How Sweden Became a Thriving Base of Neo-Nazi Ideology

While Nazi criminals were hanged or committed suicide in their cells in Nuremberg, a secret network operating out of Malmö made sure the Nazi idea stayed alive.

Published in Haaretz: https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/.premium-1.831763

STOCKHOLM – Last Yom Kippur, the Nordic Resistance Movement, a Swedish neo-Nazi organization, held a march in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city, that drew hundreds of participants. According to the local media, the group, which also maintains a presence in other Nordic countries, has grown stronger in the past few months, and evidence suggests that it is part of a larger pan-European trend. Parallel to the strengthening of neo-Nazis in Sweden, support for far-right movements of all types is being seen across the Continent. Some of the movements are represented in their countries’ respective parliaments, others are engaged primarily in disseminating their ideology through alternative media, and on the margins there are also organizations that resort to violence.

This phenomenon is not confined to Europe alone. Many supporters of the white supremacy concept and other European nationalists are now making common cause with the American alt-right movement. The political bloc they are forging threatens not only advocates of multiculturalism and socialists, feminists and environmentalists on the left, but also conservatives and libertarians, on the right.

Sweden, it turns out, is one of the centers of the new European right, even though it is better known for its high level of solidarity and social equality, and as a country that cultivates policies based on democratic values, human rights and generosity to asylum seekers.

Yet, for almost 100 years now, Sweden has been home to a plethora of racist, nationalist and fascist movements. The political establishment in Stockholm may be occupied with embracing universalist values and creating a social-democratic state, but extreme right-wing groups have been operating on the margins of Scandinavian society for years: from neo-Nazis and skinheads to anti-Semitic publishing houses, heavy-metal bands promoting racist values, and movements flaunting pre-Christian imagery that promote nationalist and anti-establishment ideas.

The Swedish journalist and writer Elisabeth Åsbrink probed the reasons for Sweden’s centrality in the European far-right scene in her book “1947: When Now Begins.” Åsbrink chronicles key figures and events that shaped the new world order and postwar Europe. One of the more fascinating individuals she portrays is Per Engdahl (1909-1994), the man who led the Swedish fascist movement.

“Engdahl was an intelligent and modern person,” Åsbrink said in an interview with Haaretz. “He was a fascist activist during the war, and after the war ended he understood that he would have to change his ways, so that the fascist and Nazi ideas would not die,” she relates.

“Already in 1945,” she continues, “he connected the remnants of fascist and Nazi movements from all over Europe. He made contact with Oswald Mosley’s fascists in England, with the French fascists, the Swiss Nazis and Hitler’s loyalists in Germany. He was in close touch with MSI, the Italian Social Movement, which continued Mussolini’s path in the dictator’s country, and he himself founded a Danish Nazi party. His network also included Nazis from Norway and Holland, and the postwar advocates of the Iron Cross party in Hungary. Together they formed a secret network whose center was in Malmö [Sweden], where Engdahl lived.”

The network, later known as the Malmö Movement, played a central role in the rehabilitation of Europe’s extreme right.

To begin with, according to Åsbrink, Engdahl created an escape route for Nazis from all parts of Europe. It passed through northern Germany and Denmark, and led to Malmö. From there the Nazis were smuggled to various places in southern Sweden and then sent by ship from Gothenburg to South America. In some cases these Nazis returned to West Germany, where the American authorities were releasing hundreds of S.S. men every day because they were unable to cope with the expenses of detaining the overload of fugitives. Engdahl claimed to have “saved” about 4,000 Nazis in this way.

One of those who assisted Engdahl was Johann von Leers (1902-1965), who had been Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels’ right-hand man and protégé, and himself a leading ideologue of the Third Reich.

“Von Leers arrived in Malmö in 1947, and then disappeared,” Åsbrink notes. “No one knows exactly how, but in the end he got to Buenos Aires, where he edited a paper that became a communications channel between Nazis in Europe and those who ended up in Latin America. Von Leers was later brought to Egypt under the auspices of Haj Amin al-Husseini, with whom he was in close contact. Eventually he converted to Islam and changed his name to Omar Amin as a gesture to his benefactor, becoming head of [Egyptian President Gamal Abdel] Nasser’s ‘Israeli’ propaganda unit.”

The close ties between Nazis like von Leers and the Palestinian national movement is one of the stories that connect the European right of the 1940s and 1950s to contemporary political dramas. But the link runs deeper.

