Esa Henrik Holappa helped found the Finnish Resistance Movement, served as its public face and belonged to the organization’s inner core for years. Now he is speaking out, knowing well that doing so makes him a mortal enemy of the organization across the Nordic region.
The Finnish Resistance Movement (FRM) is the most militant Finnish Nazi organization. It has several features worrying to the authorities: good organizational skills, a long-term approach to developing its activities, and an ideology that embraces violence.
FRM is the Finnish branch of the Nordic Resistance Movement, a Swedish-led organization whose stated goal is to establish a National Socialist republic covering the Nordic and Baltic countries. The organization is also active in Norway and Denmark, but the national organizations there are smaller than in Finland and Sweden. (In Denmark, former members of the National Socialist Movement of Denmark, or Danmarks Nationalsocialistiske Bevægelse, joined in 2013, but the activity level has been very limited.)
In Finland, the number of members has increased from 30-40 a few years ago to 60-70 activists, members and supporting members today. Members travel extensively throughout Finland and within the Nordic countries to take part in activities.
Clear lines of authority
The Finnish Resistance Movement is strictly hierarchical, with clear manuals for its activism and group structure. There are rules on how group leaders are to act, how claims of treachery are to be handled, and what punishments are to be given. Group leaders are under orders to encrypt all email communication. Clear directives have been issued for how often the group is to meet, what tasks are to be carried out, and how much supporting members, members, activists and “honour-bound members” are expected to pay in monthly membership fees.
FRM is working to build a subculture with social activities intended to draw in new members, including lectures, martial arts training, sports events, forest walks and outdoor survival training. Much of the activity takes place inside the clubhouse known as Koti, formerly situated in Turku, now in Kerava. The FRM also has its own internet store and its own internet radio broadcasts.
As a result of the refugee crisis, there has been a surge of interest in racist and xenophobic organizations. To exploit the situation and boost recruitment, FRM has been attempting to soften its image somewhat. Members now often call themselves nationalists and patriots, and part of their work is carried out under the banner of Suomalaisapu, or Finnish Aid.
With just a few dozen members, FRM is no acute threat to society or democracy. However, the movement and its activists can be a real threat to those it sees as political opponents or unwelcome in the country – or to outsiders who just happen to be in the wrong place and have the wrong opinions. Most violent crimes attributed to FRM members have fallen into the category of street violence. At the same time, FRM is working to unite right-wing extremist, nationalist and racist groups in Finland. An example is the “612” nationalist torchlight procession, arranged 6 December (or “6/12”), which is Finnish independence day. According to Esa Henrik Holappa, the first leader and former figurehead of the organization, FRM took the initiative to stage the event, and activists from the organization functioned as guards.
The website of the event was also created and maintained by FRM activists. Almost all the group’s members and support members took part, albeit with a low public profile. The plan was for the Finnish Resistance Movement to become an invisible umbrella organization for the entire Finnish extreme right. According to Holappa, FRM’s organizational role was downplayed to avoid scaring away potential participants. Publicly, the torchlight procession was apolitical.
“It was the first time I saw signs that the resistance movement had started opening up to outside partners,” Holappa says. “Until then, the FRM had been a very closed organization.”
Holappa says he himself was part of the reason for that. He had been the public leader of the Finnish Resistance Movement, but was disliked by other extreme right-wing organizations in Finland.
“I think it was a result of so few people knowing me from before,” he says. “They saw me as someone who suddenly appeared out of thin air, and were suspicious. I have heard rumours that I was an infiltrator for the security police, or that I worked for various political opponents!”
While the Finnish Resistance Movement is now more open and cooperative, there has been little success in unifying the extreme right. Other nationalist organizations are still put off by FRM’s Nazi ideology. However, there are contacts between the organization and the rest of the Finnish far right, particularly in Turku.
The police kept a close eye on the first patrols in Finland, and the patrols themselves were attacked by antifascists. However, FRM vigilante marches have continued sporadically throughout the country.
