October 24, 1998. Anyone walking past the conference in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, would have likely found the presence of guard dogs at the entrance odd, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report later pointed out. After all, the event sign read: “Greek Coordination of Touring Groups.”
Four days after the conference ended, Greek newspapers learned why a tourism conference required such stringent security: it hadn’t been a tourism conference at all. Rather, around 150 people had gathered for two days of speeches about strengthening ties between White nationalist and neonazi groups across national borders. Hailing from Austria to South Africa, Germany to Portugal, and the U.S. to Belgium, the participants mingled, donned swastikas, and performed fascist salutes.
Golden Dawn, a then-obscure band of Greek neonazis had organized the conference, dubbed the Fifth Pan-European Conference of Nationalist and Social Forces. The keynote speaker was William Luther Pierce III, founder of the U.S.-based National Alliance and pseudonymous author of The Turner Diaries, a futuristic novel that envisions race war consuming North America.
By the time Pierce touched down in Greece, his 1978 novel was well known for inspiring hate crimes and terror attacks. Among them, the1984 murder of Jewish radio host Alan Berg by members of The Order, a White nationalist terror group; Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, which killed 168 people; and the 1998 lynching of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas.
That history of violence was no issue for Golden Dawn, which, since its founding in the 1980s, has celebrated U.S. neonazi groups, translated their texts, and emulated their tactics. In 1993, the group registered as a political party. And in 2001, party chief Nikos Michaloliakos, writing under a pseudonym, published his own novel, Strike Team Lance, setting themes from The Turner Diaries in Greece.
Golden Dawn was still far from attracting the international headlines that chronicled its violent ascent to parliamentary prominence more than a decade later, but the group was already currying favor with U.S. fascists. Although Pierce bemoaned that hundreds of years of Ottoman rule had “taken a racial toll” on Greeks—he later wrote that he saw “tall, light-eyed blondes” as well as people too “dark” for his tastes—he celebrated Golden Dawn as “an organization with a clear, genetically based racial policy.”
In 2012, amid attacks rippling out around Greece, Golden Dawn surged in a pair of legislative elections that catapulted the once little-known neonazi group into Greece’s parliament for the first time in its history. That year, far-right violence fanned out around the nation, and the Athens-based Racist Violence Recording Network documented 154 incidences of racial violence, all but three of which targeted refugees and migrants. Although not new, the violence was surging, and it showed no sign of letting up. ***
Golden Dawn’s rise to parliamentary prominence—a surge from commanding street gangs to occupying 18 seats in the Hellenic Parliament—provided a model for likeminded White nationalists the world over. In effect, its electoral success suggested that fascists didn’t have to choose between boots and suits; they could simultaneously infiltrate mainstream democratic institutions while unleashing mobs in the streets. With that, Golden Dawn shifted from importer to exporter, and it soon inaugurated international chapters from Australia to the U.S.
In the summer of 2013, neonazi writer Andrew Anglin traveled to Athens and launched Daily Stormer, the fascist blog that borrows its name from the Nazi-era German newspaper Der Stürmer. In Greece, Anglin hobnobbed with Golden Dawn members and attended their demonstrations, and in between posts mocking African Americans and pushing antisemitic conspiracy theories, he often defended the group and celebrated its success.
“There’s no way that a person who hasn’t witnessed it could really understand the feeling you get when you see all these…young men in black shirts, in very good shape, all standing in a line, carrying flags, marching, and singing,” Anglin said in an interview with Texas-based Holocaust denier Carolyn Yeager.
But by September 2013, Golden Dawn’s successes started to run thin when party member Giorgos Roupakias stabbed to death 34-year-old Pavlos Fyssas, an anti-fascist rapper known by the stage name Killah P. For years, party members and supporters had enjoyed relative impunity when they attacked immigrants, including the murder, nine months earlier, of a Pakistani migrant worker named Shahzad Luqman. But killing a Greek proved something that even sympathetic police forces and right-wing politicians couldn’t ignore. Golden Dawn’s leadership and dozens of high-profile members were arrested and charged with operating a criminal organization.
Fyssas’s murder sent shockwaves throughout Greece, prompted massive anti-fascist rallies, and left 69 party members on trial, but it initially did little to wither Golden Dawn’s support. Legislative elections in January 2015 saw Golden Dawn assume the rank of the parliament’s third largest party. ***
U.S. neonazis leaped to Golden Dawn’s defense. Daily Stormer likened the crackdown to the world’s condemnation of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons, claiming: “[T]here is zero evidence that the hierarchy of the Golden Dawn had anything to do with the stabbing of Killah P.” The White nationalist blog Occidental Observer described the arrests as “an assault on all European peoples.”
But it was Matthew Heimbach, founder of the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP), who emerged as one of Golden Dawn’s loudest U.S. supporters. In recent years, he traveled to Athens several times to meet and interview party members.
Back in the U.S. Heimbach preached the necessity of coupling street-level violence with social programs—drug addiction treatment and canned food donation drives—similar to those Golden Dawn organized to garner support during Greece’s crushing financial crisis.
