Syria's Assads have attracted support from European and American far-right activists for decades
Nick Griffin, former leader of the far-right British National Party (BNP), has once again turned up in Syria, this time for a counter-terrorism conference. He has previously visited the country on a “fact-finding mission”.
Griffin, who was recently declared bankrupt, attempted to show that, in spite of the hundreds of thousands killed in Syria’s civil war, life under the Assad-controlled areas is relatively tranquil.
Damascus today. Normal people enjoying normal peaceful lives. In rebel areas they're busy cutting fingers off smokers pic.twitter.com/ne2pjrWE1e
— Nick Griffin (@NickGriffinBU) November 30, 2014
On Sunday Griffin tweeted from the Syrian capital extolling what he perceived as normalcy in the city.
One for the trolls! Me & a Dervish once he stopped whirling. When in Rome ..... pic.twitter.com/2sMSupwsLp
— Nick Griffin (@NickGriffinBU) December 1, 2014
The politician, who has previously described Islam as “wicked, vicious faith” lauded Damascus’ whirling dervish Sufi Muslim performers.
— Nick Griffin (@NickGriffinBU) November 30, 2014
Griffin is not the only far-right European politician to have thrown their weight behind the Assad government.
The former leader of France’s National Front (FN) Jean-Marie Le Pen defended Assad’s crackdown in Syria following anti-government protests in 2011.
“Bashar al-Assad is a government leader who is facing a rebellion which is both civil and military,” he said in an interview on French radio in 2012.
“I don’t find it abnormal that the Syrian state is defending itself.”
David Duke, white nationalist and former leader of the American Ku Klux Klan (and now self-styled “Anti-Zionist”) has also been a prominent supporter of the Assad government, saying as early as 2005 in an address on Syrian TV that “your fight for freedom is the same as our fight for freedom” referring in this instance to Syria's conflict with Israel.
“It hurts my heart to tell you that part of my country is occupied by Zionists just as part of your country, the Golan Heights, is occupied by Zionists,” he tells a jubilant crowd, who chant “our soul and our blood we will sacrifice for you, oh Bashar.”
Some have alleged the connection between the far-right and the Assads runs even deeper, going back decades.
On Monday the chief investigator into the whereabouts of Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner reported that it was “99%” likely that he had died four years ago in Damascus.
"We cannot prove it forensically, but we are certain that is the case," Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff told the BBC.
Brunner – often referred to as Adolf Eichmann’s right-hand man and responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews in Nazi death camps – was, according to Zuroff, an advisor to former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad (father of Bashar) on security and terrorism, and “the mistreatment of the Syrian Jewish community.”
“[Brunner] was a notorious anti-Semite, sadist, fanatic Nazi,” Zuroff said in a telephone interview.
“The only known interview we have with him was to a German newsmagazine in 1985, in which he was asked if he had any regrets, and he said, ‘My only regret is I didn’t murder more Jews.’”
Though links appear to have existed for some time, the beginning of the civil war in Syria has been the major catalyst in driving up support among Europe’s far-right for Assad.
One of the most prominent pro-Assad groups affiliated with the far-right is the European Solidarity Front for Syria (ESFS), a coalition of political activists who organise delegations to Syria in support of the Assad government.
"Our volunteers with internally displaced children of Tartus refugee camp" - ESFS Facebook page
“The European Solidarity Front is open to all those who love Syria, and support solidarity with President Assad, the Syrian nation and its army,” the group said in a 2013 statement.
“The main founders of this project are from Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland and Spain, but we quickly found enthusiastic support from a number of militants activate in different countries, and more specifically in Poland, France , Czech Republic, Romania, Ireland, Serbia, Great Britain, Scotland, Malta, Ukraine, Denmark, Sweden, Canada and Argentina.”
"Participation of the ESFS at the demonstration against Christian genocide in the middle east." - ESFS Facebook page
Among the supporters of the group are CasaPound, an Italian neo-fascist youth organisation, who hosted a conference for the group in Italy and who have become notorious for carrying out attacks on migrants and left-wingers in the country.
Italian delegation of the European Solidarity Front with Syrian Army soldiers in Damascus.
In September 2013 an Italian delegation from ESFS travelled to Syria “in support of the legitimate government of Bashar Al Assad and the Syrian people,” meeting with the Syrian prime minister, deputy foreign minister and members of the ultra-nationalist Syrian Social-Nationalist Party.
A video of their trip was released on YouTube:
Another supporter of the ESFS is the National Rebirth of Poland who have been notorious for attacking Jews, Roma and LGBT people in Poland and who on one campaign poster printed the slogan: “Fascism? We are worse!”
Middle East Eye contacted ESFS for comment, but recieved no response.
Perhaps the most extreme example of far-right support for Assad is the Greek neo-Nazi Black Lilley group whose members have been reportedly fighting alongside the Syrian army and Hezbollah Shiite militias in Syria.
For Black Lilley, the fight against the enemies of Assad - whom they deem the "Lion of Syria" - is at one with fight against ZOG (Zionist Occupation Government), an antisemitic conspiracy theory which they believe means Jews control Greece and numerous other countries.
"We call all these people with open minds to support by all means the patriotic forces of Syria," the group proclaimed in an interview with the Greek Democratia newspaper, "and understand that they have to ready themselves for the incoming storm that is approaching towards them fast because of the plans of the local Zionist occupation government back home."
According to Leila Shrooms, an anarchist activist and co-founder of the Tahrir-ICN blog, which focuses on “anti-authoritarian struggles across the Middle East, North Africa and Europe”, far-right support for Assad hinges on a number of factors:
“Anti-imperialist/anti-globalism sentiment with a strong focus on national states (they believe the Assad regime protects the Syrian state against US imperialism)”
“Islamophobia (they believe the Assad regime fights Islamic extremists)”
“Anti-Semitism (they believe Assad’s regime acts as resistance to Israel)”
Shrooms argues that Assad is seen by the European far-right as a bulwark against globalism, liberalism and multiculturalism.
One far-right YouTube channel called ‘IronMarchTV’ – which features a white power celtic cross symbol as its logo – even goes so far as to host a playlist called ‘Bashar Al-Assad Saviour of the White Race.’
According to Tahrir-ICN, Serge Ayoub, former leader of the French neo-Fascist Third Way party, when questioned about his support for Assad and his decision to organise a pro-Syria March in February 2013, replied it was his “duty to support their cause.”
“Syria is a nation, a homeland, a socialist country with national supremacy,” he said. “They are fighting for secularism, and they are subject to an attack by imperialist America, globalization and its salafist servants and Qatari and Saudi mercenaries. The purpose is to destroy the state.”
Though Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn and Black Lilley have both expressed solidarity for Assad and opposition to “Zionist” intervention, they have also been responsible for numerous attacks on Syrian refugees in Greece.
Though the Syrian government attempted to distance themselves from Nick Griffin last time he visited, the Assad government continues to maintain a strong fanbase among Europe's far-right.