Refugee Trouble in Sweden? Just Russia, Neo-Nazi Disinformation, Says NYT

Reporter Jo Becker got huge front-page play on the front of Sunday’s New York Times for the investigation, “How Nationalism Found a Home in Sweden -- A Global Machine Fuels the Far Right’s Rise.” It’s part of the paper’s “The New Nativists” series on “the evolution of hard-line immigration politics.”

But while battling two of the paper’s favorite villains, Russia and “Islamophobia,” along with the Swedish political party Sweden Democrats (using lots of guilt-by-association to make links to neo-Nazism) Becker left out the context of quite a lot of recent Swedish history. It turns out that the concern over assimilating Muslim immigrants in Sweden is neither a recently hatched Vladimir Putin plot or a figment of racist imagination.

She began with the “now-infamous comment by President Trump, suggesting that Sweden’s history of welcoming refugees was at the root of a violent attack in Rinkeby the previous evening, even though nothing had actually happened.”

Then reality showed Trump had a point:

But two days later, as Swedish officials were heaping bemused derision on Mr. Trump, something did in fact happen in Rinkeby: Several dozen masked men attacked police officers making a drug arrest, throwing rocks and setting cars ablaze.

And it was right around that time, according to Mr. Castillo and four other witnesses, that Russian television crews showed up, offering to pay immigrant youths “to make trouble” in front of the cameras.

Becker linked talk on immigration to the mass shootings in El Paso (click "expand"):

That nativist rhetoric -- that immigrants are invading the homeland -- has gained ever-greater traction, and political acceptance, across the West amid dislocations wrought by vast waves of migration from the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. In its most extreme form, it is echoed in the online manifesto of the man accused of gunning down 22 people last weekend in El Paso.

(....)

Fueled by an immigration backlash -- Sweden has accepted more refugees per capita than any other European country -- right-wing populism has taken hold, reflected most prominently in the steady ascent of a political party with neo-Nazi roots, the Sweden Democrats. In elections last year, they captured nearly 18 percent of the vote.

Becker unearthed the real enemy: Russia:

To dig beneath the surface of what is happening in Sweden, though, is to uncover the workings of an international disinformation machine, devoted to the cultivation, provocation and amplication of far-right, anti-immigrant passions and political forces. Indeed, that machine, most influentially rooted in Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia and the American far right, underscores a fundamental irony of this political moment: the globalization of nationalism.

(....)

Russian and Western entities that traffic in disinformation, including an Islamophobic think tank whose former chairman is now Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, have been crucial linkers to the Swedish sites, helping to spread their message to susceptible Swedes.

The above bolded part refer to John Bolton, and the “Islamophobic think tank” is the Gatestone Institute, whose site is currently filled with news on Iran’s nuclear program. Judge their “Islamophobia” (a word the paper irresponsibly tosses around to rope in its political enemies) for yourselves if the stories are hateful and misleading or not:

The distorted view of Sweden pumped out by this disinformation machine has been used, in turn, by anti-immigrant parties in Britain, Germany, Italy and elsewhere to stir xenophobia and gin up votes, according to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based nonprofit that tracks the online spread of far-right extremism.

Becker underplayed the challenges mass immigration imposed on the country:

The safety net has come under strain for a host of economic and demographic reasons, many of which predate the latest refugee flood. But in the Sweden Democrats’ telling, the blame lies squarely at the feet of the foreigners....

Becker briefly mentioned the censoring of voices skeptical of immigration:

For years, the Sweden Democrats had struggled to make their case to the public. Many mainstream media outlets declined their ads. The party even had difficulty getting the postal service to deliver its mailers. So it built a network of closed Facebook pages whose reach would ultimately exceed that of any other party.

Andrew Brown made the point more forcefully in the literary magazine Granta:

In Sweden, unpleasant and sometimes violent extremism on the left was regarded as a legitimate expression of political opinion -- while your reputation as a public intellectual could survive praise of Pol Pot, it could not endure publicly expressed hostility to immigration.

Becker cited websites “injecting anti-immigrant and Islamophobic messaging into the Swedish political bloodstream,” and identified “356 domains that linked to all four Swedish sites,” including Gatestone:

Many are well known in American far-right circles. Among them is the Gatestone Institute, a think tank whose site regularly stokes fears about Muslims in the United States and Europe. Its chairman until last year was John R. Bolton, now Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, and its funders have included Rebekah Mercer, a prominent wealthy Trump supporter.

The story missed a lot about immigration and Sweden, including the blissful ignorance of any immigration-related crime problem among the country’s ruling class. Swedish economist Tino Sanandaji wrote in 2017 that the Swedish Parliament “defeated a motion to produce up-to-date crime statistics based on national origin....The Swedish criminologists and government officials who adamantly deny the effect of immigration on crime don’t know these figures, and strikingly don’t want to know.

In 2010 the Simon Weisenthal Center issued a travel advisory advising Jews not to travel to Sweden. The Jerusalem Post reported that:

While screaming “Sieg Heil” and “Hitler, Hitler” in 2009, a violent mob of Swedish Muslims launched bottles and stones at a pro-Israel demonstration attended by a small number of Jews in the central square of Malmö.

Contra the Times, Sweden has long-standing immigration problems that have nothing to do with recent Russian propaganda or Neo-Nazis.

Europe Russia Immigration Islam New York Times Jo Becker
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