Katie Hopkins branded 'PR machine for extremists' after meeting group aiming to hamper refugee rescues in Med

Controversial columnist posed next to Italian fascist graffiti and was pictured with a Holocaust denier

Maya Oppenheim
Monday 24 July 2017 17:25 BST
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Hopkins’ activities in the Italian island have been fiercely criticised by charities and people on social media
Hopkins’ activities in the Italian island have been fiercely criticised by charities and people on social media (Getty Images)

Katie Hopkins has sparked outrage for travelling to Sicily to meet a far-right group who have launched a boat in the Mediterranean to hamper the rescue of refugees.

Defend Europe, which is made up of a network of young anti-immigrant and anti-Islam activists, aims to send refugees “back to Africa” by harassing and blocking search and rescue vessels run by NGOs including Save the Children.

The Mail Online columnist, who was recently axed from LBC radio after calling for a “final solution” to Islamist terrorism in the wake of the Manchester Arena terror attack, met some of the crew in the Sicilian city of Catania. Peter Sweden, a Swedish UK-based journalist who has previously denied the Holocaust happened and has been accused of making anti-Semitic comments, was among them.

In May 2016, he wrote on Twitter: “The claim that 6 million Jews were gassed seem highly unprobable. The concentration camps didn't have the facilities for that”

He also said: “By the way just so you know i am not a Nazi : ) I think Hitler had some good points, but i don't agree with fascism or socialism”. [see footnote]

A Twitter post shows Hopkins alongside him and included the caption: “Good to meet Team C-Star @DefendEuropeID. Young people, eight nations, crowd-funded, shining a light on NGO people traffickers in Med.”

Hopkins, who said she wanted to “use gunships to stop migrants” in 2015, then deleted the tweet, changing her wording and removing the image of Sweden.

Hopkins appears to have made a number of other seemingly supportive gestures to Defend Europe. She has retweeted the Defend Europe Twitter account and just over a week ago she wrote: “Looking forward to meeting the crew of the C-Star in Catania tomorrow. Setting out to defend the Med. All this week @MailOnline”.

Last week a Hopkins article titled "Katie Hopkins on NGOs colluding with traffickers in Sicily" was pulled from the Mail Online website after being published for at least two hours. A representative for Mail Online refused to comment on why.

Hopkins’ activities on the Italian island have been fiercely criticised by charities and critics on social media.

A spokesperson for anti-racism campaign Hope not Hate, who have extensively lobbied against Defend Europe, told The Independent they were deeply concerned by the controversial commentator’s meeting.

“What Katie Hopkins did, posing next to Italian fascist graffiti, having pictures taken with Holocaust deniers and right-wing extremists, and openly sharing content from Defend Europe, was move from being a journalist or even a commentator, into a full-on propaganda/PR machine for an extremist operation,” they said.

“Ms Hopkins is obviously trying to drive traffic via ‘horrifying’ liberal opinion, but to those such as Defend Europe, this is carte blanche from a mainstream media commentator. Perhaps even the Mail has had enough now, with news that Ms Hopkins has returned to the UK and her first article from Sicily being mysteriously pulled from their site”.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews has called for the former Apprentice star to apologise for posting with Holocaust denier Mr Sweden.

Marie Van der Zyl, Vice President of the Board of Deputies, said: “It was distressing to see Katie Hopkins posing for a photo with a Holocaust denier, as part of her trip to support the ‘Defend Europe’ campaign.

Migrants rescued by Save the Children’s crew approach the ship Vos Hestia in the Mediterranean off Libya’s coast last month
Migrants rescued by Save the Children’s crew approach the ship Vos Hestia in the Mediterranean off Libya’s coast last month (Reuters)

“This follows Ms Hopkins' previous call for a ‘final solution’. Ms Hopkins should apologise, and think twice about giving her backing to a far-right campaign whose supporter base seems to be made up of anti-Muslim propagandists and Neo-Nazis”.

Defend Europe is made up “Identitarians” – a network of people in their 20s and 30s who claim to preserve Europe’s identity and prevent "Islamification" of the continent. Members of the movement, who have raised almost £180,000 and chartered a 422-tonne vessel called the C-Star for their latest efforts, have used controversial tactics to further their causes. This has included blockading roads around Calais, occupying mosques, clashing with leftists and already trying to block an NGO ship in Sicily.

“We don’t think Defend Europe is suddenly the “acceptable” face of European opinion on migration and the refugee crisis. In fact, it’s quite clearly an operation manned by extremists with a history of far-right activity and stunts, and supported by many of the most extreme voices on the far right the world over,” said the spokesperson for Hope not Hate.

“We’re continuing to monitor Defend Europe’s ship, the C-Star, which we revealed was likely carrying armed personnel.”

The originally stated aim of the Defend Europe “mission”, which is supported by former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke, was to actively block search and rescue (SAR) NGO ships. They now claim they will “monitor” the situation and intervene should they see wrongdoing by the NGOs.

Just days ago, the ship was stopped in Egypt’s Port Suez because of “a lack of documentation and papers”. The vessel is thought to be off Cyprus at the time of writing.

“After heading NNE from the Suez Canal yesterday and overnight with an AIS silent profile, the vessel arrived in Famagusta Bay at 09.30am this morning. She is probably heading to Famagusta for fuel and supplies,” said the spokesperson for Hope not Hate.

More than 90,000 refugees and migrants, the majority of them sub-Saharan Africans, have been rescued and brought to Italy so far. More than 2,300 people have died attempting the treacherous Central Mediterranean crossing.

Asylum seeker arrivals to Italy are nearing 100,000 for 2017 – an increase of 17 per cent on last year.

A representative for Hopkins did not immediately respond to request for comment.

This article was amended on 27 July 2017 to include the dates and details of Mr Sweden's tweets about the holocaust. In July, Mr Sweden released a statement on Twitter saying he no longer holds these views.

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