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The far-right are more dangerous than you think

Ukip might be portrayed as a gang of clowns, but the party and its continental equivalents are poised to clean up in the Euro polls, writes STEVEN WALKER

he BBC3 documentary EDL Girls, screened earlier this month, is another illustration of how far extreme right political parties have travelled in recent years.

Recent events in Ukraine have been largely portrayed as a popular democratic success rather than the appointment of an unelected government containing a large number of neonazi and anti-semitic parties.

And while the mainstream media might call Nigel Farage and Ukip "loonies and fruitcakes," portraying Ukip members as a fringe minority of eccentric and open misogynists and racists as caricatures, the truth is far more sinister.

According to YouGov, as many as 38 per cent say they plan to vote Ukip in May's European elections, while other far-right political parties across mainland Europe are expected to make significant gains, ensuring a sizeable bloc within the European Parliament.

The warnings from anti-fascist groups and parties in recent years are proving prescient, with the added problem that the spread of social media is enabling fascist organisations to organise huge numbers of supporters from a generation of young people disillusioned with the failure of capitalist economics and Establishment political parties failing to provide jobs, affordable housing and reliable public services.

A new generation is following far-right organisations and swapping ideas online.

In 2011 the political think tank Demos conducted compelling research into the increased online popularity of neonazi and openly fascist political parties.

Facebook's advertising tool let Demos crunch data from almost 450,000 supporters of 14 far-right organisations.

Almost two-thirds were under 30, against half of Facebook users overall. Some 75 per cent were male and they were more likely than average to be unemployed.

Jamie Bartlett, the principal author of the report, says it is vital to track the spread of such attitudes among the new generation of online activists, who are far more numerous than the formal membership of such parties.

"There are hundreds of thousands of them across Europe. They are disillusioned with mainstream politics and European political institutions and worried about the erosion of their cultural and national identity, and are turning to populist movements who they feel speak to these concerns.

"These activists are largely out of sight of mainstream politicians, but they are motivated, active and growing in size. Politicians across the continent need to sit up, listen and respond."

Parties touting anti-immigrant and Islamophobic ideas have spread beyond established strongholds in France, Italy and Austria to the traditionally liberal Netherlands and Scandinavia and now have significant parliamentary blocs in eight countries.

Other nations have seen the rise of nationalist street movements similar to the EDL.

Two years ago, a number of such groups came together in Denmark's second city Aarhus in a event billed as a "European counter-jihad meeting."

They were looking at the EDL model and seeking to mimic successful right-wing political parties in eastern Europe, some of which have made it to government.

Unite Against Fascism spokesman Weyman Bennett says this was the first meaningful meeting of such groups.

"The Euro-leagues are a new danger. We should not forget that it was the Norwegian Defence League that gave us Anders Breivik [the young man who committed mass murder against a Workers Youth League gathering].

"The growth of a Euro-league in a time of economic crisis threatens to resurrect fascist street armies such as those that destroyed European democracies in the 1930s.

"The development of this network allows fascists and right-wing populists to share ideas, finance and experience in a way that should worry us all."

These groups have exploited the economic crisis and eurozone financial meltdown as a way to pull in new members, particularly from the middle classes and unemployed youth.

This has all the classic hallmarks of Hitler's rise to power on the back of resentment over the reparations Germany paid for World War I, the 1929 global capitalist crisis and the scapegoating of a vulnerable group - the Jews.

The nazis' anti-semitic rhetoric struck a chord of deep cultural hatred for Jewish people. Nowadays it is Muslims and overt Islamophobia.

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