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The elitist populism of the extreme right: A frame analysis of extreme right-wing discourses in Italy and Germany

Abstract

In this article, we investigate the presence and forms of populist frames in the discourse of the extreme right by looking at different types of extreme right organizations in Italy and Germany. Focusing on the meso, organizational level, and applying a frame analysis to written documents (for example newspapers, magazines) of certain selected extreme right organizations, chosen from the political party and non-party extreme right milieu in the two countries, the article examines the relevance and the characteristics of the populist discourse in the extreme right. Similarities and differences between types of extreme right groups and countries in the framing strategies of populism are underlined and linked to the cultural (historical) and political-discursive opportunities. The bridging of appeal to the people with other (more traditional) frames of the extreme right (for example nativism) is shown. In particular, we look at how the central populist frame (namely the people versus the elite) is linked to the extreme right definition of the ‘us’ and the ‘them’, when developing diagnoses, prognoses and motivations to action. The analysis is based on a total of around 4000 frames collected in documents from 2002 to 2006.

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Figure 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    For frame analysis applied to organizational documents.

  2. 2.

    The codebook is available from the authors on request.

  3. 3.

    These specific categories can be distinguished in ‘identity actors’ (100–499), namely actors who are considered in the discourse of the extreme right as part of the right-wing group (the ‘us’), and ‘oppositional actors’ (500–999) (the ‘them’). As for the former, we differentiate further between ‘more proximate’ and ‘more remote identities’: the peer group of right-wing activists itself (100–199) (for example, ‘skinheads’, ‘extreme right political parties’, ‘generic references to extreme right individuals’ and so on); the wider (racial, national and social) groups with which the extreme right identifies itself (200–399) (for example, ‘the occidental’, ‘the Europeans’ or ‘the Nordic race’, ‘the nationalists’ and so on.); other actors (399–499) (for example, judges, media and so on). Similarly, oppositional actors included the following differentiated categories: (500–599) ‘ethnic adversaries’ (for example, foreigners, immigrants and so on); (600–699) ‘social adversaries’ (for example, the homeless, homosexuals and so on); and (700–899) ‘political adversaries/actors’ (for example, domestic and international institutions); (900–999) other actors (for example, business, mass media, the Churches and so on).

  4. 4.

    The differentiation between ‘subject actors’, ‘object actors’ and ‘ally actors’ mainly refers to the grammatical position of an actor within a sentence (for example, ‘ally actors’ are those actors who are mentioned as supporters of the ‘subject actors’).

  5. 5.

    These specific subissues have been later re-aggregated into the following broader fields: conservative values and history/nation; immigration; globalization/European integration; political issues; social and economic issues; internal life of the extreme right.

  6. 6.

    Founded in 1985 as a non-profit organization for the promotion of cultural, musical and sports activities, the Veneto Fronte Skinhead is considered one of the most violent racist organizations in Italy (EUMC, 2004, p. 15).

  7. 7.

    This resulted in a sample of 623 articles for the Italian case and 402 for the German case, which constituted the texts for our frame analysis.

  8. 8.

    The length of the articles found in the newspaper and magazine sources could vary from 1 to 3 columns, whereas the contributions in the online forum and guest book online could vary from 1 to several sentences.

  9. 9.

    Abbreviations for documents’ sources: (Italy) FN=Forza Nuova; VFS=Veneto Fronte Skinhead; CV=Camerata Virtuale; (Germany) NDP=National Democratic Party of Germany; NBD=Nationales Bündnis Dresden; Kam=Kameradschaften.

  10. 10.

    Political issues are the main field of the discourse in about one-fifth (19–20 per cent) of statements in each of the three types of organizations in Italy; they represent about 33–39 per cent of statements in both the political party and the political movement in Germany (but only 16 per cent of statements for what concerns the skinhead groups).

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Acknowledgements

We thank Claudius Wagemann for the empirical data collection on the German case. Although the authors share responsibility for the whole article, Manuela Caiani contributed the final text of Sections 1–3, and Dontella della Porta of Sections 4 and 5.

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Correspondence to Manuela Caiani.

Additional information

This article is part of the broader research project VETO, conducted at the European University Institute and financed by the START Center of the University of Maryland.

Mudde has found in the literature 26 different ways of defining the extreme right (Minkenberg, 2000). Some scholars (for example, Carter, 2005) define right-wing extremism using two criteria: anticonstitutionalism and antidemocratic values (this is the reason it is called extremist), and a rejection of the principle of fundamental human equality (this is the reason why it is called right wing). Others (for example, Norris, 2005) prefer the label radical right in order to describe those political parties and non-party organizations that are located toward one pole on the standard ideological left–right scale.

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Caiani, M., della Porta, D. The elitist populism of the extreme right: A frame analysis of extreme right-wing discourses in Italy and Germany. Acta Polit 46, 180–202 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1057/ap.2010.28

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Keywords

  • extreme right
  • populism
  • Italy and Germany
  • frame analysis
  • social movements