Why conservatives are obsessed with this Swedish city

Why conservatives are obsessed with this Swedish city
Right-wing headlines about Malmö, Sweden. George Steptoe/Mic
Right-wing headlines about Malmö, Sweden. George Steptoe/Mic

Among right-wing news outlets, there is no war zone more unstable, no Gomorrah more deeply in the throes of death than the city of Malmö, Sweden.

A few of Breitbart’s headlines from September and October depict a violent city under siege:

“Multicultural Malmö: Cemetery staff to be trained in dealing with armed mourners at funerals.”

“Four shot in migrant city of Malmö.”

“Malmö emergency room workers say gang violence putting their lives ‘at risk.’”

“Sweden has effectively become the rape capital of Europe,” Fox News contributor David Webb recently said on air. “Why? What’s the difference? What’s changed? The influx of migrants.”

In the eyes of far-right media, Malmö is the ground zero for immigration gone wrong. Just in the past week, there have been five articles about immigrants in Sweden, with titles like “Sweden: ‘It doesn’t matter if rapists are migrants, only that they’re men,’” and “Residents of Swedish ‘No Go Zone’ suburbs afraid to leave their homes.” Anybody claiming otherwise, in the conservative mythology about Malmö, is part of a left-wing cover-up.

“Any journalist claiming Sweden is safe; I will pay for travel costs and accommodation for you to stay in crime ridden migrant suburbs of Malmö,” Paul Joseph Watson, a journalist with conspiracy hub Infowars, tweeted in February. Dozens of journalists attempted to take him up on his offer.

Of course, there is no discernible rise in crime in Malmö, or throughout Sweden, for that matter. But for nativist far-right news, Sweden, which took in 163,000 asylum-seekers in 2015 alone, is held up nearly every day as a warning, with every reported violent incident seized upon ferociously as evidence that refugees cannot be welcomed peacefully into western countries. And this apocalyptic rhetoric used to describe cities like Malmö is one of the strongest binding agents between white supremacist fringe groups and mainstream conservatism.

“Malmö wouldn’t exist as the fourth-most innovative city in the world if we didn’t have immigrants — we’d be living like vikings,” Malmö’s Deputy Mayor Andreas Schönström, told Mic via Skype from Rosengård, reportedly the most dangerous neighborhood in the city.

The debate about Malmö revolves around a perceived rise in the number of rapes in Malmö. But the actual crime statistics show that rape has declined from its peak in 2010 — five years before Malmö’s most recent immigration surge.

Actual crime statistics show that rape has declined from its peak in 2010 — five years before Malmö’s most recent immigration surge.
Actual crime statistics show that rape has declined from its peak in 2010 — five years before Malmö’s most recent immigration surge. Tri Vo, Mic/BBC

Sweden does report one of the highest rates of rape in the world, but that’s likely because most countries consider multiple instances as one occurrence if they came from the same perpetrator. In Sweden, each individual instance is counted.

There aren’t necessarily more incidents of rape in Sweden, rather Sweden is better than other countries at tracking how many rapes are occurring.

This media narrative drives one of the most popular and effective talking points in white nationalist thinking: the “demographic threat.” This is the idea that whites will eventually become the minorities in the West, often on display overtly in Breitbart headlines like, “Population of Malmö growing solely because of migration.”

Malmö has taken in tens of thousands of refugees from countries like Iraq and Syria.
Malmö has taken in tens of thousands of refugees from countries like Iraq and Syria. Jonathan Nackstrand/Getty Images

Rape is an essential ingredient in stoking fear of the demographic threat, reinforcing the centuries-old stereotype that black and brown men hunt and prey upon white women. It is the animating paranoia of when young right-wingers call their fellow race traitors “cucks,” and the chants of “You will not replace us” heard in Charlottesville, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and beyond.

By inviting the alleged threat of migrant rape gangs into mainstream conservatism, the right calls upon an age-old racist myth used throughout history to justify lynchings, prevent interracial marriage and bring an air of noble concern to what is essentially an argument for segregation.