By: Mariana van Zeller
I must admit I’ve been a bit inured to the whole Donald Trump phenomenon in America.
It’s probably because I find his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric derivative of the politics that have played for some time on the fringes of the continent where I grew up. Until Trump arrived, America’s two-party system had largely left people with such ideas without a credible platform. In Europe, with its parliamentary systems, minority parties have been trading on this kind of stuff for a while.
But in recent years, European right-wing nationalists have enjoyed a surge in popularity. Several factors have contributed to this rise, including economic uncertainty and the refugee crisis, but I can pinpoint when the real shift in tone seemed to begin for me: January 7, 2015.
That was the day a pair of gunmen walked into the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and executed 11 people: cartoonists, columnists, editors, visitors, maintenance men. The attackers claimed to be members of Al Qaeda and targeted the magazine for publishing what they believed to be insulting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
I watched the news with horror from my home in California, thousands of miles away. I was moved by the show of unity when millions poured onto the streets of Paris to rally against terrorism. But I also noticed how the attacks seemed to divide many.
Just hours after the rampage, my Facebook page lit up with hateful comments about Muslims, some by friends and acquaintances I grew up with in Portugal.
The fact that the gunmen were born and bred in Paris confirmed for many that Europe had become host to a virulent strain of Islamic radicalism bent on widespread domination. Some members of the media fueled this idea. Analysts on Fox News Channel in their fantastic ignorance reported on Europe’s “no-go zones.”
“There are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim,” Fox News “terror expert” Steve Emerson told Jeanine Pirro, host of Justice With Judge Jeanine. He described other Muslim neighborhoods as areas where European governments “have no sovereignty.”
“It sounds like a caliphate within a particular country,” Pirro said.
The message for Fox’s American audience was clear: Paris is the canary in a coal mine, a warning of what’s to come in the US if we allow Muslims and Syrian refugees into this country.
I have been to these “no-go zones” many times, including on one of my first assignments, covering the Paris riots in 2005. I knew the story was much more complex than the caricature suggested by TV security experts. (Seriously, who pays these guys?)
But similar sentiments are being peddled by Europe’s right wing, who see immigrant ghettos as terrorist-breeding grounds and view the continent’s growing Muslim population as a threat to the European way of life.
The recent attacks in Paris and the thousands of young European men and women heading to Syria to join ISIS have only ignited their cause.
It seems to me that over the past year, the battle in Europe between the extremes -- radical Islamists and right-wing white nationalists -- has reached a fever pitch, just a beat or two ahead of the furor raging here in the United States.
I decided to return to Europe in search of answers to some basic questions. I wanted to know: Why and how are young men and women being radicalized to raise their faith, or their race, above all other factors? What kind of future did these groups imagine for Europe?
But mostly, I wanted to know if the calm, cool center -- where the vast majority of Europeans work and live in harmony -- could hold against these extremes.
The result is Radicals Rising: an investigation into the spread of dangerous ideas, and the potential future not only of Europe, but of my adopted American homeland, too.
By: Hind Fraihi
Eleven years ago, as a young Belgian woman of Moroccan descent, I went undercover for two months in the Molenbeek neighborhood in Brussels. I wrote about Islamic extremism in the heavily Muslim district in a five-part series called Undercover in Little Morocco, which appeared first in a Flemish newspaper and later was published as a book. What I heard and saw back then was very alarming, and sometimes even outright dangerous.
While undercover, I could easily buy extremist literature that urged Muslims to take up arms to fight nonbelievers and advised readers to communicate secretly in symbols. I heard imams in their Friday sermons preaching for the jihad in clear words: that it is the duty of every Muslim to fight the “holy war.” I met young men on the streets who were being lured from petty crime into violent jihad by local recruiters. These young men boasted about how they robbed Belgians in order to support global jihad.
