A Fatal Lag: Keeping Up with Media-Savvy Fascists

Governments have been too slow to catch up with media-savvy fascists

Sellner and the Identitarian Movement, whose Austrian branch he heads, have a history in performing provocative stunts to garner attention. In 2016 a group of identitarians stormed a play put on by Syrian and Iraqi refugees, pouring blood on themselves and yelling slogans.[3] In an even more elaborate and objectionable stunt, the group hired a boat to impede NGO vessels attempting to rescue refugees from the Mediterranean. The five-figure sum needed to finance such a project was readily provided through internet donations from fans.[4] More recently, Sellner has reduced the scale of his stunts in order to remain within the limits of Austrian law. This new strategy allows for the broadcasting such stunts – normally involving the unfurling of xenophobic banners in public places, with the occasional addition of paganistic fire rituals – to a wide audience per Facebook-livestream.[5] A rapidly growing social media following, online donations and the sale of reactionary-themed merchandise have opened new doors for Sellner and allowed him to grow his online presence.[6]

On 25 March, Sellner’s house was searched by Austrian police when it emerged that he had received a 1,500 euro donation from Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch killer, over the internet in early 2018 (Sellner echoes Tarrant’s belief in the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory).[7] Instagram and other social media platforms have banned Sellner, and the Austrian government is taking steps to dissolve the Identitarians.[8] Following the Christchurch shooting, Sellner was also denied entry into the U.S., where Pettibone has been trying to rally transnational support for his movement in the face of Austria’s crackdown.[9] These new measures may prove effective, but they come alarmingly late. Sellner’s case shows us that governments must begin taking the far-right’s online presence seriously, or risk becoming complicit in its explosive growth.