25-year-old Patrik Hermansson went undercover with American and British Nazis for a year. He presented himself as ”Erik Hallberg”, a political refugee from the left-wing dictatorship of Sweden. DN's Björn af Kleen has met him.
25-year-old Stockholm-born Patrik Hermansson spent a year with some of the most ideologically convinced racists in Europe and the US.
Hermansson sat in a Rolls Royce with Holocaust denier David Irving.
At a pub in London he sat next to Nazis celebrating that 49 people were shot and killed at a gay club in Orlando, Florida in June 2016.
In August of the same year he stood in the same park in Charlottesville as the former Ku Klux Klan-leader David Duke, protesting the planned removal of the statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee. When a right-wing extremist hit counter protester Heather Heyer with a car, killing her, Patrik Hermansson was only ten metres away.
During all these incidents Patrik Hermansson wore a hidden camera in the upper buttonhole of his shirt. The testimony will become a documentary about life in the British and American so-called alt-right, produced by the organisation Hope not hate.
Today Patrik Hermansson reveals his true identity, through this article in Dagens Nyheter, and another one in New York Times. Hermansson’s right wing alias ”Erik Hellberg” will therefore disappear. He will shut down “Hallberg’s” social media profiles and throw away the fake student ID in Hallberg’s name. The racist “friends” in the US, England and Sweden will realise that the person behind “Erik Hallberg” really embodies the Enemy.
Patrik Hermansson is homosexual, feminist and antifascist.
”When you sit in a pub in Soho, and people stand up to cheer that people were killed in Orlando, and you can’t leave or protest, it makes you angry. But you have to think of the larger goal – anti-fascism,” he says.
We meet in a half-empty hotel restaurant on lower Manhattan in New York. Hermansson is on his way back to Europe. His boyfriend is having a coffee in another corner of the hotel. Hermanssonn is quiet, careful. He looks young, and kind of scruffy.
In 2016 Patrik Hermansson was in London to finish his degree in political science. He was introduced to the British organisation, Hope not hate, a sister organisation to Swedish Expo, and asked them if the activist group needed his help.
The Head of Research suggested infiltrating London Forum, a convention that attracts right-wing extremists of varying piousness, from the ethnosocialists in British National Party to downright Holocaust deniers. Hermansson quickly connected with the founder of the forum, Stead Steadman, who as many others in the subculture nurtures a fetish for Sweden.
”He learned Swedish and Icelandic by studying the Edda. He worships Thor and Odin. He had visited a right-wing extremist forum in Stockholm and was surprised by how presentable the right wing extremism looked in Sweden. Educated people with proper jobs. I made myself look like one of those people. Then I became interesting to him. I basically became his Swedish teacher. We spent hours together.”
Patrik Hermansson pretended to be upset by the development in Sweden.
”I presented myself as a political refugee from the left-wing dictatorship of Sweden.”
”I presented myself as a political refugee from the left-wing dictatorship of Sweden. I talked about no-go-zones. That Sweden was collapsing under mass immigration. Many fascists worship Viking-Sweden, the idea of a clean white race and a pure, original masculinity. Something that the so-called cultural Marxism and immigration has belittled and ruined. The idea of a lost paradise.”
In collaboration with Hope not Hate Hermansson decided to pretend to be writing a master thesis on ”political oppression of the right-wing, the whole victim-thing”. The insulted, nostalgic racists bought it.
”The alt-right loves academia when it’s on their side,” he says.
His guide, Stead Steadman, the man behind London Forum, opened his big, black phone book with numbers and e-mail addresses to all of the Nazi leaders in the West. Many happily participated in interviews for the ”thesis”. Hermansson met dark horse Greg Johnson who founded a Nazi-convention in Seattle.
”He offered me to speak at the opening about my thesis topic: how the left has infiltrated the right. I spoke in front of 75 armed white supremacists.”
How radical was your persona ”Erik Hallberg”?
”Not that radical. It’s fascinating how little you have to say to make people open up. Just sitting there nodding was enough. I never said anything about Jews or anything openly racist. I didn’t need to. It was enough to reason like them on oppression of values over and over.”
The end of Patrik Hermansson’s infiltration coincides with a new report from Hope not hate, with the title ”The International Alternative Right. From Charlottesville to the White House”.
The authors of the report distinguish between ”alt-right” and ”alt-light”.
