In 2015 I spent most of the year documenting the exodus from Syria, following four young men fleeing from the border between Syria and Turkey, to Greece, through the Balkans and ending up in Germany.
I experienced how Europeans opened their homes for refugees, contributed with food, clothes and shelter. Germany received more than one million refugees. Many opened their arms and welcomed the ones in need.
But as the year came to a close, I saw something else:
Several countries started to build fences on their borders, right wing political parties got greater support, the discussions were not about how to help, but rather how to avoid receiving refugees. Golden Dawn won seats in Greece. Jobik got porwer in Hungary. Marine Le Pen became a candidat with a chance of winning in France. More anger and more skepticism.
What was before regarded as racist expressions were suddenly a way of talking and discussing, both among the public and among the politicians.
In the spring of 2016 we started a year long journey through some of the darkest places of Europe. Among fascists, nazis, muslim haters, extreme nationalists and right wing populists in 14 countries. Our questions: What drives them? Why do they hate?
In Ukraine, we met a family father who cut a swastiska with a knife in the forehead of a muslim man and then he throw him into a well. In Russia we met militant nationalists who train gun shooting in a residental area and beats up Jews, muslims and Roma-people for «fun».
As we travelled around Europe, the continent was changing: Terrorist attacks in France, Germany and Belgium, a coup attempt in Turkey, Brexit in the UK and at the end of the year Donald Trump won the election in the US.
The political climate got colder and darker. Fear, desperation and alienation was spreading. Every single day in 2016 there were almost ten attacks on immigrants in Germany, according to the German Interior Ministry. It is like the old world breaks apart.
On the countryside in France we met a 27 year old woman who wanted to build a new world. The adviser of Donald Trump called the niece of National Front leader Marine Le Pen for Europe's rising star. She was standing under a starry sky the first night of the French election. Soon more than a thousand white people gathered around Marion Le Pen. The newspapers asked: Will she or her aunt lead France's extreme right revolution?
In Denmark we met Daniel Carlsen, named one of the greatest talents on the nationalist scene in the Nordic countries. The 26 year old Dane was dressed in a designer suit and shoes from Ralph Lauren. He is the leader of a The Danish Party. Some years ago he was a nazi. When the newspapers wanted to picture him in front of a swastika, he agreed. Adolf Hitler was his role model. When he became a father, he wrote on Twitter: «We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.»
Many of the people we met told us that ringht wing extremism has become a brand. Everywhere we went, we thought the same: The extreme had become more nice looking, the Nazism had in a way made a journey. From skinheads with bomber jackets and boots to something more "normal".
Experts said this made the extremism even more dangerous. It is called the new right. Several of them are students, academics and businessmen who talked about family values, identity and culture. In the 1990s they were standing on the street corner handing out flyers. Today, the propaganda is spreading through social media, podcasts, internet portals and video productions.
Every time Europe is affected by a terrorist attack, we think of ISIS. But a study on single attackers shows that right wing extremists have been responsible for many terrorist attacks: At least 300 persons have been killed by right wing extremists in Western Europe since 1990. Who are they? What do they want? Are they dangerous?
Text by: Ronny Berg (and Espen Rasmussen)