I interviewed Belgian-Syrian sheik Bassam Ayachi, long reported to have ties to al-Qaeda, who sent young men to a military training camp in southern Belgium’s Ardennes and recruited people to fight in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Ayachi’s organization was known as the “door to Afghanistan.” All of that happened openly in the heart of Europe. Ayachi was also tangentially connected to the September 11 attacks and is now fighting in Syria, where his son was killed in battle. At almost 70, Ayachi is considered the oldest foreign fighter in Syria. The youngest may be Younes Abaaoud, the little brother of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the presumed mastermind of the Paris attacks. Belgium’s youngest and oldest foreign fighters are both from Molenbeek, where several of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks lived and knew each other.
Eleven years ago, my research garnered a lot of attention, but unfortunately didn’t result in any policy changes. I faced strong criticism. Authorities called me a sensationalist; some people accused me of Islamophobia and of playing into the hands of the right-wing nationalist party Vlaams Belang, known for their anti-immigration views.
It’s been more than a decade since I first reported on the issue, and it is clear to me that Belgian authorities have not done enough to fight or prevent extremism. Belgium has a sad record. Over 500 fighters from my country have joined the ranks of the Islamic State, making Belgium Europe’s largest contributor per capita of ISIS jihadists in Syria and Iraq.
Today, however, more than 100 Belgians have returned home from ISIS territory. It was predictable that over time people who have already gone to Syria and Iraq would reach out to their friends and acquaintances to encourage them to do the same. What was less predictable was that these Western fighters would attack their own homelands.
But the compass of European jihad has long pointed in the direction of Molenbeek. Jihadi networks began emerging there in the mid-1990s, when members of the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria settled in the small immigrant-friendly Brussels community. In 2001, just two days before the September 11 attacks, Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud was killed in Afghanistan by a pair of assassins posing as journalists. Shah Massoud had long been known as the most effective opponent of the Taliban, which protected Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network.
The assassins who killed Shah Massoud had come to Afghanistan from Molenbeek.
The list of jihadi connections with Molenbeek is extensive, from the attacks in Madrid in 2004 to Brussels in 2016. The question is: How did the jihad get so far?
According to Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens, authorities dealt with radicalization in a manner that was far too slack. There hasn’t been an adequate policy focus on multiculturalism and education in the past 20 years, he told the Flemish media. There has been too little research into the arms trade and petty crime in Molenbeek, Geens said. The minister also points to inefficiencies in policing in Belgium’s capital, Brussels. It is a relatively small city with 1 million inhabitants. We have six bureaucratic police departments. How many police departments does New York City have, with its 11 million inhabitants? One.
The police and intelligence services have been working hard these last few months to uncover the network behind the attacks in Paris and Brussels. Europe’s most wanted fugitive was recently caught. Mohamed Abrini, a 31-year-old Belgian-Moroccan, was arrested April 8 in a police operation in the Anderlecht district of Brussels. He was tied to the terror attacks on Paris. After his arrest, Abrini confessed that he was the third attacker at the airport in Brussels, the so-called “man in the hat.” Like Salah Abdeslam, the other most wanted Paris-attack suspect, Abrini didn’t flee to a distant hideout. The whole time, both were in Brussels, right under the nose of the police services.
I rang the alarm bells more than 10 years ago, unfortunately, without any political consequences. But now it’s my hope that authorities and jihad experts will remain vigilant: The fear of foreign fighters returning to their European homelands is very real. Knowing that, what are we going to do about it?
Correspondent Mariana van Zeller looks out from the East London Mosque, where she spoke with controversial Sharia law proponent Haitham al-Haddad.
French porn star-turned-white nationalist activist Electre demonstrates in front of the Sacré Coeur. She believes a “white genocide” is happening. “Violence is going to be necessary, sooner or later,” she said.
In February 2016, Tommy Robinson led the first PEGIDA march in the United Kingdom. “Luton has become a breeding ground for terrorism, extremism,” said Robinson.
Homemade signs that read “Trump is Right” are carried for miles by PEGIDA marchers in England. In February 2016, many European countries joined the first Europe-wide PEGIDA protest.