“Engdahl founded a network of international nationalism,” Åsbrink says, adding, “Until then, nationalism bore a local character. Engdahl turned it into an international movement. The network’s first conference was held in 1950, in Rome. Engdahl, a polyglot who taught himself Italian for the occasion, spoke at the gathering and wrote the network’s charter, dealing with the future of Europe. The central idea was that Europe would be a white continent, with no foreign elements – Jews and blacks – and no democracy, which he termed a feminine, weak type of regime. The network advocated government that was autocratic, masculine and strong, and its members believed that Europe was entitled to support itself with overseas colonies.

“The core of the network’s central idea,” Åsbrink continues, “recalls concepts that the contemporary far right is focused upon, such as theories of a Muslim takeover of the world and the ideas that appear in the manifesto of Anders Breivik [the Norwegian terrorist who massacred 77 people in 2011]. Rome was followed by a conference in Malmö, in 1951, where the Malmö Movement was effectively born, with Engdahl, one of its four leaders, being appointed a kind of international secretary general. The Malmö gathering also gave birth to the movement’s magazine, Nation Europa, edited by two former Waffen S.S. officers, which transmitted the organization’s ideas across the generations. Old-school Nazis contributed to the magazine, but later were joined by a new generation of writers. One of them was a young Frenchman named Jean-Marie Le Pen.”

Åsbrink mentions another young writer, a German named Henning Eichberg, who was the first to talk about ethno-pluralism, the idea of separation of different ethnicities which influenced many of Europe’s new right movements.

Sweden thus became an important arena for renewal of Nazi and fascist ideas after the progenitors of those concepts had been defeated by the Allies in the war. While Nazi criminals were hanged or committed suicide in Nuremberg, and the world, seeing the results of Nazism, promised “Never again” – others were ensuring that the Nazi idea would carry on. Already in the 1950s, a new right began to take shape in Sweden and on the margins of European society. The movement created an alternative history for itself, and a morality that was the opposite of what was emerging in other, newly created postwar international organizations.

“One of the leaders of the Malmö Movement was a French fascist, Maurice Bardeche [1907-1998]. Bardeche published a book that constituted the basis of all of the so-called ‘revisionist’ arguments used by Holocaust deniers to this day,” Åsbrink relates. “He and Engdahl understood something very important: that the word ‘race’ was no longer usable after the genocide of World War II. They replaced it with the word ‘culture.’ The ideas are the same, but when you talk about ‘culture’ rather than ‘race,’ you can talk about ‘my culture and your culture and how the two cultures cannot coexist.’ Engdahl created a new language. It’s racism without the word ‘race.’ In a note that Bardeche wrote in the 1960s, he pointed out that this was an important change, because right-wing movements could now espouse racist ideas and call themselves anti-racist.”

Åsbrink adds that within a few years of the founding of the Malmö Movement, members were leaving because they considered it too prone to compromise and thought its messages were vague. It was these breakaways who, effectively, established the white supremacy movement in Europe. Those who remained in the organization, on the other hand, laid the foundations for the extreme right that is now part of the European parliamentary system.

“There are many influences on the development of the European right since Engdahl,” Åsbrink says. “In the 1960s and ‘70s, they were actually influenced by the views of the critical left about the United States and about colonialism. In the 1990s, they were influenced by American Nazis who imported the ‘ZOG’ theory, which maintains that it’s legitimate to use violence against police officers and other representatives of government, because the political establishment is an emissary of the so-called ‘Zionist Occupation Government.’

“These ideas are more extreme than the original ideas of Engdahl and his colleagues,” Åsbrink continues. “Engdahl’s principal role was to keep Nazi ideas and movements alive until the arrival of the next generation – which thought they were slightly outmoded and not aggressive enough, so they updated and radicalized them.”

How was it that Sweden, a relatively marginal country in terms of population that hadn’t even taken part in World War II, became a key base for the postwar European right? Åsbrink offers a variety of explanations. One element lies in the fact that Sweden was not occupied and did not suffer directly the disastrous results of Nazism. Åsbrink notes both the traditional Swedish fear of the Russians and Swedes’ problematic attitude toward their country’s Jews, who had suffered from discrimination for many years. Moreover, a deep connection existed between Swedish elites and Nazi Germany (including the royal family and such wealthy families as the Wallenbergs).

