How an Austrian Identitarian leader with a financial link to the New Zealand shooter profits from YouTube

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

On March 27, Austria’s chancellor confirmed that the man who allegedly shot and killed at least 50 Muslims in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, made a donation to the Austrian Identitarian Movement. According to Reuters, the movement’s leader Martin Sellner received roughly $1,690 last year from a man with the same name as the suspect, which prompted Austrian law enforcement to raid Sellner’s house on March 25. Sellner is a prolific YouTuber with a wide-reaching digital presence who asks for monetary support for his anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant messaging and collects donations through his YouTube videos and via Paypal and Bitcoin.

The alleged Christchurch shooter was clearly steeped in the far-right internet culture, which is known for disseminating anti-immigrant memes, videos, and conspiracy theories on various platforms, including anonymous message boards and YouTube. Sellner, who has over 91,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, gained notoriety beyond Austria for promoting anti-immigrant stunts meant to grab attention online, like the failed “Defend Europe” mission in which his group planned to disrupt search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea and force stranded refugees back to North Africa.

After Sellner’s anti-Muslim activism led the U.K. to refuse him entry into the country, Fox’s Tucker Carlson passionately defended him, his romantic partner Brittany Pettibone, and others who were refused entry on similar grounds, claiming the U.K.’s actions were evidence that the country “hates itself, its heritage, [and] its own people.”

Like its American copycat Identity Evropa (which recently rebranded as the American Identity Movement after chat logs displaying its users’ extremism were made public), Sellner’s group is a white supremacist organization focused on sanitizing its image to maintain mainstream appeal. Aided by glossy media coverage and a wide-reaching network of YouTube influencers, Sellner has been able to get donations by spreading anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim messaging to a global far-right audience.

On a March 26 YouTube livestream, Sellner addressed the Christchurch shooter’s donation and claimed that media coverage was smearing him unfairly despite his group’s claimed opposition to violence. While addressing the matter, Sellner collected donations using YouTube’s “super chats” feature, which has allowed other extremists to also profit from the content they upload to the platform. (Super chats allow viewers to pay to have their comments featured prominently in a bar at the top of the chat.)

On his YouTube channel, Sellner asks for financial support from his audience by linking to the donations sections of his personal website, in which he writes (in German) that his political work is financed by these donations and that in gratitude for such support, he feels it is his obligation to continue his commitment to his ideas. These ideas include his fearmongering about “demographic replacement” of Europeans and the “rapid Islamization” of Europe, pushing “the great replacement” as a “very important term” to describe that “all populations are being completely replaced within a few decades by massive immigration.” (Before he perpetrated the Christchurch massacre, the alleged shooter posted a manifesto online that he titled “The Great Replacement.”) On a YouTube video where he appears with Pettibone, Sellner has also suggested that eating croissants and drinking coffee is a way to mock Islam.

In 2016, Sellner admitted that he had started creating English language content to “create a network of information” by reaching English-speaking audiences; in the same video, he complained that his involvement in hanging an anti-Muslim banner that read “Islamization kills” led to him and others being charged with hate speech. In a conversation with the New York Times, Sellner acknowledged that he had pointed the New Zealand shooter to his English-language YouTube videos after receiving praise for his work.

While Sellner claims that his movement is nonviolent, his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim messaging reaches far-right audiences around the globe, including violent extremists. And the donations he gets from spreading this message allows him to continue producing more work. As The Daily Beast’s Kelly Weil explained, “A bright line connects the fascist movement’s leaders, and the murderers who keep putting the movement’s ideas into practice.” The content they put out on social media platforms is that bright line.