To Blur Or Not To Blur: Exposing Finland’s Lakeside Neo-Nazi Meetup

11.07.2024, 16:25, Разное
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A group of Finnish neo-Nazis and a few international friends have convened once again in Finland’s picturesque lake district for a secretive summertime festival.

Last month, a campground about three-hours drive north of Finland’s capital Helsinki played host to the third edition of what the organisers call the ‘White Boy Summer Fest’, named after an internet meme co-opted by the international far right. 

Bellingcat first investigated Finland’s ‘White Boy Summer Fest’ (WBS) in 2023. With the help of Bellingcat’s Global Authentication Project and Discord community, we geolocated the 2022 and 2023 WBS festivals to two separate rural campgrounds in the Kanta-Häme region in the southern lake district of Finland. 

Observers warn that neo-Nazi groups use events like these to network, recruit, radicalize and raise money. “WBS is…an essential part of neo-Nazi networks in Finland,” Tommi Kotonen, a political scientist at the University of Jyväskylä and a specialist on Finland’s far right told Bellingcat.

The most recent WBS event took place as worries grow about far-right extremism and violence in Finland. It was organised by Tulenväki, a Finnish far-right group, along with far-right combat sports group Veren Laki (‘Law of Blood’).

Despite what appear to be considerable efforts by organisers to hide the exact location  of WBS 2024 — including editing and re-uploading a promotional video to blur out background details — Bellingcat was still able to geolocate the event to an island campground approximately 150 kilometres away from the locations of WBS 2023 and 2022.

The organisers of WBS 2024 did not respond to Bellingcat’s requests for comment.

“A Weekend Full of Music and Fighting”

Organisers publicly announced WBS 2024 months in advance. Without sharing an exact location, they indicated it would take place in the Pirkanmaa region of Finland, a sprawling area surrounding/near the country’s third-largest city, Tampere. The Finnish lake districts are a popular summer tourism destination thanks to the region’s numerous lakeside resorts, cabins and campgrounds.

Similar to its predecessors in 2022 and 2023, WBS 2024 featured musical performances by a number of neo-Nazi bands. One of these bands was previously known as the ‘Hammer House Band,’ a regular performer at a venue affiliated with the Finnish branch of the Hammerskins; The band is also scheduled to perform at a Finnish Hammerskins’ annual event in July 2024.

A photo posted on the Telegram channel of organiser Tulenväki on June 15, 2024, with a caption indicating the band performing was previously known as the ‘Hammer House Band’

As Bellingcat has previously written, the Hammerskins are an international neo-Nazi network whose German branch was banned by authorities in September last year. Other performers at WBS 2024, which included bands from Finland and Estonia, have also  taken part in international concerts and events organised by the Hammerskins. According to a 2023 report by Finland’s public broadcaster, police documents suggest five men arrested in 2021 over suspicion of planning terrorist attacks were significantly influenced by Crew 38 Finland, a Hammerskins-affiliated group, and met frequently with some of its members. 

The Hammerskins also have documented connections to the international Active Club movement. Founded in 2021 by American neo-Nazi Robert Rundo, the decentralised movement focuses on using fashion, fitness and fighting to recruit young men and boys into the far right, normalising far-right ideas and preparing them for physical violence against perceived enemies. 

Active Clubs have emerged as prominent actors in the far-right network with many popping up across Finland including Helsinki, where Finnish Hammerskins and an affiliated group Active Helsinki, have been geolocated.

Representatives of Active Clubs were out in full force at WBS 2024. After a Friday night of performances from several neo-Nazi bands, Saturday featured combat sports in a makeshift outdoor ring, during which some participants displayed flags of their local group. Active Club Estonia posted on Telegram about the event, stating in English that “Finnish and Estonian Active Clubs met up for a weekend full of music and fighting.”

A frame from the promotional video showing a participant in the combat sports fights wearing an Active Club Finland shirt and unfurling an Active Club Finland flag. The banner in the background is of co-organising group Veren Laki. Faces were blurred in the original video.

The combat sports events were hosted by Veren Laki (‘Law of Blood’), one of WBS’ co-organisers. According to Tommi Kotonen, an expert on far-right extremism in Finland, Veren Laki is linked to the now-banned Finnish branch of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM).

“NRM links with Veren Laki are quite clear, as they have some of the same activists, members and trainers,” Kotonen told Bellingcat.

In June 2024, the US Department of State designated the Sweden-based NRM as a terrorist organisation. It was only the second international far-right group to be designated a terrorist organisation by the United States, the first being the Russia-based Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) in 2020.

To Blur, or not to Blur?

Reviewing photos and video posted by organisers about the event, Bellingcat observed that considerable steps had been taken to hide the identity of the event’s participants and the location. Buildings and background features in videos and images were blurred, presumably to impede identification. 

On June 22, the Telegram page of co-organisers Tulenväki published a video from the previous weekend’s event and Bellingcat immediately downloaded the video to analyse it. 

