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Identitarians on trial: disruption of university lecture in the spotlight

Landesgericht für Strafsachen in Graz / Bild: Die Tagesstimme

On the third day of the trial, the main spotlight fell on the disruption of a university lecture in the city of Klagenfurt. Beside the defendants, the first witness was also called to testify.

This Monday, the trial of 17 activists and sympathisers of the Identitarian Movement Austria (GI Austria) continued with further questioning. As was reported by Austria’s public broadcaster ORF, according to the judge there was a plan to disrupt the trial. The main court room was intended to have been stormed by a yet unknown party, but the disruption was successfully prevented.

Video interview with Martin Sellner

To start off the third day of the trial, the judge showed a video interview with Martin Sellner. In this video, the co-leader of GI Austria presented the idea that “hating” and “trolling” are things which many different groups have in common and which are “part of Internet culture”.
Following on from this, the judge inquired if Sellner was a writer at Die Tagesstimme. No, he answered, but he’d been interviewed by them. He said that Die Tagesstimme was an “alternative online media platform” like many others, and was “not the mouthpiece of GI Austria”. Regarding his contacts to Pegida, Sellner said that he’d given speeches at Pegida rallies in Dresden. In his opinion, Pegida is a “patriotic protest movement”, whereas GI Austria was more of an activist organisation.

Responsible for activist education

After that, another founding member of GI Austria took the stand for questioning. The History student had been the chairman of GI Austria from 2012 to 2015 and later also press spokesman and leader of the theory study group “AG Theorie”. By his account, he quit GI Austria in order to pursue his degree. He had not participated in the actions which were relevant to the charge as he “didn’t have the opportunity”. Besides organising meet-ups and other events, his responsibility had been in preparing material for activist education, the 27-year-old said.
Joining an activist group rather than a political party

Next in line was the leader of the Vienna section of GI Austria. He had first heard of the organisation and first met with Martin Sellner in 2013. He explained that in 2014 he had moved to Vienna to study History at the university, which was when he first became active in GI Austria. While he found the identitarian movement’s activism appealing, he never had any interest in becoming a member of any political party.

He too had not been involved in the actions pertaining to the charge or involved in their planning. His involvement was limited to creating the banner that was used on the roof of the Turkish embassy and talking about the idea with others. The markings of the numbers “1529” and “1683” on the “plane tickets” used at the action – the years of the two Turkish sieges of Vienna – he explained were a “reaction to Erdogan’s own use of symbols”. The third number on the tickets was 2017. “Would you then say that conditions in Vienna were such as to call it a third Siege of Vienna?”, the judge inquired. “No, they weren’t”, the leader of the Vienna section replied.
Furthermore, he emphasised, as all identitarians so far had done, that activists and sympathisers had always been made aware of the importance of not causing damage to property with their stickers.

University principal punched?

After that, the focus shifted to the action held at Klagenfurt University. In 2016, identitarian activists had disrupted a lecture on the topic of refugees and migration. The action consisted of unrolling a banner with the text “Integration is a lie” and symbolically stoning a “patriotic Austrian”.
The first witness regarding this action was then cross-examined. According to his own account, he’d been on his way to the lecture hall when he saw multiple people fleeing the hall. The principal had tried to stop one of the activists by grabbing his arm, the university staff member testified. The activist had then responded by punching the principal in the stomach. “It was a clearly deliberate act”. However, he does believe that the punch was thrown after the activist had freed himself from the principal’s grasp.

Principal only “touched lightly”

The defendant, the regional leader of GI Austria in Styria, described the situation differently. The principal had torn the shirt belonging to another activist just before. He himself had only just freed himself from the principal’s grasp. He insisted that he had possibly “lightly touched” him “at most” while doing so. The judge then inquired why he had fled the scene. He said that he had run off because the principal was “in a state of rage”.
The judge then also wanted to know why they hadn’t participated in a debate held as part of the lecture. “If they had wanted a debate, they would also have invited critical voices”, the regional leader replied.

Spray chalk at the Green Party headquarters

During a different action held at the Green Party headquarters, chalk had been sprayed on the road. Patrick Lenart claimed that while he had made the stencils, he hadn’t been involved in the action itself. “I believe I wasn’t even in Graz that day”, said the regional leader of GI Styria. He claimed that he didn’t know who had sprayed the chalk on the road, because he had only taken pictures of it after it had been done.
Afterwards, the former regional leader of the Salzburg section was cross-examined. He had only held this position from the beginning of 2017 until August of the same year. Before that, he’d handed out leaflets and had participated in actions. “I wanted to get active as a patriot but without joining a political party”.

To continue on Tuesday

After the midday break, the regional leader of Upper Austria as well as two more sympathisers were called for questioning. The trial is set to continue on Tuesday with further examination of the defendants.

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