Posted by : SAFKA Sunday, May 22, 2016

Into Kustannus published
Esa Holappa's memoirs in 2016
Finnish journalists Jessikka Aro and Marko Hietikko wrote a series of articles on the about-face of the former neo-Nazi leader, Esa (Henrik) Holappa, who rejected the hatred and violence perpetrated by the Nazi organisation that he had created.

On her Facebook page, Ms Aro recounted the journalistic process behind the story and warned about the dangers posed by extreme right-wing movements to society. The Finnish Anti-Fascist Committee has translated her post with the author's permission.

I wish to recount how I felt when writing stories on a Nazi leader who converted back to a proponent of humane values and on the information that he revealed about the Nazi movement that he had created.

At times, I cried. And mind you, I am not the sort of a person who cries when writing stories. Yet the words of this man who had had enough of hatred, his honesty and frankness, made an impression on me.

People who have had enough are a source of inspiration: They have nothing to lose and therefore nothing to fear, either. They do what they want. This serious young man, Esa Holappa, wanted to do the right thing.

He did something that no one else in Finland had done before: He abandoned the Nazi movement that he had created and went public with everything he knew. I had the opportunity to follow and report his act in detail and at close range.

Over a long period, I mulled over and wrote down the things that this man had revealed to me: What were the crimes of the group he had built that the police had failed to solve; how the group's members "fancied" the [Norwegian right-wing] terrorist Anders Behring Breivik; what was his thinking in justifying his former life that had led him to prison; and what were the group's links to Russia, and Russia's links to the extreme right. And how he now recognised that he had made a mistake, expressed remorse for his past deeds, and condemned his actions, racism, and Nazism.

Thanks to this man, all the violent, dirty, childish, horrendous, and ludicrous secrets and snafus of Finnish Nazis were now public forever, and no one could do anything about it anymore.

I think this man is one of Finland's most important whistleblowers ever. I have followed with great interest how much attention this 30-year-old man from [the northern Finnish city of] Oulu has gained not just in Finland.

What makes Mr Holappa's revelations so important? Other than that by going public with his information, he has disarmed the extreme right, whose frightful ideology was revealed to be a thick layer of conspiracy theories, systematic fabrication of enemies, and spreading of hate propaganda?

Well, Mr Holappa managed to depict, with stunning clarity, the logic and principles of the extreme right: The secrecy, the aggression, and the incitement against ethnic groups. The most frightening thing was the effort to create a united extreme right-wing front in Finland and to bring nazist and fascist ideas into mainstream politics — a goal that has succeeded to a large extent, when looking at statements by some of our politicians.

Thanks to Mr Holappa's story and his book, [I Founded a Neo-Nazi Group — Memoirs of Former Leader of Finnish Resistance Movement,] many acute and urgent issues today — the increase in racism and hate speech, the veiled statements rooted in extreme right-wing ideas by some politicians, the rapid spread of the neo-Nazi group, "Soldiers of Odin," — can now be seen more clearly.

As a former Nazi, Mr Holappa is able to analyse and demonstrate that the Nazist and racist "street patrols" of the "Soldiers of Odin" are indeed just a band of racist Nazis. And that racist "street patrols" must be condemned, and that bands of men clad in black and masking their identity are trying to justify their actions by inciting hatred against foreigners. And that the hatred is politically motivated, designed to serve the Nazis and their ilk and not the Finns that they claim to protect. The same politically-motivated hatred that makes people send veiled death threats to reporters and pictures of severed heads to politicians whose mindset differs from their own.

In addition, Mr Holappa told us how the violent radicalisation takes place — on extremist websites — and what its effect is; how more and more people are being incited to hatred, and how the current unstability pushes people toward the content provided on extremist websites.

This reminds me of the [Finnish-language] website, "MV-lehti" ("WTF Paper"), which has gained great popularity in some sections of our society and has a forum where the Nazi group, Finnish Resistance Movement, recruits more members.

