Update: The UK Home Office (Interior Ministry) barred Generation Identity conference chairman Tore Rasmussen from entering the country on May 4. In a statement to WikiTribune, the Home Office said: “EU [European Union] law allows the Home Office to refuse an European Economic Area (EEA) national admission into the United Kingdom when they pose a present, genuine, and sufficiently serious threat to the fundamental interests of society, including to public policy or public security.”
A small but growing collection of self-consciously well-spoken right-wing young campaigners against multiculturalism, Generation Identity believe they have an intellectually coherent ideology behind their message of ethnic separatism. The group has staged large rallies in Europe but faces a rare coalition of direct action from anti-fascist groups and a British government determined to act against hate speech as they try to enter the United Kingdom.
On a recent Saturday, WikiTribune tracked Generation Identity down to its first attempted conference in Sevenoaks, a small town in Kent 30 minutes south of London. We wanted to see what the reality is behind a group which has held rallies in Germany and France with banners condemning immigration and calling for European races to be allowed to live in their own cultural “identitarian” space. Generation Identity has yet to make a public impression in Britain.
‘When the purpose of someone’s visit to this country is to spread hatred, the Home Office can and will stop them entering Britain’ – Home Office
Walking in silence and accompanied by a police escort to help them avoid a small band of anti-fascist protesters between a pub venue and the local rail station, a group of 30-or so young men and women were dressed as though they could have been off to a concert. The police presence was almost as large as the group itself. To one side of the station’s entrance a handful of black-clad men and women pointed phones and snapped pictures to try to publicise the identities of attendees as they left Sevenoaks.
Not your Grandfather’s “white supremacist group”
What is this group that has staged significant events on the Continent with its message of racial separatism and anti-Muslim rhetoric known as “Identitarianism”?
“Generation Identity is a white supremacist group,” Salah al-Ansari, a senior researcher at counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, told WikiTribune. “It aims to classify people against their ethnic background.”
The British government has taken a strong view on Generation Identity and had already stunted the potential of the first conference by blocking the entry of two of its European leaders: Martin Sellner, from Austria, and Abel Bodi, from Hungary.
In a letter to the 29-year old Sellner, the Home Office (Interior Ministry) said Generation Identity Austria is an “extremist far-right group” and denied him entry into the country – the second time in under a month (The Guardian) – because of what it determined were his extreme and anti-British values.
A spokesperson for the Home Office told WikiTribune: “When the purpose of someone’s visit to this country is to spread hatred, the Home Office can and will stop them entering Britain.”
They added: “This Government upholds free speech but we will not let it be used to excuse detestable views that directly contravene our values. We take the threat from extremism seriously and we will challenge it wherever we see it.”
Haters get banned
This isn’t the first time the Home Office has banned people from entering the country. Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders was refused entry in 2009 because his opinions on Islam “threaten community harmony and therefore public safety” (The Guardian) – the ban was later overturned. Other ‘hate promoters’ banned from entering the UK include American white supremacist Stephen Donald Black and hard-line Islamist preacher Abdullah Qadri Al Ahdal.
‘We’re concerned about our ethnocultural identity…We don’t want to be replaced by Muslims..’ Generation Identity
Britain has a long history of working at official and private levels to combat extremism. From the Battle of Cable Street in East London, to attempts to shut down Islamist extremism and far-right attacks on British Muslims, the country has a vision of itself as a tolerant and inclusive society.
With its message of “ethnopluralism” – a far-right hypothetical model of governance based on ethnic segregation – but purported rejection of conspicuous racism, Generation Identity seeks to change that political consensus and replace it with clear cultural boundaries between European races and others.
“We denounce extremism, yes, and we denounce the old rights, neo-Nazism. We denounce conspiracy theories. That’s not us,” Generation Identify conference chairman Tore Rasmussen told WikiTribune.
He added: “Generation Identity is not only concerned about Islamization. We’re concerned about our ethnocultural identity,” Rasmussen said. “We don’t want to be replaced by Christian Nigerians. We don’t want to be replaced by Muslims, by Salafists. We’re ethnopluralists.”
Generation Identity organizers pressed on with the event without their Austrian and Hungarian big hitters. A third Italian speaker took ill and couldn’t travel. Conference participants said between 50 and 60 people turned up last Saturday for the “European Reunion”. WikiTribune had planned to attend the event but a Generation Identity member gave us another location as a transparent but time-consuming tactic to avoid media attention.
The activists and participants secretly gathered at the Stag Theater in the center of the town. Anti-racism advocacy group Hope Not Hate discovered the event’s location, however, and informed the venue’s management, who removed the group for booking under “false pretenses.”
This event was intended to bring together established European Generation Identity speakers and British sympathizers under one roof but it came to a premature end.
Joe Mulhall, a senior researcher at anti-racism advocacy group Hope Not Hate, said Generation Identity eschews the violent methods and overt bigotry favored by traditional far-right supporters in order to broaden its appeal.
“Their slickness of imagery and websites, and the way they operate, belies the extremeness of their ideology,” Mulhall told WikiTribune. He said Generation Identity uses coded language to mask the real implication of their arguments. He pointed to the group’s endorsement of ethnopluralism to make his point.
“When you look at what ethnopluralism is, it’s racial separatism,” he said. “Their ideology is so extreme, and yet, the way they present themselves is much more moderate.”
After being removed from the Stag Theater, the group then moved to The Chequers, a nearby pub. A group of self-described anti-fascists, calling itself Antifa as do similar groups in the United States soon appeared and a brawl ensued in a nearby parking lot.
The fight injured one Generation Identity conference participant who declined medical treatment, while police arrested another man on suspicion of assault. He was later released on bail, Kent Police told WikiTribune in a statement.
Time please: A very British end to the day
The participants then returned to the pub, where they spent the next couple of hours until police could safely escort them back to the train station.
“We had a successful conference. We had some technical issues before lunch, but after lunch, we sorted it out,” said Rasmussen as several police officers watched over the group from the other side of the road.
They needed to go, anyway. The Chequers had been informed about Generation Identity members, management told WikiTribune, and they were asked to leave.