Last week on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson show, a young Dutch media personality introduced American viewers to a frightening new vision: The government of the Netherlands, she said, was stealing Dutch farmland “under the guise” of a fabricated environmental crisis, but actually as part of a communist plot to transform Holland’s countryside into mass housing for immigrants and to enact something called the “Great Reset.”
The oracle behind this dire prediction was Eva Vlaardingerbroek, a former candidate for Holland’s far-right Forum for Democracy party whose strident demeanor and good looks have earned her the Dutch media nicknames “Aryan princess,” “shield maiden for the right” and, apparently since last week, “Eva Braun.” But Vlaardingerbroek and Carlson aren’t the only folks advancing this narrative.
Half a year after it went all-in for the Canadian trucker convoy protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the American right has adopted a new international cause: Dutch farmers who are demonstrating against environmental regulations by parading tractors down highways, lining roads with burning hay bales, blocking food distribution centers, international borders and airports, and spraying liquid manure on government buildings.
Much as during the Canadian trucker protests last January, right-wing Twitter is overflowing with praise and protest tributes: montages of tractors chugging down highways and protesters kicking police vans, all to the tune of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” The conspiracy-theory outlet Epoch Times dedicated much of the past week to dispatches from the Netherlands, including an interview with far-right Dutch politician Thierry Baudet, who claims the government is trying to sever the Dutch people’s connection to their land to further a “post-identitarian” agenda of “Great Reset mass migration.” Canadian website Rebel News, long affiliated with white nationalist and far-right groups, sent three young reporters to embed themselves among the protesters. And right-wing outlets from LifeSiteNews to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s anti-vaccination website to the New York Post have cast the protests as a working-class uprising against authoritarian global elites.
* * *
There is a real and significant issue playing out in the Netherlands, below the U.S. right-wing outrage cycle. Since late June, Dutch farmers have been holding large-scale demonstrations to protest new plans to radically reduce the amount of nitrogen oxide and ammonia emissions produced in the country, particularly from farms.
In 2019, Holland’s highest administrative court ruled that the country’s efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution were failing to meet the conditions of European Union environmental law. The ruling led to the suspension of thousands of new construction projects — including the building of sorely-needed new housing — and slower speed limits on Dutch highways, as well as plans to reduce the size of Holland’s agricultural industry.
There’s a significant issue of agricultural and environmental policy playing out in the Netherlands, which has little to do with America’s right-wing outrage cycle.
Part of the problem is that, given the size of the Netherlands — which, at 16,000 square miles, is smaller than 41 of the 50 U.S. states — many farms have adopted “intensive” agriculture methods, including heavy use of fertilizer and livestock factory farming, in order to increase output from limited land. Those practices have allowed the tiny country to become the second-largest agricultural exporter in the world and Europe’s largest producer of meat, but have also made it a major nitrogen and ammonia polluter from both fertilizer runoff and livestock waste, some of which particularly threatens nature preserves protected by European law.
For years Dutch politicians have debated how to address the issue, and in June, the Netherlands’ recently-appointed minister for nature and nitrogen policy, Christianne van der Wal, announced new restrictions to cut nitrogen emissions in half by 2030, to meet international climate action goals. Doing so will likely require an estimated 30% reduction in the country’s livestock herds as well as severe reductions in fertilizer use — changes that large farms may be able to afford but which could spell bankruptcy for many smaller, family-run farms.
In a country where agriculture is closely tied to national identity, with family farms dating back generations, it’s an undeniable blow. Holland’s government, reported the AP, called the plans an “unavoidable transition” that would force farmers to “become (more) sustainable, relocate or stop.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte acknowledged that the move would have “enormous consequences. I understand that, and it is simply terrible.”
The government has allocated around $25 billion to implement the plans, with much of that targeted toward helping farms become more sustainable — or offering generous buyouts to those that can’t. But as Anya van Wagtendonk reported this week at Grid, the “clumsy government rollout” of the regulations “made a bad situation worse,” particularly when the government released a map indicating that some farms near nature preserves would need to reduce emissions by 95% — effectively closing them — without providing additional information about plans to help farmers adapt or compensate their losses.
Farmer protests began soon after the 2019 court decision, and some tipped into violence. That year, protesters carried a coffin emblazoned with the name of a Green party politician, compared farmers’ plight to the Holocaust and used tractors as battering rams to force open the doors of a provincial city hall, tear down neighborhood fences and drive into a police horse. But while the pandemic largely forced the protests to halt in 2020, they’ve come roaring back since June, growing widespread, aggressive and sometimes out of control.
Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
Last week, Dutch law enforcement shot at a tractor driven by a 16-year-old they claimed was trying to drive through a police barricade. (Nobody was injured and initial charges have been dropped.) The week before, protesters demonstrated outside the home of nature minister van der Wal, attacking a police van with sledgehammers and dumping manure on her street. In one province, local government offices that had been the site of protests were temporarily closed over a bomb threat, and a supermarket distribution center that’s become a focal point of protest conspiracism was mysteriously burned to the ground, although it’s unclear whether either incident was related to the demonstrations.