When the refugee crisis started, one FRM member, Kemi resident Mika Ranta, decided to set up a separate vigilante group. Ranta is a fervent Nazi who has been convicted of violent offences. He chose to call his organization Soldiers of Odin (SOO), but the new group was designed in line with the FRM model and Ranta sought FRM’s permission to start it. Lately, the Finnish Resistance Movement and Soldiers of Odin have openly referenced each other. On its website, FRM describes SOO as a patriotic organization. SOO for its part displays the FRM’s Tyr rune logo several times in its own PR video. The connection is overt.
From its inception in 2008 until he stepped down in 2012, Holappa was the official leader of the Finnish Resistance Movement, and one of the few members who operated openly under his own name from the beginning. Yet he says he never really had any real power in the organization, and that – strictly speaking – he did not found it.
In an interview, Holappa described his involvement from the start:
“I contacted the Swedish Resistance Movement in December 2007. In the summer of 2008, Mikko* – whom I knew from the forum kansallissosialismi.com (a Finnish-language Nazi-oriented web forum) – and I were invited to the SMR demonstration Folkets Marsch (March of the People).”
Holappa decided ultimately not to go. Mikko took part in the demonstration on his own, fought against counter-demonstrators and was arrested by the police.
In recognition of his efforts during the demonstration, Mikko returned to Finland with a “fight diploma” from the Swedish Resistance Movement. He has succeeded in convincing the Swedish Nazis that the Finns were serious. The contact continued, and Holappa was invited to an SRM midsummer party held at the home of Klas Lund, the founder and, until 2015, leader of SRM. Holappa describes the feeling at the meeting as somewhat reluctant and aloof, but he was at least able to meet the leader and other SRM activists. No promises were given of permission to establish a branch in Finland.
Fleeing to the US
Back in Finland, Holappa landed in trouble, under investigation by the police for alleged crimes related to hate speech. Holappa became increasingly convinced that he would be convicted. When his American neo-Nazi contacts heard about his problems, they encouraged him to travel to the United States. In August 2008, he followed their recommendation.
Consequently, it was Mikko who continued contact with the Swedes. Eventually the Swedes informed him that they had received a membership application from Finland, and they asked Mikko to contact the applicant. In this way, Mikko got to know Mika*, who shared his Nazi sympathies. Members of SRM came to visit Mikko and Mika that same fall, and both travelled to Stockholm to take part in SRM street activism. A few months later, the message arrived.
Mikko and Mika informed Holappa that Pär Öberg – No. 2 in the Swedish Resistance Movement at the time – had given the signal: the Finnish Resistance Movement could be founded. This led to a discussion of who was to lead it. Holappa assumed the leader would be either Mikko or Mika. Mika opined that all three could be leaders, while Mikko said there should not be more than one. He suggested Holappa. That did not please Mika, who soon left the organization he had co-founded. Mika would later make a comeback, however, and has been active on occasion since.
The knife attack
For the first few years, FRM members lay low. Their activities mostly involved putting up racist stickers and handing out leaflets. They became nationally known after a knife attack in the library of Jyväskylä in January 2013. (Three members of the movement tried to enter a book-release event on right-wing extremism held at the library, and when they were refused entry, a brawl ensued in which a volunteer security guard was wounded.) Since then the organization has stayed in the limelight. Its members have posed for a picture with members of parliament, for example, and taken part in demonstrations that turned violent. Holappa believes more violence can be expected.
“In the beginning,” he recalls, “the Finnish Resistance Movement planned their demonstrations and their street activism in such a way that they would not draw too much attention. The members trained to be able to defend themselves against counter-demonstrators. At the same time, they wanted to avoid conflict. This changed with the knife attack in Jyväskylä.”
From the beginning, FRM has said its members should avoid violence except in self-defence. But the cases that have come to public attention lately do not seem to be about self-defence. When FRM has met opposition or become provoked, Holappa says, it has used violence to silence opponents.
