On a July 2, 2018 video uploaded to her YouTube channel, thinly-veiled white nationalist Lauren Southern claimed that she had finally been “vindicated” in her claim that rescue ships operated by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were involved in human trafficking in the Mediterranean. And in doing so, she’s worked to legitimize some of Europe’s most prominent demagogues.
Last year, Southern and the “identitarian” (read: white supremacist) group Defend Europe, chartered a boat called the C-Star and set sail with a mission to block migrant rescue boats under the guise of combating human traffickers. Defend Europe representative — and leader of the Identitarian Movement of Austria — Martin Sellner falsely told Reuters that NGOs were “making millions of dollars for human trafficking rings.”
Defend Europe’s trip was marred by constant setbacks, including being briefly detained and “deported” from Cyprus for “people smuggling” — the very crime they were supposedly trying to prevent. When the C-Star finally broke down at sea, the crew was saved by Sea-Eye, an NGO rescue ship. It was an ignominious end to Defend Europe’s anti-immigrant mission.
However, where Defend Europe floundered, far-right European politicians have seen some success. In Italy, which lurched rightward following its most recent election, has prevented rescue ships from docking at its shores. And in Hungary, racist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán fenced off his country’s borders and passed anti-immigrant legislation.
Some of them have even echoed Southern’s propaganda concerning human trafficking, which she views as proof that she had been right all along. “But this last month has been a damn good month for me, because it has been a damn good month for vindication,” she exclaimed. “Because that same boat, the Aquarius that [Génération Identitaire] held the protest against last year which I filmed, was just recently denied by the Italian government.”
She boasted that Italy’s Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, blocked the ship, and quoted him as saying that Italy will “start to say no to human trafficking.” Southern rhetorically asked her critics whether they would call the Italian government “terrorists” or “refugee drowners” for their actions.
“No, no one in the left-wing mainstream press is going to do that because what they’re doing is completely rational and what any nation should be doing with its borders,” she said.
Southern also pointed out that the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party went further than Italy by vowing to prosecute those who operate rescue ships — including the Sea-Eye, which rescued Southern and her compatriots. According to a Breitbart article, 42 MPs of the AfD Party backed this initiative, and even credited Southern’s reporting for having influenced this decision.
“This is exactly what [Génération Identitaire] and I were saying last year,” she said.
What Southern left out is that the politicians she referenced in support of her argument are far-right zealots. Matteo Salvini, a member of Italy’s Lega Nord Party, recently called for a “census” of Italy’s Roma population which will pave the way for their deportation. Worse still, Salvini was recorded last year calling for a “mass cleansing” of the Roma community.
Salvini remarked that, “We need a mass cleansing, street by street, piazza by piazza, neighborhood by neighborhood,” adding, “We need to be tough because there are entire parts of our cities, entire parts of Italy, that are out of control.” To anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the Holocaust these remarks should set off alarm bells. The Nazi regime, after all, classified Roma as “racially inferior” and targeted them for extermination.
This sort of xenophobia infests the Lega Nord Party from top to bottom. Earlier this year a failed Lega Nord candidate named Luca Traini went on a racially-motivated shooting spree in the city of Macerata, where he wounded 6 African migrants, allegedly in retaliation for the murder of an Italian teenager. When police apprehended Traini he had draped an Italian flag over his back. A copy of Mein Kampf was later seized from his home.
As for AfD, the viciously Islamophobic political party whose MPs touted Southern’s work, their platform calls for banning minarets and the Muslim call to prayer. And a political manifesto released by the group in 2016 bluntly stated that “Islam is not part of Germany.” Frauke Petry, who chaired the party from 2015 to 2017, once called for the use of live ammunition to prevent border crossings into Germany.
In fact, Petr Bystron, the Bavarian AfD leader quoted in the aforementioned Breitbart article, once boasted that, “The AfD is the only party that does not want any further Islamization of Germany.” He went on to say that the “overwhelming majority of the population does not want any further spread of Islam in Germany,” and that “one should not brand people as extremists simply because they wanted to preserve their homeland and their way of life.”
So Lauren Southern feels vindicated that far-right politicians — that is, people who are already looking for reasons to turn away refugees — are amplifying her arguments about human trafficking. And if those politicians include, say, a shady crypto-fascist who echoes the language of Nazi propagandists or anti-Muslim extremists, so be it. I guess when you openly dabble in white nationalism you can’t be too choosy about your allies.