Generation Identity, the new kids of the British extreme-right, are essentially a bunch of cry-baby snowflakes obsessed with whining about their own victimhood – and frankly, it's pathetic.
The group's members are key exponents of an attempt to repackage extreme-right European politics from neo-Nazism to "identitarianism". This strand of thought proposes some sort of coherent identity for white Europeans, arguing that they are a people under threat from multiculturalism. It's bizarro-woke: identity politics, except propagated by people who are too stupid or too blinkered to realise that white people are not an oppressed minority.
Having existed in Europe for some time, they announced their arrival in the UK with a banner drop on Westminster Bridge last October, using the slogan "Stop Islamisation". Since then, they’ve been travelling around the country trying to whip up anti-Muslim hatred by: putting racist posters on anti-car barriers erected after the Westminster Bridge attack; putting Islamophobic stickers on a mosque; and, before Christmas, organising a shitty stunt targeting London Mayor Sadiq Khan (three of them dressed up as Khan, two women wore niqabs, and they all tried to get passers-by to sign a petition calling for Christmas to be banned).
They've only been going for a few months and have already been banned from Twitter.
So, nothing new: boilerplate actions from a new group of racist attention-seekers. But it is worth having a look at identitarianism and what it means for far-right politics.
Identitarianism is white racists trying to win gold in what they call the "Oppression Olympics". The relatively recent promotion of marginalised voices online has led to a perception among alt-right propagandists that "woke" "Social Justice Warriors" gain respect and shut down debate by virtue of their voices being more marginalised than others. The idea white people are being oppressed is one of the central messages identitarians push; they articulate this by saying that "European culture is under threat" because of migration, or that Europeans are going to be "replaced".
It's not that identitarians really want to join the woke conversation – more that racists have found a way to articulate their ideas in a way that fits the zeitgeist. This is the same weird inversion that has been happening in far-right ideology more broadly: ideas of white supremacy have been superseded by an imaginary white victimhood.
The idea of white people being in some way disadvantaged is nothing new, of course – the British National Party ran a "rights for whites" campaign in the early 1990s, falsely implying that white people had fewer rights. But the alt-right have gone balls deep with the idea. Through this sleight of hand, identitarians can present their agenda as about "preserving" European identity, and claim to not be racist.
This identitarian idea of victimhood is reinforced by the deluge of fake news pushed by racists and alt-right news outlets. On the far-right internet, every crime ever committed by a refugee (and a few made up ones) is sensationally reported, to feed a moral hysteria about the threat migrants are supposed to pose. The same shifts in online discourse which helped make Trump's election a reality and Brexit a possibility is helping far-right street groups like the identitarians recruit people who are worried about an existential threat that doesn’t exist.
What Generation Identity (GI) call "the great replacement" is a softer version of another far-right trope: "white genocide". This plays on conservative fears of a demographic shift that could see white people no longer being the majority in Western countries at some point, and takes it to an absurd conclusion.
Needless to say, there is no white genocide. Birth rates among white Europeans are falling for a number of reasons. To compare this to genocide is beyond fucked up. One involves people taking the pill or using condoms while other people migrate and have babies. The other involves mass slaughter.
While groups like the fascist, now-banned National Action (NA) used the idea of white victimhood, their overt neo-Nazism was always going to prevent them from growing beyond a certain level; it's difficult to cry about white genocide when you’re advocating a second Holocaust.
What’s different about GI is that they've got this all worked out, and so are probably the group most likely to fill the gap in the UK far-right left by NA. They're image-conscious and media-savvy, already scoring sympathetic coverage in Breitbart News and posing for selfies with Katie Hopkins. The group wants to make its hate palatable and the way it's delivered persuasive.
GI was originally the youth wing of a French organisation called Bloc Identitaire (BI), which was launched in 2003. BI was started by former members of a French far-right group called Unité Radicale, which was dissolved by the the government after one of their number tried to assassinate president Jacques Chirac on Bastille Day in 2002. It's in France where identitarians and GI have been most successful.
In Lyon, they held a protest against halal takeaways while wearing pig masks. One of their most attention-grabbing stunts was co-opting the French equivalent of tumblr meet-ups, called "giant apertifs", to make them anti-Muslim protests. One, called the "sausage and wine apertif", generated a lot of publicity for the group, before it was banned by the authorities for attempting to provoke hatred of Muslims.
GI's de facto leader is Austrian activist Martin Sellner. He was the face of the "Defend Europe" project, where identitarians crowd-funded for a boat to patrol the Mediterranean, intending to stop NGOs from helping migrants.
In a strategy meeting infiltrated by Julia Ebner, a research fellow for the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, Sellner said that GI don't want to openly associate with the alt-right as this could be harmful for their image – but did say he is "in touch with all of the alt-right", in particular Identity Evropa, a white-supremacist group. The strategy is to create a global counterculture to shift the Overton window to the right and preserve "our people". Ebner told VICE: "Their ultimate goal is to create an ethnoculturally homogenous Europe. Identity to them is defined in ethnic and cultural terms, on a regional, national and civilisational level. This shall be done by closing off borders to stop all migration and repatriation."
GI leaders reject the labels far-right and alt-right, and deny that their beliefs are extremist.
Talking of migration, several key GI activists have been close to the failed UKIP leadership candidate Anne Marie Waters, who launched her own far-right party – For Britain – towards the end of 2017. Jordan Diamond, one of the public faces of GI in the UK, attended the launch of Waters' new party and was with her at the UKIP conference in Torquay where her leadership bid floundered. Waters was also seen socialising with Martin Sellner at the Traditional Britain Group conference in October, which they both addressed.
Unlike National Action, whose propaganda directed hate at Jews, Generation Identity is gunning for Muslims and using the language of the counter-jihad movement. While that will make little difference to the targets of their hatred, it will mean GI are unlikely to attract the same level of opprobrium or hatred they would if they were openly Nazi.
This political current is basically identity politics for racists who don’t want to admit they’re effectively Nazis. GI advocate many of the same things neo-Nazis want, but in a way which portrays themselves as victims. Pitiful? Yes. But no less seductive and dangerous for it.