clock menu more-arrow no yes

Watch: a ridiculous pro-Trump video starring Greek neo-Nazis

Ilias Panagiotaros is a large, gregarious man — and a leading member of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn. Panagiotaros owns a store that sells riot gear and T-shirts with far-right slogans; he has personally praised Hitler for having a "great personality" and endorsed the idea of a "one-race nation." He has been arrested at least twice on multiple charges, ranging from petty misdemeanors to murder. One prosecutor's report alleged that Panagiotaros and his colleagues were involved in recruiting young Greeks for neo-Nazi hit squads.

He's also a member of the Greek parliament, representing Golden Dawn — which has a substantial presence in Greece's legislature. And in the above video, a fan-edited clip from an official Golden Dawn broadcast, he finds a lot to like about Donald Trump.

"He doesn't fear to speak the truth," Panagiotaros says.

Of particular interest to Panagiotaros is the time that Trump accidentally used a Mussolini quote to describe himself and then defended it. ("What difference does it make if it was Mussolini or somebody else," Trump said. "It’s a very good quote.")

Panagiotaros also praises Trump's willingness to stand up to the pope on immigration. "The pope criticized him, saying it was not Christian to guard borders," Panagiotaros said. "And then Trump gave him a few answers … the man who calls a spade a spade becomes vindicated in the end."

This is far from an official Golden Dawn endorsement of Trump's candidacy. But it is telling that Trump's blustery, anti-immigrant rhetoric is getting praise from these guys — as it points to something important about Trump and the rise of right-wing populism around the Western world.

The far right and immigration

"I haven’t heard or seen Golden Dawn praising Trump often. I would imagine they don’t really like him, as he is pro-capitalist," Cas Mudde, a professor at the University of Georgia who studies the European far right, told me via email. "They are essentially a (neo-)Nazi party, which means that capitalism is associated with nihilism, internationalism, and, of course, Jews."

And yet a leading Golden Dawn figure is willing to look past those differences and praise Trump for his aggressive opposition to immigration.

Indeed, xenophobia has been Golden Dawn's biggest source of support, especially in the wake of Greece's economic collapse and the mass influx of refugees there.

"In Kos and Lesbos, the epicenters of the refugee crisis, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party doubled its share of the vote, exceeding 10 percent in some places," Matthaios Tsimitakis wrote in the New York Times after Greece's September 2015 elections. "The absence of functioning government institutions in Greece — and the total lack of a collective European Union policy to address the crisis — have created the conditions that hateful ideologies need in order to grow. "

It makes sense, then, that Golden Dawn would find some affinity for Trump, as they sound similar on Golden Dawn's most important issue.

This points to something bigger: Across the Western world, in countries as diverse as France and Hungary and Sweden, far-right parties are gaining. While none are as extreme as Golden Dawn, they share one thing in common: a deep skepticism of mass immigration.

Elisabeth Ivarsflaten, a comparative politics professor at the University of Bergen in Norway, examined seven European countries with far-right parties in a 2008 paper. Specifically, she looked to see what drove people to the populist right: dissatisfaction with the economy, distrust in political institutions, or anti-immigrant sentiment.

"As immigration policy preferences become more restrictive, the probability of voting for the populist right increases dramatically," Ivarsflaten found. By contrast, voters with right-wing economic views were barely more likely to vote for the far right than an ordinary voter. Ditto those who expressed distrust of politicians, as the below charts make clear:

(Elisabeth Ivarsflaten)

"This study therefore to a large extent settles the debate about which grievances unite all populist right parties," Ivarsflaten concluded. "The answer is the grievances arising from Europe’s ongoing immigration crisis."

In other words, immigration isn't one issue among many for the European populist/far right. It's the issue, the one that drives their support more than any other. And that's why a European neo-Nazi would see something to like in Donald Trump: They have their most recognizable issue in common.