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Political parties on the far right are today enjoying a surge of support and access to government power that they have not experienced since their heyday in the 1930s.

far right alliance

This phenomenon is particularly striking in Europe, where massive migration, sluggish economic growth, and terrorism have stirred up virulent nationalism, hatred of immigrants, and Islamophobia. Trumpeting these sentiments, parties like France’s National Front (led by Marine Le Pen), Britain’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP, led by Nigel Farage), Netherlands’ Party for Freedom (led by Geert Wilders), Italy’s Northern League (led by Matteo Salvini), Austria’s Freedom Party, Alternative for Germany, and others have secured major party status.

Only one of these rising rightwing parties is usually referred to as fascist: Greece’s Golden Dawn. Exploiting Greece’s economic crisis and, especially, hatred of refugees and other migrants, Golden Dawn has used violent nationalism and the supposed racial superiority of Greeks to become Greece’s third-largest party. Its spokesman, Elias Kasidiaris, is known for sporting a swastika on his shoulder and for reading passages from the anti-Semitic hoax, the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” to parliament. The party also employs gangs of black-shirted thugs who beat up immigrants.

Although the other far right parties strive for greater respectability, they also provide reminders of 1920s- and 1930s-style fascism. Addressing a Northern League rally, Salvini wore a black shirt while supporters waved neo-Nazi symbols and photos of Benito Mussolini. Alternative for Germany has revived words and phrases once employed by the Nazis.

Donald Trump won a startling victory in his run for the presidency, employing attacks on Mexican migrants, Islamophobia, and promises to “make America great again.” The Republican Party, moving rightward for years, has embraced this agenda.

Around the globe, the same rightwing trend is in evidence. In the United States, of course, Donald Trump won a startling victory in his run for the presidency, employing attacks on Mexican migrants, Islamophobia, and promises to “make America great again.” The Republican Party, moving rightward for years, has embraced this agenda. In Russia, Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party solidified their grip upon power. Defending “traditional values,” Putin promoted an authoritarian nationalism, attacked multiculturalism, aligned himself with the reactionary Orthodox Church, and fostered a government crackdown on Russia’s Muslims.

Europe’s far right parties have been enthusiastic about Putin. Unlike most other European political groupings, they applauded his war against Georgia, military meddling in Ukraine, and annexation of Crimea. Hailing Russia’s president as a true patriot, Le Pen lauded him as a defender of “the Christian heritage of European civilization.” Farage, asked which world leader he most admired, responded without hesitation: Putin! Indeed, Europe’s far right parties blame the European Union and NATO for the crisis in Ukraine, support lifting sanctions on Russia, and back Russia’s military intervention in Syria.

In turn, Russia has assisted these parties in their struggle for power. In 2014, the National Front received an 11 million euro loan from a Russian bank to help finance its successful municipal election campaign. During the current French presidential race, Russian media outlets are promoting Le Pen, and Putin has received her in Moscow with the kind of buildup usually accorded a head of state. In Germany, Russian media and social networks have assisted the political fortunes of Alternative for Germany. The youth group of that party has forged an alliance with Putin’s United Russia party, as has Austria’s Freedom Party. In Britain, the Russian government, enamored of Farage, provided him with frequent guest appearances on Russia Today and even offered him his own show on that state-funded network.

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No one, however, has inspired the rising far right more than Donald Trump. In late April 2016, Salvini traveled to Pennsylvania to participate in a Trump rally. Here he held a “Trump: Make America Great Again” sign and afterward had a 20-minute meeting with the Republican presidential front-runner. Farage took part in Trump’s presidential campaign that August in Mississippi, where he shared the rally platform with him and praised him fulsomely. In October, Golden Dawn endorsed Trump on the floor of the Greek parliament, hailing the “patriotic wind” sweeping through Europe and North America. Furthermore, if U.S. intelligence agencies are correct, Putin employed Russian covert operations to help secure Trump’s electoral triumph.

Naturally, that election victory sent a surge of euphoria through the far right. From France, Le Pen lauded it as “a sign of hope,” showing “that people are taking their future back.” Farage, addressing a victory party near the White House, declared: “Brexit was great, but Trump becoming the president of the USA is Brexit plus, plus, plus.”

When Trump’s announced his Muslim ban, it sent parties of the far right into ecstasy. In Greece, thousands of Golden Dawn supporters surged into the streets, carrying torches and waving their Nazi-like flags. “Well done,” President Trump, exulted Wilders; “it’s the only way to stay safe and free.” Addressing a National Front rally brimming with nationalist fervor, Le Pen praised Americans for having “kept faith with their national interest.”

Viewing Trump as a kindred spirit, the parties of the far right are eager to secure an alliance with him.

Viewing Trump as a kindred spirit, the parties of the far right are eager to secure an alliance with him. Upon Trump’s election, Alternative for Germany informed him that it was a “natural ally” at his side. Farage met with Trump three times during the first weeks of his presidency. Salvini announced that his party shared many of the policies of the new administration and was a logical ally. “We see eye-to-eye with President Trump,” he said, “and we look forward to partnering with his administration.”

The admiration is mutual. When Trump first spoke with Salvini, he told him: “Matteo, I hope you become prime minister of Italy soon.” In addition, Trump, a fan of Farage, has publicly suggested that the rightwing leader be appointed British ambassador to the United States. Political observers have also been struck by Trump’s consistent affection for Vladimir Putin, whom Trump has commended for his “strong control” over Russia.

Some of Trump’s aides have been even more outspoken. For years, Steve Bannon―the president’s top political strategist―ran Breitbart, a rightwing news service. Under his leadership, Breitbart worked assiduously to provide favorable publicity for UKIP, Alternative for Germany, the Party for Freedom, and their ilk. Indeed, Bannon’s deep-seated nationalist ideology and rightwing associations are legendary.

In this fashion, political forces around the world have been drawing together into a far right international. Although its future remains uncertain, especially if Putin and Trump come to a parting of the ways, it certainly has plenty of political momentum at present. “Long live Trump, long live Putin, long live Le Pen, and long live the League,” proclaimed Salvini in early 2017. “Finally, we have an international alliance.”

lawrence wittner

Lawrence Wittner

This is an abbreviated version of an article published by the History News Network.