PARIS — The far-right group Generation Identity, whose ship ran into trouble in the Mediterranean on Friday, sees itself as a vanguard in the fight against immigration and radical Islam, which it says are inextricably linked.
Founded in 2012, GI has branches in France, Italy, Austria and Germany.
With the help of crowd-funding that has raised more than $212,000 (180,000 euros), it leased the Mongolian-flagged C-Star, a 40-meter (130-foot) ship, from the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.
The vessel is draped on each side with enormous banners reading “You will not make Europe home. No way” and “Stop human trafficking.”
GI is the “youth” section of the Identity Bloc, founded in 2003 by activists of a neo-Nazi group that disbanded after a 2002 assassination attempt on French president Jacques Chirac.
During this year’s presidential campaign in France, the group was an ardent supporter of defeated National Front (FN) candidate Marine Le Pen.
The far-right party sought to distance itself from the group, but that did not stop several of its activists from standing in June parliamentary elections for the FN.
Targets: immigration, Islam
The current “Defend Europe” mission, launched in July, is centered on the waters off Libya, a key departure point for migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
A spokesman for the group, Pierre Larti, described the mission in a tweet as “Operation Responsible: to the lives of the migrants we save, to our civilization which we preserve.”
GI accuses humanitarian groups of being “direct accomplices” of people traffickers, helping them to ferry migrants to Europe.
In its crowd-funding appeal the group said it would fight “criminal NGOs… that are nothing less than part of the international human trafficking ring.”
Another campaign, dubbed “Let us chase out the Islamists,” was launched last year in response to the wave of jihadist attacks that have struck European countries in recent years.
The group called on elected leaders to “confront head-on the Islamist threat… fueled by massive and continuous immigration.”
It has carried out a number of high-profile actions.
In May, a handful of activists in a small motorboat tried to stop the Aquarius, the flagship of privately funded migrant rescue group SOS Mediterranean, from leaving the Sicilian port of Catania before being arrested by the Italian coast guard.
In September, GI activists erected a wall in front of a center for asylum seekers that was under construction in the southern French city of Montpellier.
One of its earliest actions was in 2012 when activists occupied the future site of a mosque in Poitiers — famous for a ninth-century battle seen as ending the last major Arab invasion of Europe.