Dries Van Langenhove is a Flemish nationalist who has rocketed to the national scene in just a few years by founding the nationalist group Shield & Friends, which rapidly achieved nation-wide fame for its spectacular direct actions and savvy use of social media. Van Langenhove is now heading Flemish Interest’s (Vlaams Belang, VB) electoral list for the Flemish Brabant province and will almost certainly win a seat at the Belgian federal parliament in the next elections on May 26. As such, the 25-year-old’s meteoric career is a telling example of how Europe’s new identitarian movements are connecting with more traditional nationalist organizations.
Shield & Friends (Schild & Vrienden, S&V), started as an online discussion group in August 2017, named after a thirteenth-century Flemish battle-cry against the French. It soon experienced rapid and organic growth as more and more Flemish youth discovered that others shared their concerns about immigration and cultural decline. “Sometimes people had close friends whom they did not even know were right-wing,” says Van Langenhove. “It’s easier to come out as transgender than conservative here. If you oppose late-term abortion, you are looked at as though you are crazy.” He jokes that S&V became a rare “safe space” for nationalists and conservatives amidst a fiercely left-wing campus culture.
S&V made a name for itself through pro-social activities and civic engagement: activists picked up litter during a garbagemen strike, donated blood, and volunteered to spend time with lonely elderly persons. S&V’s work took a more political turn with the fight for free speech, which is severely threatened on Belgian university campuses, at least insofar as nationalist and conservative ideas are concerned. On one occasion, the center-right interior minister, Theo Franken, gave a speech at Ghent University: left-wing students went on a rampage, smashing windows, spraying graffiti, and attacking attendants.
This was so even though Franken is a moderate figure: while he has melodramatically deported a few handfuls of migrants and criminals, he has continued to allow the entrance of over 100,000 migrants into Belgium every year, a significant figure for a country of 11 million people. Franken is portrayed as something of a demonic figure in the country’s French-language media. Van Langenhove organized a protection service the second time Franken came to the university:
I was and am very much in favor of free speech. This time we would not allow left-wing students to infringe that right. I told my fellow students: If you want to be a steward at this meeting so we can listen to a democratically-elected politician, join me. I would do the same for a left-wing politician if it were necessary, which it isn’t.
Ninety students volunteered to protect the meeting, an unheard of figure.
Six months later, Van Langenhove and S&V would make global waves. They moved to challenge left-wing protestors who had taken over Ghent’s imposing Graavensteen (Castle of the Counts) to demonstrate for open-borders, symbolically tearing down the castle’s walls, just as Europe should be open to the entire world. S&V went over to tear down their banner and stand up for secure borders. The entire sequence was captured in a viral video (English subs) which, despite repeated take-downs by censorious digital giants, garnered millions of views world-wide.
Van Langenhove’s work has not been easy. In 2018, he allowed the national Flemish state broadcaster (VRT) to film the movement. The broadcaster was doing a documentary on Flemish and European nationalist and identitarian movements:
We knew the documentary would be negative whether we cooperated or not. But we thought, if we do cooperate, maybe some positive stuff will come of it. And that was the case. The documentary was 95% negative, but 5% showed us saying things which many ordinary viewers could agree with. But nobody expected the film would be such a disgrace.
The journalists claim they managed to hack S&V’s chat groups and published a number of humorous memes, real or alleged, which were lambasted for being “racist” and “anti-Semitic.”
The documentary’s attention caused something of a moral panic throughout Belgian media. S&V had become notorious overnight. Elderly Flemish people discovered “memes” and were led to believe S&V had a monopoly on such “dangerous” cultural productions.
The negative attention however made it difficult for S&V to continue its pro-social activities:
The State propaganda temporarily set back many of the good things about S&V. Ninety percent of our activities involved civic engagement: becoming better versions of ourselves, being good to our relatives, contributing to society. After the intervention of the State, a lot of that was lost for a while. A lot of people were too scared to keep doing that publicly. But since then, we have already more than made up for the lost ground. For example, just three days ago we organised a very big and successful clean-up action.
There was more than just hostile media coverage however. The Belgian authorities do not consider sharing risqué or coarse memes to be merely bad taste, but a criminal matter to be cracked down upon with the full power of the State. The police are now investigating S&V members for “hate speech” and “incitement to racial hatred”:
Right now I am under investigation. They took my computer and my hard drives. They searched the houses of 20 members. It was awful. We were completely crippled for weeks. They took everyone’s smartphones. Try organizing anything without IT! They are also doing hearings. They are throwing the judiciary against us. It’s completely dystopian. The goal is intimidation. Some of those who had their phones confiscated were 19 years old, just a couple days before going back to university. Mothers came to me crying because their sons and daughters were presented as terrorists. If you are an Islamic terrorist you will have less trouble in Belgium than if you are nationalist activist. So far they have found nothing.
Van Langenhove is holding strong despite the pressure. A few months after the documentary hit-piece, the readers of Het Laatste Nieuws, Belgium’s biggest newspaper, voted him the country’s eleventh-most popular figure and the third-most popular politician, ahead of both the prime minister and the king. The media became obsessed with Van Langenhove, writing pieces on him and inviting him on television for clicks and views, even if the coverage was often hostile.
