On encountering the term Nazism, most of our thoughts usually drift to a specific period of horror that we relate to our days in the history classroom, or from stories told by relatives. Unfortunately, the movement isn’t confined to these places. Since the end of the Second World War, neo-Nazism has seen that the policies and ideology of Nazism live on, up until this very day.
Neo-Nazism has established roots in nations even beyond that of Europe’s borders, spreading to the United States, Canada and South Africa. Those adhering to the ideology vary in their practices. Some groups closely follow Hitler’s Mein Kampft, some the achievements of the Third Reich, espousing visual aids such as the swastika, some promote older nationalist traditions, and others disguise themselves as modern day political parties.
After the German government banned 17 organisations in the early 1990s, many neo-Nazi groups were forced underground. These groups have been responsible for more than 100 murders up until 2006. At this time, the estimated number of followers was between 10,000-25,000. In 2005 the French government banned all groups after the number of violent incidents increased from 27 in 2003 to 65 in 2004. In the United Kingdom, 3 were killed and 139 injured in bombings in Soho and Brixton by a neo-Nazi in 1999. In Russia today, it is estimated that there are more than 50,000 neo-Nazis and more than a dozen organisations.
There is certainly reason to be concerned about these groups that continue to fester in societies across the world. But what deserves more consideration, is how over time they have made inroads into our mainstream governing bodies. Neo-Nazism has become a well-disguised, permanent feature of the global political arena; existing under the more familiar banners of ‘white separatism’, ‘white nationalism’ and many right-wing populist movements. These quasi-fascist have been able to uphold their ideology, with strong antisemitic and racist strains, in a neutral way by crossing party lines and creating hybrid policies. In establishing a new identity which fits naturally along the political spectrum, they have been able to sever their ties with their most condemning weakness; their roots in WW2 Nazism, and continue in the modern political scene.
White nationalists clash with counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
There is no shortage of prominent examples in politics. The Freedom Party joined the Conservative party to form a coalition government in Austria in 2000. In Russia, there are over 100 nationalist groups, the largest parties being the Russian National Unity Party and the Liberal Democratic Party. The founder of the latter, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, openly blamed the Jewish population in 1998 for the Holocaust. The French National Front gained more than 17% of the vote in 2002. In the United States, Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, pursued antisemitic and racist policies in 2000. The German Republican Party have enjoyed repeated surges and declines in German politics. This is a party that was founded by a former member of the Waffen SS.
It makes sense that we don’t think beyond our education and historical knowledge when confronted with the Nazi ideology, as today, it goes by other names, staying under the radar. It emerges rarely and quietly during periods of vulnerability and anxiety, when the general population is most susceptible to radicalism. It makes sense that during the 1970s, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the threat of war in the Middle East, the failure in Vietnam, and the recession sparked by the Arab oil crisis, that neo-Nazi’s enjoyed a surge in support. One can draw contrasts between this and the fears that penetrated the German population prior to and during the Second World War. It was such an environment that led to the birth of Nazism in the first place.
Neo-Nazism is a subdued, but nevertheless still significant force. It is an ideology that will feed and grow exponentially off periods of social, economic and political grievance, and pray on the anxieties of populations across the globe. It may disguise itself in an array of ways, many of which we consider to be legitimate organisations or ideologies. However this does not mean that we can justify being swayed by near-extremist policies that are are cruel, inhumane, discriminatory and most importantly, have the potential to manifest in violent ways. If this doesn’t convince you, our history certainly should.
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