Almost a decade ago, in the Spring 2005 issue of The Public Eye magazine, Jérôme Jamin examined the role of the Extreme Right in European politics (It’s worth noting that PRA no longer uses the term “Extreme Right,” as it has become so casually applied in the political discourse. We now generally use “Far Right” or “Ultra Right”). Jamin observed, that “as yesterday’s fascists [had] entered government,” it had become more difficult to identify them as such. With many of these parties participating in ruling coalitions, their public actions did not necessarily reflect their political rhetoric, restricted by coalition partners and, more broadly, by the European Union.
From May 22nd to the 25th this year, European parliamentary elections were held across Europe, and the same troubling questions came back to the fore. Parties of the Right with strong anti-immigrant and anti-Europe policies have flourished across Europe. Some of these parties have direct ties to the Nazi party, and many more use the same imagery. The Front National and the Danish People’s Party won the largest share of the vote in France and Denmark, respectively, by seeking to present themselves as mainstream. This mainstreaming has parallels in the U.S., with individuals and organizations with racist, sexist, and homophobic views seeking—and often gaining—mainstream credibility.
Thanks to the new leadership of Marine Le Pen (daughter of former Party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen), Front National has been pulling off major upsets in French politics. The change in leadership from father to daughter allowed the party to distance itself from the controversial views of Jean-Marie, a man with a history of Holocaust denial, antisemitism, and racism, and who recently suggested that ebola could be the solution to population control and European immigration. Despite all this, the party now presents itself as moderate, having been through a process of “detoxification.” (Marine Le Pen took a political rival to court for calling her a fascist.) Success in the elections will only further the Front National’s move toward the mainstream. Having won 25 percent of the vote, they are now the largest French party in the European Parliament.
Winning an even higher percentage of their country’s vote, the Danish People’s Party became the largest Danish party in the European Parliament, doubling its number of seats. Its campaign relied on anti-immigration policies and racist statements, largely directed against Muslims. Party candidates have specifically argued against Muslim immigration, going so far as to suggest a ban on immigration from Islamic countries.
Among the other parties, Golden Dawn and Jobbik (of Greece and Hungary, respectively), stand out as examples of the Far Right’s rise in Europe. While it hasn’t achieved the electoral success of some of the other groups, Golden Dawn’s rise, in particular, shows that even clearly Nazi-inspired symbolism can win votes. From violent attacks on immigrants by likely supporters, to racially discriminatory welfare programs, and even to readings of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the Greek parliament, you don’t even need to see their clearly Nazi-inspired rallies, logo, and flag to recognize the worrying similarities to Nazism. Golden Dawn only received 9.4 percent of the vote, but the party is now the third largest Greek party in the European Parliament.
A similar party in Hungary, called Jobbik, did not gain new seats in the elections; having received 14.7 percent of the vote, however, it’s certainly not on the decline. The party is clearly anti-Semitic (at one point asking to “tally up people of Jewish ancestry”), anti-Roma (suggesting Roma individuals be forced into camps, possibly for life), and anti-LGBTQ (proposing a similar “gay propaganda” law to the one recently passed in Russia).
There were many more smaller parties on the Ultra Right that won their first seats, including the National Democratic Party of Germany, a neo-Nazi party, whose new Member of the European Parliament has a laundry list of offensive comments, including calling Hitler “a great man.”
In the nine years since Jamin’s article, the Ultra Right has succeeded and thrived in becoming a considerable force in European elections, but it is still suffering from a self-imposed identity crisis. A recent Guardian article asked when it is appropriate to describe these parties and individuals as fascists. Controversial comments by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, referring to the Front National as a fascist party, have only added to the confusion over identifying the Ultra Right as such, especially when the parties in question are appealing to a quarter of voters, and whose policies don’t always reflect their racist ideology as much as they used to (at least explicitly).
To a certain extent, the two- party system in the U.S. has prevented Ultra Right groups from gaining traction here. Nevertheless, there are links between the Ultra Right in Europe and organizations on the Ultra Right in the U.S. Moreover, strategies aimed at mainstreaming these dangerous ideologies should be cause for concern here, as well.
For example, National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown traveled with a group of French activists, including an ex-Front National candidate, and a top adviser to Marine Le Pen. The British National Party has clear links with the American Third Position (now the American Freedom Party), a group listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a White Nationalist group.
Other U.S. groups have been broadly supportive of the Ultra Right in Europe. David Duke, the former KKK Grand Wizard, celebrated the election victories of Ultra Right parties in Europe as “a small step forward to saving the world from Jewish supremacism.” Influential conservative leader and former White House communications director Pat Buchanan even wrote an article that broadly supported the election result, and has consistently either supported White Nationalist groups, or been supported by them.
Finally, White Nationalist ideologies have found their way into U.S.-based organizations (many of which try to brand themselves as “mainstream”). From panelists at CPAC from a White Nationalist group, to a North Carolina congressperson appearing on a White Nationalist radio show, to Iowa congressman Steve King defending author Peter Brimelow (profiled by the SPLC as a White Nationalist), there is substantial overlap between the Right of the Republican party and elements of the Ultra Right, including White Nationalist movements. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that elements of the White Nationalist movement are even demanding credit for the GOP’s similar strategies and policies.
The Ultra Right in Europe has gained ground, in many places displacing established parties by a considerable margin. Parties that were previously considered fascist, alongside younger parties with Islamophobic and racist immigration policies, have pushed their way toward success by seeking to mainstream their public reputation, if not their core ideology. In the United States, the electoral system may be less likely to allow parties of the Ultra Right into formal power, but their ideologies still have currency within swaths of the GOP.