Van Langenhove is now heading the electoral list for the Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest, VB), Flanders’ traditional nationalist party, while remaining an independent. Van Langenhove sees working with VB as a logical extension of his activism for Flanders:
Vlaams Belang has been the go-to nationalist party in Flanders for a long time. They have been predicting all the problems with immigration and degeneration. They were the right-wing party. Almost one third of Flemish voters supported them at one point. All of the other parties however have said they will never cooperate with VB, this is the so-called cordon sanitaire. In Ninove, a Flemish city of 37,000 which votes 41% for VB, the party is one seat short of an absolute majority. And yet, even there all the other parties have excluded them from government!
In fact, some 70 to 75% of Flemish voters support center-right or right-wing parties, in contrast with French-speaking Wallonia in the south of Belgium, which tends to vote left and in particular for the Socialists. “If it weren’t for the Walloons, Belgium would have had a right-wing government ages ago,” Van Langenhove muses.
Belgium has long been divided along ethno-linguistic lines, even among Europeans. The country’s population is 60% Dutch-speaking (mostly living in Flanders) and 40% French-speaking (mostly living in Brussels and Wallonia). The Flemish resent having to pay taxes for welfare for the Walloons, while the Walloons are annoyed at having to learn Dutch. For Van Langenhove, Belgium is “the European Union in miniature” and its messy ethno-politics a good example of what is coming for all the West if the multiculturalists are allowed to have their way.
Van Langenhove sees election to national office as having significant advantages for nationalist activists, in particular in an age of politicized judiciaries and social-media censorship. On social media, he says:
Having a seat in the federal parliament is an insurance. On social media, the battle is otherwise lost. Look at Tommy Robinson [who has been banned from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram]. He is having a tough time. Without social media, you might have a mailing list, a lot of friends, but you obviously lose reach. Being in parliament is a real protection. Facebook might ban an activist, and no one in the media or politics will stand up for your right to free speech. But they don’t yet dare ban elected representative from social media, that would need some explaining.
While the major parties can count on government subsidies, big money, and government workers to promote their campaign, Van Langenhove’s is driven by volunteers and social-media engagement (see his accounts on Facebook and Twitter). In Flemish Brabant, he is running precisely against the anti-immigration poseur Theo Franken:
This is David versus Goliath. We have few permanent staff. Theo Franken’s party has scores of municipal and party employees all working for him in every municipality in Flemish Brabant. That’s a lot of people and a lot of money. When it comes to billboards and mailbox ads, we cannot compete with the big parties. Me, I have my volunteers and I am very good on social media. I have a weekly reach of 400,000 to 1 million Facebook. And I have never spent a euro! And I think the results will surprise a lot of people!
Vlaams Belang’s representation in Flanders collapsed between 2007 and 2014 with the rise of Francken’s peudo-nationalist, but media-friendly, New Flemish Alliance (NVA). As a result, VB now has less than 5% of the seats for Flanders. This could change however: VB is currently polling at over 10% and is likely to at least double their representation, if not more.
Van Langenhove is in contact with patriots in other countries, particularly French and Austrian identitarians. A high point was meeting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the summer of 2018 during a trip to Transylvania, a region of Romania with a large Hungarian minority, in which the Hungarians regularly organize patriotic festivals:
Orbán was genuinely friendly. It isn’t like with other politicians who just show up, do a mere acte de présence [a token appearance], and leave. He was genuinely giving us advice. His main piece of advice was: you need a squad, you need a team. For him that certainly counts, because you can see that the people around him are all very capable and have very bright minds. He also said that many people think multiculturalism is simply a fact you can’t change. Well, he added, if you want to change just change! If you think things can’t change of course they certainly won’t change!
Van Langenhove is also on good terms with the highbrow Dutch nationalist politician Thierry Baudet, whose party recently made a major breakthrough by becoming the single largest party in the Dutch Senate with 13 seats. Baudet’s victory speech (text, video with subs) was remarkable, both denouncing the elites which are leading the self-destruction of Western civilization, and explicitly referring to Europeans’ unique evolutionary heritage:
And we, dear friends, we are the product of three hundred thousand years of evolution. We survived the ice ages, we have slain mammoths. We are the carriers and inheritors of the greatest civilization that has ever existed. We carry in us a unique power, and a few decades of indoctrination by the media and the schools can never bury that. What is inside us can never be taken away. And today, you can feel it in this hall. Today we have chosen to fight!
Van Langenhove says of Baudet:
I had never seen such an insightful politician. There a gaping whole in Dutch politics. The center-right liberals only pretended to oppose immigration. The Party for Freedom [PVV, traditional nationalist party] were burned for too many people. The level was not high enough. Baudet saw a gap and jumped at the opportunity. He has a very good team. Entrepreneurs. Competent. The Dutch electoral system, a party can get into parliament with less than 1% of the vote, also makes it easier for newcomers.
Besides direct politics, Van Langenhove sees the cultural struggle and the development of alternative media as critical. Whenever he is about to do something newsworthy, he tips off alternative media outlets to support their growth and has spoken to pro-European new media such as Red Ice TV (by contrast, as a French patriot I have to sadly note that Marine Le Pen would undoubtedly purge any party member who talked with identitarian media). “If I had the time and money, I’d found a new independent news channel for Flanders,” he says. “The media is more important than anything else.”
Van Langenhove is determined to fight, even as many of his countrymen have lost hope. He notes that many high-level Belgian businesspeople have told him there is no hope except to leave the country for greener pastures abroad, as the country sinks under a crushing burden of taxes, debt, and ballooning pensions and welfare spending. For his part Van Langenhove is not budging. “I have taken risks, I might even die for what I am doing, but I live knowing I’ve done the right thing,” he says. “Nothing can take that away from me.”