Austria government MPs exposed as members of ‘blood libel’ Facebook group

MPs from the far-right Freedom Party were found in the private group, which has 4,000 members


Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) stands accused of stoking hatred online after two of its MPs were found to be members of a closed Facebook group in which antisemitic and pro-Nazi content was shared.

FPÖ MPs Edith Mühlberghuber and Peter Gerstner were part of the “German Reich” Facebook group, which has 4,000 members and is run by Karl Dettmer, whose extreme-right ideology rejects the legitimacy of the modern German postwar state.

Posts shared within the group — discovered by the watchdog group Stop the Right — included messages about an antisemitic blood libel and calls for “the Jew” George Soros, the American philanthropist, to be shot.

Propaganda glorifying National Socialism as well as quotes from the French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson was also posted in the group. “Not a single Jew has been killed in a gas chamber,” the post in question read.

FPÖ general secretary Christian Hafenecker said last week that his party and MPs had nothing to do with “National Socialist Facebook sites.”

He claimed Ms Mühlberghuber and Mr Gerstner had been made members of the group without their knowledge and have since left. Mr Gerstner himself told Der Standard he was “not active” within the group.

But Mr Hafenecker was one of a number of FPÖ functionaries implicated in another controversial Facebook group, “FPÖ Page Administrators.”

Some of its members — which included Mr Hafenecker as well as people previously expelled from the party — had elsewhere on Facebook shared content claiming Hitler “wanted peace, not war” and posted comments accusing “the Zionist elite” of desiring to start a Third World War.

According to the investigative weekly Falter, it was deleted hours after they made inquires with Hafenecker about the group.

Social Democratic Party MP Sabine Schatz called reports about the “German Reich” group “unacceptable” and demanded Chancellor Sebastian Kurz distance himself “from these racist and antisemitic comments.”

The Freedom Party returned to government with Mr Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party in December 2017. A January 2018 speech seemingly signalled FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache’s desire for his party to change. “It is our duty to stand against antisemitism, racism, and totalitarian thought,” he said.

But incidents of extreme-right activity have dogged the FPÖ ever since. “Not a day goes by without a Freedom Party member or functionary stoking hatred online,” Ms Schatz said.

And these revelations came just as the party was dealing with the fallout from a screening of a controversial documentary, held by the FPÖ on February 18 in parliament, which appeared to praise a former Nazi member.

Produced by state broadcaster ORF, the film cast Franz Dinghofer, a prewar vice-chancellor, as a “builder of the republic.” Mr Strache praised Dinghofer as “the most important and prominent figure” on the German nationalist wing of Austrian politics.

But Dinghofer, a founding member of the Greater German Nationalist Party and supporter of Austrian union with Germany, was also a known antisemite and, after July 1940, a member of the Nazi party.

“That this documentary idealised a genuine antisemite and National Socialist” is indefensible, said Willi Mernyi, chair of Austria’s Mauthausen Committee, which conducts educational work concerning the concentration camp of the same name.

Opposition MP Alma Zadic called the event in parliament a “slap in the face to the victims of National Socialism.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive