Far-right group builds Polish shield from German scrutiny

Foundation linked to address in port city acts as collection point for financial donations.

Far-right group builds Polish shield from German scrutiny

SZCZECIN, Poland — A German far-right group with links across Europe has set up a foundation in Poland, making it harder for authorities in its home country to monitor its activities and crack down on its finances.

Generation Identity promotes extremist and anti-immigration ideologies that have influenced terrorists such as the gunman who carried out the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019.

Though officially cited as extremists by authorities in Germany and subject to financial restrictions there and in Austria, high-ranking members of the network set up a financial entity tied to a property in the Polish port city of Szczecin, an investigation by POLITICO has found. Under Polish jurisdiction, the foundation appears to act as a financial hideout for the group’s operations.

How exactly the cash routed through the Polish foundation is being used is unclear. But Hajo Funke, an expert on right-wing extremism in Germany, says the foundation is obviously an “evasion maneuver.”

“If they established a foundation and a bank account in Poland, that’s certainly part of their calculation: that this wouldn’t be accessible for German authorities,” said Funke, who researched the influence the group has had on German politics and public opinion.

The address given for the group is on the second floor of a building in Szczecin | Photo by Marta Kasztelan

Originally launched in 2012 in France with a “declaration of war,” that decried the “coexistence and forced mixing of the races,” GI quickly recruited young, white and mostly male, right-wing extremists. They set up chapters in Germany, Austria, the U.K., France, Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Denmark.

Though each chapter never grew beyond a few hundred official members, their social media accounts spread the organization’s nationalist, anti-migration ideology to hundreds of thousands of people. The Twitter account of GI Germany (Identitäre Bewegung) alone is followed by 29,000 people, and with highly-publicized stunts like hiring a ship to block migrants from crossing the Mediterranean, GI has influenced public debate — and the perpetrators of acts of terrorism.

Most prominently, both the 2019 Christchurch attacker and the German terrorist who this year attacked a Shisha bar in the German city of Hanau cited GI ideology in their manifestos. The two far-right terrorists killed a total of 61 people.

Calling GI “ideological arsonists,” Germany’s domestic intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, has referred to them as a “suspected” right-wing extremist group in the past. According to German media reports, it will officially designate GI as “verified right extremists” in its upcoming annual report. That will provide the legal basis to increase surveillance, for example through wiretaps or undercover agents.

But GI appears to have found a way to shield some of its financial activities from the German authorities. In July 2018, Daniel Sebbin, a prominent member of GI Germany, and David Thomas Ratajczak established Generation Identity Europe in Szczecin, just 13 kilometers from the German border. The address given for the foundation is an inconspicuous office with the word BIURO (“office” in Polish) in capital letters on the door. It is located on the second floor of a shiny building in the city center that also houses short-term rental apartments and attorneys’ offices.

The foundation’s statute shows that it aims to protect and further “the interests of patriotic organizations” in Poland and Europe through workshops, conferences, seminars and cooperation with other groups or individuals, and by “providing financial services, including loan guarantees, loans and equity investment.”

The foundation’s website, which was live in 2019 but has since disappeared, stated that it has been operating in Poland, Germany, Austria and France.

At least two other businesses are registered at the same Szczecin address as GI’s foundation but none of them appears to keep office hours. When POLITICO visited in March, the doors were locked and no one answered the doorbell.

Collection point

The foundation appears to act as a collection point for funds more broadly than just those from members of GI’s German chapter. Martin Sellner, a far-right activist and head of GI Austria who has been banned from the U.K. and had a visa to the U.S. revoked, has solicited donations to the Polish foundation’s bank account. That call for funding came in a Telegram post and on his YouTube channel, as well as on the Austrian group’s YouTube channel and website.

Brenton Tarrant, the gunman who has admitted to carrying out the Christchurch mosque shootings, exchanged messages with Sellner and donated money to him in Austria. Authorities later froze several of Sellner’s bank accounts and searched his home. Already in 2017, other bank and PayPal accounts tied to GI chapters and members had been shut down or frozen by service providers in Germany and Austria. Sellner denies any connection with Tarrant on the Christchurch attack. “I have nothing to do with the terrorist attack,” he said in a video released online.

Germany’s intelligence service declined to comment, citing an ongoing lawsuit with GI over the group’s designation as extremists, but confirmed that it cannot directly monitor GI’s activities in Poland. To take action against the foundation, such as freezing an account, German authorities would need to rely on their Polish counterparts. Poland’s Internal Security Agency declined to comment.

No one answered the office doorbell when POLITICO called | Photo by Marta Kasztelan

Generation Identity has been making attempts to gain a foothold in Poland since 2017, when it held meetings on how to develop the movement locally. Its members were also spotted at the 2017 and 2019 Independence Marches in Warsaw — the largest far-right gathering in Europe.

“Don’t forget, these are politically motivated, dangerous right-wing extremists,” Funke said of Sellner and his associates. “These hard-core ideologists and hard-core strategists will look for anything that helps them get money and influence,” he added, “and that can happen across the border, too.”

Sebbin did not respond to requests for comment. The GI Europe foundation could not be reached for comment.

This article was reported with the support of a Reporters in the Field grant.

Source : Politico EU