Members of white supremacist group expelled from UGent and N-VA

Summary

After a report regarding the attitudes and activities of youth group Schild & Vrienden, Ghent has opened an investigation, UGent has expelled the leader and several members have been scrapped from political lists in Flanders

‘The doors are closed to him’

Ghent University (UGent) has suspended the leader of youth group Schild & Vrienden (Shield & Friends) and banned him from entering any of its buildings or events. Schild & Vrienden is a white supremacist group, whose activities were laid bare by the news programme Pano on Wednesday evening.

Following the 40-minute Pano report, which aired on éen, newspaper headlines and social media exploded with reactions and condemnations of the group, based in Ghent. The following day, political party N-VA scrapped three candidates from its lists for the upcoming municipal elections who have ties to the group, and UGent’s rector announced that Dries Van Langenhove, the founder and leader (pictured standing), was suspended pending a decision as to whether or not to expel him.

Ghent’s public prosecutor, meanwhile, opened a file on Schild & Vrienden and held a hearing yesterday with Pano reporters. Yesterday evening prime minister Charles Michel announced that the federal government would provide additional funding to the National Security Council to fight racism and anti-Semitism. He made the announcement during a gala held by the Co-ordination Committee of Jewish Organisations in Belgium.

Harsh words from rector

Van Langenhove, 25, was studying law at UGent and was a student member of the board of directors. He already has a degree in political science.

“As rector, as a member of this university, as a leader, as a Fleming, as a parent and as a human being, I am shocked” by the Pano report, said UGent rector Rik Van de Walle. “I take responsibility for the decision to shut Dries Van Langenhove out of UGent. Let me be clear about this: Our university is no place for him. His registration as a student is suspended and all rights to access buildings and facilities is revoked. The doors of UGent are closed to him.”

The season premiere of the Pano news programme was the culmination of six months of work to find “the real Schild & Vrienden”. A Pano reporter followed the group around with a camera, with their permission, for several months.

Let me be clear about this: Our university is no place for him

- UGent rector Rik Van de Walle

He filmed not only activities in which they disrupted another group’s event but also behind-the-scenes discussions. Most damning was a secret Facebook group and forum in which members’ posts and conversations belied their very clean-cut image.

According to Schild & Vrienden’s official website, the group “works towards a mentality change. We organise positive actions that promote the Flemish community model. From the character Zwarte Piet to helping the homeless and elderly to cleaning up monuments and trash. … we can be the voice of the silent majority.”

Last year, not long after the group was founded, a video of an action in which members – all of them young white males – disrupted an event in support of a humanitarian migration policy was picked up by global nationalist media. Coupled with his outspoken opinions on social media and his position on the conservative Flemish Catholic Student Union, it was enough to afford Van Langenhove spokesperson status in the mainstream media.

Earlier this year he could be seen debating Dr Petra De Sutter on society’s attitudes towards transgenderism on Terzake, and he recently spoke at the conservative youth camp Tusványos in Romania, where he also had a meeting with Hungary’s nationalist prime minister Victor Orbán.

Facebook followers increase

Van Langenhove was also asked to speak at events organised by conservative organisations in Flanders and consistently spoke of defending Flemish identity and heritage. When asked by the Pano reporter if he should be considered a racist, he said “of course not”, that his defence of his own identity had nothing to do with racism or xenophobia.

A private Facebook page and discussion group, however, show a very different side to both Van Langenhove and Schild & Vrienden. There Pano found tens of thousands of uses of extreme pejorative language and memes aimed at women, Jews, ethnic minorities and Muslims as well as an admiration of Adolf Hitler. Memes made cruel jokes about rape, starving children, the Holocaust and even the death of a two-year-old trans migrant girl in Belgium earlier this year.

There were also photographs of members with semi-automatic weapons, including Van Langenhove. Facebook posts encouraged members to troll other organisation’s Facebook posts and event listings, such as feminist-oriented gatherings and human rights marches. There were also discussions about how to infiltrate local politics.

While they speak of western values, what we saw was quite the opposite. We can do nothing else but strongly condemn this

- State secretary Zuhal Demir

To that end, the group managed to get four of their members elected to the Flemish Youth Council, which advises the government of Flanders on policies affecting people under 30. According to its chair, their membership is in the process of being rescinded.

Four members were also on N-VA elections lists, including in Maaseik, Sint-Niklaas and Aalst. Nick Peeters, 21, is still on the list in Lubbeek, Flemish Brabant, where state migration secretary Theo Francken leads the list. Peeters told De Standaard that he had not been involved with Schild & Vrienden since last year.

“I saw zero respect for women, LGBTs, other ideologies,” state secretary for equal opportunities Zuhal Demir (N-VA) told Radio 1 yesterday. “While they speak of western values, what we saw was quite the opposite. We can do nothing else but strongly condemn this. … In my opinion, there is no room for members of this group in N-VA.”

Schild & Vrienden had some 14,000 followers on its official Facebook group, but the number has jumped to more than 21,000 following the controversy. Van Langenhove claims that the group has 900 active members, though there is no official membership registration.

Photo: Dries Van Langenhove and several members of Schild & Vrienden
©Schild & Vriendin/Facebook

THIS ARTICLE WAS ALTERED ON 25 SEPTEMBER