* * *
All of this is complicated enough on its own: a seemingly zero-sum situation, in which some farmers are almost certain to lose their livelihoods. But as the farmers’ cause has been adopted by the far right, both in the Netherlands and abroad, it’s grown into something larger and uglier. According to those narratives, the new regulations are part of a globalist “Great Reset” intent on imposing liberal authoritarianism across the world. Global elites, in this view, are orchestrating a food crisis in order to subdue unruly populations, and Dutch farmers will be displaced to make room for new immigrants, in a literal recapitulation of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory shared by European and American white supremacists.
In this version of conspiracy theory, global elites are orchestrating a food crisis in order to subdue unruly populations — and displace Dutch farmers with new immigrants.
Some of that narrative is homegrown. On July 6, far-right Dutch parliamentarian and Party for Freedom chair Geert Wilders, best known for his aggressive Islamophobia, including calls to ban the Quran or tax women who wear hijab, tweeted an image of a document he claimed was proof that farmers were being forced off their land in order to build an “application center for asylum seekers.”
Another far-right Dutch parliamentarian went even further: Forum for Democracy founder Thierry Baudet, who was once viewed as a more genteel and intellectual face of the right, but has fallen into disgrace after a series of racism and antisemitism scandals and his claim that George Soros invented COVID-19 to “take away our freedom.”
In an interview with Epoch Times this week, Baudet charged, “the people governing this country are following the script written by the EU to realize what they call a ‘Great Reset.'” That’s a reference to a slogan originally used in 2020 by the World Economic Forum to call for creating a more equitable post-pandemic global economy. But almost immediately, on the right, the term was adopted to refer to an amorphous conspiracy theory that globalist elites are using crises like the pandemic as pretext to radically reinvent society along authoritarian, one-world government lines.
Baudet argued as much, claiming the EU wants to “weaken Dutch sovereignty” and impose “mass immigration” on the country with the goal of turning the Netherlands “into a giant city” without its own means of food production, so that people will be more “dependent on the international rulers, the globalists, who are trying to take over.”
Part of the new farm regulations, Baudet continued, involved a “spiritual or deeper” impetus to sever the connection between Dutch farmers and their land, since farmers “form a direct threat to the globalists’ post-territorial, post-identitarian agenda.” In case that allusion to great replacement theory was too subtle, Baudet then made it explicit, calling on international allies to recognize this was a shared struggle, since “All our peoples are being diluted by the systematic influx of people from entirely different ethnicities and cultures and religions.”
In multiple appearances on U.S. and Canadian media over the last week, the aforementioned Eva Vlaardingerbroek echoed a number of these claims. She told Tucker Carlson, “It’s very clear the government is not doing this because of a nitrogen crisis. They’re doing it because they want these farmers’ land and they want it to house new immigrants.”
To Rebel News, Vlaardingerbroek said, “They’re taking away property because they see a future for us in which we’ll be completely dependent on the state. We eat bugs, they own your land.” She added, “‘You’ll own nothing and you’ll be happy'” — quoting a meme that’s become internet shorthand for the “Great Reset.”
That narrative is filtering down, mixing with ambient talk about “replacement theory” that figures like Wilders have traded in for years. The far-right, conspiracist Austrian weekly Wochenblick argued succinctly, “Mass immigration as part of the ‘UN Replacement Population Plan’ could be the reason for the mass dispossession of farmers.”
In interviews with Epoch Times host Roman Balmakov, several Dutch protesters claimed their own government had “created the nitrogen hoax because the farmers own all the land on which the government wants to build” or “It’s all to get foreigners on their land.” (During one such episode, Balmakov paused to advertise his own survivalist prepping company, My Patriot Supply, offering $150 discounts on three-month food kits, so that viewers won’t be forced to eat “WHO-issued bug sandwiches” when the “global food crisis” comes.)
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vax publication suggested the Dutch government was “disrupting food supplies” in order to “weaken people’s resistance” — along with the side effects of COVID vaccines.
But the story also became a broader phenomenon across a wide swath of U.S. right-wing media. Newsweek and Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk cast the protests as a “popular uprising” and a “historic” example of “worker-centered revolts,” pitting Davos and the WHO against “the citizen.” Right-wing anti-abortion news outlet LifeSiteNews launched a petition to gather support for the “fightback against not just environmental regulations and the resulting inflation, but also the elites’ Great Reset agenda.”
Pizzagate promoter-turned right-wing media personality Jack Posobiec used his podcast to suggest the occasional violence of the protests was justified, saying, “Understand what point in the movie we’re in. These farmers clearly understand.” And Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vaccination publication The Defender suggested that the Dutch government was “disrupting food supplies” so that, in combination with side effects from COVID vaccines, they might “weaken people’s resistance.” Rebel News’ embedded reporters landed segments on One America News and Fox’s Laura Ingraham Show.
