How a Small Budapest Publishing House Is Quietly Fueling Far-Right Extremism
When the alt-right wants to put an academic imprimatur on racist ideas, it turns to Arktos Media.
by Tess Owen
May 30 2019, 12:34pm
Online platforms like 8chan and Gab have helped far-right extremist ideologies go global. But when the alt-right wants to put an academic imprimatur on racist ideas, it turns to a small publishing house in Budapest.
For the last decade, Arktos Media has quietly churned out books with titles like “Generation Identity” and “Race Differences in Ethnocentrism” and sold them through mainstream booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Today, Arktos publishes more than 120 titles by 54 authors. The overarching theme of Arktos’ work: Western civilization is under attack by immigration and liberalism and could be wiped out if something isn’t done about it — and soon.
Arktos is just one example of the far-right’s attempt to push into the mainstream by repackaging old ideas in language that’s more politically and socially palatable.
Instead of talking about “whiteness,” Arktos’ authors use sanitized terms like “European” and “Identitarian.” One of their best-selling writers is the neofascist Italian ideologue Julius Evola, who was admired by dictator Benito Mussolini. Evola died in 1974, but Arktos has continued to translate and market his works; today his influence extends from 8chan and 4chan trolls all the way up to important political figures like former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
“Read every book Arktos has. Once you have done that, then you are officially white.”
This attempt to rebrand white nationalism is embodied by Arktos’ founder, Daniel Friberg, a Swedish business magnate who started out as a skinhead running in hardcore neo-Nazi circles in Scandinavia. He founded the company in 2009 and eventually became business partners with Richard Spencer, one of the most infamous white nationalists in the U.S., and he was slated as a speaker at the violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017.
Today, at 41, Friberg wears a suit and tie and has fashioned himself a media baron of the fringe far-right.
But despite the fact that outfits like Arktos use careful, calculated language that doesn’t explicitly call for violence, the ideas they promote have been used by some to justify violence. The mosque shooter in New Zealand espoused many of the beliefs expressed in Arktos books — including calling Muslim immigration to Europe an “invasion” — in a manifesto online before he went out and killed 51 people.
More recently, an Indiana man sentenced to three years in federal prison for painting swastikas on a Carmel synagogue and scorching its grounds told lawyers his wife had fed him “pseudo-academic propaganda that purported to prove her white supremacist beliefs.” (It’s not known what writers he was referring to.)
“[Friberg] is the architect of this new souped-up, cleaned-up, more professional right wing,” said Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior director at the Counter Extremism Project and the former coordinator of the U.N. Security Council team monitoring the Islamic State group, al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
“The ultra-right has understood that the baseball-wielding, cross-burning neo-Nazi types are not getting them anywhere as far as political influence is concerned.”
Because Arktos’ content stops short of being explicitly white nationalist, the company has been able to skirt social media policies barring hate speech. Their books are sold widely via mainstream vendors, and they have a podcast on Spotify and iTunes, where hosts discuss topics like the “decline of Western art,” “the role of women in modern society,” and even the fad “Keto” carnivore diet.
Arktos also enjoys a relatively robust presence on Facebook, with 43,000 followers and a “Shop now” button that directs users to the company’s website. A Facebook spokesperson said they would look into the page and take appropriate action if it violated their policies on hate speech. The page was still live as of Thursday morning.
Barnes & Noble didn’t reply to a request for comment on their sale of Arktos’ books, and an Amazon spokesperson said they were unable to comment on specific publishers but added that they have vetting systems to identify hateful content that violates their policies.
At the same time, many of Arktos’ authors are celebrated in the darkest corners of the internet. PDFs of their books live on the imageboard site 4chan, categorized as mandatory reading for “Iron Pill,” which is an alt-right superhero meme, and archived online just a few clicks away from excerpts of Hitler speeches and bomb-making manuals.
Many of Arktos’ books have violent underpinnings. Evola’s book “Metaphysics of War” aims to prepare readers “to experience war in a way that will overcome the limited possibilities offered by our materialistic and degraded age.”
“I'm reading ‘Metaphysics of War,’” one person wrote on 4chan earlier this month. “We need a war as a humanity to enter next chapter of history.”
Arktos exists within a wider ecosphere of far-right publishing and media outfits, but its internationalism sets it apart. Its authors come from more than 19 different countries, and some of their titles have been translated into as many as 11 languages, including Latvian, Bulgarian, and Greek.
“The ultra-right has understood that the baseball-wielding, cross-burning neo-Nazi types are not getting them anywhere as far as political influence is concerned.”
