During a brisk Sunday last spring, three men dumped a pile of rubbish on the doorstep of an apartment complex in the northern Danish city of Aalborg. The target was Aalborg municipality environment and energy councillor Lasse P. N. Olsen, who lives in the building. A note posted above the trash explained waste was collected from the municipality and demanded politicians clean up more litter.
But it wasn’t an environmental protest. The men yelled anti-immigrant phrases and brandished the Nazi salute while dropping the trash, Olsen’s neighbours told him later. The note was signed “Den Nordiske Modstandsbevægelse”. In English: The Nordic Resistance Movement.
The incident signalled in Denmark the arrival of the neo-Nazi group that had, before then, been contained to its northern neighbours.
What is the group?
The Nordic Resistance Movement, or NMR, is a neo-Nazi organisation originally founded in Sweden that is openly anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and anti-gay. Their goal is to create an ethnically pure pan-Nordic nation, according to the group’s website, and to deport most non-ethnic Northern European residents and dismantle the “global Zionist elite”.
While the group does not specifically call for violence, aside from in self-defence, NMR members don’t shy from confrontation and members train in martial arts and knife attacks. Researchers and activists are particularly concerned because of the more violent behaviour exhibited by the group.
Confrontation and violence
The group is directly connected to a string of incidents involving members violently confronting minority groups and those who disagree with their ideology. In 2016, a man died after an NMR member kicked him in the chest during a protest in Finland, where he fell and hit his head. Affiliated members planted IEDs outside a far-left cafe and refugee housing in Gothenburg in 2016 and 2017. One of the blasts injured an immigration officer.
The group has its core membership in Sweden, where it was founded in 21 years ago. But the group since established chapters in Finland in 2008 and Norway in 2011. Now, it appears they also plan to grow in Denmark.
Similar heaps of rubbish that were dumped at Olsen’s building also showed up the same day at the driveway of Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, Denmark’s minister for Environment and Food, as well as administrative buildings in several other municipalities.
In an email from an address listed on the Danish organisation’s website, a member who identified himself as Jacob Andersen told Euronews that the rubbish protests were to let people know that the group is “now established in the country” as well as to spread awareness around environmental issues which, he said, are being ignored by the country’s politicians.
‘Most radical organisation’
Andersen, who said he joined the group because he believed it was the only organisation that seemed “strong, organised and disciplined enough” to make an impact, declined to share the number of members in the Denmark chapter has but stated that they are growing.
Researchers who are monitoring the group say the number of NMR members and activity is still relatively low, but it has grown in recent years.
“We’ve seen a steady growth in this organisation for more than three years,” said Jonathan Leman, a researcher at Expo, a nonpartisan anti-racism foundation based in Stockholm.
“That is troublesome because it is also the most radical organisation. They demand more activism from the people who join the group. They are much more violent when they confront political opponents, police and others.”
Evidence of the group’s growing boldness in the public sphere — and a tendency toward violent confrontation — was on display earlier this summer at Sweden’s annual public political conference, Almedalen.
Footage appears to show an NMR member pushing a woman to the ground after a verbal confrontation, and interrupted politicians’ speeches. NMR doubled their attendance at the conference from last year, according to The Local, as they are hoping to get seats in a few Swedish municipalities in the upcoming elections.
The group is growing more visible across the Nordics: 300 members of the group marched in Turku, Finland, earlier this month, and another march will take place on Saturday in Stockholm.
The press has also been targeted. A member of the Swedish NMR was arrested this month after police said they found evidence that he was planning to kill two journalists.
For years the NMR was one of several similar groups in Sweden — which has a history of being a hotbed for white nationalist movements in Europe. But in 2014 the openly xenophobic Party of the Swedes disbanded after a significant loss in local elections. The result was a consolidation of far-right groups and a bump in NMR’s membership, support and activity. In Expo’s most recent report, the NMR accounted for 94% of the activity in racist organisations in Sweden in 2017.
While it’s not known exactly how many members there are in NMR today, researchers from the University of Oslo Center for Extremism estimate the numbers at several hundred in Sweden, under a hundred in Finland, and a few dozen in Norway. But the group appears to be drawing new interest: Expo identified 111 new members in 2017, with 47 of those having no prior link to neo-Nazi groups. NMR has attracted members from the far-right fringe as Sweden’s political environment seems to be tilting toward the anti-immigrant sentiment of the Sweden Democrats ahead of the general elections in September.
“The NMR is unabashedly anti-Semitic and we’re seeing it latch onto the anti-immigrant wave,” said Josh Lipowsky, senior research analyst at the New York and London-based Counter Extremism Project. “Like other groups it is using those feelings to create a backlash against a specific target. It’s creating a scapegoat for people’s problems, so it is able to promote that idea and gain followers that way.”
Social media has also allowed the group’s message to spread further and connect the group with white nationalist organisations around the world, Lipowsky added.
That said, the most common activity by the group in the last year has been propaganda spreading, posting stickers and handing out flyers with the group’s Tyr-rune inspired green and white logo across the region. These actions are often carried out by new members seeking to gain further acceptance and power within the hierarchical organisation, said Leman, and it draws additional attention to the group from the wider public. But these stickers and leaflets can have a chilling effect on the community.
“It is problematic because it actually creates a feeling of being persecuted among people who are from minority groups, which creates tensions,” he said.
Resistance to the Nordic Resistance Movement
That isn’t to say that NMR’s growth has gone unchecked in the Nordics. NMR’s public rallies are routinely outnumbered by counter-protesters. The disturbances in Almedalen in Sweden have set off a debate around how xenophobic political parties are represented in the political system, and in May the country announced it would devote 15 million kronor (€ 1.4 million) to Holocaust awareness programs.
In Finland, a court banned the group last November, though NMR is appealing.
Norwegian researchers pioneered an “exit” program to help extremists leave racist groups, which has been successfully used in Norway and Sweden, among other countries.
Danes in various municipalities are taking down stickers, and calling for community-level action against the spread of NMR’s message.
That includes Olsen, the target of the rubbish protest in Aalborg. He is no stranger to confronting neo-Nazis: As a student in Aalborg in the 1990s he protested the establishment of a gathering spot for neo-Nazis in nearby Nørresundby and was kicked and punched by the extremists in the process.
‘It can’t be ignored’
But the fact that the NMR brought their message to his doorstep shook Olsen. “They’ve shown they know where I live and they’re not shy for stopping by,” he said to Euronews.
While he debated whether to draw attention to the group by sharing his experience, he ultimately decided to post about his experience on Facebook, which has been shared widely in the community. He hopes that by sharing his experience, he can draw attention to the group that he doesn’t believe can “exist in the open”.
“I think we need to speak out about the threats from the extreme right even though it’s not a huge threat at the moment,” he said. “I would rather use my voice and say that it is there instead of ignoring it. And I don’t think it can be ignored.”