* * *
The linkage of farmers’ grievances with “great replacement” and other conspiracies was “quite clever,” said investigative journalist Allart van der Woude, of the Dutch public radio show Argos. “It manages to combine a whole host of anxieties that are prevalent on the right.” The protest movement as a whole, he said, has done the same, drawing together two distinct groups: traditionalist conservatives “who see farming as a marker of Dutch identity, and view this measure as urban elites destroying rural livelihoods,” and then a group of people generally opposed to any large state projects, whether farm regulations, pandemic safety measures or vaccines.
“One shared consequence of this, though,” van der Woude continued, “is that it’s become an incredibly aggressive discussion with a huge potential for violence.” In 2020, the country’s National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism published a threat assessment warning that the farmer protest movement was uniting groups with different grievances but shared antipathy to government, whose alliance could represent a troubling pathway toward radicalization. Last August, Dutch newspaper De Groene Amsterdammer published an investigation tracking the movement’s main social media hubs, finding that farm protest pages were increasingly dominated by other concerns: pandemic skepticism, the sale of fake vaccine certificates, QAnon-like fixations on pedophile networks or public riots and talk of the “Great Reset.”
The potential for violence also seems to be rising. Van der Woude noted that the police officer who shot at the tractor last week has reportedly been in hiding for a week. Last January, a photojournalist taking pictures of a car fire near a farm was attacked by bystanders wielding sticks before one used a tractor shovel to flip his car – with him and his girlfriend inside it — into a ditch.
Last year, an Amsterdam newspaper found that farm protest pages were increasingly dominated by pandemic truthers, fake vaccine certificates and QAnon-like conspiracy theories.
In recent weeks, protest supporters like Vlaardingerbroek have taken aim at the Dutch supermarket chain Picnic through a sketchy web of insinuations. They claim the chain is owned by a relative of a Dutch minister who has pushed the new regulations, that Bill Gates invested heavily in the franchise and that Gates, as Vlaardingerbroek told Rebel News, is “the man who wants you to eat fake meat,” rather than, presumably, Dutch beef. This week, one Picnic supermarket was burned to the ground overnight, and while there’s no clear proof that the fire was connected to the protests, a number of protest supporters have shared the news triumphantly.
Also this week, Baudet’s Forum for Democracy colleague, legislator Gideon van Meijeren — who last year accused Prime Minister Rutte of supporting the “Great Reset” — told a group of protesters, “It is not always healthy in a democracy if there is a taboo on the use of violence,” prompting a formal complaint from another MP that van Meijeren was inciting “violence against the government.”
All the intensity, says van der Woude, ignores the fact that “there is an obscene amount of big money” behind the protests, from large-scale agricultural corporations that “stand to lose way more in absolute terms than the farmers themselves.” Leading that pack, as Dutch publication Volkskrant reported Wednesday, is one of the Netherlands’ five richest families, which controls a huge percentage of the country’s animal feed market and has stated its concerns about the future of its business if farmers are forced to reduce livestock. In response to that threat, Volkskrant reported, the family has funded journalism that “downplay[s] the effects of nitrogen” as well as highway billboards encouraging drivers to attend farmer protests.
While right-wing coverage has boasted that the protests enjoy huge public support, others have suggested that the Dutch public is unlikely to condone aggressive demonstration tactics or food shortages caused by blockades for long. But all that may be beside the point, at least for those intent on transforming the protests into an international cause.
“What we have been seeing in the last few years is the transnational nature of the white supremacist and far-right extremist movements,” said Wendy Via, cofounder and CEO of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. In April, Via testified before the Canadian House of Commons about the pattern of cross-border activism that surrounded last winter’s “trucker convoys,” and how conspiracy theories like the “great replacement” have become “unifying concept[s] for white supremacists worldwide.”
That pattern, Via said, can be seen across all levels of the movement: in Tucker Carlson taking his show abroad, interviewing authoritarian leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, and introducing Europe’s “great replacement” theory to his fans; in the ways European politicians like Wilders and Baudet have made “quite a few white nationalist connections in the U.S.” just as grassroots far-right activists have built alliances with international peers; and in how legislators around the world have strategized on culture-war issues, as with Hungary’s anti-gay legislation, which was quickly mirrored by Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“It is a true transnational movement,” Via said. “And it’s a lot more insidious than people might think.” In furtherance of their common agenda, Via continued, “far-right extremists will latch onto any event or protest that they can — including the serious issues at the heart of these farmer protests — and use [such issues] to further spread conspiracy theories, reduce faith in institutions and inspire hatred, in almost every case, against immigrants and Muslims.”
from Kathryn Joyce on the rise of the far right