14 Nov 2011

What is fuelling the rise of the far right?

As Anders Behring Breivik appears in court charged with murder, Germany uncovers a new far-right terror group. But is the economic crisis to blame for the far right’s rise? Channel 4 News reports.

Has the euro crisis fuelled a rise of the far-right?

Speaking at an open court in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik said he “acknowledged” killing 77 people on 22 July this year, but refused to plead guilty.

He has previously said the mass murder was “necessary” to rid Norway and Europe of Muslims and multiculturalism, but was prevented from reading out a prepared statement in court.

The chilling massacre at a Labour Party camp sent shockwaves through Norway – a country that prides itself on an open, peaceful society. This week, Germany has also condemned a right-wing extremist terror group, which has claimed responsibility for the murder of nine immigrant workers. Police suspect the group may be responsible for bank robberies and bomb attacks over the previous decade.

The attacks in Germany and Norway are the horrific extremes of the far right, carried out by a tiny minority.

However, the resurrection of the extreme far-right movement mirrors that of the more mainstream political far right across Europe – and opposition parties in Germany have blamed the rise of the newly uncovered extremist group on a rise in the political far right.

And although far-right political parties have disassociated themselves from Breivik’s actions, many radical groups share some of his nationalist, anti-Islamic rhetoric. Police found that Breivik had a large social network which shared his ideology.

Loss of control

The think tank, Demos, carried out the first comprehensive survey of online far right supporters in July and August this year. Using advertisements on Facebook group pages, researchers targeted 10,000 people from 11 European countries and asked them to fill in detailed questionnaires.

When asked to list their top three concerns, respondents noted immigration, Islamic extremism and crime, whereas the control group listed economic instability.

The groups capitalise on the feeling that people are subject to forces that are beyond their control. Jonathan Birdwell, Demos

However, while not identified by respondents, financial instability and job concerns are often what fuels their worries, said Jonathan Birdwell, co-author of the report, The New Face of Digital Populism.

“The groups capitalise on the feeling that people are subject to forces that are beyond their control – the recession here [in the UK] caused by housing crisis in the US, or problems because of Greece,” Mr Birdwell told Channel 4 News.

“A sense of not having control feeds the support base of these groups.”

Read more: The far right is ‘organised and growing’ says ex neo-Nazi

Euro crisis ‘plays into their hands’

While the far right movement means different things in countries, these groups share a nationalistic cultural identity. However, perhaps surprisingly, it is also characterised by traditionally left-leaning economic policy.

The Demos study found that respondents were anti-establishment, anti-capitalism and supportive of the welfare state – but only for the country’s citizens.

Dr Erik Jones, Director of the Bologna Institute for Policy Research and Professor of European Studies at the Johns Hopkins University SAIS Bologna Centre agreed.

“All of these groups have another thing in common – they are anti-traditional elites,” he told Channel 4 News.

“We used to believe the far right were all free marketers, but they want to have a welfare state – as long as it’s available for themselves.”

We used to believe the far right were all free-marketers, but they want to have a welfare state – as long as it’s available for themselves. Erik Jones, Bologna Institute for Policy Research Director

Economic turmoil in the eurozone has only served to bolster anti-establishment sentiment.

“The extent to which the eurozone crisis is discrediting the elites, it plays right into their hands,” said Dr Jones.

“If you’ve got global bankers telling your domestic elites what to do, it not only discredits them, but fuels argument for anti-international-economic integration.”

Youth unemployment is the most worrying trend in Europe at the moment, added Dr Jones.

“You can imagine a bunch of testosterone-fuelled angry young men with no jobs, no prospects. It’s bad wherever that happens.”

Disaffected voters

The cynicism towards mainstream politics has added to far-right support, especially online. It has also resulted in centre-right parties embracing anti-immigration and nationalistic policies to try and entice voters, while radical right parties, such as the New Flemish Alliance, have gained ground by moving more towards the centre.

However the Demos report called on mainstream politicians to encourage people to become involved in political and civic life.

“We wouldn’t encourage that if they have neo-Nazi violent connections,” Mr Birdwell told Channel 4 News.

“But the others, you can’t dismiss them as racist or xenophobic. A lot of people are concerned about immigration, and are disillusioned with politics and democracy. The further these groups are pushed underground, the more worrying it becomes.”