The Global Networks of the Resurging Far Right

It’s no exaggeration to say that Trump has ties to neo-Nazi parties, says investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed

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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Much has been made about the Alt-Right Movement and its elements in the United States. Alt-Right was key in the campaign that elected Donald Trump as President. Some say that this Alt-Right Movement is now emboldened and the electoral victory of Donald Trump in the US has had far-reaching impact in places like United Kingdom and continental Europe where the right-wing nationalistic parties have a particular rooted history. In fact, Donald Trump’s electoral victory was celebrated by many on the far-right in Europe. This has included the national fronts, Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders the Anti-Muslim leader of the right-wing Nationalistic Dutch Freedom Party, and the Neo-Nazi Golden Party in Greece. The Golden Dawn Party of Greece issued a video statement where its spokesperson, Ilias Kasidiaris declared:

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ILIAS KASIDIARIS:

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SHARMINI PERIES: Joining us now to discuss this resurgent right in Europe and their connections to the US is award-winning investigative journalist and academic, Nafeez Ahmed. Mr. Ahmed is the creator of INSURGE Intelligence, a crowd-funded investigative journalism project and columnist for Middle East Eye, Vice, among other publications. Welcome back to The Real News, Nafeez.

NAFEEZ AHMED: Thank you, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: So, Nafeez, you have published a four-part investigative report just last summer called, “Return of the Reich: Mapping the Global Resurgence of Far Right Power”. Just give us a brief overview of what you tried to cover in this series and what you found out in your investigations.

NAFEEZ AHMED: So, this investigation was commissioned by a charity based in London called TellMAMA which is a national charity which specializes in hate crimes against Muslims. And they basically asked me to do this investigation in several parts to look into really the way in which the far-right is operating as a network globally. So, what I tried to do was precisely to look at these Trans-Atlantic links between the United States, Britain and Western Europe, in particular.

But what I ended up really finding out is the extent to which all of the kind of mainstream, increasingly mainstream right-wing nationalist parties that are now becoming part of the political process in Europe — and, by that I mean, you know, they’ve got positions in parliament, some of them actually have a seat at the table of government due to the coalition politics in these countries. And many of them are very, very popular, you know, maybe perhaps, say, some of them are the most popular parties in the polls. Some of them are the third popular parties and so on and so forth. But they’re very much increasing in popularity. Now what I uncovered, first of all, is that a lot of these parties actually have direct historical heritage with local Nazi parties that were linked to the Nazi Regime during the Second World War. There are direct historical linkages. That was one very disturbing component of the investigation.

The other disturbing component of the investigation is the way in which these parties have been forging links with each other to form an organizational network, where they actually coordinate tactically. And thirdly, that they have Trans-Atlantic connections with groups inside the United States, with White Supremacists Movements. Some of which are well-known, you know, like, David Duke and all of those guys, but also with most extreme right-wing elements of the Republican Party, including the people surrounding Donald Trump. And it’s worth bearing in mind. I mean, everyone is going on now about Donald Trump, looking at his appointments such as Jeff Sessions, you know, as proposed Attorney General and some other people who have these kind of… people like Steve Bannon and the various kinds of White Supremacist or Alt-Right connections, as it’s being put.

But I put this report out in the summer and we had basically been warning that Donald Trump has got these very entrenched White Supremacist connections and he actually has, through people he had appointed to his campaign team, he had direct connections with Neo-Nazi parties in Europe. And I use the term Neo-Nazi very deliberately. This is not a term I’m using lightly. I mean, some people will say, “Why are you using the word ‘Nazi’? You know, we shouldn’t use the word ‘Nazi’. It’s too extreme. Blah blah blah.” No, it’s not. I was alarmed to discover that many of the parties we’re talking about here, these political parties that are becoming more acceptable in Europe and that people inside Donald Trump’s campaign team have been working with, they are actually Neo-Nazi parties. And some of the people involved in these groups actually go back, their heritage, as I said goes back to active Nazi Movements during the Second World War, which actually that’s the history of some of these political movements that we’re seeing.

