A Fatal Lag: Keeping Up with Media-Savvy Fascists

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

In early March 2018, a couple landed at Luton Airport. They were promptly refused entry, detained for two days and finally deported. The couple were Martin Sellner, a far-right activist and provocateur from Austria, and his equally nefarious American partner Britanny Pennibone. The Home Office later justified their action by describing the prospect of the couple’s visit as ‘not conducive to the public good’. Lauren Southern, a Canadian conspiracy theorist due to meet up with the couple and British far-right activist Tommy Robinson, was later similarly turned back at the border in Calais.[1]

The episode outlined above is an example of a state successfully cracking down on far-right networking. Despite this small victory, however, it must be asked why Sellner was able to attain such a high profile in the first place. While the philosophy student’s political history firmly anchors him in Vienna’s Neo-Nazi milieu, he has been able to rebrand himself as the well-spoken proponent of European nostalgic patriotism.[2] This is, in large measure, because Sellner exemplifies the far-right’s aptness for using the internet to whitewash, coordinate and grow their movement.

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.







Featured Image: Metropolico.org, ‘Banner der Identitären Bewegung auf einer Demonstration der Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Geretsried’, Flickr (16 Dec. 2016),
https://www.flickr.com/photos/95213174@N08/26368650740 (Acc. 30 Apr. 2019)

[1] ‘Why 3 anti-Islam activists were refused entry to the UK’, BBC News (14 Mar. 2018), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-43393035 (Acc. 29 Apr. 2019)   

[2] Horaczek, ‘“Heil dir”, treuer Hofer!’, Falter (3 Mar. 2016), https://www.falter.at/archiv/FALTER_2016080395CDBE38FD/heil-dir-treuer-hofer (Acc. 29 Apr. 2019)  

[3] Cox and Meisel, ‘Martin Sellner: The new face of the far right in Europe’, BBC News (20 Sept. 2018),  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-45572411 (Acc. 29 Apr. 2019)

[4] Hakim, ‘Migrant crisis: “Hipster right” group trying to stop rescue ships’ BBC News (8 July 2017), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-40505337 (Acc. 29 Apr. 2019)  

[5] SBS Dateline, ‘The European hipsters who are appealing to the far right’ (25 Apr. 2017), https://youtu.be/f5eq-4xEAKk, (Acc. 29 April 2019)

[6] ‘Phalanx Europa’, https://phalanx-europa.com/en/ (Acc. 29 Apr. 2019)

[7] Fiedler, ‘Identitären-Chef bekam offenbar Geld von Christchurch-Attentäter’ (26 Mar. 2019), Der Tagesspiegel, https://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/hausdurchsuchung-bei-martin-sellner-identitaeren-chef-bekam-offenbar-geld-von-christchurch-attentaeter/24145238.html (Acc. 29 Apr. 2019)

[8] ‘Die Identitären verlieren viele Kanäle’, Belltower (31 May 2018), https://www.belltower.news/fruehjahrsputz-bei-instagram-und-facebook-die-identitaeren-verlieren-viele-kanaele-48068/ (Acc. 29 Apr. 2019)

‘Austria may disband far-right group over link to NZ attack suspect’, BBC News (28 Mar. 2019), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-47729025 (Acc. 29 Apr. 2019)

[9] ‘Austrian far-right extremist denied US travel permit after Christchurch link’, DW (28 Mar. 2019), https://www.dw.com/en/austrian-far-right-extremist-denied-us-travel-permit-after-christchurch-link/a-48107733 (Acc. 30 Apr. 2019)