The Irrepressible Martin Sellner
John Jackson, American Renaissance, February 28, 2020
Martin Sellner, Identitär!: Geschichte eines Aufbruchs (Identitarian: Story of an Awakening). Verlag Antaios, 2017, €16.00, 279 pages (available only in German).
Martin Sellner is one of the most prominent figures in identitarianism and one of the most persecuted dissidents in Austria. A student of law and philosophy in Vienna, he is the co-founder and co-leader, along with Patrick Lenart, of the Austrian Identitarian Movement, and is also a leader in Generation Identity, a pan-European youth movement of non-violent political activism. For several years, the Austrian authorities have illegally raided his home, made baseless criminal charges against him, and tried to cut his funding.
Most recently, his Austrian bank told him, without explanation, that it had closed his account. As he explained, “today the fourth account, which I had never publicly announced, was closed, presumably under pressure from the Graz prosecutor.” [Author’s note: all translations are my own.]
In a YouTube video the previous day, Mr. Sellner noted that many of his possessions seized by Austrian authorities had still not been returned. This comes one month after the Austrian high court ruled that his property had been seized without cause in two illegal raids in 2019 and should be returned.
How did Mr. Sellner get to this point? This book explains the history of the movement and the thinking behind it.
Mr. Sellner founded the IBÖ (Identitarian Movement in Austria) in 2012 in Vienna with a circle of like-minded patriots. Certain questions were out of bounds in the mainstream: Why was the Left outraged about Chinese immigration into Tibet or Israeli settlement policies but was “silent about the outrage of the era: only in Europe and only in the West, a mass immigration [ . . . ] which will replace the indigenous population within a few decades”? Why was it socially acceptable to speak of the interests of any ethnic minority in Germany, but “racist” to consider what would benefit Germans?
The answer, as Mr. Sellner puts it, was a “forbidden identity.” A group identity was denied to certain groups, and he and his associates, partly inspired by like-minded French activists, decided to change that.
Nationalist groups that promoted such an identity already existed in Austria, but the identitarians were dissatisfied with them. They saw existing groups as narrow-minded and unattractive, and wanted to move beyond their “racism, antisemitism and revanchist nationalism.” Mr. Sellner himself was involved with Austrian neo-Nazis as a teenager, but now rejects this ideology.
“Being identitarian,” Mr. Sellner explains,
meant for us rebelling against the deracination of our identities, as international consumers, as “world citizens” of a limitless globalization. We wanted to find a new relationship to identity, heritage, culture and tradition . . . . We wanted to strengthen a sense of our own, free of self-hatred or self-aggrandizement.
Mr. Sellner supports what he calls ethnocultural identity, which recognizes the importance of ethnicity, but differs from the “old right,” including fascism, in not being purist. In his view, some immigrants from other ethnic groups can successfully assimilate. He makes clear that he does not mean to denigrate or dominate other cultures, but only to assert the interests of his own people.
This new worldview was much more positive than that of the old right, and Mr. Sellner saw this reflected in identitarian events. One activist’s birthday party in the French city of Lyon was a joyous occasion that, according to Mr. Sellner, could not have been more different from the “depressing basement benders” he knew from earlier nationalist groups. He describes a thriving identitarian counterculture centered in Lyon, as well as in the former East German city of Halle, that included graphic artists, musicians, and the first identitarian rapper, Komplott.
Along with spreading their views through social media, and their own journalism, books, and music, identitarian activism has included marches and banner drops in such places as the roof of the Green Party headquarters in Graz, Austria. In 2017, Mr. Sellner and other identitarians organized the Defend Europe mission in the Mediterranean which monitored NGO vessels working with human traffickers to bring migrants to Europe, leading to the end of most of the NGOs’ operations. Another Defend Europe mission the following year patrolled a section of the French-Italian border in the Alps which was known as a crossing point for illegals. This brought media attention and more French police to the area.
Mr. Sellner considers The Great Replacement to be the most important political issue today and names four groups that promote it:
- Politicians for pro-immigration parties, who are essentially bribing the migrants for votes through open borders and social programs;
- The asylum and anti-racism industry, which makes money from mass immigration;
- The radical Left, which sees immigrants as either future revolutionaries or a replacement for “the German perpetrator nation” which they hate;
- Those who think only of the interests of major multinational corporations who think illegal immigration lowers wages.