In August 2017, Heimbach was involved in Unite the Right, when hundreds of White nationalists rallied against the decision to remove a Confederate monument in Charlottesville, Virginia. For two days, the protesters marched and attacked community members, counter-demonstrators, and anti-fascist activists throughout the city. On the second day, James Alex Fields, Jr., who’d been photographed marching with a neonazi group earlier that morning, plowed his car into a crowd, injured over a dozen, and killed 32-year-old anti-racist marcher Heather Heyer.
In an interview about the movement’s organizing tactics during that rally, Heimbach told Vice reporter Elle Reeve, “[We’re] primarily following the European example of Golden Dawn, the Nordic Resistance Movement, and other organizations that really are at the vanguard of nationalist organizing in the world.”
In the days that followed, Golden Dawn came under fire in the Greece. Photos emerged online of Heimbach and Michaloliakos posing and shaking hands. And left-wing opponents pointed to a glowing profile of Heimbach published in Golden Dawn’s newspaper less than a week before Unite the Right, wherein Heimbach said, “Now the climate is being reversed. In Michaloliakos’s Greece, in Putin’s Russia and in Trump’s America, people choose leaders who will give them hope.”
Always quick to double down, Golden Dawn released a statement praising the Charlottesville rally as a “dynamic demonstration against illegal immigration,” during which “fully equipped anarcholeftists attacked the peaceful demonstration of the American Patriots.”
Heimbach’s attempts to build an entity at least partially modeled on Golden Dawn collapsed in 2018, when he was arrested for domestic violence after a fight stemming from a romantic affair with his father-in-law’s wife.
In the first six years of Golden Dawn’s presence in Greece’s parliament, from 2012 to 2018, the Racist Violence Recording Network documented 988 incidents of racist violence. Golden Dawn wasn’t the only culprit, but there was little doubt that the party tilled the soil for much of the bloodshed, while finding a comfortable place as an icon for far-right groups the world over.
It wasn’t until snap elections in July 2019 that Greek voters ousted Golden Dawn from parliament, with many of their votes siphoned off by Greek Solution, a new, pro-Moscow Far-Right party. Golden Dawn started shuttering offices around the country, its website briefly went dark in late summer, and everyone expected the ongoing criminal organization trial to deliver a final blow to the party and its wave of violence.
Then a puzzling development occurred. After more than four years of court hearings, hundreds of witnesses delivering testimony of brutal attacks, and thousands of documents implicating Golden Dawn in organized violence, in December the prosecutor recommended that the court drop charges against the party’s high-ranking members, saying only Roupakias was responsible for killing Pavlos Fyssas.
As of this writing, the court’s response is unclear. It isn’t obligated to accept the prosecutor’s recommendation, but it was a worrying sign. Whether the party will run in elections again or see much of its leadership incarcerated is yet to be seen. If they are acquitted, it will set a dangerous precedent in Greece and broadcast the message that Golden Dawn enjoys institutional impunity.
In early September 2017, I interviewed Magda Fyssa, the mother of Pavlos Fyssas, at her home in Piraeus, the chief sea port of Athens. Four years had passed since her son’s murder, and I mentioned that some U.S. White nationalists had hailed Golden Dawn as a model to be emulated. “Why would anyone want to be like them?” she asked in response. “They are Nazis that murder people. They are dangerous. There is nothing else to say of the matter.”
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Psarras, Dimitris. “ΟιφαιοίθείοιαπότοΣικάγο [The Great Uncles from Chicago].” EfSyn. August 28, 2017. https://www.efsyn.gr/politiki/121802_oi-faioi-theioi-apo-sikago. Translation by the author.
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Zabrisky, Zabrina. Twitter Post. August 14, 2017.https://twitter.com/ZarinaZabrisky/status/964651502261317632
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 “Golden Dawn praises White supremacist rally in Virginia,” Ekathimerini, August 14, 2017, http://www.ekathimerini.com/220880/article/ekathimerini/news/golden-dawn-praises-white-supremacist-rally-in-virginia; Golden Dawn. “Matthew Heimbach in Embros: The American South will rise again.” August 8, 2017, https://donotlink.it/BnQRk.
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Contie, Allie. “White nationalist Matthew Heimbach is going to jail.” Vice. May 15, 2018. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mbkadb/matthew-heimbach-the-white-nationalist-in-that-bizarre-love-triangle-is-going-to-jail
 Smith, Helena. “After murder, defections and poll defeat: the sun sets on Golden Dawn.” The Guardian. September 21, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/21/greece-sun-has-set-on-far-right-golden-dawn-murder-defections
Ekathimerini. “Prosecutor in Golden Dawn case says Fyssas murder ‘not premeditated.’” December 18, 2019. http://www.ekathimerini.com/247687/article/ekathimerini/news/prosecutor-in-golden-dawn-case-says-fyssas-murder-not-premeditated
Fyssa, Magda, interviewed by Patrick Strickland, Athens, Greece, September 7, 2017.