The far-right, white nationalist groups called identitarians have come into the spotlight after being linked to the gunman who killed 49 people and injured dozens more in a terror attack at two New Zealand mosques.
Earlier this week, it emerged that one of the leading members of the Austrian chapter received a donation in the name of the suspected New Zealand mosque gunman, officials from the country said on Wednesday.
Austrian police on Monday searched the home of the head of the identitarian movement of Austria, Martin Sellner, and seized computers and phones after prosecutors discovered that he had received a four-figure sum from a person named Tarrant — the same surname as the suspected Christchurch shooter.
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Brenton Tarrant is charged with the murder of 49 people during the deadly shooting earlier this month. Sellner denied involvement in the attack and claimed he had planned to inform authorities about the donation.
Speaking after a cabinet meeting, Austria’s chancellor pledged a full and transparent investigation into any possible connections between the Alpine nation and the New Zealand shooter.
What is identitarianism and when did it start?
The group has roots in France, but has spread throughout Europe and made its way across the ocean. People who identify as identitarian claim they are not racist, but are “interested in preserving Western culture,” the Southern Poverty Law Center says.
The modern version of the ideology began in the early 2000s, with a group called Génération Identitaire in France.
The groups often call for “ethno-nationalism” or “ethnopuralism” — an anti-immigration stance that says ethnic groups are distinct and different from each other, and therefore would be “best suited to live separately,” the Southern Poverty Law Centre explained.
Sellner’s group, called Identitäre Bewegung Österreichs (IBÖ), has branches in most European countries. He has also been part of a group called Defend Europe, which made headlines after paying for a boat to sail in the Mediterranean Sea in protest of the migrant crossings.
The American version of the group has been classified as a hate group.
Barbara Perry, University of Ontario Institute of Technology and the director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism, says the group targets young men.
“It attracts a largely young demographic — in their 20s — who are concerned that they are the last generation that will enjoy the full fruits of white European privilege in Canada and globally,” she explained.
“Ironically, while they are critical of ‘globalism’ — largely because of the movement of non-white people into previously white strongholds — they nonetheless celebrate a collective global identity.
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North American presence
There are several groups in North America that claim the Identitarian ideology.
The American group, named Identity Evropa, founded in 2016 pushes the ideology and helped organize the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville — where a woman who was protesting the march was killed when a car drove through the crowd.
Austria’s Sellner has travelled to the U.S. and visited Identity Evropa’s members, including James Allsup.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says at least three other American groups are pushing the ideology.
In Canada, Perry says the ideology has had a presence for several years.
“Known here as Generation Identity, Canada ID, or Generation ID, for example, they have very close ties with their counterparts in Europe,” she explained.
“I think this is very much in line with the broader tendency of Canadian white nationalists seeking to empower themselves through their international connectivity.”