But just a short time later the video had been taken down, edited and reuploaded. Comparing the two videos frame-by-frame, Bellingcat noticed that, in the newer version of the video, more structures seen in the background had been blurred out compared to the original. For instance, towards the start of the video first uploaded a green house with a red roof is visible for a brief second. However in the second video that was uploaded this house was entirely blurred out.

Above, a frame of the originally uploaded video, showing a green house with a red roof and chimney. Below, the same frame in the re-uploaded video, showing that the house had been blurred, presumably to impede identification and geolocation. 

This indicated to Bellingcat that the green house with a red roof and chimney could likely be used to geolocate the event; we hypothesised that the organisers would not have taken the time to blur the house, among other structures, if they did not think they could allow the event to be geolocated.

Consequently, Bellingcat began searching online for imagery of campgrounds in the Pirkanmaa region, given that organisers had indicated the event would take place there and had instructed participants to bring tents and sleeping bags with them to the festival. Other visible features in the video, including cabins and an outdoor toilet, led Bellingcat to conclude the event took place at a campground.

Bellingcat searched through Google Maps images of numerous campgrounds in the region, keeping an eye out for green houses that resembled those visible in the video. We eventually noticed images from a campground in the northeastern part of the region, in the municipality of Ruovesi, that showed a similar-looking green house.

A user-uploaded photo of the green house at the Ruovesi campground from September 2023 (Bellingcat has obscured the identity of the user)

Further imagery of the campground that we found on social media showed more angles of the house. The features of the green house matched exactly the features of the house briefly seen in the video, indicating it was indeed the same property. Then compared with the original video, allowed Bellingcat to conclude that WBS 2024 took place at this campground. In addition in the reuploaded video, the organisers also blurred out what appears to be a white flagpole in the background, as well as another chimney on the same house.

A user-uploaded photo of the green house at the Ruovesi campground from June 2018 (Bellingcat has obscured the identity of the user)

Above, a frame of the originally uploaded video, showing a green house with a red roof, chimney. Below, the same frame in the re-uploaded video, showing that the house had been blurred, presumably to impede identification and geolocation.

Further comparisons of other images from the Ruovesi campground and the organiser’s social media posts allowed us to confirm the location of the event. A light-brown cabin, visible in a video of a combat fight, can also be seen in user-uploaded footage from the Ruovesi campground, along with a large boulder that is also visible in the fight footage.

Above, a frame of combat sports footage from WBS, showing a brown cabin. Middle, a photo posted on Veren Laki’s Telegram channel of the combat sports fights, showing a large rock in the background, as well as a chimney (Bellingcat has cropped the photo from the original to obscure neo-Nazi symbolism). Below, a photo posted to Facebook, tagging the campground, on June 28, 2024, showing both the brown cabin, rock and chimney.

Comparing photos and video taken indoors at WBS 2024 to other imagery from the campground confirmed that indoor events (musical performances and a discussion seminar) also took place at the Ruovesi campground. Multiple points of comparison, from light fixtures to knots in the wood on the wall, allowed Bellingcat to confirm that WBS 2024 took place at this campground. We used a similar process to locate the previous WBS event.

A photo posted by Tulenväki on their Telegram channel June 18, 2024.

User-uploaded photos on social media showing the interior of the building, including matching fixtures and knots on the wall. The second photo has been cropped by Bellingcat from a public Instagram photo posted on June 8, 2024 to remove individuals in the photo.

The Ruovesi campground appears to be owned by the municipality, given that information about and booking for the campground is done through the municipality’s website. Bellingcat sent questions to contacts listed for the campground and to the Ruovesi municipality, asking for clarity about the campground’s ownership status and whether they were aware a neo-Nazi event took place there.

“I have no information about the matter, persons or events that weekend. A private person made the reservation,” a municipality representative told Bellingcat by email.

Bellingcat contacted the organisers of WBS 2024, Active Club Finland and Active Club Estonia, but none responded to Bellingcat’s requests for comment. 

In the wake of WBS 2024, organisers and supporters took to social media to boast about their future plans. One supportive post from a Finnish neo-Nazi blog promised “there will be more to come,” from a fourth version of WBS in 2025 to other gigs across the country.

It’s a milieu whose ambitions worry observers like Tommi Kotonen. 

“In three recent terrorism investigations in Finland, in all those cases participants were also linked to [the far-right] subcultural and music scene, either as consumers and attending concerts and other events, or in some cases also producing far-right music,” the political scientist at the University of Jyväskylä told Bellingcat.

Bellingcat is a non-profit and the ability to carry out our work is dependent on the kind support of individual donors. If you would like to support our work, you can do so here. You can also subscribe to our Patreon channel here. Subscribe to our Newsletter and follow us on Twitter here and Mastodon here.

Source: Bellingcat*

*СМИ, выполняющее в России функции иностранного агента и признано нежелательной организацией




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