The young men climb up the light-colored stone of the Brandenburg Gate on a ladder. Above they ignite pyrotechnics, wave flags and unfurl a banner. "Secure borders – secure future" is written there in thick black letters. The August sun shines over Berlin, passers-by stop to take photos with their cell phones. A few hundred meters away, the Chancellor's Office is celebrating "Open Day 2016". Focus: Migration and integration.
Martin Sellner is proud. He is enthusiastic about the "patriotic action" of his people, he said. In the video Sellner posted of himself on the Internet, he sees "Islamization" looming in Europe, rails against "leftist cultural hegemony" and raves about the "resistance potential of the movement".
Fight for "ruling ideology
Sellner, 27, an Austrian and Trump supporter, wears thick-rimmed glasses and a hip short haircut. He is one of the leaders of the "Identitarian Movement," or IB for short. He also plays an important role for the German scene. Sellner studies philosophy at university in Vienna. But he spends a lot of time on his fight against the "ruling ideology," as he says. Sellner calls himself a patriot.
Political PR actions like those at the Brandenburg Gate are familiar to environmentalists or leftists. The supporters of the "Identitarians" wear hoodies like other scenes, print coats of arms and slogans on T-shirts, film their protest, post videos on the Internet, tweet about it. They blocked the CDU headquarters in Berlin, they walked through city centers fully veiled and demanded "burkas for all". They are young, hip – and right-wing. The Federal Office for the Protection of Interception classifies the supporters as extremists and observes the group.
Insight into the "Identitary" group
Internal documents of the self-proclaimed "movement," a good 50 pages, show the strategy with which the IB wants to expand its network in Germany. Talks with security authorities, right-wing extremism experts, as well as members like Sellner, provide insight into a group that achieves a lot of attention with just a few people. A group that is currently on the upswing, partly because the agitation against Muslims has moved far into the center of society.
"Identitarians" like Sellner paint doomsday scenarios with their words. In an interview with this editorial, he speaks of the "state experiment in immigration" that is destroying "our future". Followers like Sellner define Europe's identity primarily in terms of an enemy image: Muslims. Sellner talks about the "great exchange" that threatens the "peoples". "Identitarians" see a cartel of politicians and some media in power who would ruin white and occidental Europe. The IB stages a struggle for existence. And Sellner sees the IB in the front line.
Term "race" replaced by "identity"
Right-wing extremism researcher Matthias Quent says: "Their goal is comparable to a volkisch nationalist movement of the Weimar Republic." The IB had only replaced the word "race" with the word "identity". Muslims and immigrants from the Turkish or Arab regions are often seen as "occupiers" and their culture exclusively as a threat to the West, says Verfangsschutz.
The IB originated in France. In 2012, the "Generation identitaire" publishes a video on the Internet. They call it the "declaration of war". Young men and women agitate against a "forced mixture of races," they see themselves as "victims of the '68 movement," warn of the "multi-culti collapse". Their message is accompanied by epoch-making music.
Inverted V in circle is their trademark
Their sign: an inverted V, the eleventh letter of the Greek alphabet, in a circle. In ancient times, a small army of Spartans with the lambda on their shields is said to have opposed a much larger army of Persians. Greeks vs. Persians back then. Europeans against Muslims today.
The IB is counted among the "New Right". They want to be extra-parliamentary opposition. Sellner sees the "Identitarians" as part of a right-wing "resistance milieu" – which also includes right-wing ideologues like Jurgen Elsasser and Gotz Kubitschek, the leaders of "Pegida" and parts of the AfD. Sellner calls the IB a "metapolitical lobby group".
Grouping wants to fuel emotions through propaganda
Internal papers of the "Identitarian Summer Academy 2015" show more precisely what the IB means by this and where it wants to go. Politics is the "hardware", i.e. laws, parties or posts. The IB, on the other hand, sees "metapolitics" as the "key to political success": culture, language, slogans, emotions.
The "Old Right" had made the mistake of defining power only as military strength: "collecting weapons, fetish for uniforms and paramilitary exercises". The IB wants a "meta-politics on the street" – for example, fueling emotions through propaganda actions like at the Brandenburg Gate.
Instructions for encrypted communication
The "Identitarians" give their culture war an intellectual veneer. They distinguish themselves from neo-Nazi thugs in Springer boots. You need "identitarian thinking people" who write the laws and shape the media. "We need an identitarian reconquista of meta-politics and politics," the internal documents say.
The documents also include instructions on how to communicate in code, how to craft banners or give speeches. The papers contain rules of conduct in case of a house search by police or inquiries by journalists. If someone is imprisoned, the "first rule" is: "No one will be forgiven if he betrays one of our ranks. We are a clan and stick together."
