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27 November 2016

‘Anti-migrant hipsters’ cheer populist right in Austrian rerun vote

They call themselves the Identitarians” — a fast-growing movement of “right-wing hipsters” who fiercely oppose migration and are fuelling a surge of populist politicians across Europe.

Mainly students or young professionals under the age of 30 and skilled in the use of social media, they are supporting Norbert Hofer, who could become the EU’s first pro-White head of state if he wins Austria’s presidential elections next Sunday.

“We are not campaigning for anyone, but we hope that the patriotic candidate will win, and that is Norbert Hofer,” said Martin Sellner, a spokesman for the Austrian Identitarian movement.

Mr Hofer’s Freedom Party of Austria “carries the hope of the majority of citizens”, he said.

Weeks after Donald Trump’s victory in America, a win for Mr Hofer, 45, a soft-spoken engineer and gun enthusiast, who has campaigned on an anti-migration and anti-Islam ticket, could herald the beginning of a domino effect across the continent. The election is a rerun of a vote held earlier this year in which Mr Hofer was beaten by only about 30,000 votes by Alexander Van der Bellen, 72, a retired economics professor. The result was annulled in July because of ­ irregularities, and a repeat of the second round ordered.

Mr Sellner, 27, said the night of Mr Trump’s election was “the greatest night” of his life — and hopes the upset in America will trigger a “triumphal procession” of right-wing populists in Europe.

Mr Hofer and his party also welcomed Mr Trump’s election and flirted with the idea of an Austrian referendum on EU membership. Yet the complications Britain faces in extricating itself from Europe have boosted the EU’s approval rates in Austria. Nor it is certain that Mr Trump’s victory will inspire voters to support Mr Hofer. Polls show the two candidates neck and neck.

The Identitarians, who use an image taken from the sequel to the Hollywood blockbuster 300, about the 480BC Battle of Thermopylae between the ancient Greeks and Persians, have set up organisations of the same name across Europe.

Associations rather than political parties, the groups identify with Mr Trump and other politicians, united in their rejection of the “mainstream media” and of mass migration to Europe, which they describe as tantamount to a “cultural suicide”.

Mr Sellner, a student of law and philosophy, works as a graphic designer when he is not managing many accounts on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to promote a “movement of patriots across the West”. He also helps organise stunts that have become the trademark of his movement, such as hanging an anti-migration banner on the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and climbing ­Vienna’s Burg theatre to protest against a rehearsal of a new play about refugees by the Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek.

The group then shares slick, professionally made videos of the events on social networks — a strategy Mr Sellner admits he copied from activists such as Greenpeace.

Austria was a main transit country during last year’s migration crisis and authorities were forced to impose a cap on asylum after receiving 90,000 requests last year.

During the presidential campaign, Mr Hofer declared “Islam is not part of our values”, striking a chord with many conservative voters in a country with a considerable Turkish, and a growing Arab, migrant population.