The Cultivated Extremist? How the Identitarian Movement Frames its Ideology

The Cultivated Extremist? How the Identitarian Movement Frames its Ideology
17th July 2020 Linda Schlegel
Linda Schlegel
In Insights

The Identitäre Bewegung (IB; Identitarian Movement) is the German branch of the transnational network of right-wing organisations affiliated to and originating from the French Bloc identitaire. The identitarian movements across Europe are united by the use of common symbolism, including the Identitarian Lambda, but represent independent organisations without a transnational leadership body. Although the number of its active members is estimated to only be around 600, the German IB is under surveillance by security agencies as experts believe that the group and its right-wing ideology are a threat to democracy and that its goals will ultimately require the use of violence.

One reason the IB is believed to be a danger to democracy despite its small manpower is that it represents the new “Nipster” (Nazi-hipster) style of right-wing extremist movements. Instead of skin heads, swastika tattoos and violence, the IB and other new far-right movements champion a ‘cool’, young, and professional public appearance. This public appearance is communicated in words and deeds offline, but to a large extent also online in sophisticated, professionally-made multi-channel campaigns. The Identitarian Movement Germany had more than 29,500 followers on Twitter before the account was removed and more than 6000 on Telegram; it runs multiple YouTube channels with video titles including “The gigantic wave of refugees threatening Europe” and “4 Million -the migration weapon” but also “Impressions of the IB’s summer festival”, walking the line between extremist group and ‘fun’ youth club; it even markets a variety of ‘fan’ products such as stickers and t-shirts at a ‘patriotic’ online shop. While the YouTube account of Martin Sellner, the self-styled leader of the German-speaking part of the movement, was recently blocked, the IB’s organisational account remains active.

Much could be said about every single one of these media channels. One of the most interesting communication tools of the IB, however, is its blog. Not only does it seem to be the centrepiece of its online marketing, it also deviates most strongly from the stereotype of the uneducated, club-swinging and Hitler salute showing ‘prototype’ Nazi. The blog is, in essence, the epiphany of the new European Nipster extremist.

In its introduction video on the blog, a professional production with sophisticated videography found in most IB videos, the IB describes itself as a “brave, cheeky, creative” youth organisation with “thousands of supporters and sponsors” with the goal to defend the German identity and its connection to the homeland (Heimat). This identity is supposedly in danger due to migration, Islamisation and the “great replacement” instigated by the German political elite to eradicate the German Volk and, so the framing, if one seeks to defend his Germanness, one needs to get active and join what the IB simply calls “the movement”. On the surface, the IB’s blog might seem to adhere to the classical framework of framing persuasion, namely diagnostic, prognostic and motivational framing, i.e. the migrants and the political elite are threatening our existence and our identity is under threat (diagnostic); we aspire a pure society proud of its heritage through re-migration and a change of the political system (prognostic); but we need to act now, it is urgent that you help to defend your identity (motivational).

But the ideology and strategy conveyed through the blog is more nuanced than that. The main goal of the IB is to change the meta discourse and to “develop a counter-public,” not simply to recruit volunteers for protests. As has been shown, the far-right utilises a neo-Gramscian strategy, seeking to change the social and cultural discourse to then subsequently change the political discourse and reality. The IB, by its own account, is no exception and seeks to produce content in high-quality and modern formats, which resonates with a young and well-educated target audience with little resemblance to ‘classical’ neo-Nazis.

For instance, it takes great care to justify and lay out its ideology in blog articles under the heading “theory”. This group of articles are sophisticated, intellectual and seemingly balanced (in comparison to other right-wing extremists) accounts aimed at an educated and critical audience. The blog is full of visual and textual allusions to the bible, to historical battles, even quotes Goethe; current newspaper articles and even academic studies like the recent ISD report are commented on and put into context, clearly indicating that the readership is expected to be well educated and possess general knowledge on politics, culture and religion.

The blog articles detail the history of “self-hatred” in Germany, offer ample “evidence” for the wrongdoings of the political elite and the dangers of migration, while stressing that the migrants are not the culprits- they are, in fact, “only chess pieces of the globalists.” This is a clear difference between the IB and more ‘classical’ neo-Nazi and right-wing extremist groups. Neither migrants, Muslims nor Jews are explicitly identified as legitimate targets. On the contrary, long blog articles argue that neither Jews nor Muslims are the evildoers, but solely the political elite is framed as the villain destroying German identity.

This is dangerous, because this way of framing may be more appealing and easier to accept for potential supporters. In fact, this low-threshold ideology and alleged rejection of violence can contribute to a change in the meta-discourse and, in the long term, may facilitate the inclusion of such ideas into mainstream societal discourse, paving the way for more overtly confrontational frames and potentially the first step of the neo-Gramscian right-wing revolution. Therefore, despite its few members, the IB might play a role in shifting public discourse and popularising ‘soft’ right-wing extremist framing in the intellectual leadership of the future.