And while much of the media coverage understandably focus on the threat of terrorism, it‘s also important to look closely at intellectuals who may inspire it.
Martin Lichtmesz is a case in point. The Austrian writer, translator, and conspiracy theorist has spent the past fifteen years or so helping radical right-wing concepts cross national and linguistic borders through his work as a writer and translator.
At the same time, he has also helped to create space for extreme action by far-right extremists through his work as a significant international apologist for and denier of right-wing violence.
Lichtmesz is an advocate for the “regional” or “ethno-pluralist” nationalism articulated by France’s Nouvelle Droite (New Right), but also an intellectual whose influence plays out in theoretical, cultural (or “metapolitical,” as the European New Right likes to call it), and often violently active fields.
Martin Lichtmesz was born in Vienna in 1976 and was still publicly using his given name, Martin Semlitsch, at least as late as 2002.
By the mid-2000s, he had made the auspicious choice to adopt the name “Lichtmesz,” a slight spelling variation on the German word for Candlemas, the Christian holy day that commemorates the presentation of Jesus at the temple.
That change represents one of many steps he has taken throughout his career to cultivate a lofty image as a pipe-smoking, goatee-sporting intellectual who is above the fray. But as self-conscious as Lichtmesz seems to be, he is nonetheless consistently sloppy in his execution.
Early Connections with the German New Right
In a recent homage to the late French writer Jean Raspail in the German New Right magazine Sezession, Lichtmesz wrote that he read a German translation of Raspail’s wildly racist novel The Camp of the Saints in 2005 and “it gave me a serious shock and permanently altered my worldview”.
The book is, indeed, shocking and there is plenty of evidence to show that Lichtmesz became deeply dedicated to its author as well as its premise: that large-scale immigration of “non-white” people into Europe would amount to a violent overthrow of Western civilization and the death of white people (what has become known as the “great replacement” theory).
Raspail’s novel has been written about extensively over the past several years because it has been championed by a number of prominent figures in the Trump Administration as well as Marine Le Pen.
“Die Menschen sind tot. Die sie ersetzen, entsetzen uns. Wir sprechen ihre Sprache nicht. Unsere Lagerfeuer erlöschen. Die Nacht ist blendend hell.”
— Martin Lichtmesz (@lichtmesz) June 19, 2020
Almost fifty years after the book was first published, the fact that it led Lichtmesz to such an epiphany and that Steve Bannon regularly uses it as a metaphor for migration along both Europe’s Mediterranean coast and the southern border of the United States says a great deal about the power of narrative to shape a person’s understanding of the world.
Lichtmesz was hardly a leftist prior to that moment, but the story presented in Raspail’s novel clearly gave him a useful analytical tool and a guiding reference point.
In 2006, Martin Lichtmesz published his first essay in Sezession, a semi-monthly journal edited by Götz Kubitschek, arguably the most influential figure on the German New Right.
Kubitschek also runs the far-right publishing company Verlag Antaios as well as the think tank Institut für Staatspolitik, where he has worked for the past twenty years to cultivate younger far-right activists, including several of the leading figures of Identitäre Bewegung (Identitarian Movement).
By 2009, Lichtmesz was a regular contributor to Sezession, getting involved with all three of Kubitschek’s projects as well as the “identitarians” in the intervening years.
Bringing a World of Symbols Home
In the fall of 2012, Lichtmesz and Kubitschek travelled to Orange, France, for a conference organised by France’s Bloc Identitaire (the group has since changed its name to simply Les Identitaires).
Génération Identitaire, the youth wing of the Bloc, had just pulled off a marketing coup by occupying an unfinished mosque that was being built in the French town of Poitiers.
Under the banner “732 Génération Identitaire”, they were attempting to both block construction while also conjuring the legacy of Charles Martel, the Frankish king who defeated the invading Moors in Poitiers and nearby Tours in the year 732.
This, the far-right youth declared, was the beginning of a new Reconquista.
Neither the imagery nor the audacity of the tactics was lost on Lichtmesz or Kubitschek. In advance of their trip to Orange, Kubitschek wrote: “We are going there to get familiar with the Bloc’s demeanour, organizational form, dynamics, and thrust and to align it with what we are doing and what we can do in Germany.”
Kubitschek adds that the Germans (he consistently overlooks the fact that his travelling companion is Austrian) can contribute their theoretical work “that the [French] ‘identitarians’ are now adopting and that has been a deciding factor – not due to a conclusive, brilliant think-piece, but due to an action, a declaration of an enemy, and a few images, symbols, and key scenes”.
