These Millennials Are Trying to Turn Back Refugees

July 19th 2017

Ethan Simon

Anti-immigrant feelings played a major role in the election of President Donald Trump, but it's not just an American issue. 

Anger toward immigrants also contributed to the U.K.'s decision to leave the EU, and was a major talking point in Marine Le Pen's narrowly-failed presidential bid in France.

Now right-wing citizens in Europe are keen to take matters into their own hands. 

A group calling themselves the "Identitarian" movement is gaining traction across Europe. 

And it's not your father's hate group. The group's clean-cut looks and startup-like branding have managed to earn them the moniker "hipsters of the far right."

They're young, they're friendly-looking, and they don't use outwardly extremist or racist language. Instead, they push a message focused on solving the supposed "migrant crisis," a hashtag they employ often on social media.  

But if their message seems like it's devoid of racial resentment, that's just because they're good at hiding it. While the group doesn't traffic in slurs or over-the-top hate speech, they frequently refer to African migrants and refugees as "invaders," and refer often to defending the European "identity, culture, and way of life."

In French, the post reads: "with @DefendEuropeID, we will do everything to stop this invasion."

What's Defend Europe?

Defend Europe is an offshoot of the Identitarian movement—a group of right-wing activists who are taking matters into their own hands. To combat what they see as a refugee crisis, they've crowdfunded over $100,000, bought a ship, and have set sail to "troll refugee rescue missions at sea," as Quartz puts it. Defend Europe believes that NGOs and humanitarian organizations like Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders aren't just working to save lives for refugees braving a deadly crossing of the Mediterranean, but are offering "a taxi service from Libya to Sicily or to Europe,” according to Defend Europe spokesman Lorenzo Fiato's comments to Quartz. 

In the first half of 2016 alone, some 227,316 migrants entered Europe by sea, according to the Daily Mail. And by the end of 2016, over 5,000 had died in the crossing. 

According to Defend Europe's website, "Every week, every day, every hour – ships packed with illegal immigrants are flooding into European waters. An invasion is taking place. This massive immigration is changing the face of our continent. We are losing our safety and our way of life and there is a danger we Europeans will become a minority in our own European homelands."

What are they going to do with this boat?

According to their mission statement, Defend Europe has a few goals in mind. First, they say, "we want to start an Identitarian search-and-rescue (SAR) mission in July on the Libyan coast. Our goal is to document the doings of the NGOs, expose their collaboration with the human smugglers, and intervene if they do something illegal." They say that Defend Europe's vessel will answer any SOS call, and attempt to save lives, but will hand those saved over to the Libyan Coast Guard. 

Well that seems alright. One more ship saving lives is good, right?

Not exactly. The Libyan Coast Guard has been accused of massive human rights abuses, according to the Washington Post. According to Human Rights Watch, refugees picked up by the Libyan Coast Guard can face "horrific abuse." Libya doesn't even have a functioning government, with various factions fighting for control since 2014. The organization also seems to think that life-saving NGOs are in cahoots with smugglers, a bizarre conspiracy theory that's sure to put Defend Europe in conflict with the vessels doing important life-saving work.

With right-wing extremism on the rise in both Europe and America, the future remains unclear.

Defend Europe might be a far-right fringe group for now, but their mission of rounding up boats filled with refugees is echoed in Trump's calls to "build a wall." On the other hand, with the defeats of Marine Le Pen, and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, perhaps the tide of right-wing populism is turning.