Of course, the rest of the nation suffers from this. Mr. Sellner uses the term Überfremdung, referring to a feeling of being overwhelmed or dominated by foreigners. He argues that Muslim immigrants have no intention of assimilating, intending instead to establish sharia law.
Mr. Sellner calls for bans on the burqa and minarets, cuts to the welfare spending many migrants depend on, and a ban on preaching in foreign languages.
Mr. Sellner quotes from Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski’s 1956 work Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, which listed the defining characteristics of totalitarian regimes:
- An official ideology with utopian elements, which covers all areas of life in society;
- A single party;
- A police state that surveils everything and uses or permits terrorism;
- Monopolistic control of the means of communication;
- A monopoly on weapons; and
- Central direction of the economy.
The first is already in place in the West. The dominant ideology of multiculturalism is like a religion, invoking a rosy future in a new multicultural state. It is used to find fault with every area of traditional life, and creates a cultish atmosphere. As Mr. Sellner puts it, “millions of civilian inquisitors surveil each other anxiously and attentively, with the constant fear of being denounced as ‘right-wing’ themselves.”
As for terrorism, both the justice system and the mass media downplay violence from the Left while denouncing and deplatforming and even prosecuting non-violent identitarians.
It is not clear whether the Austrian authorities sympathize with Antifa, but Mr. Sellner explains that any police chief who went after them would offend powerful people. The chief could easily end up arresting a journalist at a major newspaper or the son of a left-wing politician. Extremists on the Left have a “gigantic lobby,” as Mr. Sellner puts it, that discourages any crackdown.
Identitarians, meanwhile, have been under observation as extremists by the Verfassungschutz (Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism). Identitarians have never advocated terrorism or threatened the constitutional order, but Mr. Sellner argues that the Verfassungsschutz are mostly radical leftists themselves, and see even the political center as “extreme right.”
Persecution of identitarian “extremists” had already begun when this book was released and has continued. Mr. Sellner and 16 other identitarians went on trial in July 2018 on charges of inciting hatred and forming a “criminal organization.” The group was accused of perpetrating “hate speech” with slogans such as “assimilation is a lie” and “Islamization kills,” as well as using “hate” stickers. They were acquitted twice, including on appeal by a higher court in March 2019, but their trouble with the authorities continued.
Later that month, police raided Mr. Sellner’s apartment and seized data storage media. The Graz prosecutor justified the raid on the fact that Brenton Tarrant had donated €1,500 to the Identitarian Movement a year before his mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. No evidence was ever found of any other connection between Mr. Sellner and Mr. Tarrant. There is evidence in Mr. Tarrant’s manifesto that he meant his donations to attract suspicion to less radical groups such as the identitarians so as to weaken them and encourage further radicalization.
A few months later there was another raid on Mr. Sellner based on the same suspicion. There was also an investigation of finances and alleged tax evasion in what Mr. Sellner called the Al Capone plan.” Mr. Sellner filed complaints, all of which were upheld by the Austrian high court, which ruled that the raids and personal surveillance were illegal. The court ruled that the Graz prosecutor’s justifications were “pure speculation” and even “incomprehensible.” Authorities were ordered to delete the data they had gathered and return what they had seized, and it was expected that identitarian bank accounts would be unfrozen.
However, persecution has not stopped. Mr. Sellner continues to face deplatforming, having been banned from 15 platforms and other services at latest count, including Facebook and Instagram, fundraising platforms such as Patreon and GoFundMe, and email marketing services such as Mailchimp.
Seventeen banks in several countries have closed his accounts, and none explained why. Bank employees admitted to Mr. Sellner that there had been “political” decisions by higher authorities. He suspects pressure from the Graz prosecutor.
Near the end of the book Mr. Sellner writes about slaves in ancient Rome. There was an argument between two senators. One suggested making slaves wear armbands that would identify them. The other objected because it would make it clear how many there were. They were kept powerless by being made to think they were only a small minority, and Mr. Sellner suggests that dissidents are held back in the same way.
Indeed, election results and polling show that identitarian views are popular. Until recently, all parties were implicitly identitarian; even the German Constitutional Court has ruled “maintaining the identity of the German people” is a constitutional obligation. Attachment to one’s people is natural, not extremist. When more Western people realize this, we can move in a healthier direction.