Götz Kubitschek has a long history of seeking to co-opt some of the splashier tactics that left-wing activists have been using since the 1960s to draw media attention to issues they felt were being ignored.
In 2008, for example, he organized a group of fellow travellers under the name Konservativ-Subversive Aktion to disrupt a fiftieth-anniversary conference at Berlin’s Humboldt University on the political upheaval of 1968.
Their methods: sticker bombing, a banner drop, throwing leaflets off a balcony, and using a megaphone to demand the conference be stopped.
In his essay analyzing the Poitiers mosque occupation, Lichtmesz put the action in a contemporary context, writing: “Unbelievably, 1,380 years [after Martel’s victory at Tours and Poitiers], our entire history, established by Charlemagne, seems to have come to an end, while the old nemesis Islam, static, like most oriental cultures, has changed comparatively little.”
The new influx of Muslim immigrants in France, he argues, necessarily means that “the ‘ethnic French’ are rapidly being demographically supplanted.” By way of a solution, he cites a Génération Identitaire press release and endorses their call for a twenty-first century “Reconquista”.
The centuries-long campaign against the Moors on the Iberian Peninsula was not the only historical allegory that the French “identitarians” evoked through their action in Poitiers.
They also adopted a logo consisting of a circle with a chevron in the middle, imitating the shields that are said to have been carried by a small band of Spartan warriors as they held back a massive invasion by the Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE.
Again, the French activists were conjuring an image of hordes of brown-skinned invaders from the East, threatening to overrun and destroy Europe and, by extension, inviting comparisons with modern-day migrants – and the ostensibly courageous few who would fight them.
By the time he and Kubitschek travelled to Orange, Lichtmesz was already well acquainted with the power of evocative symbols. In 2010, he went to Rome to visit the building that had been occupied by CasaPound since 2003.
Musing about the stylised turtle that the Italian “fascists of the third millennium” use as their emblem, he noted that it is “a trademark that is as infamous as the Celtic cross or the fasces” and that, while it might appear to be an oddly “peaceful, defensive, and sluggish” symbol for a “decidedly fascist movement,” it nonetheless has “a hidden militant connotation: it also alludes to the testudo [tortoise] formation of the ancient Roman army, in which a contingent’s shields are strung together to form a human tank”.
The constant use of symbols and references that point toward a hazy, pre-modern history of European militancy, on one hand, and the urge to apply them to contemporary conditions, on the other, is in keeping with the ideas of Italian fascist theorist Julius Evola, whose book Revolt Against the Modern World has received a great deal of renewed interest from the far-right on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years.
Evola, whose name is inscribed on a wall inside CasaPound alongside figures like Benito Mussolini, Nazi “blood and soil” ideologue Richard Walther Darré, and, of course, fascist poet Ezra Pound, explicitly disavowed any need for empirical evidence in the introduction to his book and then followed that disclaimer with a few hundred pages of vague mysticism. In Revolt Against the Modern World, Evola writes:
From the perspective of ‘science’ what matters in a myth is whatever historical elements may be extracted from it. From the perspective that I adopt, what matters in history are all the mythological elements it has to offer, or all the myths that enter into its web, as integrations of the ‘meaning’ of history itself. Not only the Rome of legends speaks clearer words than the historical Rome, but even the sagas of Charlemagne reveal more about the meaning of the king of the Franks than the positive chronicles and documents of that time, and so on.
Lichtmesz does not seem to refer to Evola often, but it would be hard to overstate how much Evola’s writing has influenced the European New Right. Moreover, Evola’s words could just as well have come from Lichtmesz, in a moment of candour. They share an obvious interest in interpreting the contemporary world through the lens of a mythologized past and a recognition of the power of myth.
Lichtmesz’s main objective seems to be to create a mythology of the present in an attempt to shape the future.
Building Symbols Into Narratives
Lichtmesz’s writing about his trips to Orange and Rome function as a kind of introduction to what were, at the time, an emerging set of narratives and symbols.
In an article he wrote for Sezession immediately after the “Identitarian Congress” titled “Beim Bloc Identitaire in Orange: Ideen” (With Bloc Identitaire in Orange: Ideas), he writes that, “One reason why the ‘identitarian’ movement’s ideas and symbols are so appealing in Germany is the yearning to finally have a concept that has the power to break out of the inner and outer aporias and corsets on the entire political right. These include certain sensitive historical handicaps and the way that they have been instrumentalized on a massive scale by [the right’s] political enemies.”
In a process that, whether he intended it this way or not, functioned to make those symbolic reference points more comprehensible, he began his work publishing translations of other far-right ideologues. In 2011, he co-translated a series of essays by white nationalist Peder Are Nøstvold Jensen, better known as Norwegian blogger “Fjordman”.
