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Martin Sellner, Austrian far-right activist facing trouble abroad

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After his radical ideas led to mass protests, Austrian far-right activist Martin Sellner this week grabbed headlines again, by being deported from neighbouring Switzerland and banned from Germany.

In an interview with AFP, he insisted on his clean slate — “white, like freshly fallen snow” — and said he would fight against a “severe curtailment of my freedom to work, my freedom of expression and my freedom to travel”.

Revelations that he had a meeting with members of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Potsdam last November already sparked a huge wave of protests early this year against the far-right party, with tens of thousands attending demonstrations across Germany.

– ‘Demonisation’ –

One of Sellner’s main proposals is that of “remigration,” expelling those without Austrian nationality “who are long-term unemployed” or that are living in “unassimilated parallel societies”.

“I think it’s good when ideas about terms like remigration become known,” said the 35-year-old, who talks with a reassuring tone, while slamming the press for, he says, creating around him “an aura of demonisation”.

“I have never committed an act of violence. I am simply a dissident, author and controversial activist,” said Sellner, who released a new book this month on his idea of “remigration”.

Sellner revealed on X on Tuesday that he has been banned from entering Germany for three years.

This followed his arrest and deportation from Switzerland over the weekend, where police said they prevented a hundred-strong far-right gathering he was due to address.

His removal attracted attention online, including from Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of X, who asked “Is this legal?”.

Sellner, who works as a graphic illustrator and is married to a US conservative political activist and writer, was previously banned from X, then Twitter, but was re-admitted earlier this month.

Born into a well-to-do family in Vienna, he studied philosophy. In his youth, he was briefly part of the neo-Nazi scene — which he now says he regrets.

He co-founded the white pride group Austrian Identitarians in 2012, described by Austrian intelligence services as “agents of modern right-wing extremism” and whose symbols were banned in 2021.

The group, with hundreds of members before the ban, espoused the far-right “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory according to which white Europeans are being deliberately supplanted by non-white immigrants.

They were also known for anti-immigrant stunts in the past, climbing the roofs of buildings or spreading fake blood.

– ‘Seeping into mainstream’ –

In 2021, Austrian prosecutors dropped an inquiry into Sellner over possible links with white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, who in 2019 killed 51 Muslims in attacks on two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.

Sellner came under investigation together with some of his associates when it emerged that in 2018 he had received a donation of 1,500 euros ($1,600) from Tarrant.

Sellner admitted to having had contact with Tarrant on several occasions.

Analysts say whereas Sellner’s following has dipped in recent years after his links with Tarrant were revealed, his ideas and ideologies have been “seeping into the mainstream” after the mass protests in Germany and as far-right politicians are gaining ground across Europe.

“Their topics and their strategies are on everyone’s lips, so to say,” Judith Goetz, an expert on far-right extremism at the University of Innsbruck, told AFP.

In addition, in Austria, the opposition far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) has espoused their ideas. It is currently the Alpine EU member’s leading political force, according to polls, garnering around 30 percent ahead of elections expected in September.

The identitarians provide “a useful strategy laboratory” for the FPOe, according to Kathrin Gloesel, a far-right expert and editor-in-chief of social democratic magazine Kontrast.

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