Attack On NYC Art Gallery Highlights Fascist Organizing in U.S. Immigrant Communities

About Spencer Sunshine

Last week the New York City stop of the Material Evidence photo exhibition, spotlighting the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, was attacked. The curator was maced, the exhibit was vandalized, and fascist propaganda was left behind. As unlikely as an attack on a well-heeled art gallery may seem, it’s only the latest in a number of similar events in the city, which are tied to expatriate fascist organizing.

Photo of vandalism in the gallery (photo provided to Hyperallergic)

Photo of vandalism in the gallery (photo provided to Hyperallergic)

New York City is one of the most diverse U.S. cities, and has a profusion of immigrant communities. While this might make the city seem like one of the least likely places for fascist activism, the opposite seems to be true: there is a spate a fascist organizing in these communities (both in the city and surrounding areas), often for political groups in their home countries, among the Ukrainian, Greek, Polish (and possibly other) communities. And a string of violent acts and threats by fascists against their opponents—which have largely gone under the radar—has been one result.

Although the identities of the alleged assailants are unknown, the New York Material Evidence show has been the focus of some ire from some Ukrainian nationalists since its opening, who claim it is a pro-Russia propaganda vehicle. The flyers left behind, among other things, apparently promoted the Azov Battalion, an anti-separatist Ukraine volunteer military group with links to the ultranationalist Right Sector party, and considered by some to be fascists. (The Battalion is also the favored place for foreign Far Right volunteers.) In Chicago this past Spring, a group of 40 Ukrainian nationalists attempted to disrupt an anti-fascist meeting about the Ukraine situation; they left behind Right Sector literature.

In 2014, Right Sector has had chapter meetings in New York and New Jersey. They have participated in at least two public demonstrations at the Russian consulate in New York, and have been active in fundraising for non-military supplies for the Ukrainian military.

Some of the neo-Nazi pamphlets left at the Material Evidence exhibit (photo courtesy Benjamin Hiller)

Some of the neo-Nazi pamphlets left at the Material Evidence exhibit (photo courtesy Benjamin Hiller)

This kind of expatriate (and particularly Ukrainian) organizing by Far Right and neo-fascists in the United States is nothing new. Russ Bellant documented it for Political Research Associates in the 1980s in his book Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party: Domestic Fascist Networks and Their Effect on U.S. Cold War Politics (PRA/South End Press, 1991). Among the various Far Right and fascist groups with ties to Nazi collaborationist governments that Bellant documented include the OUN-B (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-Bandera), which was a collaborator with the Nazi occupation of Ukraine. During the Cold War, their leadership was in exile in the United States, where they were able to exercise influence on the Reagan administration. The OUN-B is seen by some as the ideological predecessor of the Right Sector.

Golden Dawn, the Greek neo-Nazi party (with 18 seats in the 300-member Greek Parliament), has a chapter based in the Greek community in Astoria, Queens. Members of Golden Dawn New York have disrupted community events by—and attempted to assault members of—the New York chapter of SYRIZA (the Greek socialist party), and other anti-fascist activists. In March of 2013, an Astoria building where a SYRIZA meeting was to be held received death threats, and rocks where thrown at it the night before. The next morning, Golden Dawn flyers were found outside. In April of 2013, Golden Dawn members attempted to intimidate protestors at an anti-Greek Junta memorial, and in May they tried to disrupt a film by a Greek leftist. In June, they tried to intimidate activists (including a priest) associated with a documentary made about the group, which they thought was too critical, by “doxing” them—making personal information public. Despite not being able to meet publicly in Astoria because of pressure from anti-fascists, the group makes a show at the annual Greek Independence Day parade.

Fascist members of the Polish community are also active in New York. A Polish neo-Nazi skinhead gang has long existed in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, which has remained a Polish enclave despite recent gentrification. Racist skinhead organizing was also popular in Bergen County, New Jersey in the 2000s. More recently, organizers have held an annual event on April 20 (Hitler’s birthday) at the Katyń Memorial in Jersey City, NJ, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. (The Katyń forest was the scene of a massacre of thousands of Poles after the joint invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia in 1939; for many years it was blamed on the Nazis, but more recently fingers have pointed to the Soviet army). The event has also been attended by members of Pennsylvania’s neo-Nazi Keystone State Skinheads, as well as a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens.

The 2013 Katyń memorial featured a banner promoting Autonomous Nationalists East Coast. The Autonomous Nationalists are a non-party affiliated, decentralized fascist political movement found in several European countries (including Poland). This was the first appearance of Autonomous Nationalists in the United States.

Expatriate fascist organizing has existed in the United States—and New York City—since the days of Mussolini and Hitler. The German Bund, supporters of Hitler’s regime, was famously able to hold a mass rally at Madison Square Garden in 1939.  Today, the transnationalism of Nazi, fascist, and related Far Right groups continues on unabated. For example: expatriate Polish fascists recently attacked a community picnic in London, while Golden Dawn has organized chapters in Canada, the U.S., and Australia.

These expatriate groups help organize voters for home country elections; raise funds for their parent political party and associated causes; and influence the political climate in their U.S.-based communities. And as Bellant’s work shows, they even have the potential to influence U.S. national politics if they can find an avenue to do so.

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Spencer Sunshine, Ph.D. (associate fellow) is a researcher and activist. His research interests include U.S. white nationalism, post-war fascism (particularly Third Position and European New Right politics), left/right crossover movements, and left-wing antisemitism. As an activist he has worked on issues regarding anti-fascism, police misconduct, prisoner rights, global trade agreements, environmental issues, and bisexual and queer politics. Follow him on Twitter at @transform6789.