Racist Gabbers still on the rise

Searchlight - February 2006

A shock report on the growth of organised racist youth in the Netherlands by the Anne Frank Foundation (AFS), in cooperation with the University of Leiden, has found that between 2001 and August 2005 there were no fewer than 125 right-wing so-called Gabber and Lonsdale groups and documented over 200 incidents, 140 of them violent. According to the report, the most usual forms of violence have been assaults (41 cases) and confrontations between young Dutch people and youth of migrant origin (50 cases).

A conclusion reached by the AFS researchers is that in these confrontations the line between victim and perpetrator is often wafer-thin or blurred and that many cases are characterised by a chain of incidents and an action-reaction cycle.

Lonsdale youth, a sub-group of the Gabbers named after their favourite dress brand, form groups that vary immensely from each other both in their size and in their racist or ultra-rightist behaviour. Further, contrary to popular belief, Lonsdale groups are not an exclusively rural problem but are also seen in cities.

Among the questions raised in the report are whether we are dealing here with a racist, right wing phenomenon or just another form of youth criminality? Another point is the reaction to such activities of the various players in the field: the media, the police, the justice department, the AIVD secret service, city councils politicians, youth workers, the schools, anti-racism projects, ultra-right organisations, migrant youth groups, the hardcore music scene and, last but not least, the Lonsdale company.

In an AIVD report, the secret service concluded that only 5% of the Gabber youth could be defined as racist but the problem of that report was its very limited definition of racism which was interpreted as "thinking oneself superior to another race".

This definition, of course, renders such remarks as "migrants have to leave The Netherlands because they're different" as non-racist. A remark like "migrants have to leave The Netherlands because they belong to an inferior race and have to be prevented from mixing with our race," would, however, be considered racist.

By rigidly defining only the second remark as racist, the AIVD displays staggering ignorance bout how racist opinion is formed and expressed, let alone any idea on how young people think and talk.

The AFS reports also raises questions of aspects of youth culture. In contrast to the punks and skinheads of the 1970s and 1980s who went out of their way to upset their parents and society, the Gabbers of today actually seem to have got their racist ideas from their parents.

Like the Gabbers, their parents are frequently fans of the late anti-immigrant populist Pim Fortuyn, who managed to introduce "politics" into homes where it was long gone and forgotten. In this dangerous generational mix a subculture has grown in which it is regarded as socially positive to identify oneself as anti-Muslim and anti-migrant, to vent hatred towards the political caste and to opt for radical solutions to fight against the "foreign rule" of the European Union.

The formation of right-wing Gabber groups varies from town to town. In one region, one might see numerous Gabbers but they are never involved in racist incidents. This may be connected with a strong presence of numerous Moluccan youth groups, a factor that perhaps dissuades the Gabbers from having a "street war" with them. On the other hand, in a small village in the north of the country, there was a group that went by the frightening name of Sieg Heil Siddeburen but turned out to be just four young boys.

Incidents involving ultra-right Gabbers have often made the headlines, especially in the aftermath of the brutal murder of filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, in November 2004. In the second half of 2005, however, there was hardly a report to be found in the media about racist attacks by Gabbers, even though they continued as the following incidents show.

In Harderwijk, for example, groups of racist Gabbers and Turks clash when Gabbers try to set a mosque on fire while, in Roelofarendsveen, an Iraqi family was terrorised for a long period by right-wing Gabbers who smashed windows at the family's home and tried to burn down the house down one night when the family was out. In the end, the youngsters were arrested and convicted.

In Muiderberg, an argument between Moroccans and rightist Gabbers escalated when one of the Gabbers received a gun from his father and shot and hospitalised three Moroccans while, in Eindhoven, a group of racist Gabbers planned an arson attack on a mosque but when they saw it was full of people they were afraid of being seen and chose, instead, an Islamic school. Only a small amount of the wave of violence that followed the Van Gogh murder has been solved to date but around 15% has been committed by ultra-right Gabbers.

Another glaring gap in police investigation and prosecution is the lack of convictions for internet racism. From 1999 to 2005, only ten cases of indictable postings on internet fora like Stormfront and Holland Hardcore were prosecuted, a figure that is in no comparison with the true number and severity of the lawbreaking involved. In the real, non-virtual, world prosecution activities could also be much better and wipe out the feeling that racist criminals have relative freedom to flout the law.

In cases where right-wing Gabbers commit "normal" crimes like violence, arson, vandalism and damage to property, these offences are usually prosecuted. Despite rulings from the justice authorities, these crimes are still not treated as racist crimes but if the law was properly followed, racism in these cases would have to be taken into account and the penalties, on conviction, would increase.

The Anne Frank Foundation report contains an interesting chapter on how the relationship between ultra-right and fascist organisations, on the onehand, and racist Gabber groups, on the other, develops.

Potentially, Gabbers provide an immense reservoir of recruitment for racist organisationsÉ thousands of youngsters and growing. On the other hand, the Gabbers are a liability, with their drug abuse, their violence and their general apathy towards political issues.

Also, the far-rightist organisations demand a lot of the Gabbers – the youngsters who become members are often confronted with dull, mind-numbingly boring party publications, invitations to turgid meetings held far away and taking part in small demonstrations under heavy police protection and, sometimes, confronted with opposition from locals. None of this is a really attractive prospect for angry racist young Gabbers!

The various fascist and racist outfits – Voorpost, the National Alliance, the Dutch People's Union (NVU) and Nieuw Rechts – all try to integrate Gabbers into their organisations, but none have so far really managed to keep many on board or to grow substantially.

Only the National Alliance (NA) is more or less popular in Gabber circles, the party's radical and non-conformist message being held attractive. NA members are active in right wing Gabber fora on the internet and post propaganda there. The NVU has also managed to win a small contingent of right-wing Gabbers into its ranks.

The Voorpost strong-arm squad showed another line of approach, leading a racist Gabber group in Zoetermeer and incorporating its members into its own structure. The mode of operation was that leaders of Voorpost presented themselves as part of the Gabber group and became more popular among them, resulting in Gabber participation in Voorpost activities and demonstrations. All in all, though, the number of racist Gabbers who have become active in political parties on the far right-wing spectrum is not too big and is still around just a few dozen.

In the youth subcultural arena, the far-rightist Gabbers have not had things all their own way. The Hardcore music scene, for instance, has tried to limit the damage by setting out rules and dress codes for their dance parties and also countered its racist image by organising a huge Hardcore event in Eindhoven in the summer under the title "United Hardcore against Racism and Hate" and by putting out some anti-racist Hardcore music.

The Lonsdale clothing firm has also – tried to claw back ground from the racists that have turned its gear in fascist "must-have" by starting a campaign called "Lonsdale loves all colours" with a special T-shirt and a website. The effect was limited, so recently Lonsdale started a campaign called "Tough" to emphasise the brand's boxing history.

Other attempts to disown the racists have been more direct: Lonsdale's Belgian importer stopped distributing the firm's clothes and some Dutch clothing shops have also stopped selling Lonsdale.

It is important that those who deal with racist Gabbers adopt a united approach to prevent them from becoming hardcore racial extremists, that the law does not exclude the racist element of crimes that come before the courts and that hate crimes on internet are energetically prosecuted. Until now, there are no signs, unfortunately, that this potentially dangerous youth sub-culture is diminishing, a fact that guarantees to keep anti-facists busy for some time.

By Jeroen Bosch of Alert! and Antifa-Net in Utrecht