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#NiemalsaufKnien: How the Identitarian Movement in Germany Reacted to the Black Lives Matter Protests

#NiemalsaufKnien: How the Identitarian Movement in Germany Reacted to the Black Lives Matter Protests
29th June 2020 Linda Schlegel
Linda Schlegel
In Insights

The death of Afro-American George Floyd at the hands of white police officers on 25 May this year has inspired prolonged protest against racism around the globe, united under the hashtag #BLM or Black Lives Matter. While the international outrage and global protest marches are a testament to our increasingly interconnected lives, so is the widespread reaction by multiple far-right groups in response to the protests. The German branch of the French Bloc identitaire, the Identitäre Bewegung (Identitarian Movement, IB) has been among the groups vocal about #BLM on their Twitter account with more than 29,5000 followers, as well as on their blog and their YouTube channel. Despite its claims of peaceful activism and “patriotism”, the IB is classified as a right-wing extremist threat and surveilled by the German security agencies. It champions ideas of ethno-pluralism, re-migration, the causal connection between Islam and terrorism and Breivik-like blame of the elite for ‘failed’ multiculturalism.

The IB has sought to utilise the current wave of #BLM protests to their end and started a campaign titled #NiemalsaufKnien (Never on our knees) in response to protestors and politicians kneeling in solidarity with the victims of racial discrimination and violence. Together with the self-proclaimed “patriotic fashion store” Phalanx Europa, it popularised an appealing and professionally designed logo for the campaign – a white knight on a black shirt with the campaign slogan and “we will not apologise” underneath – utilising the power of visual icons to appeal to their constituency. The message is clear: We, the white knights, will never bow down but fight for what we believe in. The knight is white not only to signify skin colour, but righteousness, justice, and purity. Knights are symbols of nobility as well as a determination to protect the weak. The white knight in particular is the proverbial ‘knight in shining armour’ willing to sacrifice his life fighting the ‘blackness’/darkness. Therefore, the symbol is likely to have been chosen on purpose.

One of the main tactics of the IB is to stage newsworthy protests, such as climbing on top of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and market their actions through high-quality, ‘cool’ and appealing YouTube videos. In early June, a video appeared on the YouTube channel run by the IB chapter in Bautzen, Germany showing the unrolling of a large banner with the campaign slogan #NiemalsaufKnien at the BLM march in nearby Görlitz. It is, however, more than just videographic evidence of the protest. Even without conducting a full genosonic and visual analysis of the video, it is evident that it is meant to stir emotions and motivate action. The words “feelings of guilt”, “self-hatred”, “no identity”, “no self-esteem”, “no honour” appear in large white letters on the screen while the initially soft music picks up pace to cumulate in “NOT WITH US” in large red letters. The video is a visual representation of the IB’s claim that Germans were taught to hate their country and disassociate themselves from their identity due to the ‘culture of shame’ forced upon them by the allies after WWII and upheld by the political elite. The video implicitly utilises Benford and Snow’s classical triad of diagnostic framing (it’s wrong that we cannot be proud to be German and lack identity) and prognosis/motivation (you should join us, because we fight this dire situation and (re-) create a pure society Germans can be proud of).

However, the IB seeks to appeal to a young and highly educated target audience, who are unlikely to be satisfied with simply unrolling banners at protests. It therefore runs a website with a blog, publishing sophisticated, sometimes almost philosophical articles on various topics pertaining to their ideology. In response to the George Floyd protests, it published a blog article titled “Never on our knees- a declaration of war” postulating that “black lives matter is a trojan horse,” disguising “anti-white racism and left-wing self-hatred ideologies” through false claims of “alleged structural racism.” Similar to the video, the theme of the article is that Germans were taught self-hatred, that they cannot be proud of their German identity and that Germans are “absurdly caricatured as villains, privileged by their mere existence,” i.e. their skin colour and passport. The meaning of the article is underlined by the image chosen to accompany the text: The battle of Tours in 732, when arguably Karl Martell defended the occident from Arab invasion. The article is written engagingly and in sophisticated language. Clearly, it is not meant to appeal to simply anyone on the streets but, like the other articles on the blog, it targets an educated, right-leaning audience, educated in history and international politics but who are dissatisfied with being treated as a ‘default’ racist simply because they are white.

Overall, #NiemalsaufKnien is a sophisticated, visually appealing, multi-channel campaign through which the Identitarian Movement expresses disagreement with the current public discourse on racial inequality. It is not only timely, it is likely a smart play on the current zeitgeist of a small but increasingly dissatisfied, young, white German audience. As of 18 June 2020, the YouTube video had 152 comments and is therefore far from trending, but most of the comments are positive, appreciative even. IB Germany and affiliated movements in Switzerland and Austria successfully participate in and potentially influence the discursive field surrounding the BLM protests by communicating their framing to thousands of followers, making their propaganda material potentially dangerous speech online.