It’s no secret that right-wing groups in Europe are gaining momentum. Organizations and political parties such as France’s National Front, Hungary’s Jobbik, Greek's Golden Dawn and Italy’s Forza Nuova are gaining popularity as the people of Europe struggle to contend with a weak economy, high unemployment and a flood of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa attempting to escape violence and political turmoil.
Right wing leaders promise voters a return to prosperity, homogeny, and peace. “Italians First!” is the popular mantra of Italian right-wing extremist group Forza Nuova. With offices in every region and major city of Italy, Forza Nuova has embarked on a series of campaigns that denounce immigration, government corruption, and the lost glory days of Italian family values. And as the bitter memories of Mussolini’s dictatorship fade from the collective national conscience, some Italians, at least, are once again listening.
Italy is not alone. Far-right groups similar to Forza Nuova have sprung up all around Europe, and are receiving record votes in the EU parliament.
But fascism is still a tricky subject for many Europeans, and right-wing extremist groups cannot rely on promises of economic prosperity alone to gain followers. Their new focus has become immigration. They rarely proclaim that immigrants will steal jobs, and their xenophobic doctrine won’t work with everyone, so they’ve devised a new plan. As thousands of new immigrants pour into Europe, the message these groups exploit relates to a more primal fear: terrorism.
Soon after the January Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris that killed 12 people and injured 11 others, the European far-right seized on the incident to warn of the imminent threat that unchecked immigration poses.
“There are also terrorists in the boats, and surely men who will become terrorists when the call of Jihad is heard,” said Roberto Fiore, president of Forza Nuova, referencing the influx of migrants arriving into Europe by boat at Lampedusa, a small island south of Sicily. Marine Le Pen, leader of the French group National Front, reminded the French that "when dealing with terrorism, we can't behave like angels,” that her group “has been the only political party that has been ringing the alarm bells,” and that they have “not been heard.”
As the European far-right attempts to ride the twin fears of economic instability and terrorism to electoral victory, it is important to keep in mind that while terrorism is a legitimate threat, the fear that immigrants are planning attacks is just the latest political convenience, as these groups have traditionally opposed immigration for reasons having more to do with national purity. But whether the motives of far right groups are pure, they have agendas that go far beyond these issues and a history that cannot be ignored. Rather than focus only on the political present, it is important to contemplate what will happen to pluralism, peace and tolerance if they continue to grow in power.