BERLIN — The European far right, once eager to make common cause with factions in the United States emboldened since the election of President Trump, struggled to respond to a show of force by white nationalists over the weekend that descended into deadly chaos.
Intent on normalizing themselves to attain electoral clout, parties in Germany, France and elsewhere were mostly silent about the spectacle of racial fury in Charlottesville, or they made statements dispersing blame. A notable exception was the Dutch Freedom Party, whose leader, Geert Wilders, tweeted Sunday: “Our population is being replaced. No more.”
European far-right leaders, while in many countries divided, have worked to distance themselves from the Nazi ideology that a former teacher said transfixed James Alex Fields Jr., the man accused of plowing into a group of counterprotesters in Charlottesville, killing one. This has created tension with the continent’s far-right fringes, which lit up the murky corners of the Internet with predictions of a new front in global racial conflict.
“The really extreme groups will look at a rally that turns violent, like in Charlottesville, and there will be ripple effects, with questions like, ‘Why are we not able to actually do something like that and clash with people?’ ” said Thomas Greven, a political scientist at the Free University in Berlin. “For the more mainstream parties, which nevertheless have extremist roots or connections and initially seemed to get a boost from Trump’s election, there’s disillusionment. They don’t want to be tarnished by every scandal or misstep that rocks the Trump presidency.”
For one far-right politician in Germany, the violence in Charlottesville prompted reflections on American memory.
“I myself traveled through the Deep South in the U.S. and visited battlefields of the Civil War, and I saw the status Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson have in the southern U.S.,” said Georg Pazderski, chairman of the Berlin branch of Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far-right, anti-immigrant party poised to enter the German Parliament in elections next month. Responsibility for the Charlottesville unrest, Pazderski said, lay at least in part with city officials who voted to remove a statue of Lee, a Confederate general. “I think it was a stupid thing to do this.”
Pazderski did not endorse the use of violence, calling Fields “mentally ill.” But the retired colonel said he shares the concerns about national culture that animated the rally. And he took no issue with the response of Trump, who waited two days to condemn neo-Nazis and other white-supremacist groups. “It’s not good or bad,” he said of the president’s reaction — before Trump on Tuesday doubled down on the claim that left-wing activists were equally blameworthy.
Support for the tactics employed in Charlottesville was limited to the social-media pages of local groups and parties associated with Europe’s far right. In Germany, a regional branch of Germany’s neo-Nazi National Democratic Party posted a photo of the car attack with the caption, “The Americans aren’t as patient as German nationalists.” The party’s national branch was more cautious, claiming on its Facebook page that the attack had been an accident.
A British page for white nationalists posted a video of clashes in Charlottesville, celebrating, “Goodnight left side! Well done white nationalists,” while other nationalist groups — such as Britain First and the English Defense League — fell silent.
On the website of the Nordic Resistance Movement — among the largest neo-Nazi movements in northern Europe — one of the group’s leaders, Swedish far-right activist Simon Lindberg, wrote that the rally was “something I had been waiting for — white Americans who are really fighting for our cause.” Lindberg urged the U.S. far right to build more coordinated networks resembling those in Europe.
Transatlantic networks already exist, said Thomas Grumke, a specialist in right-wing extremism formerly with the Interior Ministry of the German state of North Rhine-Westphfalia. The Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter reported that Swedish far-right extremists joined the demonstration in Charlottesville.
“They’re nationalists, but they work very much internationally, because they see this as the last fight for racial domination of the world,” Grumke said. “The German racist right has a very global view. They have been motivated by Poland, Hungary and Russia. And now they count the U.S. in that category, where they think people are finally standing up for the white man.”
The Alternative for Germany party, Grumke said, “would never want anything to do with people like that, in a way that mirrors Trump’s response to Charlottesville — he sees it as irrelevant to him.” Beatrix von Storch, deputy chair of the AfD, blamed extremism of all stripes. A local party member, Leon Spindeldreier, tweeted of a leftist “mob” in Charlottesville, employing the epithet “Lügenpresse,” or lying press, used by Adolf Hitler to discredit the news media in Nazi Germany.
The National Front, France’s far-right populist party, has been noticeably silent on the events in Charlottesville. Neither the party nor its leader, Marine Le Pen, has publicly addressed the violence.
This, political analysts say, is in keeping with the desire of European far-right movements to join the political mainstream, which often requires separating themselves from their own origins.
“I think that this silence, which is also the case with the Freedom Party of Austria and with the Lega Nord in Italy, is due to the search for respectability of the National Front and Alternative for Germany, especially in an election period, as is the case in Germany and Austria,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a scholar of right-wing movements in France and elsewhere in Europe.
McAuley reported from Paris and Noack from London. Luisa Beck in Berlin and Michael Birnbaum in Brussels contributed to this report.