Arguably, for decades after the end of World War II, the spectre of a revived far-right political/military movement has haunted Western Europe. This fear, though, has often been focused on the fantastic, rather than concrete. In his study on the presentation of neo-Nazis in major Hollywood films between 1945 and 1979, for example, Professor Lawrence Baron argues that &ldquofilms tended to portray neo-Nazis as a recalcitrant remnant of German National Socialists forming clandestine networks outside of the United States to establish the Fourth Reich”. Films such as The Odessa File, and The Boys from Brazil, managed to create the idea that the far right was rooted in secretive groups of surviving Nazi officers, hoping to resurrect the Reich.
The truth about the far-right's post-war resurgence is far more complex, encompassing political, social and economic forces, not only in post-war Europe, but also in America. It includes not just the skinhead gangs so beloved by the media (for example the recent pictures of neo-Nazi skinheads marching in Dresden), but also mainstream political parties campaigning on harsh immigration regulations.
Nick Ryan is qualified more than most to talk about trends and patterns in the far-right world, having spent years interviewing leading figures including the British National Party's Nick Griffin, and American conservative leader and ex-Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. At the same time he spent time meeting and talking to the rank and file members of organisations like Combat 18. His book, Homeland, is the story of his own personal journey amongst a disparate group of people who could all be considered members of the extreme right.
The Nazi image that many associate with the extreme right can be misleading according to Ryan: &ldquoActually, most groups in Europe who want some sort of political success move as far away from the Nazi image as possible. The whole idea is to jettison the skinheads, those attracted just to the violence, and to move closer to the further ends of Conservative-style parties. I guess the models here might be the parties in Austria, France, Italy and elsewhere, who would see themselves perhaps in a more &ldquoanti-immigrant” rather than authoritarian, race-hating light”.
At the same time, though, he's quick to stress that he didn't just meet conservative political groups, distanced from violence. &ldquoIn parts of Europe today there are Nazi fanatics. In the US, it felt almost easier to laugh off some of my encounters with such people, but when I got to the former East Germany, the level of racist feeling and sense of longing for the 'law and order' certainties of the past, were very worrying. There you have two far-right political parties starting to take seats again in regional assemblies [NPD and VDU], plus there's a loose federation of groups called the &ldquocomradeships”, which are based around National Socialist beliefs.
It's easy to dismiss the more violent elements of the movement, who, as portrayed in Ryan's book, come across as isolated and delusional. There are however risks posed by these disaffected white power fanatics. &ldquoThere was an ex-monk, [David Myatt] – Ryan recalls meeting – who had (what I thought were) these laughable views on enslaving other races, returning to a 'blood and soil' way of life, he translated Greek poety and just seemed a bit 'out there'. Yet the guy went on to lead a fanatical little splinter movement to which a guy called David Copeland belonged. In 1999, David Copeland set off three nailbombs in London, targetting gays, blacks and Bengalis, killing three and wounding hundreds of others. That's where the danger lies: of some of the fanatics coaxing and spurring on those who are already unstable, the 'lone wolves'.”
One element of far-right philosophy that might surprise, is the widespread opposition to Globalisation – something often seen as the perogative of the Left. Ryan, sees nothing surprising about this, though it may be under-reported by the mainstream media: &ldquoI'm not sure it's that surprising. For a start, historically the concepts of 'national socialism' included some sort of idea of reshaping the State and the world – the &ldquothird way”, neither capitalism nor communism as it was called. Also there is the old ‘blood and soil’ analogy of the Nazis to take into account”.
&ldquoThen there are many, many instances of smaller ideologically committed groups infiltrating/joining larger, broader coalition movements – he continues – I'd suggest that many on the Left have also done so with the anti-globalisation 'movement'. Just look at a political party like Respect in the UK, which draws a lot of support from the anti-Iraq war movement (Left and Muslims). I'd still say the majority of the anti-global stuff is on the Left, but if you look at the anti-war movements, you definitely have elements of militant Islamic groups in attendance. Does this make the movement as a whole Islamic extremist? No. But those forging such broad coalitions need to be aware what can happen when their aims get hijacked”.