Despite the departure of Donald Trump from the White House, the United States remains locked in a struggle between reality-based governance and conspiracy-theory radicals. Now, a similar right-wing extremism is emerging on the streets of the Netherlands, uniting COVID-19 deniers, anti-vaxxers, anti-globalists, conservative Christians, anti-Muslim activists, anti-immigrant groups and avowed neo-Fascists.
Though mocked by American conservatives as a “liberal” country, the far-right has had an influence in the Netherlands for more than 50 years, in part due to anti-Islamic sentiment toward the country’s 850,000 Muslims, about 5 percent of the population.
Violent demonstrations in Eindhoven, Amsterdam and other Dutch cities on 24 January – the worst domestic violence in more than 40 years, according to media reports – united disparate groups with diverse goals, including opposition to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s pandemic policies and the current curfew.
Visit their websites, messaging apps such as Telegram and Facebook communities, and you see many of the conspiracy theory tropes that fueled the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol Building on 6 January including QAnon and the “Rockefeller Lockstep” conspiracy theory (right) the Rockefeller Foundation created COVID-19.
What they have in common, notes Professor Leo Lucassen, director of the International Institute of Social History, is not the desire to stand up for the Netherlands’ marginalized conservative voters but to paint the entire democratic process as rigged, according to an opinion post he wrote for NRC.
We asked to interview Professor Lucassen, who is also a professor at Leiden University, but he referred us to other subject-matter experts. In his post for the NRC, Lucassen connects the dots from far right Dutch parties to Trump.
The group of hardened opponents of corona measures in the Netherlands is still quite small, but the enemy thinking, the delusions and involvement of far-right groups are now just as deeply entrenched as in the mob that invaded the US Capitol on January 6. The demonstrations in the Plein in The Hague and the harassment of politicians may be in stark contrast to what happened in Washington, but the sentiments and beliefs show striking similarities.
There is a counter view the unrest is only tangentially connected to the American far right and conspiracy-driven QAnon supporters.
“In my opinion and for reasons outlined below, the storming of the U.S. Capitol Building has not played a prominent role in the demonstrations and riots,” stated Prof. Dr. Sarah L. de Lange in the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences at the University of Amsterdam.
De Lange sees the anti-lockdown demonstrations and riots as separate events.
Considering the diversity of groups that rioted, the fact they were spread out across the country and the nature of their online communications, Dr. de Lange said she believes pandemic measures were not the sole reason for the violence “in the sense that they are not clearly politically motivated.”
She believes it’s more likely pandemic measures contributed to the turn-out for related reasons such as boredom amongst youngsters, lack of sports and other outlets and a lack of social contact. Anger over mayors of the various cities banning, limiting or moving demonstrations also motivated some of the younger people, who had connected through social media groups.
From de Lange’s response to Dispatches’ query:
To some extent, the demonstrations in Amsterdam (and to a lesser extent in Eindhoven) were different, in the sense that they brought together a wide variety of political groups and citizens protesting both the curfew because they fundamentally disagree with it and the fact that their demonstration was not allowed to take place where they wanted and with the number of participants they expected. These groups included the extreme right, COVID conspiracy thinkers, anti-vaxxers with a more spiritual orientation etc. All in all, an unlikely alliance of groups brought together by their distrust of politics, the state, and the media, but not with a clear political signature as was the case in Washington.
De Lange does see some parallels with the storming of the U.S. Capitol Building, looking, for example, at the importance of mobilization through social media channels and messaging apps such as Telegram, “and in the way in which some of the populist radical right parties in the Netherlands have – at the very least – been ambiguous in their communication about the riots. “
For us expats, most of this was below the surface of pre-COVID-19 life. But Dutch officials issued warnings this was coming:
National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security warned in the latest Threat Assessment Netherlands. In the movement that demonstrates against the corona measures, “there is also a radical undercurrent with extremist behavior.”
Here’s a brief list of those extremist groups:
Nederland in Verzet
Nederland in Verzet (Dutch in Resistance), along with Pegida, apparently set off the Eindhoven confrontation, according to media reports. This group exists mostly on Facebook and Telegram, but it has an actual leader, Michel Reijinga, in Amsterdam.
Reijinga uses the conceit of “going to drink a cup of coffee” to alert the Nederland in Verzet network that anti-government demonstrations are on. Supporters with histories of violence, including Tinus Koops, lead demonstrations.