Some early arrivals at the PEGIDA rally in Birmingham, United Kingdom.
PEGIDA protesters use stickers to show their silent protest against the Islamization of Europe.
PEGIDA leader Anne Marie Waters is the former director of Sharia Watch UK.
Bury Park, outside London, has come under scrutiny by far-right groups for its predominantly Muslim population.
Sofiane Sekhri, like many children of North African immigrants, has been targeted by radical groups.
Even though it’s often bound up in ultranationalism and tribalism, modern-day hatred crosses all borders. It extends from new Euro groups like PEGIDA UK and Sharia4Belgium to more familiar American groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
Exclusive audio of who calls one Klan group’s 1-800 hotline
By: Adam Weinstein and Nate Thayer
“Hello, I’m a white male looking to kill some n----rs.”
“So, my mom has a black boyfriend, and I don’t like him at all. Like, I want him gone.”
“I’ve got a business, I’m in Washington state. I’m a white guy and I’m real tired about the… I would like to join the Ku Klux Klan.”
“Hey there, man, my wife cheated on me last week and he was a n----r. And, um, I need some info on how to kill it. So, hit me up.”
“I want to do everything that you guys do. So, again, send me an info packet, please.”
“We wanna join the Ku Klux Klan, but we’re not quite 18 yet—”
“But we hate n----rs—”
“But we really want to join ’cause we really don’t like n----rs. We’re Christian. We don’t like n-----s. We want to kill some n----rs.”
“I wanna hang every f---in’ n----r in f---in’ Walker County.”
This is what a Klansman hears.
In the process of its investigation into modern-day extremism, The Naked Truth obtained unprecedented access to the voicemails left on one Missouri-based Ku Klux Klan group's 1-800 hotline. The messages were provided to Fusion by a freelance reporter, Nate Thayer. Fusion did not contact the callers, but did confirm the messages came from from the hotline.
Many of the messages to the "24-Hour Klanline" of the "Traditionalist American Knights," left between August and December of last year, sound like obvious prank calls. Many sound chillingly earnest. But all the callers’ voices illustrate a heightened state of racial tension in the United States today, and offer insight into how one of history’s most notorious hate groups continues to capture America’s public imagination in the 21st century.
“The Klan always seems to have, to some people, a certain sex appeal,” says Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, adding that Klan groups “provide a home for less educated rural racists and a sort of incubator for violence.”
The modern Ku Klux Klan, a “White Man’s Organization,” is small, fractured, and full of contradictions. "We are determined to maintain and enrich our cultural and racial heritage!" proclaims the website of the Traditionalist American Knights, one of at least 190 groups who call themselves the KKK, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. But today’s Klan groups also try vainly to distance themselves from a heritage that is beyond dispute, one born in murder and terrorism, from disenfranchisement and displacement to lynchings, kidnappings and shootings, that stretches back to the 1860s and still reverberates today.
It is that heritage that many of the Klan hotline’s callers, pro- and anti-, hold fast to in their minds.
“F--k you, f--k the white pointy-ass hats, f--k that dress you all be wearing, f--k the hate you all be putting up, f--k that cross you all be burning.”
“You guys are so racist, man, if I was there, bro I would [unintelligible] my f---in’ [unintelligible] b--ch. If you come over here bro, I would get my Mexican n----s to f--k you up, bro.”
“I think I saw one of those n-----s you guys are talking about. I was just wondering like what kind of procedures would I have to go through if I wanted to burn one or something. Do I have to go like, like the Auschwitz way?”
“Are you f-----g serious? The KKK 1-800 number, what the f--k? You better get your s--t together you f------g n----r. You want to talk about n-----s, you’re the f-----g n----r you white piece of s--t.”
