Extremist numbers "in decline"

Searchlight - February 2011

An annual report on Racism and Extremism by the Anne Frank Foundation and the University of Leiden shows a continuing decline of ultra-right activist groups and has introduced a possible new definition for Geert Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV).

Last year, the characterisation of the PVV as "new radical right" created a stir but this year's similar definition as "new extreme right", raised few eyebrows.

The report produces concrete and interesting argumentation, its authors examining the last elections in which the classical extreme right participated: the council elections of March 2010. Their conclusions are remarkable; the Dutch People's Union (NVU) ran for office in four towns and were hardly excluded from debates or elections markets when it was once almost unthinkable that such parties could take part in the democratic process because, it was strongly argued, they excluded themselves from this process through their racist and even fascist ideologies.

The result, however, was the same - no seats won on any council. The last time a classical ultra-right outfit won seats was in 1998 by New Right in a council in the city of Rotterdam. Whether the diminution of the classical ultra-right is because of the rise of the PVV remains an open question. Over the last five years, there was a discernible shift to street activism - now in decline - and more local, fluid ways of organising extreme-right circles of activists but the thousands of so-called "Lonsdale" youth have almost entirely disappeared. It is also difficult to give conclusive answer as to why the subculture of this hardcore music scene has more or less vanished and its young adherents have become less visible, a factor that has reduced clashes with other subcultures or migrant youth.

The street activists of National Socialist Action, modelled on the Autonomous Nationalists in Germany, also face difficult times, according to the researchers. Because of internal ideological spats about solidarity with the now-defunct so-called Red Army Faction, house squatting and the Pro-Islam point of view held by some core activists who think all this is in line with the traditions of the brown-shirted Nazi SA, other activists broke away to revert to racist hooliganism.

The growth of the NSA, thus, came to an end, also partly due to the evaporation of the "Lonsdale' scene, their original source of recruitment. An important factor noted by the researchers is that of age, the survey showing that extreme right-wing activists in the adolescent phase (15-25 years old) stay active for an average of five years. Since a lot of activists became active together in the same period, their simultaneous dropping out could be a significant factor in the group's decline.

Another interesting point is that the researchers have recognised a kind of "professionalisation" of the NSA, meaning that the members are no longer involved in street and bar fights and getting arrested for such things as happened two or three years ago. Now, they only look for confrontations with police and opponents at demonstrations and seem to have found their place in the national and international nazi scene.

The other classical nazi street activist outfit is Blood&Honour but since 2007, when a group of B&H members attacked an anti-fascist demonstration in Uitgeest, which led to arrests, media attention and a trial, its countrywide organising committee has quit the scene and its local branches have become marginalised.

Attempts at a re-launch of B&H were thwarted when anti-fascists and local mayors successfully blocked attempts to stage meetings and concerts. In the east of the Netherlands a de-radicalisation program was launched against B&H's biggest branch and has been successful, leaving the nazis with just four small local groups.

The final group worth mentioning in this spectrum is Voorpost, whose activism and membership has been relatively stable in the past two years. Voorpost is organised in local circles that hold a monthly drinking session - and, once in a while, a lecture on certain themes to educate their members - have barbecues, cultural trips and sets up local actions against McDonalds, animal abuse, new mosques etc.

In 2009, it amended this strategy, by organising a national demonstration in Maastricht at which the turnout was mainly comprised of Voorpost activists from neighbouring Belgium. A follow-up demonstration in Gouda was a flop and Voorpost returned to its policy of purely local activity. The general conclusion of the report is that right-wing extremist street activism has declined and that the number of really active members of the scene has dropped to 170. The secret service, the AIVD, reckons the same numbers fell from 600 in 2007 to 300 in 2009. The amount of demonstrations, likewise, plunged from thirty-one in 2009 to just thirteen in 2010 while the number of violent incidents with an extreme right-wing background also dropped from 216 in 2008 to 148 in 2009.

This seems a logical conclusion: fewer extreme right activists and, therefore, fewer violent incidents with an extreme right-wing or racist background. The same goes for the "Lonsdale' subculture" which was responsible for a vast amount of the violence in the last years.

However, two other surveys have come up with different results from the latest Anne Frank/Leiden report. Research published by the Police Academy in 2008 suggested that the figures on which the Anne Frank/Leiden reports are based, are influenced by police underreporting of incidents. Another survey of 2009 by anti-racist organisation Article 1 and the Anne Frank Foundation and the University of Leiden showed a stabilisation of the level violence, not a decline. Thus an overall conclusion on the scale of racist violence in the Netherlands is hard to reach.

Jeroen Bosch for Alert! and Antifa-Net in Amsterdam