Fighting ‘the Great Replacement’ in 2020: an Identitarian road trip to Greece and back

Martin Sellner and Identitarian Movement activists pose at Greek border.

In the summer of 2017, the radical-right Identitarian Movement (also known as Generation Identity) launched their so-called mission Defend Europe. Chartering a ship, they wished to intervene in and halt NGO work to rescue refugees trying to enter Europe via the Mediterranean – mainly from Northern Africa. In March 2020, and against the backdrop of the opening of the Greek-Turkish border by the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a group of Identitarians relied on the more traditional automobile to go to Greece and support Greeks in ‘defence of their border’. In both cases, their performances were designed as publicity stunts – opposing what they perceive as ‘the Great Replacement’ of Europeans by non-Europeans, a view of the world which the Identitarian Movement shares with the Christchurch attacker who murdered 51 people in New Zealand a year ago.

In the following, I briefly summarise the Identitarian road trip to Greece which featured, amongst others, the leader of the Austrian Identitarian Movement and well-known face of the movement, Martin Sellner, his American wife Brittany Sellner (formerly Pettibone) and two prominent German activists, Philip Thaler and Till-Lucas Wessels. Notably, this cast is different from that of other radical-right Europeans traveling to Greece and Turkey these days, including members of the German and Swedish radical right. Moving beyond an introduction to Identitarian communication, I point to the role that this journey plays within a wider evolution of the (by now seriously contaminated) Identitarian Movement brand.

The group entered Greece on 4 March 2020 and, as so often with Identitarian performances, this journey to Greece too was accompanied by a video, characterised by a now familiar style of music and dramatic images of people in relation to borders, asking the viewer ‘Yet again 2015?’, a reference to the opening of European borders in 2015. It is interesting to note that this video was uploaded to the YouTube channel of the German Identitarian Movement (26,1k subscribers) – but not the Austrian one (3,86k subscribers) or Sellner’s own channel (128k subscribers). However, Sellner did upload a much more detailed video, in which he documented the journey; and it is here too that past activism is referenced – with the group holding a banner, saying: ‘No Way. You will not make Europe your home’, plus a Greek, an Austrian and two Identitarian Movement Lambda flags. This banner, in both design and slogan, is familiar from their 2017 mission to the Mediterranean and, indeed, one of the activists wears a Defend Europe t-shirt. It is, furthermore, in this video that Sellner introduces the trip as a fact-finding mission, to connect with ‘patriotic Greeks’ and to support Greek border police. The latter was, initially at least, conceived as actual interventions along the Greek-Turkish border; as Sellner claims, the group wanted to support police efforts by looking for places on the border where people might enter Greece. Later, however, the argument becomes one about ‘showing solidarity’. To justify the value of the latter, Sellner reports a warm welcome by the Greek police, who allegedly showed their appreciation by providing the Identitarians with free sandwiches and biscuits – though others reported that the group was told to leave the country.[1] During this video, Sellner furthermore highlights the focus on solidarity by telling his audience: ‘The true enemy, the true problem sits in our country’, i.e. ‘our own corrupt, multicultural, globalist elites’ who are in Sellner’s view responsible for a ‘pull effect’ and ‘replacement migration’ – and that, instead of traveling to Greece, action has to be taken at home, i.e., ‘in the entire German-speaking area’.

Ultimately, the March 2020 trip was thus an attempt at mobilisation and a call to action: while somehow marking a return to the international activism of Summer 2017, the Identitarian Movement (at least in Britain, Germany and Austria) has now lost much of its momentum, e.g. due to legal and public pressure related to links between the Christchurch attacker and Sellner. It is therefore not surprising that agitation against a repeat of the 2015 so-called ‘refugee crisis’ by Sellner – he had already started to promote #niewieder2015 (‘#neveragain2015’), including putting together a petition, before the road trip – is hosted at the webpage of Sellner’s new project, The Austrians.[2]

The Austrians’ logo featured prominently on the banner used during the ‘Solidarity with Greece’ demonstration in front of the Greek embassy on 7 March 2020 in Vienna (‘Solidarity with the defenders of Europe’), a demonstration Sellner had already promoted in his video during his Greece trip. The demonstration featured Austrian flags and a Greek one, and it ended with singing the Austrian national anthem. However, it did not include the Identitarian Movement’s Lambda flag, even though the banner including an ancient Greek foot-soldier and Sellner referred to the size of the crowd by saying ‘rounded up 300’ (supposedly a reference to the movie 300, which depicts the Battle of Thermopylae between Spartans and a vastly bigger Persian army and is a founding myth of the Identitarian Movement). In fact, Sellner, formally only Deputy Federal Chairman, spoke to about 60 people in front of the Greek embassy, repeating arguments from his aforementioned road trip and video. These included opposition to a repeat of 2015, attacks on elites and calls for ‘remigration’. There was furthermore talk about the need to suspend the right to asylum so as to re-establish sovereignty over ‘our borders, the state territory, our people [Staatsvolk]’. Demonstrators furthermore chanted ‘We are the people’ and Sellner also mentioned that ‘We do not want to become foreign in our own country’.

In short, while wearing new clothes and adopting a different organisational strategy, it is difficult to identify ideological differences between the Identitarian Movement that Sellner made prominent during the early and mid-2010s and his new The Austrians formation, although whether his new instalment will have a similar (though time-wise limited) impact remains to be seen. Successful or not, this evolution of Identitarian mobilization indicates that the decline of the Identitarian Movement does not imply the end of its politics.

Dr Bernhard Forchtner is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Associate Professor in the School of Media, Communication and Sociology at University of Leicester. See his profile here.

© Bernhard Forchtner. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).

[1] On 5 March 2020, Sellner and other members of the group were already on their way back (see below), while Thaler and Wessels stayed a few days longer.

[2] The latter describes itself as a ‘citizen movement against the population-replacement’ which aims to give voice to the ‘silent patriotic majority in our country’.