“Because Arktos publishes so many far-right thinkers from Europe and the U.S., they’ve played this role in bringing those ideas across different parts of the world,” said Keegan Hankes, a research analyst at SPLC’s Intelligence Project. “They’re a physical manifestation of the same thing we’ve been observing, which is that it’s an international movement connected by the internet — and those ideas and being connected through institutions like Arktos.”
After the New Zealand mosque attacks in March, counterterrorism experts concluded that far-right extremism officially posed a global threat. The shooter, in addition to posting his manifesto online, had traveled extensively in Europe and Asia. He’d even donated $1,700 to the Austrian chapter of the far-right organization Generation Identity and exchanged emails with its leader.
One of Arktos’ published authors, Markus Willinger, wrote the de facto manifesto for Generation Identity in a 2013 title by the same name. In the book, which Arktos has published in 10 languages, Willinger argues that older generations only embraced “multiculturalism” because they were embarassed by Nazi Germany.
“We go to class with 80% or more foreign-born students,” Willinger writes. “Knife-mad Turks, drug-dealing Africans, and fanatical Muslims. Your cheap clichés are our reality. That is why we hate your great dream of the multicultural society.”
Since the Christchurch shooting and the shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California, six weeks later, organizations like Arktos are now under fresh scrutiny for their role in forging an international community of hate.
“These guys are very careful,” Schindler said. “They don’t outright call for people to inflict actual violence, but they get people thinking so that it becomes acceptable, later down the line, to seek violence.”
From Bangalore to Budapest
The early days of Arktos are a little hazy. Records show that the company was registered in London in 2009 by a Danish lawyer living in Mumbai at the time. For the first few years, the company operated out of India with offices in Mumbai, Bangalore, and Goa, according to Louie Dean Valencia-Garcia, an assistant professor at Texas State University and researcher on the European far-right.
At first, Friberg was only a minor shareholder, having started the company with several others, including American John Morgan, who now runs his own far-right publishing house, called “Counter-Currents.” By 2012, Friberg was the majority shareholder of the company.
Friberg was raised in a wealthy suburb of Gothenburg, Sweden, by a politically left-leaning family. But as a teenager, he got involved with local neo-Nazis. In 1999, four of Sweden’s biggest daily newspapers published the same article on the same day, listing the names and mugshots of the 62 most dangerous Nazis in the country. Friberg, then 21, made the cut. At the time, he was running a white power publication and an anti-LGBTQ newspaper, and he’d been charged by Swedish prosecutors for “agitating against an ethnic group.”
Between 1995 and 2010, Friberg was in and out of prison for various offenses, including possession of a stolen AK4 rifle that was formerly used by the Swedish army, according to Carol Schaeffer, a journalist who's done extensive research on Friberg. In 2007, he founded Nordisk.nu, an online forum catering to Scandinavian neo-Nazis — among them Norweigian terrorist Anders Breivik, who would murder 77 people in a killing spree four years later.
But at some point, Friberg switched gears. Around 2013, he was appointed to the board of Wiking Minerals, a gold mining company owned by Patrick Brinkmann, who was reported to be essentially bankrolling neofascist movements across Europe, according to a 2008 investigation by the German newspaper Der Spiegel. In 2010, Brinkmann announced he was donating more than $7 million to an anti-Islam populist party based in Cologne, Germany, because the country was becoming “too foreign.” In 2015, Friberg was appointed CEO of Wiking Metals.
During this period, Friberg also started making inroads with members of the French New Right, or “Nouvelle Droite,” a group of far-right intellectuals. “It’s a typical story where this was a guy who, 20 years ago, was hard-line right-wing, hanging out with more or less unsavory skinhead types,” Schindler said, “and then reinvented himself as this respectable businessman.”
Friberg started appearing in a suit and clean-shaven. Around that time, he also founded MotPol, a far-right think tank.
“He was once described to me as a political entrepreneur,” said Benjamin Teitelbaum, assistant professor of ethnomusicology and international affairs at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “It’s not that he’s an influential speaker, or that as an ideologue he’s been innovative. It’s more in terms of methodology, platforms, media.”
Teitelbaum, who has written numerous books about the Scandinavian far-right, said it’s difficult to find a far-right media company that Friberg hasn’t been involved in.
According to company documents, in 2016 Friberg moved Arktos to Budapest. That was also the time when he stepped down as CEO from Wiking Minerals.
Friberg started living lavishly after moving to Budapest, according to former Arktos editor Morgan, who’s in an ongoing feud with Friberg stemming from a power struggle over the company’s finances.
“He took to wearing suits,” Morgan wrote in a blog post in 2017. “And had an enormous, posh, and pricey apartment in central Budapest.”