An example of these relations is found in a secret that Åsbrink herself exposed in an earlier book. She discovered that Ingvar Kamprad, the founder and owner of the IKEA home furnishings empire, was an active Nazi. Although Kamprad’s involvement with the fascist movement was already known, Åsbrink discovered that he was also a member of the SSS, the Swedish hard-core Nazi party during the war, and that the Swedish secret police had him under surveillance because of it. She recounts that in an extremely rare interview he gave her, in 2010, Kamprad, who is today 91, asserted his conviction that Engdahl was “a great man, and I will claim that as long as I live.”

Engdahl, she says in summation, “is a kind of icon whom the present-day extreme right revere and from whose ideas they draw inspiration.”

But how do the followers of the European new right view the Malmö Movement and Engdahl’s legacy?

“The continuity between the old right and the modern nationalist movement is very weak,” says Daniel Friberg, a key figure in the Swedish new right and in the worldwide alt-right movement. In more than 20 years of being active politically, Friberg says, he has never received any kind of support from the members of the political movements of the previous generation.

“Engdahl’s movement was relatively marginal, and its members tended to be very rich people, like Ingvar Kampard,” he maintains, adding, “They despaired and gave up, and we had to rebuild everything. I funded the first magazine I published, when I was 18, from my personal savings. I feel no respect toward the old men of the old right. They were cowards and weak, they backed off easily and they lacked the tenacity to continue the struggle. Perhaps they are exaggerating their importance for narcissistic reasons, but they never helped establish the modern nationalist movement.”

Friberg doesn’t belong to the traditional right-wing establishment in Sweden, and is not a member of any of its parties. Nevertheless, he is a very central figure in the Swedish new right and in its link to the international alt-right. He terms himself a supporter of the identitarian movement, which sprang from the French new right and espouses ethno-pluralistic beliefs. Identitarianism, a key element of the global alt-right movement, assails the concept of multiculturalism, opposes migration and supports ethnic- and culture-based separation. Its opponents claim that its ideology contains fascist and neo-Nazi elements.

Friberg’s centrality stems from the fact that he founded a large number of Swedish and European alternative-right organizations, and also because he is responsible, along with American alt-right leader Richard Spencer, for bridging between the movements on both sides of the Atlantic in the form of the website altright.com. According to Friberg, the trans-Atlantic project is growing, and draws inspiration from another website of the American far right, Breitbart, whose executive chairman is former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

The alt-right site is only one of Friberg’s projects. He also founded, and continues to manage a publishing house called Arktos, which promotes a far-right agenda, and has put out 150 titles in 15 languages. He was a partner in the founding of Metapedia, a right-wing alternative to Wikipedia, and recently he also founded the Nordic Alternative-Right movement together with a former senior figure in the Sweden Democrats, a populist right-wing organization.

Friberg, 39, engages in what he calls meta-politics. “Parliamentary politics doesn’t interest me,” he says. “I influence society in the same way that Haaretz does in Israel. I’m engaged in media, books, newspapers, magazines and websites, and that’s what I’ve always done.”

According to Friberg, this political activity is significant, because it reveals the truth that’s hidden from the public by the establishment and mainstream media. As an opponent of mass migration, particularly into Europe – which he claims causes a considerable increase in violent crimes, including rape – he argues that the true reality is concealed by a political establishment that kowtows to political correctness, and by a self-censoring mainstream media. That, he says, is the main reason for the flourishing of alternative media in Sweden, and it’s also why Sweden has become so important in the world new-right scene. There’s a large disparity, he says, between the country’s left-wing government and the public’s support for the right.

“It’s simply a matter of supply and demand,” he says. “People want to know the truth.”

The vision of Friberg and his supporters is remarkably similar to that of the Malmö Movement of six decades ago. It avoids racist language, but advocates racial separation, and it is nationalistic, autocratic and conservative. It talks about a “return to normality” and the need to put an end to what Friberg calls “the failed social experiment of multiculturalism, feminism and cultural Marxism, which has caused so much suffering to Europeans in the past 50-60 years.” He also maintains that it’s essential “to protect national and regional identities and to return to tradition, including the traditional roles of the sexes.”

In his younger days, Friberg used the pen name “Daniel Engdahl,” in homage to Per Engdahl, but despite this, and despite the similarity between Friberg’s ideas and those of the neo-Nazi movements of the mid-20th century, he is meticulous about differentiating his views from Nazism. He denies allegations that he was a skinhead in the past and a member of a Nazi movement.

