The Troll of the Month is an incident we choose every month to expose racist and anti-religious haters and to show the positive outcomes in the fight against intolerance in Europe.
Belgian right-wing youth movement ‘Schild en Vrienden’ (translation: ‘Shield and Friends’) is being investigated for antisemitic, anti-Muslim, xenophobic, racist and sexist content posted on secret Facebook groups. ‘Schild en Vrienden’ was formed by Dries van Langenhove, a right-wing activist and member of Ghent University’s student council. The organisation was exposed by a documentary produced by VRT, as part of their ‘Pano’ series. Following the documentary, considerable media attention was given to the issue and organisations involved took appropriate action.
On the surface, ‘Schild en Vrienden’ promotes conservative ideas and values. However, through hidden Facebook groups, members of the organisation have been spreading hateful and dangerous messages. This includes members comparing themselves to Hitler, promoting the use of weapons, comparing Muslims and Jews to animals and openly posting racist and sexist comments. Specifically, they compared Jews to spiders and referred to Muslims as ‘goat rapists’. Moreover, they make clear that when they are speaking about refugees, they are implicitly talking about Muslims.
One of the videos shared on the secret online discussion group is a montage of the popular Icona Pop song ‘I Love It’. During the chorus of ‘I love it, I love it! I don’t care! I love it, I don’t care!’ images of refugees, including Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, and of boats filled with immigrants are shown. There was also an image posted of a ‘Jewish Rolex’, where the hands of the watch were replaced by a gas meter dial. These are just some of the examples found.
Ghent University suspended group leader Dries van Langenhove and banned him from entering any university buildings or events. Ghent University chancellor Rik Van de Walle commented: “Let me be clear about this: Our university is no place for him.”
‘Schild en Vrienden’ had close contacts with some political parties, particularly N-VA (New Flemish Alliance) and Vlaams Belang. Four known members of the movement were previously elected into the Flemish Youth Council and have now been forced to resign. It was reported that at least 20 N-VA members were involved in some way with ‘Schild en Vrienden’. Reacting to this, Young N-VA president Thoman Roggeman said that “it’s clear that being a member of ‘Schild en Vrienden’ is not compatible with being a member of the N-VA”. Three N-VA members were removed from the upcoming municipal elections following the revelation of their ties to ‘Schild and Vrienden’.
After the documentary aired, the Office of Public Prosecutor launched an investigation, which is still ongoing. So far, phones and computers have been seized and Dries van Langenhove’s premises have been searched. It is clear that the case is being taken seriously, and appropriate action has already been taken in the form of resignations and suspensions.
However, one unfortunate outcome from the increased media attention on this case means that ‘Schild en Vrienden’ attracted new followers. Before the documentary, the group had 14,000 followers on its official Facebook page. That number has now jumped to 31,340, more than double the original amount. This is one unfortunate side effect of drawing attention to groups such as ‘Schild en Vrienden’, albeit negative. The media needs to be aware of such effects and handle cases such as this one with caution; sometimes, minimal reporting is most effective for all parties involved.