There is no trademark on the Ku Klux Klan name. Anyone can start a Klan group out of nothing and declare themselves an “imperial wizard.” So it’s difficult to estimate how many adherents the KKK has today; the SPLC figures are somewhere between 4,000 and 8,000 active members in the U.S., down from a historical high of 5 million in the 1920s. Some of these groups bicker among each other, occasionally accusing one another of soft-pedaling the race struggle, as one voicemail to the 800 number makes clear. It’s addressed directly to a member of the Traditionalist American Knights, from a man who identifies himself as a member of another Klan group:
“My name is --------, I am a Loyal White Knight of the Ku Klux Klan. And I know Mr. -------, or however the hell you pronounce that Jewish name. I know you’re a Jew. I know you were there in Ferguson, with your FBI agents and all your people. You’re a piece of s--t. You don’t deserve to represent the Klansmen. And all true Klansmen knows you’re a Jew [sic]. And knows you work for the government. We all know that, just so you know. I want you to know that, brother. Do you understand that? You’re a k--e. That’s what you are. --------. F-----g Jew, piece of s--t, works for the f-----g government. The true loyal white knights of the Klan, they represent the white race, and they do it with whatever power that we can do it with! (So long as it’s not violence!)”
But it’s clear that these groups of threatened, mostly rural white Americans hold a disproportionate amount of sway over the national conversation, perhaps now more than ever. Since Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican party’s presidential nomination, announced his candidacy last summer, white supremacists, Islamophobes, and anti-immigrant groups have poured praise on him like so much orange dye over his delicate hair. The League of the South, American Renaissance, neo-Nazis, VDare, and the Federation for American Immigration Reform are some of the far-right factions whose members have extolled Trump’s nativist virtues. Yet it wasn’t until a notorious ex-KKK leader and washed-up Louisiana politician, David Duke, praised Trump that the candidate drew real sustained fire for his campaign’s pro-white shades. “Voting for these [other] people, voting against Donald Trump at this point, is really treason to your heritage,” the white supremacist Duke told listeners on his radio show, adding that they should all volunteer at Trump’s campaign offices: “Go in there, you’re gonna meet people who are going to have the same kind of mindset that you have.”
By itself, the Ku Klux Klan of 2016 has little, if any, political clout. Nor could it mount a reign of bloody terror and domination as it did in the 1870s, the 1920s, the 1950s and ‘60s, a fact that goes a long way to explaining many KKK groups’ recent rebranding as non-violent, hate-free groups for like-minded folks.
Despite those attempts at rebranding, few Klansmen have suddenly gotten nicer about their racial theories. “Today, many people have experienced the blacks firsthand. They have seen the savagery and animalism in many of these people,” the Traditionalist American Knights’ website states under the “Why Join?” section. “White people simply will not buy the ‘equality’ propaganda anymore.”
“Ha ha ha! Poor animals. They’re like extinct now. You have to protect them. They have to have like Ku Klux Klan protection centers.”
“I’m about to give this number to every black person I know, so they can blow your m-------n’ line down with your racist, ugly, f-----n’ creepy crackers, ‘I-hate-other-human-beings’-lookin’ ass m---------s. You feel me? Y’all need to get y’all s--t together and stop hating black people. Because we built this m-------n’ world and we’re goin’ to take it over again.”
But Trump’s rise, from Obama-attacking birther to Mexican-wall-builder, demonstrates in part the power of the “alt-right”: an anti-establishment, populist conservative movement driven by white nationalists and other hate groups, determined to roll back what it considers liberal social and economic policies. And the web-savvy, younger-skewing alt-right owes a heavy debt of gratitude to the Ku Klux Klan.
"The Klan name and symbol breaks through the paper curtain of the news media and brings us to the attention of those Americans who don’t know anything about us,” the Traditionalist American Knights state, confirming a Trump-style approach to politics: Shock people, and they will listen to you, even if only to make jokes at your expense. Perhaps the strategy will work for the Ku Klux Klan the way it has for Trump. Perhaps the group’s stature will grow. Perhaps there will be less and less space to joke about it.