Austrian far-right group facing criminal charges

The charges against members of the "Identitarian Movement" include hate speech and criminal association.

Austrian prosecutors charged 17 members of the far-right "Identitarian Movement" (IBÖ), for a series of racist and xenophobic stunts. (CREDIT: David Speier/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Austrian prosecutors charged 17 members of the far-right "Identitarian Movement" (IBÖ), for a series of racist and xenophobic stunts. (CREDIT: David Speier/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

State prosecutors in Austria announced this week that they were pressing criminal charges against 17 members of the “Identitarian Movement,” a far-right group which has risen to prominence in recent years with a series of provocative stunts.

The charges, which prosecutors said on Monday are against 10 prominent members and seven “active sympathizers,” include counts of hate speech, criminal association, coercion, and damage to property.

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According to the Associated Press, the group’s leader, Martin Sellner, is among those charged. In March, Sellner and his American girlfriend, Brittany Pettibone (who is also a far-right activist), were barred from entering the U.K. because authorities had received information that their visit was designed to “insight [sic] tensions between local communities in the United Kingdom”. The story was then picked up by Tucker Carlson, who used his prime-time spot on Fox News to defend the pair.

In a statement Monday, the Identitarian Movement said that it rejected all the allegations and disputed the charges. “We hope for the speedy opportunity to refute the allegations of the prosecutor,” Sellner and his co-defendant, Patrick Lenart, said. “We are sure: Patriotism is not a crime.”

The Identitarian Movement is a European far-right movement which wants to preserve Europe’s “cultural heritage” and is vehemently Islamophobic and opposed to migration. The group has pulled off a series of protests and stunts, the most infamous of which occurred last June when Identitarians crowdfunded $70,000 to rent a ship which they could use to disrupt NGO ships that were saving refugees and migrants stranded in the Mediterranean.

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Martin Sellner likes to market himself as a clean-cut, family-friendly figure. But undercover footage by ITV shows Sellner boasting about his contacts with white-supremacists in America, and saying that the “Jewish question” of the 1920s was comparable to “Islamic immigration today.”

Over the past year, there has been a resurgence of far-right activity in Europe: In September, four soldiers in the U.K. were arrested for being part of neo-Nazi groups. Right-wing groups have also staged rallies in Poland, and similar movements have seen electoral gains among far-right parties in Germany and Italy.

Similar far-right gains in Austria have flown relatively under the radar, despite the October 2017 election, during which the far-right, Islamophobic Freedom Party took 26 percent of the vote. Not to be outdone, the leader of the conservative and populist People’s Party also promised to further curb immigration and limit benefits to refugees.

In January, a state election candidate for the Freedom Party was forced to stand down after it was revealed that a song-book at a fraternity where he was a member contained lyrics about killing Jews. Those lyrics which were also present in the songbooks of other fraternities, whose members dominate the ranks of the Freedom Party.