So, it is actually very alarming and that’s why we decided to call the report “The Return of the Reich”. Not because we’re saying that we’re seeing, you know, the simplistic reappearance of Nazism — no, on the contrary. What we’re seeing is what I’ve called… I’ve created a phrase for this, “reconstructed Nazism”. Where, in fact, what we see is these Nazi groups which have, in terms of their heritage, they can trace back to actual Nazi political movements in parts of Europe. What they are now doing is tactically operating in such a way as to parade themselves as anti-Nazi, whether it’s the Austrian FPO, or it’s Geert Wilder’s party, or it’s Le Pen’s party, we have these very well-known, anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish parties, which are now mobilizing on the basis of an anti-Muslim ticket and saying that they’re actually against Nazism.

But what we find is, when we dig deeper into the history of these movements and how they’re operated — and, in fact, their on-going connections today, institutional connections today, and so on and so forth — the Nazi element actually remains there. But what they’re doing is they’re trying to conceal it tactically because they know that Nazism is not acceptable in mainstream politics, in mainstream society, it’s not accepted by anybody. It would be rejected if it was openly paraded in that way.

So, there is this very tactical effort and what appears to be happening is that’s why there is this relationship with the Counter-Jihadist Movement in the United States, which is very useful because the Counter-Jihadist Movement operating around people like Robert Spencer, Pam Geller, and so on and so forth, this convergence of interests is useful because it allows these groups to mobilize on the basis of anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, mono-ethnic kind of campaigning. And that’s where we see this reconstruction of the Nazi ideology taking place.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Nafeez, you made reference to the deep connection that the Donald Trump campaign and the people that he has appointed have to the Neo-Nazi Movement, which I believe would be very concerning for some of the people who might have even voted for Donald Trump. Give us a sense of who these people might be. I know Steve Bannon has been connected to the Alt-Right. But how deep does that connection run?

NAFEEZ AHMED: Well, I think the biggest, I mean, to focus on Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions is important and raises various questions, I think. What hasn’t really been looked at so far is what we highlighted in our report, which was the role of people like Frank Gaffney. Now, Donald Trump, as is well known, he quoted an opinion poll that was commissioned by Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy. Now, Frank Gaffney is a former Reagan official, well-known as a kind of neo-conservative, hard-right, you know, kind of anti-Russian, agitator for a hard kind of militaristic response to various threats and so on and so forth. He became more well-known in recent years as he became more and more involved in anti-Muslim bigotry, became involved in this Counter-Jihadist Movement, where there has been all sorts of rhetoric and conspiracy theorizing, you know, about the so-called Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the White House and you know…

SHARMINI PERIES: He was also a member, if I recall, of PNAC, the Project for the New American Century.

NAFEEZ AHMED: Yes, you know, the kind of Bush Era think tank which agitated for the Iraq War and so on and so forth. You know, and he’s also involved in kind of all the Muslim birther conspiracy theories about Obama and so on and so forth and all that kind of stuff. It is known Donald Trump quoted this opinion poll that Frank Gaffney had produced, or his center had produced, basically saying that the majority of American Muslims are pro-extremism, pro-terrorism, and he used this to justify his call to ban Muslim immigration to America. That’s very well known. What isn’t so well known is that he then populated his campaign team… his national security advisors during his campaign with people from the Gaffney think tank. So, people like Clare Lopez, people like Joseph Schmitz, people like Walid Phares who’s been pitched as someone who could play a role in his administration.

So, these people were heavily involved in giving him advice. All of them are basically kind of neo-conservative. They have various extremist views about, again, very sweeping extremist views that all Muslims are blah blah blah, all that kind of stuff. But what’s interesting is that very close link and the influence that Gaffney had, even though Gaffney, as we know, was appointed by the other Republican presidential candidate at the time, Ted Cruz. He was his national security advisor. So, interestingly enough — and this important to recognize — Gaffney has been lobbying the right-wing elements of the Republican Party for more than a decade. And he has influence despite his extremist views. He used to have extensive funding from the defence industry. That has now been reduced to, I think, one giant defence conglomerate. I believe it’s Boeing that currently funds CSP, Center for Security Policy.

So, Gaffney had his fingers in both pies of the Republican Party and what this meant really is that, through Gaffney, there was influence from far-right organizations in Europe within both of the campaign camps during the whole Republican campaign. You had these guys having this ideological influence. So, the question is really: what is Gaffney’s connections to the European far-right that I’m talking about? Now, and this is where we open this quite alarming can of worms, that someone like Frank Gaffney who dresses himself up as being very anti-Russia, skeptical, you know, very kind of skeptical of Vladimir Putin. And he also dresses himself up as being very pro-NATO, has aligned himself with groups that are actually getting funding from Russia, funding from Putin, and are actually supporting the break-up of the European Union and the break-up of NATO, people like Geert Wilders.

