Posted on January 29, 2024

Germany Considers Entry Ban on Austrian Behind Mass Deportation Plan

Kate Connolly, The Guardian, January 24, 2024

German authorities are closely examining the possibility of an entry ban for the far-right Austrian whose master plan for the deportation of immigrants is at the heart of a storm gripping Germany over the rightwing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party.

Martin Sellner, the founder of the so-called Identitarian Movement, which preaches the superiority of European ethnic groups, could be banned from entering Germany if he is deemed to pose a threat to German democratic stability, according to members of the interior affairs committee of the Bundestag.

Martina Renner, the anti-fascism spokesperson for the leftwing Die Linke and the party’s representative on the interior affairs committee, said she had raised the question this week as to whether the government of Olaf Scholz intended to take measures against Sellner to prevent his entry.

Representatives of the interior ministry, in whose power such a ruling lies, confirmed at the meeting that they were examining the options and were in consultation with Germany’s security agencies, who would ultimately take the decision.

The proposal appears to have broad support across the political parties. Another committee member, Philipp Amthor, of the conservative CDU, who backed the motion, said: “In our robust democracy we should in general not tolerate any agitation against our constitutional order, especially not from foreign extremists like Martin Sellner. In this respect, I think it is right and necessary for the security authorities to seriously examine an entry ban against Martin Sellner.”

However, Amthor urged caution over such a move and called for a precise legal examination of the case to avoid Sellner being able to present himself as a victim. Legal hurdles to ban entry to Germany are high, especially for EU citizens, and Amthor said these would need to be carefully examined.

The debate follows an exposé by the investigative journalist bureau Correctiv, which this month published details of a meeting in a Potsdam villa in November 2023 at which neo-Nazis, representatives of the AfD, members of the CDU belonging to an arch-conservative offshoot of the party and business donors discussed plans presented by Sellner to expel large numbers of foreigners and Germans of foreign origin who had not assimilated. The discussion focused on how the plans could feasibly be put into practice were the AfD to gain power.

Sellner confirmed the subject and nature of his talk, including his proposal for a “model city” in north Africa to which people could be deported. The so-called remigration plans were “widely and openly discussed in patriotic circles”, he told the meeting.

AfD’s leadership has denied supporting the ideas. Alice Weidel, a co-leader, sacked her closest aide after he confirmed he had attended the meeting.

The emergence of plans to examine an entry ban follow days of protest against the AfD, as well as debate about the possibility of banning the party on the grounds that it is anti-constitutional.

Nationally, the party is on about 20% in the polls, the second strongest standing behind the conservative CDU/CSU. It is leading in three eastern states where elections are due to be held in the autumn.

Sellner, seen as one of the leading far-right influencers, is a frequent visitor to Germany. A ban would put paid to his visits but might well increase his stardom within the far-right scene, experts have warned.

The same argument has been applied over proposals to ban the AfD. The party already puts much emphasis on what it perceives as its own victimhood, for instance over intelligence agencies’ classification of it in several states as rightwing extremist.

Most recently, Sellner joined farmers protesting in Germany this month against plans to reduce their fuel subsidies.

He founded the Identitarian Movement (Identitäre Bewegung Österreich) in Austria in 2012 and although he has since withdrawn as its official leader, he remains its poster boy and continues to be very active in the background, including mobilising support for the movement and attempting to influence politics in Germany, Austria and elsewhere in the region.

The movement believes in the superiority of European ethnic groups. Among the ideologies it promotes are pan-European nationalism, remigration and the “great replacement” conspiracy theory. Its aim is for slow, long-term change and typically it uses euphemistic, meek language such as “remigration” to convey its ideas and anchor them in mainstream thinking, in particular among young people.

Sellner first came to the attention of authorities as a teenager when he was caught putting swastika stickers on a synagogue. Describing himself as a neo-Nazi until 2011, his switch to identitarianism was influenced by a Holocaust denier as well as his membership in an established Austrian Burschenschaft , or nationalist student association.

Sellner confirmed to German media that he had participated in the Potsdam meeting. He also confirmed his intention of using the meeting to help construct rightwing extremist public support for identitarian ideas, with the help of influencers, in part to alter the “climate of opinion” towards the “decades project” of remigration.

The Identitarian Movement hit the headlines in 2019 when it was revealed that Sellner had been in contact with the gunman who carried out the Christchurch attacks in New Zealand, Brenton Tarrant, who made a €1,500 donation to Sellner’s organisation. Since then, Austrian authorities have been examining the possibility of banning the movement.

Sellner later used the protest movement around coronavirus to recruit new members. Since 2015 he has been active in the Institute for State Policy, a far-right thinktank run by the German publisher Götz Kubitschek that has been classified as rightwing extremist by authorities in Saxony Anhalt, where Kubitschek lives.

In 2017, Sellner chartered a boat and tried to prevent asylum seekers from crossing the Mediterranean. Viewed as a bridge builder between identitarians, thinktanks and rightwing parliamentarians, Sellner is variously viewed as the hope of rightwing extremist movements dreaming of gaining power or a grave threat to democracy and the rule of law.

Mehmet Daimagüler, an anti-racism ombudsman, joined the calls for an entry ban, urging the government to tighten measures in general to enable entry and resident bans to be applied more easily to rightwing extremists such as Sellner.

In a letter to the interior minister, Nancy Faeser, he cited the increase in a “transnational network of rightwing extremist actors” and the “threat they pose for internal security in Germany”. As a result, he said, it was “necessary that all legal measures at the state’s disposal are used against such rightwing offenders”.