But in the chaotic months since Trump's inauguration, Europe's far right suffered electoral setbacks and the president's own agenda proved something of a muddled mess. His campaign-trail populism quickly gave way to policies that favored the mega-rich. What has endured are the identity politics — the resentments toward multiculturalism and immigration — that galvanized his base, which has remained loyal to Trump even while the president racks up historically low approval ratings.
And although the Trump administration tries to distance itself from "white nationalism" and its supposedly fringe adherents, ethnic grievances anchor the West's anti-liberal backlash. It's at the heart of the "traditionalist" Christian nationalism embraced by White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who despite various rounds of West Wing purges has held onto his post.
"I think Trump was a legitimatizer," said William Regnery II, a secretive funder of a slew of "alt-right" organizations that champion extreme anti-immigration politics in the United States. Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Regnery said that white nationalism has gone "from being conversation you could hold in a bathroom to the front parlor."
Over the weekend, a group of committed white nationalists, including some figures directly connected to Regnery's funding networks, held a conference in Tennessee, debating everything from Trump's record on race to the prospect of fashioning some chunk of America into a whites-only "ethno-state."
Jared Taylor, the founder and editor of American Renaissance, the far-right website that staged the event, spoke to the Guardian about the millennials turned on by his message. "These young white guys," Taylor said, "they have been told from infancy that they are the villains of history. And I think that the left has completely overplayed its hand."
A similar argument is made by considerably more powerful people in Europe. Last week, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivered a speech in a leafy Romanian town where a majority of the population is ethnic Hungarian. Not many international outlets covered the event — far-right website Breitbart was an exception, gleefully quoting the right-wing premier at length for his call to stop a "Muslimized Europe."
This rhetoric is familiar coming from Orban, an outspoken leader among the European statesmen railing against immigration and the challenge of Muslim integration into Western societies. (No matter that the E.U. refugee quotas Orban resists would do little to change his nation's demographic composition.) But this time, he offered a shout-out to Trump, whose nationalist speech in Warsaw in early July clearly thrilled the Hungarian leader.
Orban quoted from Trump's Warsaw address, in which the president warned of an existential threat facing the West and appealed to a narrow Christian cultural identity in the face of enemies at the gates. "Our freedom, our civilization and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory," Orban said, echoing Trump. (Absent in either of their remarks were similar paeans to Western ideals such as democracy and the rule of law.)
The Hungarian prime minister also celebrated the fact that such statements are being made in public at all: "These words would have been inconceivable anywhere in the Western world two years ago," he said.
He went on to bemoan what is afflicting Europe. "Christian democratic parties in Europe have become un-Christian: we are trying to satisfy the values and cultural expectations of the liberal media and intelligentsia," Orban said, swatting at the transnational commitments of technocrats in Brussels and growling over his bete noir, Jewish American financier George Soros.
"In order for Europe to be able to survive and remain the Europeans’ continent, the European Union must regain its sovereignty from the Soros empire," Orban said. "Until that happens, we have no chance of retaining Europe for the European people."
Others on the far right are taking matters more directly in their hands. This summer, a group called "Generation Identity" set about trying to challenge the efforts of NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders that are operating ships in the Mediterranean to rescue migrants whose own vessels have sunk or become inoperable. Hoisting a "Defend Europe" banner, they tried to disrupt rescue efforts and even threatened to tow stranded migrants back to sea. Over the weekend, they were confronted by leftist activists in the Sicilian port city of Catania.
British journalist Rossalyn Warren described Identity Europe in The Washington Post's Global Opinion section:
"The group is known for its publicity stunts and creepy promotional videos showing white Europeans playing sports in what looks like summer camp for fascists. Their reach hasn’t just been limited to Europe either. Though the group is small — around 400 to 500 members in several countries including Austria, France and Germany — they’ve since been joined in Sicily by high-profile, far-right activists from Canada and the United States. They’ve also been supported by neo-Nazi leaders, including former KKK head David Duke, a vocal supporter of the Defend Europe mission."
Duke, of course, was also a vocal supporter of Trump during last year's election. The president may disavow these links, but leading far-right ideologues, including Regnery and Bannon, are more coy. Bannon, after all, once described Trump as a "blunt instrument" for his agenda. And although the effect of months of bludgeoning is still hard to measure, it's impossible to ignore the rhetoric that binds politicians in Central Europe to once-fringe radicals in Tennessee — and Washington.
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