So, to get to the crux of the issue in terms of what is Gaffney’s relationship to these European far-right groups, I can give this example of how Gaffney sits on the board of an organization called the International Free Press Society. Now, this organization, one of the other persons on the board alongside Gaffney is a guy called Paul Beliën, who’s a Belgian journalist, who’s married to an MP with the Belgian VB, or the Vlaams Belang Party, which is well-known as a neo-Nazi party. It was successor to a party called Vlaams Blok which was actually directly related to Nazi activities in that country during the Second World War. And, in fact, Paul Beliën’s father-in-law was actually a Nazi collaborator. So, Paul Beliën, himself, Belgian journalist, he also then went on to join the campaign team of Geert Wilders. So, Geert Wilders, as we know, is in charge of the Netherlands Freedom Party. And from there, the networks go on.

You know, Geert Wilders is very closely connected to Le Pen. Both Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen who heads the National Front in France, again, very well known as a previously anti-Semitic Neo Nazi Party which is now trying to rehabilitate itself. Well, both of those parties, they share membership of a European parliamentary group which sits in the European parliament which one of their colleagues in that group is the Austrian Freedom Party, or the FPO, which is also a neo-Nazi Party. Which is very closely linked to neo-Nazi fraternities in Austria and, in fact, that party was also again another party that was successor to an actual Nazi movement that actively collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War. So, again, there’s been a very concerted effort, after the 1980s and 1990s where there was huge controversy, to rehabilitate itself. But it’s known inside Austria, there’s been all sorts of historical research which has shown that even that rehabilitation process was enabled by various neo-Nazi fraternities.

Now, this is going on and all of these individuals, these characters, are very close to Frank Gaffney. Frank Gaffney has invited these people to conferences. In fact, this organization I mentioned, the IFPS, the International Free Press Society, that’s involved, some of these people on their Board, has helped Gaffney organize various counter-Jihad conferences where he’s invited very well-known counter-Jihad experts like Robert Spencer, like, Pam Geller, and other people to pontificate on the danger and the threat from, you know, Muslims all over the world. So, this gives an example of what I’m talking about when I say that there is this very real neo-Nazi kind of ideological influence. Now, what I think is important to recognize is that I don’t know whether Donald Trump knows or understands the extent to which people that he’s been appointing or people that he is dealing with have these connections, have these ideological influences. I don’t even know to what extent Frank Gaffney understands that the people whom he’s dealing with, someone like Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen, for example, they are people who have very frequently visited Russia.

I mean, there’s been reports that Marine Le Pen has received funding from banks which are very close to the Kremlin. These are very credible reports which show that there is an active effort by Putin, for example, whatever you think of Putin, that there was an active effort by Putin to use some of these far-right groups in order to pursue his own geo-political agenda which he wants to see a weakened Europe. He wants to see a weakened NATO. Now, again, we all have our criticism of NATO but the point I’m trying to make here is here we have Gaffney who dresses himself up as this Cold War hawk working with people who are advocating this neo-Nazi ideology, but at the same time are working with people who are traditionally people who you would say are his enemies.

That’s a very strange situation and it makes you wonder, “What is going on?” And I think what is definitely going on beyond a doubt is that there is an active, tactical effort by these groups which have a Nazi heritage, a very real and active Nazi heritage, to rehabilitate themselves and enter the corridors of power. What we’re seeing is that domestically, in their own countries, they are having some success and internationally they’re having success. But they’re convincing various groups and parties, which otherwise would view these groups very skeptically, and they’re using the counter-Jihad ticket and the anti-Muslim ticket and the anti-immigration ticket to get into those corridors of power — and it’s working. They’re using people like Frank Gaffney to get inside the Republican Party, to get inside, you know, the office of Ted Cruz, for example, and to influence their thinking and to influence levers of power. And it’s working. This is what we call entryism.

Entryism is a process of actually trying to actively infiltrate politics. The term entryism was originally used to talk about what Communists were doing. “Oh, it’s the Communist threat. The Communists are trying to influence, you know, our government. We need to witch-hunt the Communists out.” It’s not the Communists we need to worry about. It’s the neo-Nazi movements. That is what is actually happening and I do believe that the Donald Trump Administration, there is an active process of entryism taking place and it’s succeeded.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Nafeez, these are strange bedfellows here, as you say: anti-Muslim, or anti-Islam sentiments combined with anti-Communist and also anti-Semitic activity. Explain that a bit more. It’s very, very abstract here.

