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Finnish neo-Nazi group diversifies, seeks alliances as ban closes in

Ever since the Finnish police began its efforts to ban the nationalist group, the PVL has been laying the groundwork to stay alive and spread its influence.

Last year's right-wing 612 torchlight procession on Independence Day attracted about 3,000 people. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

The Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle has investigated the recent activities of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (PVL), which is refuting an appeals court decision to ban its activities in Finland.

In September 2018, the Turku Appeals Court upheld a lower court's decision to ban the PVL in Finland, on the grounds that the neo-Nazi group embraces violence and does not consider all races to be equal.

Although law enforcement had been calling for the PVL to be outlawed since 2013, the straw that broke the camel's back came in September 2016, when PVL founding member Jesse Torniainen attacked a dismissive passerby in downtown Helsinki, causing a head injury that a court found led to the victim's later death. The incident left the country reeling, and gave the courts the proof they needed. Torniainen was sentenced to two years in prison for aggravated involuntary manslaughter later that year, and a recent appeal was unsuccessful.

In effect, the subsequent Turku Appeals Court decision made it illegal for the PVL, its regional chapters, and the PVL-linked Pohjoinen Perinne or Nordic Tradition group to mobilise, demonstrate and distribute propaganda.

However, the court order to cease operations will only become enforceable once all avenues of appeal have been exhausted, and PVL has since sought permission to appeal its case to the Supreme Court. A decision on this could last anywhere from a few months to over a year.

In the meantime, the group is still free to operate, and Yle reporters discovered three different contingency plans are in the works as the PVL prepares for a potential national ban.

Divide and conquer

First, the Yle investigation discovered that the PVL has founded two new organizations within the last year. The first seeks to create a new nationalist political party in Finland, Kansan Yhtenäisyys (roughly translated as Nation United). The party has collected 1,000 signed pledges of support since it was founded this spring, although 5,000 are needed to achieve official political party status.

PVL elements also are behind Suomalaisapu (Finnish Aid), a group inspired by "values of the fatherland" that was officially established this spring to provide aid to Finns in need of assistance. The Finnish branch of the Nordic Resistance Movement and the charity are both led by the same man, Antti Niemi from the municipality of Orivesi in southern Finland. The charity's logo is an adapted version of the PVL logo, and the group is featured prominently on the PVL website.

Finnish police consider the charity a subsidiary of the PVL, and believe it was inspired by similar charities founded by the neo-fascist CasaPound party in Italy and the ultranationalist Golden Dawn party in Greece, as a way to attract new members and voters.

Recruit new members

Campaigns to recruit new members come second on the list, as the PVL has added dozens of names to its roster since the court rulings. The group's website states "the more they attack us, the stronger we become". The interior ministry has noted that the Finnish branch of the Nordic Resistance Movement has been indeed been surprisingly long-lived in Finland, as previous extremist movements have been tended to fizzle out in just a few years. Authorities estimate that the PVL currently has up to 120 full-fledged members, while two years ago there were around 70.

In addition, the Finnish magazine Seura reported (siirryt toiseen palveluun) recently that Jesse Torniainen has established two new companies and a PVL office in Tartu, Estonia. PVL recently moved administration of its website outside of the country. Branches of the Nordic Resistance Movement are also active in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, with some members registered in Iceland, as well.

Outreach to like-minded organisations

Third on the group's agenda, according to the investigation, is networking. PVL has actively sought closer cooperation with the nationalist street patrol group Soldiers of Odin, with increasing numbers of both groups participating in each other's demonstrations and activities. Members of the PVL have also joined in some of the Soldiers of Odin patrols. Helsinki University researcher Daniel Sallamaa recently published a study on the PVL's efforts to welcome the Soldiers of Odin into the fold.

Mika Ranta, the founder of the Soldiers of Odin, told Yle that his group works with several nationalist-minded organisations that "share the same ideals". He mentions two common ideologies that the groups share: an opposition to immigration and Islam.

Ranta has described himself as a Nazi in the past, and he tells Yle that his concern is that if the PVL is banned, his Soldiers of Odin group will be next.