First, MV's propaganda tried to undermine the Finnish police force and its ability to protect Finns from "immigrant rapists" and war criminals. Soon after this, the "street patrols" by the "Soldiers of Odin," with MV's assistance and backing, practically usurped the rights of police and other security officials, claiming that police was no longer able to maintain law and order and that women needed protection.

In reality, the "Soldiers of Odin" engages in ethnic profiling and persecution, and is seeking conflict with anyone that looks like a foreigner, labelling all of them as criminals. Do you not see that it is just a matter of time before the "Soldiers of Odin" manages to provoke a violent incident with people who look like foreigners? Such an incident may cost lives.

Let us recall what the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) stated recently about the bands of "Soldiers of Odin" who were "patrolling" our streets:

Supo informed us that the "Soldiers of Odin" displayed "signs of xenophobia." On social media, the "Odins" worship Hitler, use dehumanising propaganda against foreigners, greet each other using Nazi salutes, are closely linked to the Finnish Resistance Movement, and read and share stories from the racist "MV-lehti" and use it in their marketing campaigns.

Supo's public statement on the "Odins" was that there was "no reason to fear them," whereas the fact remains that many people do, in fact, fear them.

Indeed, our police has not banned racists wearing black bomber jackets and often masking their identity from roaming our streets in large groups. Why is this? In Norway, all the "Odins" were allowed to do was hand out coffee and cookies on the street.

Quoting one of my well-informed foreign friends: "Nazi patrols are usually seen in failed states only." Also, they can be seen in countries like Ukraine, where there are wars and conflicts flamed by foreign powers and internal extremist forces, where there are power struggles, and where innocent people are being killed and beaten up after they have first been made the target of hateful propaganda.

How can we know what these Nazi "street patrols" are actually doing behind the scenes? Who is watching them? Is anybody? Who is watching the activities of the Finnish Resistance Movement and other affiliated groups? In light of these revelations, are their activities acceptable?

Dear political leaders, these organised and identifiable gangs of convicted criminals will have to be removed from our streets. Do it before something bad happens. Their leader was just convicted [of assault and battery], and he was not the only one.

To get back to the story, I think it is great that Finland is a society where a former Nazi leader can have the courage and willingness to go public with everything he knows — in his own words — "to be used in research and by opponents of racism." I hope people will listen to this guy. I hope that his words will have an impact.

I hope that "street patrols" and hate websites will be cleaned up, that police will regain its role in ensuring law and order, that we really do not have to fear that our appearance, background, or opinions will lead to an avalanche of hate speech, and that we do not have to move to the other side of the street when confronted by bands of racists clad in black.

From a journalistic and personal perspective, this was one of my most important projects ever. Over the course of my career, I have done a huge number of stories on all kinds of extremist organisations and their propaganda: On jihadists, on Al-Qaeda, on Al-Shabaab, and on Finns who have taken part in their activities. Yet I have never interviewed an architect of a violent extremist organisation.

I had studied, surveyed, dissected, and analysed the operations of extremist organisations, and watched their speeches on the internet with great interest. Now I had the chance to meet a person who abandoned the monstrous fascist organisation that he himself had created, and who set it on fire as he left armed with nothing else but the truth and his honesty.

When I think of Finland and Finns, I am bursting with pride. We are free to tell everything we know, however painful the information is and even though it was something that some people — including the active members of the extreme right, their henchmen, and people who ride on fascism — would not like to hear.

We are free to speak out. In large parts of the world, that freedom does not exist. In large parts of the world, political extremists force others to keep silent, only accepting people and opinions that repeat their ideas.

In Finland, however, a person who abandons an extremist organisation and leaks its information into the public domain is taken care of and accepted back into society. I am so proud! :)

I and [my colleague] Marko Hietikko have received a lot of praise for the series of stories that we wrote. However, I would like to extend my thanks to the one whose courage made our stories possible and who deserves the greatest praise: Thank you, Esa Holappa.

You did the right thing.

Jessikka Aro, 20 May 2016

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