The rise of far right, populist political groups in both the United States and Europe has many people concerned.
Just last month, Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party of Austria came within 31,000 votes of becoming the first far-right head of state since the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.
Other far right and overtly racist groups, such as Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece, have grown in popularity as Europe’s economy has stalled. Helping fuel the rise of the far right has been the mass influx of thousands upon thousands of refugees fleeing war and violence in the Middle East. Fear of Islamic terrorism has also turned many toward the right.
Many of those same concerns have also struck a chord in this country, as changing demographics and a loss of blue-collar jobs overseas has led to frustration and concerns about a loss of economic opportunity, national culture and identity.
Former neo-Nazi skinhead leader Christian Picciolini, who now works to combat hate groups through peaceful means, has just returned from a trip to Europe, where he was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava, Slovakia, to give a series of talks about countering extremist violence.
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He says the rise of right wing activity is largely driven by economics. “When people are in dire straits and they can’t support their families people look for other options and they typically start to blame outsiders,” said Picciolini. “So in Europe there’s a very big anti-refugee sentiment as well as an anti-immigrant sentiment. It’s the same as it is here in the United States. These leaders on the far right are very savvy with a message at blaming other people for the problems that are happening.”
He also says the election of President Barack Obama has also helped fuel the rise of far right groups.
“Fear and ignorance typically boil out as hatred and violence,” said Picciollini. “The fears are there and I think the election (of Obama) has a lot to do with what we’ve seen here. Certainly not the president’s actions but the irrational fear on the right that everything would come crashing down and there would be a white genocide.”
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