“In the beginning, our line was to overlook them,” he says. “If anyone started yelling, they were to be ignored. We were not to respond in the same manner. Now, it seems like the FRM has taken a more hard-core approach. That means that the more the FRM is seen on the streets, the more fights we will see. It could be about political opponents, or just regular people being at the wrong place. The resistance movement wants to show what they’re all about.”
FRM members are expected to exercise at least weekly to keep in shape, preferably through martial arts or other fighting sports. Training sessions are set up by the organization itself, and there have even been organized camps where members are trained to fight.
“It has been going on for a few years, so there are probably members that are quite good in martial arts now,” says Holappa. “The goal is for every activist to be able to defend himself and his comrades, and thus the honour of the resistance movement, if they are attacked during their street activism.”
If the activists encounter political opponents, and the situation appears likely to escalate, they are supposed to attack first, he adds. Sometimes not much provocation is needed before the Nazis act violently, he says; other times they have landed in trouble themselves.
Internally, he says, many members speak about assaulting specific people or using violence in FRM activities, but the hard core – which is prepared to do more than talk – only consists of five to six people. They are situated around the country, and are in contact with each other. These individuals are often seen in news media photos and in videos released by the FRM itself, illustrating fights or conflicts in the wake of FRM street activism. At least a couple of them are also said to be active football hooligans. When needed, this hard core is assisted by others in the members’ own circles.
Holappa discusses the knife attack in the Jyväskylä library in Januar 2013.
“The three people that took part planned to show up at the book launch, but it seems like the leadership of the FRM was also aware of the plans,” he says.
Material leaked from the internal discussion forum of the organization suggests that at least Ali Kaurila – then the leader of the Turku activist group – was aware of the plans and had discussed them with one of the three activists that took part in the attempt to crash the book release. If Kaurila knew about it in advance, it is likely that the rest of the leadership was also aware, according to Holappa.
The Jyväskylä incident led to internal debate within the organization, and at least one member left the movement because of the violence employed. Since the responsible activist stayed hidden for two years, however, the debate gradually blew over.
“The FRM tried to make it look like the activists had been acting on their own, in their free time, and like the organization was not behind the attack,” says Holappa. “Therefore the debate on the internal forum went silent. Ali Kaurala encouraged the members not to write about the incident, only to post links to news stories about the case. If anyone wrote a post about the knife attack, it was taken away.”
The knife attack received an epilogue in the summer of 2015. About 40 Finnish and Swedish activists demonstrated in Jyväskylä, and assaulted three people. One was the same anarchist who had been a volunteer security guard at the book release. The assault was said to have been carried out on the command of one of the Finnish Nazis. While two or three FRM activists attacked, others tried to prevent the police from intervening. One of the Nazis filmed the incident. According to the authorities, the Swedish Nazis kept away from the fight, clearly viewing it as a matter between the Finns.
More violence seen ahead
Since the violence in Jyväskylä the Finnish Resistance Movement has lowered its profile, but that does not mean it has become less violent. Holappa believes more violence will come:
“If they see a chance, they will take it. The movement exploits disturbances and fights in their own propaganda, using it to draw attention in the ‘enemy media’. When FRM vigilantes were attacked by anti-fascists in the fall of 2014, for instance, the evening newspapers wrote about it. The organization received 40 new membership applications that week.”
In spite of the Finnish incidents, the movement in Sweden appears to be more dangerous than its Finnish counterpart. SRM has a longer and larger history of violent crimes, and appears much more likely to employ violence in a variety of situations. Holappa confirms the impression.
“The SMR has a reputation to cling to,” he says. “They view themselves as strong Nazis, and they have to prove it to both their comrades and their sympathizers. That means that SRM activists often attack immediately, for instance if anti-fascists show up during their street activism. Not attacking would be a sign of weakness.”
SRM members often show up at street activities wielding empty bottles and SRM flags, says Holappa. Empty bottles may be thrown, and flagpoles may be used as weapons.
“The first time I took part in a demonstration in Sweden, I wondered why they were carrying crates of empty bottles,” he recalls. “Since my Swedish is poor, I did not hand out leaflets, and I was given the job as flask boy. After a while, I realized that the bottles were meant to be used as weapons against potential enemies. And the flagpoles, too. They can cause a lot of damage if you hit someone in the face or neck.”
