Since first breaking the story in May, HOPE not hate has been monitoring the activities of ‘Defend Europe’, a mission by far-right activists to hinder the lifesaving work of search-and-rescue NGO ships in the Mediterranean.
Alongside the brilliant work of organisations such as Sleeping Giants, we have helped raise awareness of Defend Europe’s activities and put pressure on their funding avenues, commissioned legal opinion on the implications and legality of its actions, and briefed a growing coalition of NGOs about the potential impacts of Defend Europe’s actions.
Here is an update on what we know and how we are fighting back.
Martin Sellner, co-leader of the Austrian Identitarian branch and main representative of the mission, stated in a video that the group would “block those ships from going to the Libyan coast”, and the group shared a graphic on social media titled ‘You Shall Not Pass’ depicting an NGO ship being blocked.
However, Sellner and other leaders have now back-peddled in a clear attempt to present their mission as devoid of far-right motivation. Sellner told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that “we don’t want to block anyone” and that it would return anyone it picked up to the Libyan coast. Both Sellner and the Defend Europe site’s FAQ suggest they will do this by working with the Libyan coastguard as a “recon” ship: alerting them to migrants and refugees they have found.
In fact, the Identitarian groups behind Defend Europe have attempted to characterise their mission as an “Identitarian search-and-rescue mission”. However, when asked by i-news whether Defend Europe would have qualified medical personnel on board to assist those they would save, Martin Sellner could not promise for sure that a doctor would be available.
There is strong evidence to suggest Sellner, as well as the French Identitarian leader Clement Galant, will be aboard the ship for the mission. Sellner has stated that he will be in Italy soon and, in reply to a tweet about “going to the seaside”, stated he is “also going to the sea”.
Galant has strongly suggested he will join, during an interview with Minute, alongside captains from the Italian and Austrian Identitarian movement and activists from France and Germany (regional director of the Berlin Identitarians, Robert Timm, has also suggested he will be aboard the ship).
Galant does not, however, mention that there will also be a Belgian aboard the ship. Specifically, Filip Dewinter of the far-right, Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang party, who is a councillor in Antwerp and a member of the Belgian federal parliament. Dewinter, who has appeared on the US alt-right Political Cesspool radio show, announced on Twitter that he will join the Defend Europe ship “to stop illegal immigration!”
Galant also mentioned that communications professionals would be aboard the ship, likely referring to Simon Kaupert. Kaupert (elsewhere pseudonymously Simon “Wald”) is a German “activist and co-worker” at the right-wing networking organisation Ein Prozent, which strongly supports and advertises Identitarian activity, and is the former leader of the Würzberg branch of the anti-Islam Pegida street movement. Kaupert has stated he will be reporting from the ship, as did Ein Prozent in an inaccurate and highly-biased four-part blog Defend Europe has cited as evidence for its debunked narrative tarnishing search-and-rescue NGOs.
Sellner, who is based in Vienna, revealed in a tweet that he will be going to Schnellroda in north-eastern Germany before moving on to Italy. Schnellroda is home to Ein Prozent’s founder, Götz Kubitschek, who wrote in 2015 about helping to raise €10,000 for Sellner’s Austrian Identitarian branch. Combined with the fact that Defend Europe’s crowdfunding site WeSearchr requires 30 days before paying out its funds, this suggests Sellner is potentially visiting to collect money in advance from Ein Prozent to maintain the mission.
Also joining to report on the mission will be Lauren Southern, an alt-light ‘citizen journalist’ and activist who helped block the humanitarian SOS Mediterannée ship with Defend Europe in May. Southern, who has recently described the action as “protesting”, not blocking, openly stated that her “journalism” blurs with activism. She revealed in an interview with Sellner that she “might very well be on [the] boat recording [Defend Europe’s] mission” to report about it, as well as “hopefully sending [Defend Europe] some funds”.
Defend Europe’s purported vessel, the ‘C-Star’, was based off the coast of Djibouti before beginning its journey up the Suez canal and onwards into the Mediterranean.
A recent Facebook post from Defend Europe confirms that the ship will “soon arrive in the Mediterranean”, aligning with our original estimates. However, multiple satellite trackers have also suggested the ship is yet to have reached the Suez Canal.
However, even if there is a delay, this fits with Galant’s statement to Minute on 5 July that they would arrive “in two or three weeks”. This also suggests he was taking into account travel time to the port of Catania, Sicily – their likely choice of base given its location in regard to Libya, and their choice of blocking an NGO ship there previously. On this basis, they are likely to reach Catania on 18 July.
We have already provided press and NGO briefings and commissioned a legal briefing, which will form the basis of a two-page information sheet, translated into various languages and provided to those working on NGO search-and-rescue ships.
In addition we are preparing an extended brief providing more details on the legal ramifications of what Defend Europe have stated it will do.
HOPE not hate will continue to monitor Defend Europe and will follow with further updates soon.
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