Far-right ‘Identitarians’ under the Defend Europe banner have secured a ship with “a range of 3000 nautical miles”, a “place for a crew of 25”, and a “crane for RIBs [small inflatable boats]” to disrupt the work of humanitarian search-and-rescue NGO ships in the Mediterranean.
On 12 May Identitarians from Austria, Germany, France and Italy, along with Canadian social media ‘journalist’ Lauren Southern and US social media ‘journalist’ Luke Rudkowski, went to Catania, Sicily to block one of these ships.
The event was documented by Southern and (from afar) Rudkowski, and involved preventing the ship leaving the Catanian port, lighting a flare, and unfurling a banner that read “NO WAY for human trafficking”.
The event was also used as a publicity stunt, with videos uploaded later that evening and following morning announcing a crowdfunding drive to hire a ship to further disrupt NGO work, as HOPE not hate was first to report.
According to the site’s current FAQ, Defend Europe intends to follow search-and-rescue vessels, document their activities and ‘confront’ them by blockading them on the seas. The aim is to force the NGO ships to alter their routes, drain their financial and organisational resources, as well inspire others to support the mission.
There have also been worrying reports of far-right activists seeking to gather information on the operations of aid organisations and even aid workers themselves.
While the Identitarian movement has always used controversial and confrontational tactics the hiring of this ship is emblematic of a dangerous new confidence within the movement. The project also reveals an increasingly international threat, with key activists coming from across Europe while support, including financial, has flooded in from around the world.
On 1 June Defend Europe exceeded its €50,000 crowdfunding ask, raising €64,023.60. It followed this on 3 June with the announcement of a tour across Italian cities to explain its mission to supporters. The tour visited Catania (9 June), Olbia (10 June), Modena (10 June), Brescia (14 June), Bolzano (21 June) and appears to be expanding to other dates.
An article written by The Observer with HOPE not hate information, published on 4 June covering the events has since been shared almost 40,000 times, and is cited by activist and journalist Caroline Criado-Perez in a crowdfunding effort for Medicins Sans Frontieres, which carries out a search and rescue effort in the Mediterranean. At the time of writing the crowdfund has raised over £70,000 of its £100,000 goal.
Growing coverage from the media led Paypal to freeze Defend Europe’s account on 13 June, forcing it to launch a new crowdfunding effort for €30,000 (purportedly the total amount lost after the Paypal freeze). It then switched to using direct payments to an Italian current account.
Ten days later, Defend Europe announced it had switched to a Bitcoin fundraising effort after further blocking of accounts. It stated it had “already recovered almost all the money [it] sent back because of the closure of [its] paypal account”. It also announced the launch of further Bitcoin crowdfunding, this time for €60,000 to cover “daily costs, for the crew, fuel, etc.”
Crucially, the ship is not currently in the Mediterranean so will have to be sailed to southern Italy.
HOPE not hate will continue to monitor the situation closely. Let us know how you think we should take on this action here.
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