Biden and Europe Should Unite Against the Far Right

By Luke Barnes

President Joseph R. Biden is keen to reset America’s relations with Western allies, which became severely strained during the previous administration of Donald J. Trump. Biden has emphasized mending friendships and reviving longstanding alliances. But one key area for potential cooperation has escaped the limelight so far. Europe and the United States both face threats from far-right extremists and need to work together to effectively manage the threat.

Biden stressed that the United States was finished with the angry isolationism of the Trump era in his speech at the State Department headquarters in February.

“I’ve spoken with the leaders of many of our closest friends . . . to begin reforming the habits of cooperation and rebuilding the muscle of democratic alliances that have atrophied over the past few years,” Biden said. “Leading with diplomacy means standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies and key partners once again.”

The president moved quickly through a number of foreign policy challenges facing his administration—from democratic abuses in Burma to the detention of Alexei Navalny to climate change. But there is one challenge he barely mentioned, which offers a prime opportunity to foster further cooperation between the United States and Europe.

The riot at the Capitol on January 6 provided a stark reminder of the domestic dangers posed by far-right extremism. But the threat is not confined to the United States. Europe has seen numerous far-right terror attacks over the last decade—from the 2011 mass shooting in Norway to political assassinations in the United Kingdom and Germany. Cooperation on this front is essential to prevent further violence, particularly bearing in mind the similarities between the extremist movements.  

One of the most worrying of these similarities is the infiltration of law enforcement. According to The New York Times, at least 30 serving police officers were actively involved with the Capitol Hill riot. Federal prosecutors have alleged that one rioter was also a former FBI section chief with a top-secret security clearance. In a separate incident on February 17, the Department of Homeland Security admitted to formerly employing Rinaldo Nazzaro, the founder of the Neo-Nazi terror group the Base.   

European allies, most notably Germany, have also had to face up to far-right infiltration of the security services. The most alarming case came to light in 2020 when the German defense ministry partially disbanded its elite KSK counterterrorism force due to suspected far-right sympathizers within its ranks. Last October, a report from Germany’s domestic security agency said there were nearly 400 cases of suspected right-wing extremism within national police and security services.

Countries have specific histories that facilitate the growth of unique far-right movements. In her 2018 book, Bring the War Home, for instance, historian Kathleen Belew argues that a sense of betrayal, stemming from American withdrawal from the Vietnam conflict, was crucial in helping to form the modern-day U.S. militia movement. In contrast the German far-right Reichsbürger movement draws its sense of betrayal from World War II, believing the modern German state to be an illegitimate construct of Allied occupation.

But while they might have ideological differences, far-right extremists in both the United States and Europe see the strategic value in networking with each other in order to raise funds, facilitate training, and radicalize new recruits. A month prior to the Capitol Hill riot, for instance, a number of far-right figures and publications—including Groyper leader Nick Fuentes and the Neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer—were gifted nearly USD 500,000 in Bitcoin by an anonymous French donor. The far-right Azov Battalion militia in the Ukraine has also provided ample training opportunities to American white supremacists.

These links make it clear that if the Biden administration wants to effectively tackle the far right it needs to foster cooperation with European allies facing similar problems. This is particularly apparent now, post-Capitol Hill, when many of these individuals have been de-platformed from social media, making it more difficult for those not experienced in this field to track them. 

The need for cooperation is laid bare by the possible role Russia plays in facilitating these far-right movements. The Neo-Nazi forum Iron March, which was key in helping to radicalize members of Atomwaffen, was founded and initially run by a fascist believed to be named Alexander Slavros. Nazzaro was also believed to have been running the Base from Russia. While these connections are circumstantial, it is hardly a stretch to imagine Russian security services viewing these networks as a cheap and deniable way of destabilizing Western powers.

Cooperation does not mean a one-size-fits-all approach to the far right. But by sharing intelligence, learning from each other’s mistakes, and fostering dialogue over potential civil society approaches to misinformation and deradicalization, the Biden administration and its allies can approach the far right with the unified strength needed to push it back.

Luke Barnes is a second-year Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy candidate at The Fletcher School and the runner-up of the Spring 2021 CSS Writing Competition.

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