Members of a neo-Nazi group were allegedly involved in two separate incidents in Sweden this week, reportedly attacking LGBT rights supporters and a member of the Sweden–Israel Friendship Association.
The men accused of the assaults are members of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), a self-identified National Socialist political party that is campaigning on an anti-immigrant platform ahead of September's elections. Though the group has been around for about 20 years, it has recently reported a surge in membership. A march the group organized in 2016 to celebrate US President Donald Trump's election reportedly drew 700 people, its largest protest in years.
The first incident occurred Wednesday night during the Almedalen festival, a political gathering in the Swedish city of Visby that draws participants from across the country. Three women said that they were assaulted by NRM members after they confronted a group of them by holding up a rainbow flag.
Police reportedly have detained one man for the assault, and the incident is being investigated as a hate crime.
The second incident occurred Thursday afternoon hours before Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven was due to appear. A group of men wearing NRM shirts reportedly attacked a member of the Sweden–Israel Friendship Association at its booth.
The Expressen newspaper reported that the altercation began after members of the NRM tried to cover the Sweden–Israel Friendship Association's banner with one of their own. When a woman named Christina Toledano Asbrink went to remove the banner, she said the NRM members grabbed her and pushed her to the ground.
Video of the altercation shows her being dragged into a circle of men who are wearing shirts that had the NRM's slogan for the event — "We are not politicians, we are the people" — and being forced to the ground for several seconds before bystanders manage to drag them off.
The NRM's political leader, Pär Öberg, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Löven denounced the attacks in his speech Thursday evening.
"It has boiled within me, when I saw Nazis ravage here in Visby, disturb, scare, harass and now, last night, attack women wearing rainbow flags," Löven said, according to a copy of his speech distributed to press. "Regardless of whether existing legislation needs to be used better, or current law needs to be tightened, my government will do what is required for our democratic society to defend itself."
"We are seeing a growing hate online, not just from anonymous accounts with Nazi symbols or [ISIS] flags, but from people, with names and portraits, [who] smile into the camera,” he continued.
Police rejected calls ahead of Almedalen to bar the NRM from participating in the festival, saying that NRM members had a right to express themselves and pledging to provide security. The decision was strongly opposed by the Swedish LGBT rights organization RFSL, which has an office near the location the NRM was permitted to set up.
"The decision of the police is a disaster for our democratic society," said RFSL Chair Sandra Ehne in a press release. "Both as individuals and as movement, we are directly threatened by Nazi and racist forces. The fact that they are given police protection to stand outside our door and threaten us is at a completely new level than we have seen before."
The NRM remains a fringe element in Swedish politics, but its increased visibility reflects a backlash against the large number of immigrants who arrived during the height of the refugee crisis. Sweden, a nation of around 10 million people, took in more than 240,000 asylum-seekers between 2014 and 2015, the largest number per capita of any nation in Europe.
Opinion polls show that if the election were held today, the country's major anti-immigration party, the Sweden Democrats, would be the second-largest bloc in parliament with 20% of the vote. This would be an unprecedented showing for the party, which was founded out of skinhead and neo-Nazi factions in the 1990s but has tried to distance itself from overt white nationalism over the past decade.
But Sweden's current center-left ruling party, the Social Democrats, is still first place in the polls with 24% of the vote.
J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211
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