In a book titled “Key Thinkers of the Radical Right,” Teitelbaum describes Friberg in Budapest as “perpetually late and impeccably dapper”; someone who “drinks and smokes hard, but always keeps his cool.” “[He] spends most of his days roving between the city’s bars and cafés with his business partners,” Teitelbaum wrote, “dining almost always with hands shuffling between a cell phone, laptop, beer and cigarettes.”
Arktos’ financials are largely unclear, and Friberg declined repeated requests for interviews about his work and the company. The most recently available financial records for Arktos, which was incorporated in the United Kingdom, show that they had little cash on hand — $10,000 in 2016, and $55,000 the following year.
But the company has grown. Today, it has a 14-person staff, consisting of editors, art directors, proofreaders and marketing officers — up from nine staff in 2016, according to archived web pages.
It’s not clear whether that’s a reflection of book sales or investment by Friberg, but it coincided with a moment of great uncertainty across Europe and the United States. Economic anxieties, the refugee crisis and a string of deadly Islamic State attacks fueled a wave of populism. The ugly specter of racism in America came out of the shadows during the 2016 presidential election in the form of internet trolls and emboldened white nationalists rallying around soon-to-be-resident Donald Trump.
After Trump was elected, Richard Spencer led a room full of men wearing suits in a heil Hitler salute in celebration. In January 2017, Friberg and Spencer launched alt-right.com, a Virginia-based blog. In August that year, Friberg traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, where he was slated as a speaker at the violent Unite the Right rally, where a neo-Nazi killed protester Heather Heyer and left dozens injured.
“They get people thinking so that it becomes acceptable, later down the line, to seek violence.”
After Charlottesville, where skinhead neo-Nazis marched alongside khaki-clad alt-right white nationalists, Friberg took a step back from Spencer, who had helped organize the rally.
“Obviously this was a PR disaster,” Friberg told VICE News after the Unite the Right rally. “I saw a tremendous amount of violence.”
“It was clear that there was more of a mixed buffet of white supremacists in the U.S.,” said Valencia-Garcia. “It wasn’t just the clean-cut aesthetic of the alt-right.”
Friberg, though, maintained some ties with preppy white nationalist group Identity Evropa, who recently rebranded to “American Identity Movement” in an effort to distance themselves from the ugly scenes they were associated with in Charlottesville.
Identity Evropa advertised Arktos books on their recruitment fliers scattered across college campuses in 2017 and 2018, including “Why We Fight,” by French author Guillaume Faye. In the book, Faye, who died in March, stokes fears of a “genetic bomb” and “racial chaos” in Europe due to immigration, and discusses eugenics as a means to “improving the genetic quality of a population.”
Leaked internal chats from Identity Evropa are also telling about the overlap between the two entities. “Want your whiteness studies degree?” one member posted in December 2018. “Read every book Arktos has. Once you have done that, then you are officially white.”
An international community of hate
According to sales data from Barnes & Noble, Arktos’ best-selling title is “Fourth Political Theory,” by Alexander Dugin, a Kremlin-linked ideologue who has met with “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorists, appears on the far-right “Red Ice TV,” and is worshipped by the likes of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.
Barnes & Noble ranks “Fourth Political Theory” as its 33,193rd best-seller. While this doesn’t exactly put it in must-read territory, it’s still relatively successful; it ranks far higher than, for example, “An Officer and a Spy,” a thriller novel featured on NPR in 2014, which is ranked 144,953rd.
But Valencia-Garcia, who has studied Friberg for years, suspects he cares more about being influential than he does about making money.
“The ideas are being disseminated in these relatively short books but also through social media,” said Valencia-Garcia. “Some of these texts are shared digitally as PDFs, and very popular YouTube personalities review and talk about the books.”
Arktos, which has translated nine of Evola’s books from Italian to English, has helped make the fringe thinker a hero of the far-fight. Posters on 8chan flaunt their credentials by quoting his books; one recently asked why there weren’t already translated audiobooks of all of Evola’s works.
But Evola is also an example of someone who has gained what Pete Simi, an expert in extremism and an associate professor of sociology at Chapman University in Orange, California, described as “cross-cutting currency” — meaning they function as the glue within a seemingly disparate political movement.
Former Trump adviser and Breitbart executive Steve Bannon once referenced Evola during remarks at a 2014 conference at the Vatican. And Spencer said Bannon’s familiarity with Evola meant “a tremendous amount.”
Experts say that the creation of a “literary canon” has always been a key element of extremist movements — particularly for recruitment — because it provides a veneer of intellectual legitimacy for ugly ideas.
“The first task can often be ‘Read this book’,” said SPLC’s Hankes. “They want to be right, and the way to be right is to point to folks who are supposedly respectable.”
Cover image: Covers of three books published by Arktos Media.