Far-right extremist groups from around the world have, for years, been quietly working behind the scenes to amplify their messaging through forging international alliances. And they’ll be building those bonds in person this weekend in Finland, at an event that underscores the growing internationalization of the white nationalist movement.
The second annual “Awakening” conference, to be held in the coastal city of Turku, comes less than a month after a shooting at two mosques in New Zealand left 50 dead. The suspected gunman, an Australian national, posted a manifesto online the day before the attack which revealed an intimate familiarity with the ideas and symbols of the modern far-right movement.
Terorrism experts said that the mosque shooting was more evidence that far-right extremism — despite its ideological fixation on national identity — now constitutes a growing global terror threat.
For example, the shooter’s manifesto was titled “The Great Replacement,” a nod to the ideas of far-right writer Renaud Camus, which have been hugely influential in the growing “Identitarian” movement in Europe and the U.S.
“We’ve seen a growing internationalization of all this,” said Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior director of international policy organization the Counter Extremism Project and a former coordinator of the U.N. team monitoring ISIS, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. “The conference is a wonderful example of that.”
Awakening II’s speakers hail from countries including the United States, Austria, Finland, Ukraine and the Faroe Islands. Many are prominent white supremacists. Last year’s event drew a similar mix of characters, plus a Scottish alt-right YouTube vlogger called “Millennial Woes.” Lectures were aired on Red Ice TV, a far-right Sweden-based outlet that has more than 300,000 subscribers on its YouTube channel as well as its own streaming platform.
A flier for this year’s event shows a man standing on a rock, looking out at the sunrise, with the words “AWAKENING II” followed by smaller print in Finnish “This is how we will win.” It’s an exclusive affair; not just anyone can attend. Tickets are cheap, but people who want to register for the event are advised to provide the name of a refer-ee. “All information is considered confidential and will be destroyed when not needed anymore,” the flier states.
One of the most influential and extreme groups represented will be the National Corps, a Ukranian ultranationalist far-right group with more than 10,000 members. Olena Semenyaka, the international secretary for the group’s political wing, is listed as a speaker at the conference — and she’s made no secret of her vision for the movement’s future.
‘We think globally,” Semenyaka told Radio Free Europe last December. “It’s possible for far-right leaders to come to power now and — we hope — form a coalition.” Semenyaka said that she hopes her party will spearhead those efforts.
The National Corps, including its paramilitary wing, Azov, has already apparently forged ties with some far-right groups in the United States. Prosecutors say members of the Rise Above Movement (RAM), a white supremacist fight club linked to violence in Berkeley, California, and Charlottesville, Virginia, met with Semenyaka and participated in MMA events in Ukraine in 2018.
The federal documents say Azov is “believed to have participated in training and radicalizing United States-based white supremacy organizations,” according to the federal documents.
Azov was making inroads with extremist groups in the U.S. as early as 2016, according to Bellingcat, an open-source media company. That year, Azov invited Andrew Oneschuk, a teen who later joined the violent neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen, to speak on their podcast about why young men like himself were joining white nationalist groups. (Oneschuk and his roommate, who was also in the movement, were murdered by a fellow member at their Tampa, Florida, apartment in 2017.)
The speaker list includes American white nationalists who bill themselves as mainstream, such as Kevin MacDonald. The retired psychology professor, who taught at California State Long Beach until 2014, is a prominent figure in American far-right circles. He’s best known for his promotion of anti-Semitic theories disguised as pseudo-academic research. For one, he argues that anti-Semitism is a logical response to Jewish migration to and in the U.S. and Europe.
MacDonald has been described as the American far right’s “favorite academic” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He’s a regular contributor to the Occidental Quarterly, a popular white nationalist online magazine whose stated mission is to defend “the cultural, ethnic, and racial interests of Western European people.”
“The overwhelming message from this conference is that the white nationalists are now internationalists, and that they’ve developed a movement that is international,” said Leonard Zeskind, president of the Institute for Research & Education of Human Rights, who has researched and written extensively about far-right extremist movements. “These folks have worked hard to build a relationship with Canada, Australia, Northern Europe. And they’ve done it.”
Another influential member of the American far right, Jared Taylor, was billed as a speaker at the conference but found upon arrival that his previous speeches had apparently gotten him banned from most of the EU.
When Taylor, the founder of American Renaissance, a white supremacist online magazine, arrived in Zurich earlier this week to speak at a different conference, authorities told him he was banned from traveling within the 26-country Schengen Zone until 2021 at the request of the Polish government. Taylor, reached by phone, speculated that the ban stemmed from lectures he gave to nationalist groups in Warsaw last year. Those speeches, which were anti-immigrant in nature, had piqued law enforcement’s concerns that he was inciting hate in Poland.
“If the point that you’re making is that these wicked people are gathering, these wicked white supremacists, from all across the borders,” said Taylor. “The fact we share is we share the same challenges.”
Taylor, who attended the first Awakening conference last year, said about 200 people attended in 2018. It’s unclear how many will be in Finland this weekend.
MacDonald and Taylor, who speaks French and Japanese, attended Yale, and owns a large home in an affluent part of Virginia, have long represented a vein of white nationalism that is currently surging among young white men in Europe and the U.S under the banner of “Identitarianism.”
“The idea was to get away from the image of the baseball bat-wielding neo-Nazis"
“The idea was to get away from the image of the baseball bat-wielding neo-Nazis, though a lot of neo-Nazis are now part of that group,” said Schindler. “The propaganda is extremely well done.”
Other speakers include Martin Lichtmesz, an Austrian publisher, writer and translator of far-right propaganda who published a Norweigan blogger and author cited in the manifesto of Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011.
Also in the lineup is Fródi Midjord, a white nationalist from the Faroe Islands instrumental in bringing international elements of the far-right movement together. Last December, he spoke at a conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, hosted by Azov, and he’s the organizer of an annual alt-right conference in Stockholm called Scandza Forum.
At last year’s Stockholm meeting, Midjord said that “normalizing nationalism” was the goal of the conference. “Any by that I don’t mean that we should strive to become accepted by the current mainstream,” Midjord said. “I mean that we should replace the current mainstream.”
Cover: Members of right-wing National Corps march toward an election campaign rally of Petro Poroshenko, President of Ukraine and candidate for 2019 elections, in Lviv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 28, 2019. Presidential elections will be held in Ukraine on 31 March 2019. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)