The radical right is exploiting a Swedish teen’s murder
The tale concocted about Tommie Lindh’s death has become an excuse to target minorities, particularly Muslims, with violence.
In early May 2020, a 19-year-old was murdered in a small, relatively obscure city in northern Sweden. But search for the young man’s name online – Tommie Lindh – and you’ll get hit after hit from far-right websites and social media accounts the world over. On Telegram, the messaging app called “a safe haven for pro-terror Nazis,” Lindh’s name isn’t hard to find on some of the most prominent extremist channels.
According to them, Lindh was murdered at a house party by a man of African origin as he tried to stop the man from sexually assaulting a white Swedish teenage girl. Lindh, who was said to have affiliations with Swedish neo-Nazi movements, was quickly labeled a “hero” by the international radical right.
But, as a journalist from a Swedish newspaper wrote, there’s just one problem – “the story isn’t true.”
What is known? On the night of 9 May, Tommie Lindh and some of his friends went to a party. Afterwards, his friends and some acquaintances went back to Lindh’s apartment. The suspected murderer, a 22-year-old Sudanese citizen in Sweden, was among the acquaintances who came back to Lindh’s apartment; this man had been convicted and given probation in 2015 for a previous sexual assault.
Join the COVID-19 DemocracyWatch email list
Sign up for our global round-up of attacks on democracy during the coronavirus pandemic.
At some point in the early morning hours, after most of the guests had gone home, the 22-year-old stabbed and killed Lindh. At some point during the morning hours, the 22-year-old also sexually assaulted a Swedish teenager.
What Swedish authorities have stressed is that, contrary to what has been percolating throughout the radical right ecosystem, Lindh was not murdered while defending the girl from being sexually assaulted. The two heinous crimes occurred at different times.
“All the crimes for which [the 22-year-old] was arrested took place during the morning hours,” the Swedish prosecutor leading the investigation told a Swedish newspaper. “But they have no direct connection to each other.”
There’s just one problem – “the story isn’t true.”
The radical right, however, has spun a very different tale of events. Soon after Lindh’s death a social media post from someone who claimed to have grown up with Lindh claimed he had been murdered trying to stop a sexual assault.
Very quickly, Lindh has grown to become a mythic hero in the eyes of the radical right. They uniformly focus on the claim, debunked by investigators, that Lindh was murdered trying to stop a sexual assault. Another person, claiming to have known Lindh posted the day after his death that he was “a comrade who fell for his people, trying to defend it. He’s another martyr for our cause.”
Lindh continues to be glorified in the language of war by right-wing extremists the world over. The American Rise Above Movement (RAM), a violent white supremacist “fight club” with links to European extremists, claimed on its recently-formed Telegram channel that Lindh had died trying to defend the teen from sexual assault, writing that “heros [sic] are never forgotten.” Legio Hungaria, a far-right group that organized an international commemoration of Nazi fighters in Budapest in February, claimed that Lindh had “died as a warrior.” One neo-Nazi Telegram channel went so far as to proclaim that, in the wake of Lindh’s murder, “the day of revenge is coming!”
Lindh has grown to become a mythic hero in the eyes of the radical right
Far-right extremists and outright neo-Nazis across Europe, from the UK’s Nick Griffin to anonymous “autonomous nationalists” in Ukraine, shared tributes and honours to Lindh in a number of languages. They posted photos from Poland, Italy, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Serbia, Greece, Romania and other countries, showing off graffiti memorials they had created in their countries with Lindh’s date of birth and death, most emblazoned with neo-Nazi symbols like the Celtic cross and the life and death runes used in Nazi Germany. Others left flowers and wreaths dedicated to Lindh at Swedish embassies across Europe.
The radical right has jumped and grasped so strongly at a supposed example of a white European woman being sexually assaulted by a non-white migrant because it conforms to motifs and canards they have long employed to demonize members of minority groups.
The perpetrator of the 2015 Charleston, USA church massacre at a historically African American church, for example, complained during his murderous racist attack that black men were inherently prone to sexually assault white women. In The Camp of the Saints, an explicitly racist 1970s French novel where Europe is invaded by migrants from non-European countries, universally depicts non-Europeans as rapists and murderers. In the UK, the radical right has openly tried to exploit and use tales of sexual assault perpetrated by men of Muslim background as a propaganda and recruitment tool.
A white European woman sexually assaulted by a non-white migrant conforms to motifs long employed to demonize members of minority groups
Even as Lindh’s own mother takes to the media to condemn what the global radical right is doing (“they are trying to take advantage of our son’s death,” she said), they aren’t about to let go of the image of Tommie Lindh they themselves have manufactured for their own purposes. For them, Lindh’s death – or, more accurately, the tale they’ve concocted about how Lindh died – is merely an excuse to target minorities, particularly Muslims, with violence.
As right-wing extremists continue to cling to debunked, nonsensical conspiracy theories about so-called “white genocide” like what spurred the Christchurch terrorist to murder, a tale like the one they have weaved about Lindh’s death simply serves as a justification for future violence. As one French neo-Nazi group graffitied in Paris, in a hardly subtle message: “for every one of ours murdered, a hundred of yours will be massacred.”
Get our weekly email