Fascism Masked? A Different Kind Of Far Right Movement In Germany

The IB group says they just want to preserve their country’s identity. But officials warn they are using "camouflage tactics" to hide their real proto-fascist intentions.

IB protesters in Geretsried, Bavaria, on March 12
IB protesters in Geretsried, Bavaria, on March 12
Christian Böhm

SIMBACH â€" This small German town looked like a war zone. Streets were torn open, houses abandoned, containers stuffed. Torrential rain had completely destroyed this corner of western Germany. Images of the destruction went around the world. But since German officials hadn’t yet provided proper support, members of the so-called "Identitarian Movement," which goes by the German acronym IB, quickly put together a team of 30 young people who helped clean up.

Soon there were pictures of it on the Internet. The video was clicked on more than 13,000 times on Facebook. A father reported how the wave hit them, how he had tried to save his belongings and get his children out of harm’s way. IB members shovel mud and clear away rubbish. The message is clear: They’re not afraid to get their hands dirty.

"The community grows together, and you do something useful,” says the Bavarian head of IB, Sebastien Zeilinger. "After all, we’re doing this for our home country, our people."

So far, so good? There’s nothing wrong in doing good deeds and talking about it. But Identitarians, as the movement’s members call themselves, don’t just carry dirt away, they put it somewhere else. Like in front of the Munich headquarters of the Green Party.

The group’s most striking operation took place in Vienna, Austria. When refugees got on stage during a play written by Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinke, the group stormed the theater and spilt fake blood. It may sound like a prank, but it drew the attention of politicians and authorities.

Pegida protest in Munich on November 2015. â€" Photo : Michael Trammer/Pacific Press/ZUMA

"The Identitarian Movement has right-wing extremists,” said Miriam Heigl, a member of an anti-racism and pro-democracy organization at Munich’s City Hall.

Heigl is watching the group’s growing popularity with concern. The idea behind the group is clear: Germany for the Germans. Italy for the Italians. Syria for the Syrians.

Members of IB say they love their culture and want to preserve their country’s identity. They deny leaning toward extremism and fascism. But officials say that’s not the case, and that the group instead uses "camouflage tactics" to hide their real intentions.

"The Identitarian Movement clearly opposes the free and democratic order," said Markus Schäfert from the Bavarian state office for the protection of the constitution. “Bottom line, we’re dealing with a whole new form of racism."

They consider it their duty to protect European culture.

Identitarians often cite pioneers of the conservative movement like Oswald Spengler or Ernst Jünger as inspiration. “Their image is less antiquated than those who proudly hang up swastikas and Hitler portraits in their living rooms,” says Schäfert. Instead, their members are young, educated and connected.

The group is active in countries neighboring Germany, particularly Austria. "They instill fear against foreigners, refugees, and especially Muslims,” said Katharina Schulze, a representative of Parliament in Munich.

Schulze, a Green Party politician, believes it’s a good idea that the Bavarian state office for the protection of the constitution is investigating IB. But she’s critical that the government didn't react sooner. Schulze believes the German political agenda experienced a right-wing drift.

IB is now grouping together with other right-wing extremist groups like Pegida and AfD. Schulze said that AfD, Pegida and IB are all like construction sites that together are building one huge house.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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