The latter group, alt-light, is not as biologically fixated as the anti-Semites in the alt-right. The alt-light believe that a white Western culture is under attack by feminists and a lobby for multicultural rights. But they don’t necessarily group their opponents by ethnicity.
Alt-light is represented among President Trump’s advisors, and his donators. The movement’s main outlet Breitbart News is directed by Trump’s former chief advisor, Stephen K Bannon, the godfather of alt-light.
Alt-right, the subculture that Patrik Hermansson infiltrated, is more obscure. More overtly anti-Semite and misogynistic.
”The Nazis in Germany dreamed of a world that existed thousands of years before Christ. The alt-right are also traditionalists, but they would rather go back to the 50’s. The movement focuses on more issues than race, not least masculinity. As a man you’re attacked by the left, they believe. When women obtain new rights your rights disappear. And the Jews are often behind the problems, according to their view. It doesn’t matter if they talk about mass immigration from Syria, LGBTQ-rights or banks. Everything comes back to the Jews. How could a black man be elected president of the US when black people are more stupid? Because of the Jews.”
The alt-right doesn’t have one certain leader figure but the activist Richard Spencer is effectively its spokesperson. He has popularised the phenomenon of the alt-right and embodies some of the features that the followers long for.
”He is an academic person, and good-looking, they think. He has a lot of money because he is from a wealthy family. He has the ability to organise large demonstrations. When there are questions from the supporters –what kind of signs do we use? What do we do if there is violence? – they often wait for Spencer’s answer.”
Spencer cooperates with Swedish Daniel Friberg, the founder of the right-wing extremist bookshop Arktos. I interviewed Friberg in Budapest in the autumn of 2015: he – convicted of assault, handling of stolen goods, weapon offence, doping, breach of domiciliary peace and arbitrary conduct – tries to win the same glossy style as Spencer. He ordered expensive cocktails and bragged about his academic merits from the School of Economics in Gothenburg. Friberg and Spencer have created a transatlantic media platform called AltRight Corporation.
”Friberg is important. Arktos is important. The books are read everywhere, more so in the US than in Sweden. It’s the start of a large media organisation.”
How does one measure the influence of the group?
”It’s an exaggeration to say that they got Trump into the White House. But they do have the ability to mobilise people. The demonstrations are growing. Marine Le Pen thanked the people on the Internet for their help in mobilising voters. I think them standing in the park in Charlottesville unmasked is also significant.”
When Patrik Hermansson arrived in Charlottesville he told the right-wing extremists' gatekeeper that he is Swedish, that he likes Richard Spencer and that he listens to the anti-Semitic podcast Daily Shoah (Shoah is the Hebrew word for the Holocaust).
In the area Patrik Hermansson was shocked by the tone: activists were shouting for a carnage. That was something new.
The defector Derek Black, son to former Ku Klux Klan-leader David Duke, has told New York Times that Charlottesville was the most important moment in the right-wing history of the US. Trump’s reluctance to distance himself from the supporters there legitimized decades of social and political exclusion.
Jason Reza Jorjani, co-founder of Daniel Friberg’s and Richard Spencer’s platform AltRiht Corporation, says to Patrik Hermansson, and his hidden camera, that he's had contacts in the White House, through Stephen Bannon, among others. That the alt-right was expected to work as a focus group for Trump.
If the alt-right movement has that type of influence Hermansson can’t determine.
But Donald Trump has stimulated the movement.
”When Trump won the election you noticed more and more people coming to meetings and a rise in the motivation of the supporters. The London Forum that was organised after Trump being elected attracted more participants than ever. But then some people seemed to become blunted by the setbacks. But after Charlottesville he was forgiven for everything."
Even though Trump in the end was forced to condemn the neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan?
”The Jews were the explanation for that, according to the alt-right. In the beginning Trump said what he wanted to say and then he was contradicted by the Jews, or the establishment, or the deep state… ”
What surprised you the most?
”How interconnected the movement is: the legitimacy I managed to get in England could easily be communicated to the US, where I often met Swedes. I was also surprised by how anti-Semitic they are and how they glorify Sweden and Scandinavia."
Where does Patrik Hermansson’s courage come from? He looks puzzled. His family isn’t political and for security reasons he doesn’t want to say what his parents do for a living.
Fear of retaliation? He says London, where he lives, is an easy place to disappear.
”Fascism is the largest threat to the society I want to live in. And fascism is growing – which is dangerous. It’s not just racist, it wants to break down every element of democracy.”
Read more: The global face of the Alt-right
Translation: Evelyn Jones