The man accused of murdering 50 Muslims in a Christchurch, New Zealand this month previously donated nearly $1,700 to a white supremacist group in Austria, officials there say.
Approximately a year before the New Zealand terrorist attack, alleged perpetrator Branton Tarrant sent a large donation to the Austrian Identitarian Movement, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Wednesday. That group’s leader, Martin Sellner, is the face of an international neo-fascist movement that claims not to be racist, while actively pushing racist policies and conspiracy theories. Some of those conspiracy theories appeared verbatim in a manifesto Tarrant released shortly before the mass shooting.
Like many racists after other racists’ massacres, Sellner has tried distancing himself from Tarrant. But a bright line connects the fascist movement’s leaders, and the murderers who keep putting the movement’s ideas into practice.
“I’m not a member of a terrorist organization,” Sellner said in a YouTube video after Tarrant’s donation came to light. “I have nothing to do with this man, other than that I passively received a donation from him.”
Sellner and his ilk have tried to turn passivity into a talking point. This is the set who claim to be non-racist and non-violent, and pass themselves off as skinny jean-clad “hipsters” in soft-hitting news profiles. Sellner and one of his groups, Generation Identity, eschew swastikas for new symbols that give them plausible deniability when pressed on their far-right ties. Like Identity Evropa in the U.S. (recently rebranded as the American Identity Movement), Sellner’s so-called “identitarian” movement claims it supports white “identity” by promoting all- or majority-white nations.
This fascist movement falsely characterizes itself as under attack by immigrants, people of color, Muslims, and Jews. Sellner and his movement spread conspiracy theories about these racial and religious groups “replacing” white people. Generation Identity hosts a web page explaining the conspiracy theory. That page’s title was the also title of the manifesto Tarrant released before opening fire on Muslims, killing children as young as three.
Joan Donovan, director of Harvard University’s Technology and Social Change Research Project, says the conspiracy is a new guise for old, racist rhetoric.
“It’s racism and religious discrimination cloaked as a political debate about immigration,” Donovan told The Daily Beast. “On the one hand, GI [Generation Identity] will talk about ‘replacement’ as a problem related to political parties supporting immigration gaining political power. On the other hand, they will explicitly state that Muslims are ‘replacing’ white populations and culture. This conflation about the ‘right kind’ of immigrant is part of their international campaigns to promote white nationalism across western countries.”
The talking points are a carefully tooled call for genocide; inevitably, some people like Tarrant will act on them.
As a teenager, Sellner was part of “the neo-Nazi scene” and took a well-known neo-Nazi as his mentor, the BBC reported last year. Sellner does not deny the Nazi ties, but says he’s moved on to new right-wing movements.
In actuality, his far-right European scene would make fascists of old proud. Sellner spent years helming Austria’s wing of the group Generation Identity. Although he currently bills himself as the head of the Austrian Identitarian Movement, the Washington Post characterizes the two groups as the same, and Sellner uses the “GI” initials in some internet handles.
Generation Identity pushes an ethnic cleansing program in Europe, by which non-white people would be deported to the countries where they or their ancestors were born, Al Jazeera reported.
In 2017, the group announced a plan to rent boats that would harass migrants and their allies on the seas. Refugees fleeing dangerous locales often cross the Mediterranean Sea on dangerous inflatable boats, and are sometimes rescued by aid organizations. “We want to get a crew, equip a boat and set sails to the Mediterranean to chase down these enemies of Europe,” the group announced in a fundraising plan that drew money from a neo-Nazi website and one-time Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
The group’s ship eventually became stranded off the coast of Libya, only to be saved by one of the refugee rescue ships they set out to antagonize.
Sellner was banned from entering the U.K. with American and Canadian racists last year, after the country’s home office accused them of traveling there “to insight [sic] tensions between local communities in the United Kingdom.” (Fox News host Tucker Carlson sprang to Sellner’s defense on TV.)
In May, Sellner and more than a dozen other Identitarian Movement members were indicted by Austrian authorities, and accused of incitement to hatred, forming a criminal organization, property damage and harassment. Sellner was later acquitted. Several months later, Generation Identity members were revealed to have links to explicit neo-Nazis. The news led at least one prominent U.K. leader, but not Sellner, to disavow Generation Identity.
In the aftermath of the Christchurch shooting, Sellner was making new YouTube videos promoting the racist conspiracy theory that Tarrant cited in his manifesto. Sellner, who speaks German as his first language, released at least one of those videos on his English-channel.
Europe’s identitarian movement hopes to be more than publicity-friendly: it wants to be international.
Those international ties have reached U.S. military members. In May 2017, two Marines were arrested after they unfurled a banner with a Generation Identity logo from a rooftop at a neo-Confederate rally. Both men were allowed to return to duty. One, Sgt. Michael Chesny, went on to organize the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia months later. In group chats before the rally, Chesny discussed hitting anti-racist protesters with cars or combine harvesters. The August 2017 rally turned deadly when a neo-Nazi deliberately drove a car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters.
Other Unite the Right organizers included leaders of Identity Evropa, which models itself after Europe’s identitarians. Like their transatlantic fellows, Identity Evropa pushes an inherently racist agenda behind a thin veneer of clean-cut respectability. The U.S. group might favor white polo shirts to white robes, but the difference between them and the Klan is scarcely more than a wardrobe change.
So burgeoning murderers like Tarrant understand what these groups mean when they smear Muslims as “invaders” set on “replacing” the white man. They aren’t explicitly calling for murder; they’re making a case for it and waiting for a future murderer to act.
Tarrant was apparently such a fan of Sellner and his movement that he made an unusually large donation to them at the beginning of 2018.
At the time of the donation, Austrian authorities were monitoring Sellner’s finances as part of an anti-terror probe, they said.
“Most donations were in the area of two to three figures, whereas this donation was in the low four-figure area,” one official said of Tarrant’s nearly $1,700 donation.
“This made it stand out, and the events in New Zealand put a face to this donation.”