“There are very few neo-Nazis in Europe today,” he says. “As for myself, I never believed in fascism and never described myself as a neo-Nazi. There are even some who accuse me of being a Jew or a Zionist, of not being anti-Semitic enough and of trying to hijack the Swedish nationalist movement. Maybe that’s because my surname ends in ‘berg.’ In any case, I don’t really care what people call me on the internet.”

“Berg” or no “berg,” an examination of the publications and statements of alt-right figures, including those published by his website and his press, turns up many types of anti-Semitism. There is Holocaust denial of different kinds, and there are Jewish-domination conspiracy theories. These phenomena are largely limited to the virtual world, but in some cases they penetrate the “real world,” too. A well-known example is the speech by Friberg’s American colleague Richard Spencer following the U.S. presidential election in November 2016. Spencer concluded his remarks with calls of “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” Many in the audience responded with the Nazi salute.

Friberg does not deny the existence of anti-Semitism in the new right, but he does not consider himself an anti-Semite, and offers many explanations for the phenomenon.

“It is perfectly obvious that the incident with Spencer was a joke,” he explains. “I know many who were present at the event. It was an excellent speech, and the end was a kind of amused response to the liberal narrative about Trump. After all, Spencer has criticism of Trump, and he would not seriously salute him. At the end of the proceedings, a few people in the audience saluted ironically in the Nazi fashion, in response to the fact that Trump is presented in the media as a fascist and a Nazi. Spencer himself regrets the incident.”

More broadly, Friberg views right-wing anti-Semitism as an oversimplification of complex issues. “I do not condemn revisionist history of the Holocaust period,” he says. “I acknowledge the suffering of the Jews in World War II. But the war as a whole, not only the Holocaust, was the most tragic event in Europe for centuries. Not only the Jews suffered in it. German children and women, too, were murdered and raped by Russian soldiers, and 10 million Ukrainians were starved to death in genocide. But despite this, we learn only about the Holocaust; no one taught us about the Holodomor [the Ukrainian term for the ‘Great Starvation’ in that country during the 1930s]. The lives of the Jews are not worth more than the lives of non-Jews, and the suffering of others also deserves recognition.”

Friberg does not believe in an all-embracing conspiracy theory that attributes magical powers and world rule to the Jews, but various versions of such theories are present in works that he publishes. “There is no one conspiracy theory,” he says. “There are many such theories, Jewish and not Jewish alike. That’s clear, after all. There’s conspiracy in every commercial company that’s led by three people, two of whom try to get rid of the third. That’s the nature of politics. It’s a dirty game, and the Jews, like others, are on all sides.”

At the same time, Friberg argues, there is an over-representation of Jews in social-change movements that have caused damage worldwide. Jews like George Soros, who promotes a liberal, globalist vision, are examples of that tendency. But there are also other Jews. Benjamin Netanyahu, he says, is a Jew who represents a more nationalist agenda, and there are also other Jews, including some Israelis he knows, who support the new right.

“In Sweden, for example, the biggest supporters of opening the borders and of the multicultural social disaster were Jews who emigrated from Poland,” he says. “That’s a pattern and we must not ignore it. But there are also Jews on the other side. For example, it was [the American philosopher and historian] Paul Gottfried, a Jew, who invented the term alt-right, along with Spencer.”

Friberg is right. No few Jews back the new right in Europe and the United States. Some others hold positions of power in Israel and cultivate close ties with their colleagues who urge deportation of foreigners, the building of walls and racial separation, and call for a struggle against “leftist elites” in the media and in academia.

The European and American new right, like the Israeli version, is neither apologetic, nor is it in hiding. It’s articulate, it has ties with big money and it is accumulating power and influence. It looks toward the future but its feet are planted deep in the neo-Nazi movement of the mid-20th century. Its Israeli supporters would do well to watch the clip of Spencer’s speech a year ago, and reflect on the comments of Friberg. In the video they will see a room filled with men enthusing over the battle cries of a white race that is being plundered by other races, which are taking over its living space. They applaud when the speaker alludes to the media as “Lügenpresse” (the lying media), the German term used by the Nazis, and laugh when he calls its members inhuman and soulless. At the end they respond to the cries of “Hail!” with loud applause and the Nazi salute.

Daniel Friberg maintains that this should all be taken ironically, that it’s just a joke. Given the fact that some of these people are so close to power in so many places around the world, all we can do is hope he’s right.

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David Stavrou דיויד סטברו

עיתונאי ישראלי המתגורר בשוודיה Stockholm based Israeli journalist

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