Instructions like in Islamist circles
Pre-trial detention is an abuse of state power. "You are not a criminal, you are an activist, and you keep fighting," IB organizers write. Comparable instructions also circulate in Islamist circles or the left-wing extremist scene.
Questionnaires to activists can also be found in the material, which ask about the political past and the attitude to right-wing extremist parties such as the NPD. And: "Where do you still see weak points in the Identitarian movement??" or "Where do you see yourself within the movement in two years??"
In the "Identitarian Movement" there are tight hierarchies
New slogans for banners or flyers have to be agreed with "local group leaders" or the national leadership. The internal documents suggest that the IB is more tightly and hierarchically organized than it presents itself to the outside world.
A workshop explains how local groups should create "identitarian space. "For several years, Identitarians have created so-called "Identitarian houses in many cities," it says. From there, actions are to be launched, meetings are to take place. Through donations and monthly dues, members are supposed to finance the rent. Concerts, boxing training and martial arts could also take place there, they say.
43.000 fans on Facebook
More than 43.000 users "like" the IB on Facebook. Sellner speaks of more than 500 members and about 20 local groups in Germany. In Austria, there are nine regional groups with 300 activists. Sellner estimates that the IB organized 150 to 200 demonstrations and about 20 "major actions" in 2015 and 2016.
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), on the other hand, ames that there are at least 300 members of the IB in Germany, but only a minority of them take part in the actions. Most would only pay membership fees. Researchers like Matthias Quent count no more than 40 "Identitarians" among the group's hard core nationwide. However, the number of sympathizers is growing.
Agitation is selectively directed against Muslims
And domestic intelligence observes radicalization of "identitarians" – especially in the wake of the refugee crisis. The xenophobic agitation is selectively directed against Muslims. In the meantime, BfV President Hans-Georg Maaben told this editorial office that there are many findings on contacts and connections between the IB and right-wing extremist persons or groups. His office ames "right-wing extremist influence".
The IB has very quickly developed from a virtual phenomenon into an "actionist organization" with high-profile appearances, Maaben said. And he warns: "We expect spontaneous, provocative actions in the future, which could be directed against political parties, mosques and Islamic cultural associations or asylum seeker shelters in accordance with the ideology of the IB."
Neo-Nazis join the "Identitarians"
Several cases are known in which activists of the neo-Nazi party NPD went to the "Identitarians": in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, in Saxony, in Hamburg, in Saxony-Anhalt. In the Harz Mountains, a group of the NPD youth organization JN is said to have founded a local group of the IB.
The Verfangsschutz is also aware of several reports of contacts between the "Identitarians" and members of the AfD. IB supporters also took part in party events. In internal papers, IB ideologues call for a "front of patriots". At the beginning of 2017, a few people tried to create a group on Facebook in which members of IB and AfD would organize themselves. After a short time, however, the group disappeared again.
AfD officials maintain contacts with the IB
AfD officials distance themselves from the "Identitarians" when asked by this editorial team. And yet several cases prove the contacts – especially in Saxony-Anhalt. In April 2016, the chairman of the AfD youth organization "Junge Alternative," Jan Wenzel Schmidt, visited an action of the grouping in the Harz Mountains and has also appeared as a speaker at the IB.
Hans-Thomas Tillschneider, a member of the state parliament, has also been a guest at "Identitarian" actions. At an AfD demonstration in Magdeburg in November, two musicians again performed who described themselves as "activists of the Identitarians".
IB supporter sees Nazi past as youth sin
People know each other, they visit each other, they ideologize each other. At a conference of the right-wing populist "Compact Magazine" in Berlin at the end of 2016, the guests and speakers included IB man Sellner, Pegida founder Lutz Bachmann and Saxony-Anhalt's AfD leader Andre Poggenburg. Sellner, like Poggenburg, was already a guest at the "Institute for State Policy" of the right-wing publisher Kubitschek, who has built up the most important think tank of the right-wing scene in Schnellroda in the Saale district.
Sellner also used to mix with neo-Nazis himself. A youthful sin, he says. The young Austrian distanced himself from this in an interview today – and took the whole group in defense. "We are against Islam in Europe. But we are not neo-Nazis or racists."The IB respects every culture, as long as it remains among itself. Sellner speaks of "any people" that can also absorb "foreign elements". But there are "limits to capacity". And those are "more than achieved" with Muslims, he said.
IB describes itself as non-violent
How far does this fight go?? The IB is non-violent, which is emphasized not only by people like Sellner, but also by extremism researchers like Quent. Sellner has nevertheless obtained a weapon, for self-defense, as he emphasizes when asked. And he says: Only totalitarian systems would tend to disarm their citizens.