Jensen’s biggest claim to fame is the extensive use of copied and pasted excerpts of his writing that appeared in the manifesto issued by Anders Breivik, the mass murderer who killed eight people with a car bomb in Oslo and another sixty-nine people shortly thereafter at a Social Democratic summer camp on the island of Utøya on 22 July 2011.
During a YouTube interview with Lichtmesz in December 2019, Colin Robertson, better known as far-right internet personality “Millennial Woes,” describes Fjordman as “what we would now call a civic nationalist … not racist, not concerned with demographic replacement, mass immigration, or even multiculturalism”.
Lichtmesz, however, corrects him, saying that Jensen “went a step further. … He was considering demographics, he was actually going very, very deep”. So while he has condemned Breivik elsewhere, Lichtmesz has nonetheless taken inspiration from some of the same sources and has likewise sought to disseminate them.
But Lichtmesz’s most widely touted accomplishment as a translator is undoubtedly his 2015 re-translation of Camp of the Saints, which Kubitschek has described as the second-best-selling book in the Antaios catalogue.
Ten years after it “shocked” him into a new way of looking at the world, Lichtmesz was in a position to make the text he has used as a metaphor for all manner of things he doesn’t like more widely available to German-language readers.
To be clear about the book’s content, it is just as viciously racist as you’ve heard and probably more so. It describes an “armada” of ramshackle boats that set off from Kolkata, India, filled with a million nameless, undifferentiated, impoverished people who literally eat faeces and reek so badly that they can be smelled from a mile away on the open sea.
They are mute, murderous, and zombie-like even though they are all constantly and indiscriminately engaged in some sex act or another. Meanwhile, the real heroes are the foresighted ones who advocate forcibly turning them back in order to save France and all of Europe from imminent destruction, while the villains are the bleeding-heart politicians, celebrities, and religious figures who don’t want to, you know, let a million people drown simultaneously.
In the end, the hippies win, only to be drowned alongside their betters by the oncoming wave of mindless, wordless brown people.
— Martin Lichtmesz (@lichtmesz) June 24, 2020
As if to fill in any ideological gaps left by Raspail’s take on “demographic replacement,” Lichtmesz’s next major translation project for Antaios was a collection of writings by no less than far-right French ideologue Renaud Camus.
The collection’s title, with reference to Camus’ best-known coinage and the essay of the same name, is Revolte gegen den großen Austausch (Revolt against the Great Replacement). Original writing by Camus only actually makes up about half of the book’s contents, however, and his essay titled Le Grande Remplacement is nowhere to be found.
The book is padded with an extensive introduction by Lichtmesz, an interview he conducted with Camus, and an afterword by “identitarian” poster boy Martin Sellner.
The Right Can Never Be Wrong
In his December 2019 discussion with Colin “Millennial Woes” Robertson, Lichtmesz apparently became the first person to tell Robertson about the existence of Germany’s Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund (NSU). (Robertson, never one for details, exclaimed, “I don’t know how on Earth I missed this!”)
The existence of “the trio” who comprised the core of the NSU, their eleven-year campaign of bombings, bank robberies, and murder, and their network of supporters, from the local neo-Nazi scene in Jena to various law enforcement officials, has been one of the biggest, most widely reported stories in Germany since the start of the new millennium.
In Lichtmesz’s explanation to Robertson, however, all of this adds up to no more than “a fishy story” used for “scaremongering against the right.” “Who has heard of a terrorist who doesn’t create terror?” he asks.
While it might be fair to say that, until the victims’ families began protesting in 2006, much of the German public was unaware of what the press unhelpfully dubbed the “Döner killers,” it is nonetheless also true that the NSU’s primary target, Germany’s large Turkish community, was intensely aware of what was happening as it was happening.
By the time they began marching under the banner of “No 10th Victim,” they had no need for anyone to connect the disparate murders for them – or to tell them that anyone in their community could be next.
If that does not amount to terrorism, then it is anyone’s guess what does. But as far as Lichtmesz is concerned, and without presenting any evidence, he told Robertson that he is “pretty sure it was secret service intelligence … There seems to be a strange involvement of secret services and at the same time the state is calling for more [surveillance], more restriction”.
In an article for Sezession titled “Wer sind die Terroristen?“ (Who Are the Terrorists?), Lichtmesz ultimately concludes that “the information available to us cannot even be cobbled together to form a halfway plausible ‘conspiracy theory”.