Meanwhile, a new generation has been trying to establish itself in the organization, and is seeking to prove its reliability.”The older generation within the SRM have a reputation of being dangerous, largely built upon the crimes carried out by Vitt Ariskt Motstånd (White Aryan Resistance) in the 1990s, everything from violence to bank robberies and weapon thefts,” says Holappa. “Klas Lund was a central member in VAM. Now, younger activists in SRM want to show that they are in the same league.”He adds:
“The internal rules say that unwarranted violence is not accepted. You could be thrown out of the movement. If the perpetrator is someone who is well-liked and a good activist, however, most things will be accepted, even murder. It becomes a kind of anarchy where the members do whatever they want to without any consequence.
“The Nordic Resistance Movement wants to come across as a strong, well-organised, disciplined, militant organization. But that image isn’t entirely true.”
“Best Saturday ever”
“During my Nazi career, I learnt that a white lie is never a problem. If you don’t tell the whole story, it’s easier to claim that National Socialism is an ideology for strong people. Whatever the leaders or activists do, it is always portrayed as a success. In their own material, the activists are always unbeatable, and the organization is a tough organization, one not to be challenged without consequences.”
A fight between Nazis and anti-fascists in Tampere in October 2012 may serve as an example. The activists from FRM who were involved told their Nordic comrades and the outside world that it had been the best Saturday ever for them. In this version the FRM activists won the fight, and the anti-fascists had to run. In reality, the Nazis were soundly beaten, and at least one of them – Juuso Tahvanainen, the leader at the time – had to go to hospital. According to Holappa, Tahvanainen tried to downplay his injuries when the fight was discussed later.
The fight in Tampere caused quite a bit of internal discussion. The Swedish leadership eventually found out what had actually happened, and leaked information from the internal forum of the movement shows that eyebrows were raised in Sweden. It was an embarrassment for the Finns, but the Swedes let the matter go. Finland is too important for the Nordic Resistance Movement to afford conflicts between the branches.
“Klas Lund has told me that the Nordic Resistance Movement wouldn’t manage without the FRM. Therefore, they overlook what’s going on with the Finns. ‘The best Saturday ever’ is just one example,” Holappa says.
The Nazis in the Nordic Resistance Movement also want to portray themselves as living healthy, upright lives. That’s not entirely true, either, according to Holappa.
“I have heard stories about drug use, mainly amphetamine, and about criminal activities carried out in the Stockholm region. NRM members have carried out robberies, burglaries, assaults, et cetera. This also fits with my own impression, having met Stockholm activists. I have asked Lund about how the movement looks at drugs, and at amphetamine specifically. He said that he did not accept amphetamine as a party drug, but that it could be useful for fights,” Holappa says.
Holappa says that he does not have any evidence of steroid use, but that he has seen activists becoming large and strong in strikingly little time.
While the Finnish branch is important to the Nordic Resistance Movement, ideological differences between the two branches exist and occasionally cause friction. While the Swedish branch is representative of a Hitlerian, old-fashioned variant of neo-Nazism, the Finnish branch is more diverse. Some members support a Third Positionist neo-fascism, and have contacts with the Italian movement Casa Pound. In the eyes of the Swedish traditionalists, this is Strasserism or left-wing Nazism, seen as an inner enemy. Within Finland, the Oulu branch is Nazi-oriented, while the fascist phalanx is stronger in the south, particularly in Turku and Helsinki. The Turku activists – led by Ali Kaurila – has attempted to tone down Nazism from the start.
“They did have plans to found their own organization, but chose to enter the FRM instead,” Holappa says. “This led to a group following its own course within the movement. Within the Swedish Resistance Movement, anyone seen as a left-wing Nazi has been thrown out, but within the FRM, this variant is strong enough to have been accepted reluctantly. In the beginning, I was very sceptical towards the fascist influence, myself, but there was not much I could do.”