NAFEEZ AHMED: Well, I think what’s important to know is that these movements are very malleable. They are able to change the way that they mobilize politically in order to suit what works for them. If we look at the way in which they’ve mobilized historically, there’s been a number of historical studies which I mention in the report which have been done by much more seasoned historians than I, who have actual real expertise in looking at history of Nazism and the way in which the ideology evolved. And one of the interesting things that they showed is that the Nazis had a range of approaches to Muslims and Jews during their time that they were in power. There were times when the Nazis were very interested in working with Muslims against Jewish communities. And they wanted to play-off Muslim groups against Jews.

There were other times when they were actually mobilizing against Muslim groups. And what we see happening now is there has been this tactical shift where groups like the Austrian FPO, for example, we’ve seen — and this is a very interesting dichotomy because the FPO, there is very clear documented evidence that the leader of the FPO who — and it’s a very popular party now. It has access to the Austrian government. You know, they have people at the table in that government there. There is a very serious influence in Austrian politics. They were on the cusp of winning the elections a while back. So, the leader of the FPO is someone who, there have been a couple of scandals in recent years when photographs surfaced of him being seen with various neo-Nazi groups which have been rejected in mainstream Austrian society. There’s been various bits of historical work that have been done showing how the FPO, as I mentioned, rehabilitated itself on the back of existing neo-Nazi fraternities, you know, very moneyed neo-Nazi societies and all sorts of things.

But in recent years, the FPO has made a very concerted effort to make friends with Israel. And, in fact, there was an article in Haaretz recently which reported on a recent delegation where various Austrian FPO MPs, including the leader of the party, went and visited Israel. They were welcomed by the Israel Foreign Ministry but interestingly the same article pointed out that even though Israel is exploring, you know, what are the commonalities of interest are between Israel and the FPO, the Foreign Ministry still officially views the FPO as a neo-Nazi group with anti-Semitic trends. So, there is this very strange sort of politicking going on. I mean, we know, for example, that Geert Wilders, even though he sits in this European parliamentary group alongside these anti-Semitic parties, makes a big point of going around saying that he’s not anti-Semitic, he’s against anti-Semitism, you know, he’s visited Israel many times, he calls himself a Zionist. But, at the same time, his party is very willing to say that they are going to push through various legal amendments inside the country that will prevent, for example, ritual slaughter or circumcision and make these things illegal.

And, you know, the pretext of doing that is to say we want to target Muslims and Muslim extremists and even though this is a generic practice of Muslim religious communities. But it’s also a practice of Jewish religious communities. And a lot of the Jewish communities inside the Netherlands have expressed fear and concern that this has been happening, and that this is what Geert Wilders is happy to promote under the pretext of it being anti-Muslim and anti-immigration but, at the same time, he wants to pursue laws wholesale which would discriminate against both Muslims and Jews. And I think there is now a number of Muslim and Jewish groups in these different countries, are starting to realize that, wait a minute, actually they haven’t really dropped the anti-Semitism. It’s there. It’s still there and this is something very alarming.

And that’s why we see, when we look at the Donald Trump camp, there are these contradictions. You know, on the one hand, Donald Trump has shown that he’s very, very close to Benjamin Netanyahu, but on the other hand, he’s made many, many anti-Semitic statements in the past and quite grotesque statements he’s made about Jews and the Jewish communities which have been flagged up in the mainstream press. But how do we understand how this works? And that’s what I think partly explains it, is that there is this very concerted effort by these anti-Semitic groups to rehabilitate themselves and, in fact, actually one of the tactics that they’re doing is going to Israel and saying, “Israel, we are your friends because we have a mutual enemy, which is the Muslim threat.”

SHARMINI PERIES: Very interesting times we live in. I’m speaking with Nafeez Ahmed, who has written an article titled, “Return of the Reich: Mapping the Global Resurgence of Far Right Power”. And this is an ongoing discussion. I thank you so much for joining us, Nafeez. And we’re going to continue to unpack this because this is not as easy to understand as some of us may think. So, let’s continue our discussion in another segment. Thank you so much for joining us today, Nafeez.

NAFEEZ AHMED: Thank you, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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