On the Nederland in Verzet Facebook page, which exhorts people to “wake up” to the ways the government controls them, members trade conspiracy theories and bemoan the bans on curfew demonstrations across the Netherlands. And while the leaders claim to oppose violence and seem to have declared a truce into February, they use social media to inflame anti-government sentiment and discuss future demonstrations in vague terms.
Pegida Netherlands is the Dutch branch of the German anti-Islam group Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, or the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West. Pegida members wanted to demonstrate on 24 January in Eindhoven, but Mayor John Jorritsma banned the gathering, which contributed to the riots.
Pegida was founded in Dresden by Lutz Bachmann, a far-right agitator with a criminal record for theft and other violations who briefly resigned from the group after posing as Hitler in a Facebook post.
Edwin Wagensveld is the founder and current leader of Pegida in the Netherlands. Wagensveld uses the word “scum” regularly when referring to Turks, Moroccans and other Muslim immigrants. Pegida has connections to Tommy Robinson and other far-right leaders across Europe.
Thierry Baudet and Forum for Democracy
Baudet, Forum for Democracy leader and member of parliament, is the most visible leader on the nationalist far right, eclipsing to some extent Geert Wilders. Baudet bemoans what he describes as the lack of backbone among the Dutch to stand up to what he describes as the tyranny of government pandemic measures, which could be construed as rallying the troops to take to the streets.
But the NCTV, the Dutch domestic counter- intelligence bureau, states that younger anti-government activists will not join traditional far-right groups and parties, preferring to build online extremist movements:
It is precisely the limited attraction of known small right-wing extremist groups that can lead to the online radicalisation of Dutch people under the radar. This can contribute to the development of a social ecosystem, in which the threshold for discussing violent actions is low.
Geert Wilders and the Party for Freedom
Wilders founded the Partij voor de Vrijheid, or Party for Freedom, in 2006. His tactic is to pit what he portrays as put-upon ordinary Dutch people against interlopers from Turkey and Morocco, and the pandemic has exacerbated that.
Last October, Wilders stated that “Henk and Ingrid” can’t get treated for coronavirus because ICU beds are occupied by “Mohamed and Fatima” who “do not speak our language and do not care about the rules.”
Wilders has publicly called for the Rutte government to bring in troops to quell the violence. But International Institute of Social History director Lucassen writes that Wilders and Baudet laid the groundwork for the crisis and that their “crocodile tears” are unconvincing.
Though an anti-immigration leader, Wilders’ mother originally was from Indonesia and his wife is Hungarian.
Lockdown opponents have their own news outlet, Lockdown News Media, that seems to connect Dutch populists to their counterparts in the U.S. and other countries. Several “news ” stories claim that newly elected President Joe Biden and his supporters will be tried for treason by the military, and lockdown offenders in Germany are now being put into “penal camps.”
Fortuyn, who started out a Marxist and was openly gay, was the unlikely godfather of the current anti-Islam movements. But his politics shifted right as he increasingly opposed Islam and multiculturalism as intolerant and oppressive influences in Dutch society, targeting women’s rights and gay rights.
Fortuyn was assassinated in 2002 by an animal-rights activist as he campaigned in the general election. It was the first political assassination outside of wartime in the Netherlands since 1672.
• Ben van der Kooi is a neo-Nazi activist who has defended Adolf Hitler and the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people – mostly young people at a summer camp – in 2011.
• Joop Glimmerveen, 92, has a long history of uniting pro-Nazi groups in the Netherlands with counterparts in Belgium and Germany.
• Hans Janmaat, who died in 2002, was an anti-semite who believed the Netherlands should be an all-white society. He laid the philosophical foundation for Geert Wilders and Thierry Baudet.
• Nederlandse Volksunie (Dutch Peoples Union) is a neo-Nazi party that advocates uniting the Netherlands with Dutch-speaking Flanders in Belgium. The party website describes the NVU as “the most radical party in the Netherlands that propagates popular nationalism.”
Trouw – Who are the demonstrators on Museumplein?
“PVV and FVD incide riots,” by Leo Lucassen, a professor at Free University Amsterdam. Lucassen is research director at the International Institute of Social History and professor of Global Labour and Migration at Leiden University
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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.