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Far-Right Extremism in Europe: From Margins to Mainstream

Ms Julia Jose, Intern, Counter Terrorism Centre, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi.
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  • April 02, 2024

    The first-ever electoral win of Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands late last year, which saw it win 37 out of the 150 House of Representatives seats, highlights the growth of far-right extremism across Europe. PVV is considered a far-right political party due to its extremist positions on issues such as border control, immigration, asylum and Islam. Wilders’ electoral success aligns with the region-wide ethno-nationalist and anti-globalist tilt and a retreating embrace of multi-culturalism, the rule of law, and liberalism, which formed the bedrock of the European political system since 1945. Similar scenarios have unfolded in other European countries like Sweden, Finland, Poland, France and Italy, where the far-right has established a prominent presence.

    Key Drivers

    Far-right extremist beliefs and conspiracy theories promote a hierarchical narrative wherein non-Whites are deemed inferior to the White race and disseminate a warning of the Islamisation of Europe. Europe’s restive immigrant population has contributed to exacerbating the far-right extremist threat across the continent. The influx of migrants over the decades has festered resentment within the local European population, who fear the undermining of ethno-national identities and access to adequate social and economic opportunities.

    This has resulted in swelling support for exclusionary nationalist rhetoric,1 rising instances of Islamophobia, and dissemination of conspiracy theories such as eco-fascism and the Great Replacement, worsening the crisis. The Great Replacement Theory, endorsed by far-right political leaders such as Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orbán and Matteo Salvini, asserts that ‘replacist elites’ are purposely replacing White Christian communities with multi-ethnic and multi-religious groups through illegal immigration.2

    Furthermore, conservative intellectuals and organisations have openly expressed xenophobic views. Douglas Murray, in his book The Strange Death of Europe, argued that rising immigration levels have resulted in the ‘streets in cold and rainy northern towns of Europe filled with people dressed with the foothills of Pakistan or the sandstorms of Arabia.’3 Many White supremacists and conspiracy theorists frequently highlight census data and express concerns that White European citizens will become a minority by 2044.4   

    Eco-fascists attribute environmental degradation to a surging immigration population. They advocate creating homogenous White Christian communities.5 This ideology has inspired incidents of far-right extremism, including the Christchurch shooting in March 2019. The Euro crisis, resulting in large-scale unemployment and the COVID-19 outbreak, which devastated economies and various industries, further deepened anxieties and the impact of continued immigration into their countries.

    Additionally, self-radicalisation through technological advancements and social media has heightened the risks of lone-wolf extremist acts carried out by the far-right. Technological advancements have also facilitated the cultivation of online communities among the far-right on 8chan and Facebook, among other forums.

    Right-Wing Extremist Incidents

    One of the earliest physical manifestations of far-right extremism in Europe occurred when Anders Breivik, a neo-Nazi, killed 77 people in Norway in July 2011. His manifesto and actions, driven by his apprehension about the Islamisation of the predominantly Christian West, have been emulated by others years after his arrest.6 In June 2019, Walter Lübcke, a Christian Democratic Union leader, was fatally shot near the city of Kessel by Stephan Ernst, a neo-Nazi for his pro-immigration views.7  

    A few months leading up to this attack in Germany, Christchurch in New Zealand was devastated by mass shootings in March 2019, in which over 50 people were killed. These attacks were carried out on two mosques by another neo-Nazi, Brenton Tarrant, who was inspired by Breivik. Additionally, a boy based in Darlington was arrested in the United Kingdom as part of an investigation into far-right extremism. It was found that he was an active participant in racist online forums and possessed information useful for committing terrorist acts, such as manuals for making explosives.8

    In December 2022, adherents of the far-right Reichsbürger movement attempted to violently seize power in Germany by overthrowing the democratically-elected government.9 However, their plan was thwarted by German officials following which mass arrests occurred. One of the detainees was Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, a former lawmaker associated with the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party. Raids and seizures were also carried out throughout the country across multiple properties.

    More recently, following a stabbing incident near a school in Dublin in December 2023, far-right extremists damaged public infrastructure and targeted police forces. Following the attack, police concluded that unrest was driven by a ‘lunatic, hooligan faction driven by a far-right ideology’ and warned against ‘misinformation’.10 About 34 people were arrested as part of the investigations into the rioting carried out by the far-right.11


    Various European countries have been taking countermeasures to tackle the scourge of violent extremism. Finland, for instance, since 2012 has put forward National Action Plans after extensive collaboration between governmental and non-governmental organisations, along with researchers and religious communities. These plans contain measures to identify recruitment methods of different radical extremist groups, steps to prevent participation of young people in radical activity, help promote safety and security of premises of religious communities, among other provisions.12  

    The Swedish Center for Preventing Violent Extremism, established in 2018, is primarily tasked with developing knowledge-based and cross-sector work involved in preventing violent extremism at national, regional and local levels. The Center works to promote the development of preventive work at the national, regional and local levels; strive to attain a high degree of coordination and effectiveness concerning preventive measures; provide support to agencies in addressing issues relating to VE and collect and disseminate information about preventing violent extremism.13 Sweden also appointed a National Coordinator to safeguard democracy against violent extremism in 2015.14

    The Netherlands’ National Counter-terrorism Strategy for 2022–26 calls for ‘extra attention’ towards the threat posed by potentially violent, extremist lone actors, flags the need to privilege innovative (technological) solutions to facilitate the detection and combating of the dissemination of violent extremist and terrorist content and calls for measures designed to ensure the safe re-integration of individuals after detention.15 The United Kingdom’s ‘Prevent’ strategy supports police and security agencies in identifying individuals and groups at risk of radicalisation.16

    Germany passed the Federal Government’s Strategy to Prevent Extremism and Promote Democracy in 2016 which calls for coordinated efforts by federal, regional and local authorities in association with civil society. More than 700 civil society organisations are funded by the federal government on measures to prevent extremism. Germany has established federal agencies for civic education and anti-discrimination.17 Germany also has initiatives such as Exit Germany which counsels families impacted by right-wing extremism.18

    Despite these significant measures, far-right extremism continues to be a sociological challenge that has significantly undermined multi-culturalism, liberal democracy and rules-based order in Europe. Continuing and enhanced cooperation between intelligence agencies, NGOs and community activists is necessary for addressing this critical threat.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.