The far-right has gained a lot of ground worldwide over the last few years. The Brexit result – although backed by people from a broad political spectrum – is seen as a triumph for followers of this movement in the UK. Trump’s election in the U.S. followed, despite all predictions that he didn’t have a chance.
This election further illustrates the rise of the far or alt-right, as they’re called in America. Trump’s chief strategist is Steve Bannon, of the far-right Breitbart News Network. His cabinet looks like it will be stocked with people who don’t believe in facts while Vice President Mike Pence is well known for his homophobic views.
In Europe there have been gains in France, Sweden, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Denmark, Hungary, Finland and Poland as this article by The New York Times illustrates. With looming presidential elections in some of the countries mentioned, what are the chances of the emergence of a Euro-American far-right alliance?
Whenever the far-right has raised its head it has wrought death and destruction in its wake. From Hitler’s Third Reich, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain through to the military junta’s of South America, Africa and Asia, all have been characterised by a charismatic strongman, adherence to a sense of nationalist pride and brutal crackdowns on any form of dissent.
More recently there have been seemingly isolated incidents of far-right terrorism – though many in the press at the time refused to call them so, relying on the ‘crazy loner’ explanation instead. On June 16th this year, prominent remain campaigner and migrant advocate Jo Cox was murdered by 52-year-old Thomas Mair.
Mair said he shouted ‘This is for Britain’ and ‘Keep Britain independent’, whereas original witness statements claimed he shouted ‘Britain First’ as he stabbed and shot Jo Cox. Britain First is a far-right anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim nationalist party founded in 2011.
They distanced themselves from Mair in the aftermath of the murder, though pictures later emerged of him campaigning for the group. Can you imagine if he shouted ‘Allah hu Akbar’ before murdering an MP? There’s no way the perpetrator would be described as a lone nutcase in that scenario.
Or what about Anders Behring Brevik? Another lone-wolf, the Norwegian murdered 77 people in combined bomb and shooting attacks in 2011. Disturbed? Yes. Troubled? Yes. Terrorist? Of course not, he’s white, and it seems white people – unless they’re Irish – cannot be terrorists.
These are but two extreme examples, worryingly the number of racial assaults, verbal or otherwise, has risen by 42 per cent since the Brexit vote. In Germany there has been a rise in arson attacks against refugee centres and a reported jump of almost 400 per cent in attacks against refugees.
Stateside – although people voted for him for a variety of reasons – Trump has been elected following a campaign based on racist rhetoric, which does not bode well for minorities residing there. Furthermore, throughout the campaign Jewish journalists were targeted with anti-Semitic abuse on social media and in the form of letters to their homes.
There has been consistent demonisation of Muslims, Mexicans and African-Americans coupled with flagrant misogyny emanating from the President-elect. Throughout the campaign, Trump called for a total ban on Muslims entering the country, the expulsion of all undocumented immigrants, branded many Mexicans as rapists and promised to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico at the latter’s expense.
His children too have championed these views, taking to social media to revamp old Nazi propaganda. Donald Trump Jr compared Syrian refugees to a bowl of skittles, saying: “If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.” The image was later taken down after a copyright claim from the owner of the original photo.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) September 19, 2016
Trump has retweeted messages from far-right movements and he and his children have given interviews with far-right media organisations, often using grossly inaccurate figures masquerading as fact. In the last couple of weeks Oxford Dictionaries named ‘post-truth’ the word of the year for 2016, an adjective describing a situation ‘in which objective facts are less influential than appeals to emotion’.
This all sounds very familiar to people with a knowledge of history, and many have compared the election of Trump to that of Adolf Hitler in Germany in the thirties. Both were elected democratically, and both espoused racist rhetoric and nationalism, promising to restore their countries to former glories.
But how relevant are these comparisons? To find out I spoke with Dr Paul Jackson, senior history lecturer at Northampton University and curator of the Searchlight Archive, a database of far-right movements since the war.
Dr Jackson thinks the links are tenuous at best:
To liken Trump’s rise to that of Hitler I think is really problematic because it stops you from seeing what Trump is really going to be getting up to and doing. I think in the main, especially for people in Europe, what he’s probably going to do is give an enormous [boost] to all of the populist parties who now will much more seriously feel they have a chance to go beyond what the pollsters say is possible and break through.
With the French and Dutch elections looming, both the Front National’s Marine le Pen and Geert Wilders of the Dutch Party for Freedom have seen a jump in the polls. Le Pen has said she will hold a referendum on France remaining in the EU. If a Frexit result mimicked Brexit it is hard to see the EU in its current form surviving, leading to a resumption of European nation state politics.
This does not seem as far-fetched as it would have a mere few months ago. Nobody predicted Trump would get the Republican nomination, he did, fewer said he would be elected, he was. As Dr Jackson illustrates:
A lot of these people will similarly feel they are now imbued with more legitimacy, more license to be able to [win] and I think perhaps where there is a loose parallel, is the ways in which the extreme forms of nationalism, the likes of Mussolini and Hitler in the thirties were able to give a sense of license and endorsement to other fascist and extreme right groups in other countries in Europe, and helped to normalise things like anti-Semitic legislation in places like Hungary and Romania.
The Economist magazine thinks that comparisons with the ’30s are ridiculous, but are they really? There may be no direct parallels between Trump and Hitler, except racism and that they were both democratically elected.
Hitler had a clear plan, maniacal as it was; Trump appears to have less of an idea. However, he is likely to fill his cabinet with ultra-conservative Christians, homophobes, racists and climate change deniers. Nothing new there for a Republican, but one appointment stands out, that of Steve Bannon as his head strategist.
Bannon is a cheerleader for the American alt-right movement, which have the support of the Ku Klux Klan. If you think that’s an overstatement check out the above video of their recent conference, at which leader Richard B. Spencer opens with the line ‘Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!’ followed by Nazi salutes from the crowd.
If they’re not fascists, they are not hiding it very well, and if history continues to repeat itself we might be heading for an outcome that leads society deeply divided for years to come.