He says that several central activists responsible for propaganda, websites and videos threatened to leave the group if FRM chose a more old-fashioned Nazi-oriented course. This would have meant the end to FRM.
Consequently, a “controlled opposition” has grown within the movement. Ali Kaurila has founded the Musta Sydän-network, which runs its own website. Publicly, the two are differentiated, but both groups are run by the same people. The motivation for creating Musta Sydän was the emergence of so-called Autonomous Nationalists in Finland. The FRM needed a tool to reach them. “I am not entirely sure whether there were actually any groups of Autonomous Nationalists, or whether Musta Sydän was created merely to give Kaurila and his group their own channel,” Holappa says.
Too important to fight
In 2011, a meeting was held in Helsinki to which Casa Pound, German Autonomous Nationalists (from Frei Nationale Strukturen) and more “conservative” SMR neo-Nazis were all invited. Ideologically, it was an odd mix. The Swedes would never have allowed their own members to arrange something similar, but the Finnish branch was seen as too important to the movement for them to pick a fight. As long as the Finnish organization remained active, and publicly supported National Socialism, internal differences were not seen as too much of a problem.
“There are as many ideologies within the FRM as there are members, Holappa says. “The only thing holding the movement together is activism. There is no common ideology. Officially, one says that the movement works for a National Socialist Nordic Republic. In reality, quite few members really believe in this. They believe in and trust an organization offering them various forms of activities, and the possibility to travel to other countries to meet like-minded people. FRM is well underway to develop into a Casa Pound-styled organization.”
Holappa says he believes the Finns will take more and more ideological liberties as the organization grows.
Militant anti-fascism on the rise
Following the growth of the Finnish Resistance Movement, anti-fascists have also become organized. For many years, there was no formal militant anti-fascist movement in Finland. Now there is a network calling itself Varisverkosto. Until today, most battles between the organizations have taken place in writing on the internet. However, there have been fights in connection with the FRM street patrols. The authorities and researchers alike say there is a risk that the two movements will radicalize each other, since every fight leads to some sort of counteraction.
Holappa, too, believes that there will be more violent episodes involving neo-Nazis and militant anti-fascists. Both sides have been sizing up their opponents, and both see their own violence as self-defence while actively seeking confrontation. “They want to show both their own supporters and their opponents that they are a force to be reckoned with,” Holappa says.
There have been incidents, he says, in which FRM activists have sought out and attacked people they view as their opponents, through “home visits”. According to Holappa these are not discussed aloud within the movement; however, he says, he has heard of an episode in which an anarchist in Tampere was attacked at home. “As far as I know, it had been planned, but I do not know why that person specifically was attacked. It could have to do with a personal conflict, or it could be that the victim had a high profile as an anarchist,” Holappa says.
Militant anti-fascists have also sought out an FRM activist at home. “They broke the windows of an activist living in the capital region, and spray painted ‘A Nazi lives here’ on the walls,” says Holappa. “They also handed out leaflets with his personal information and the text ‘Keep an eye on the neighbourhood Nazi’. We were going to write about the attack on our website, but reconsidered. It would only lead to negative attention, and – in the worst case – to more attacks of the same kind.”
Esa Holappa believes that FRM’s future depends on how society develops as a whole. “If the economy turns worse, and there is an increase in unemployment and alienation amongst youth, it will strengthen their positions,” he says. “In Sweden, everything depends on whether they will succeed in establishing a political party. If they don’t, the SRM may splinter. But the future of the Finnish branch is not entirely dependant on the Swedes.”
Holappa believes that FRM has the ability to recruit new members and grow if it continues its policy of arranging social activities. Today, the organization is small but tight-knit, and its goal is not primarily to get more members, but to develop its work. Amongst other activities, it has started to perform relief work, following the example of the Greek Golden Dawn.
“With more poverty and unemployment in Finland, general discontent may push more people into the arms of the FRM,” Esa Holappa concludes.
* YLE/Spotlight has not been able to reach Mikko or Mika for comment, and neither of them has publicly spoken on behalf of FRM. Consequently, their surnames are not included.
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