Most observers on this side of the pond have probably never heard of Generation Identity or the Identitarian movement in Europe until Lauren Southern’s harrowing exploit on the Mediterranean. In blocking an empty Doctors Without Borders-operated ship from prowling the waters for refugee boats, she earned herself the ire of the Left and wider recognition for the budding Identitarian movement on the continent.
But what is the group exactly? What are their real influences and motivations? And how do they compare to the nationalist-populist movement in the United States?
We have our own peculiar far-right phenomenon here in the States, most notably the “Alt-Right.” Although that term encompasses Nathan Damigo’s Identity Evropa, which models itself aesthetically if not ideologically on the European Identity movement, Americans do not have a solid analogue to Generation Identity. At most, Richard Spencer of Alt-Right.com and Greg Johnson of Counter-Currents Publishing associate themselves with some of the European New Right thinkers such as Alain de Benoist and Guillaume Faye, who have exercised a certain amount of influence on Generation Identity, but the comparisons end there.
Generation Identity is largely a decentralized yet disciplined movement for the European youth, with its most prominent chapters operating in France (Génération Identitaire) and Austria (Identitäre Bewegung Österreichs), but also operating in Belgium and Germany as well.
What the European Identitarian movement has done is unlike anything the Alt-Right has mustered in the United States. Here, the spreading of Pepe memes so irks presidential candidates that they devote whole speeches to the topic; in Europe, mass waves of subsidized immigration inspire headline-catching stunts. The most famous of these provocations was the hanging of a banner over the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Generation Identity’s actions are not just conducted over the web but on the ground, although virtual and physical action can never divorced from one another. The young Identitarians of Europe don’t just scale buildings and monuments because they are athletic. Each stunt is relatively short-lived, but it is memorialized online for maximum effect. All of their stunts are completely legal–at least by American standards. In some European countries, the sentiments expressed on these banners constitute hate crimes.
Generation Identity is also more regimented and less anonymous than the American Alt-Right. It eschews the factionalism, infighting, and diverse approaches of the Alt-Right in favor of relatively standardized tactics, practices, and aesthetic presentation. In cities such as Lille and Vienna, they possess compounds or flats where they meet and plan their viral stunts. In some of these places, they have gyms to offer members the ability to train themselves physically. If these spaces aren’t large enough, they hold large outdoor retreats in the manner of training camps. Some chapters of Generation Identity portray themselves as both patriotic and charity-minded, routinely handing out supplies to the European homeless. They even appeal even to the sartorial tastes of 20-and 30-somethings with ideological (and stylish, perhaps) T-shirts and hoodies. In many ways, Generation Identity also strikes a para-militaristic note by featuring the Spartan lambda blazoned on black or yellow backgrounds as their preferred symbol.
What motivates the European Identitarian movement is, as stated before, ideas taken from the work of New Right thinkers. The concept of the “replacement” of native European populations by migrants is one theme prominently reproduced by many Generation Identity chapters, and is echoed by populist Dutch politician Geert Wilders as well. The uptick in Islamic immigration since the 1970s, as well as the unprecedented waves of immigration from North Africa and the Middle East more recently, is the chief motivating factor for members of Generation Identity. This demographic trend is often portrayed as a “clash of civilizations,” whereby the liberal, Christian civilization of the West is being “replaced” by the medieval tenants of Islam. For them demographics really are destiny. A more extreme concept – and one likely to raise more eyebrows – is that of “remigration,” whereby recent migrants are incentivized to return to their country of origin rather than becoming permanent fixtures of European demographics.
One can only imagine what an Identitarian movement modeled after Generation Identity might look like in the United States. Identity Evropa lacks the influence and reach of its European counterparts. The popularity of Generation Identity to Europe, though not immense, might be explained by two factors: 1) the dire situation in which Europe finds itself, and 2) the ambivalence of Generation Identity to the question of so-called “white nationalism.”
Europe is experiencing the effects of long-term immigration from Africa and the Middle East, including but not limited to higher crime, unemployment, lack of assimilation, radicalization, and a massive increase in terrorist attacks. The United States does not find itself in comparable circumstances. Immigrants to North America hail primarily from South America, and the Muslim population in the United States is small and relatively well-assimilated. Americans also possess better counter-terrorism operations than those found in the Old World. Europe is more of a warning than a reality to Trump supporters and far-right individuals–it is a potentiality rather than an actuality.
Furthermore, Identity Evropa possesses the taint of white nationalism that is so anathema to American culture whereas Generation Identity’s relationship to that particular political hot potato is much more complex. Nathan Damigo and his associates are unabashedly in favor of what they call a “white ethnostate” or “separatism.” On the other hand, members of the European Identitarian movement do not frame their political goals in such terms. They characterize their mission as preventing the “displacement” of “native” European peoples from their homelands. In short, Generation Identity deploys language often used by Native American tribes in North America. American groups such as Identity Evropa have a more difficult time asserting the “ownership” of North America by white persons in comparison because Europe was not settled in the same manner as North America. Moreover, Generation Identity focuses more on maintaining specific instances of European culture, such as “French-ness” or “Austrian-ness” rather than simply “whiteness.” Therefore, it is much easier to construe the American Alt-Right as simply racist and not bound to any desire to protect any one culture, and they garner less public and private support than Generation Identity.
Time will tell whether the Alt-Right or European Identitarian movement will be more successful in their respective milieux. If internet trends are accurate bellwethers for the future (as they were for the rise of Trump), both movements should see increasing popularity in the coming years.