They mostly criticize the alleged Islamization of Germany," he said.

'The last generation'

But the Identity Movement's homepage reveals more on its ideology, in relation to racism. "We are the identity generation," the site states, declaring itself a protector against the threat of Islam.

"Here, they spread scenarios of an ethnic apocalypse in which Germans become a fading minority in their own country. The message is, 'We are the last generation that can avert the risk of the so-called German identity dying out,'" Häusler said.

The movement's symbolism has a fascistoid aesthetic. The Greek letter lambda on a yellow background is the logo - like one from the 300 Spartan soldiers who wanted to stop the Persians at Thermopylae in the Hollywood film "300." This symbol gives the movement a high recognition value. The lambda symbol appears again and again on the homepage, the Facebook page and in the web videos. The movement is trying "to anchor [itself] on the Internet," Häusler explained.

It isn't easy to find crude racist hate speech from the Identity Movement. Instead, the movement considers Germans victims of "anti-German racism," such as in the context of recent high-profile murders allegedly perpetrated by Middle Eastern gangs.

Members of the Identity movement hold in Vienna, Austria (Photo: Kurt Prinz/APA9
Members of the Identity Movement hold a demonstration in ViennaImage: picture-alliance/Kurt Prinz

In its ideology, it reaches deep into the barrel of the new right - the known concept is called "ethnopluralism." Baldauf is involved in an online project to fight right-wing extremism with the Amadeu Antonio Foundation. "They are calling for every people, or let's say ethnic group, to stick up for itself. There especially shouldn't be any mixing," he explained.

The Identity Movement's manifesto, which is also in its elaborately made video, confirms this: "We are the generation of the ethnic violations, [the generation] of the total failure of coexistence and of the forced mixing of the races," the video states.

Protected by anonymity

The Internet provides the perfect platform for spreading right-wing and xenophobic ideas; other right-wing groups have known this for a long time. But the Identity Movement is trying to make xenophobia socially acceptable in a particularly subtle way, with its campaigns masked as "fun" to get noticed on social media. They have even made their own Harlem Shake video, capitalizing on a recent YouTube trend.

But sometimes the movement reveals its true nature; for example, when a text on its site refers to the "ghetto subculture of migrant youth that is affected by violence, hate, primitivity, criminality and Islam." The aim of all this is to "spread racism more effectively," subliminally, said Häusler.

But the people behind the Identity Movement remain unknown, protected by the anonymity of the Internet. Häusler believes there is a large group of stakeholders participating in the grassroots movement, among them neo-Nazi associations, former NPD members and the anti-Islamic German Defence League as well as the right-wing party Pro NRW. But the movement has yet to find an organizational "anchor," he said.

Whether there is a growing risk for society is yet to be assessed. The Bremen intelligence services are checking whether the Identity Movement should be put under watch.