In answer to his own question, he concludes that the real terrorists are the press outlets that reported on the NSU. His capacity for gaslighting is, apparently, boundless.
By contrast, it seems impossible to deny that the March 2019 mass murders at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, happened.
Immediately afterwards, Lichtmesz seems to have felt obligated to speak out. The killer, Brenton Tarrant, had written a manifesto titled The Great Replacement and, the world would soon learn, he had also exchanged emails with Martin Sellner and donated money to Sellner’s organization Identitäre Bewegung (Identitarian Movement).
The manifesto notoriously begins by repeating the phrase “it’s the birthrates” like a white nationalist mantra before railing against “white nations’” “sub-replacement fertility rate”.
Tarrant declares that “we are experiencing an invasion on a level never seen before in history” and that “every day we become fewer in number, we grow older, we grow weaker. In the end we must return to replacement fertility levels, or it will kill us”.
Camp of the Saints, that “prophetic” touchstone for Lichtmesz and so many other white nationalists, obviously describes nothing other than just such an invasion and imagines the invaders as frightening, amoral, and not even fully human.
Meanwhile, in the Lichtmesz-translated Revolt Against the Great Replacement, Camus argues that the “collapse of European civilization and the colonisation of the continent” could have easily been stopped, but that “France obviously would rather die” than counter the “invasion and conquest of Europe”. He makes his point absolutely clear when he writes,
The effect of the disparity in birthrates in connection with the continuous influx of immigrants is that the relations and proportions between the different age groups shows, on one hand, a population group that is shrinking relative to the coming generation and, on the other hand, [the new generation’s] presence and weightiness is growing.
The Christchurch murderer’s ideology is, by any reasonable standard, indistinguishable from that of Camus and Lichtmesz. Still, Lichtmesz had to try, in his way.
In an essay published on the Sezession website just four days after the attacks, he begins with a single sentence condemning the killer’s actions and then spends most of the next 4,000 words attacking the media, the New Zealand government, and, most of all, Muslims.
As evidence of how much worse Islam is than the far-right, Lichtemesz points to an online list of terror attacks in 2019 to date (as of mid-March) compiled by an unnamed person or group. The litany of Muslim “terrorism” consists almost entirely of actions by militia groups in active war zones, including in Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen.
He specifically states that he cannot think of another far-right terror attack so far in 2019, yet he does not offer Islam the same limited time frame.
So, for instance, Lichtmesz gladly brings up the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks in Paris in 2015, but leaves out the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre of 2018; he names the 2016 Berlin truck attack by an ISIS supporter that killed twelve people but does not mention the far-right mass shooter who killed himself and nine others at a shopping centre in Munich the same year.
Licthmesz even takes the time to explain that what he is doing is not “whataboutism” (please note: what he is doing is the very definition of whataboutism), but rather included for “proportion.” All this before all the victims of the Christchurch massacre were even buried.
Elsewhere, Lichtmesz has dismissed the Hanau shooter as merely “schizophrenic” and suggested that Anders Breivik’s massacre may have been a “false flag”.
The point is that, in Lichtmesz’s eyes, there seems to be no way that even the worst atrocities can ever reflect badly on “great replacement” ideology or the invasion narratives propagated by himself and his ilk.
Mass killing will always be just a conspiracy, not as bad as what someone else is doing, or perpetrated by someone who Lichtmesz et al. can decline any responsibility for.
The Real Terrorists
What this all amounts to is an ideological complex that points toward nothing good. A constellation of symbols constantly refers to a network of mythologised life-or-death narratives that call out for militant, macho violence framed as self-defence.
When someone does take the bait and slaughter people due to their religion, ethnicity, national origin, or gender, the network will only double-down on its own ideas for as long as people continue to buy into them.
Simple symbols and narratives are easy to transport across national and linguistic lines, so there is no reason to think that the network supporting “great replacement” ideology will ever not be a transnational one.
Martin Lichtmesz is a useful example of how these dynamics work due to his position as a translator and polemicist, but he is only one ant in the hill. He would hardly be able to do what he does without the infrastructure established by Götz Kubitschek and other activists and funders.
Moreover, Lichtmesz’ reach outside the German-speaking world is rather limited. Still, he represents a microcosm of a much larger universe; both he and it warrant a great deal more scrutiny.
(This essay didn’t even touch on his misogyny. Hint: You can’t obsess over the “need” for racial purity for very long without talking about reproduction. “It’s the birthrates,” remember?)
After all, Lichtmesz’ own question calls out for an answer he may not be prepared for: Who are the real terrorists?
Photograph courtesy of Generation Identitær – identitaer.dk. All rights reserved.