How A Sailboat Exposed a Dutch Cell of the White Supremacist Active Club Movement

Bellingcat partnered with magazines De Groene Amsterdammer, Knack and Le Vif to investigate Active Clubs and related far-right movements in the Netherlands and Belgium, and worked with volunteers from the Netherlands-based Capitol Terrorist Exposers collective. Read additional stories from this collaboration at De Groene Amsterdammer, Knack and Le Vif.

A Dutch affiliate of the white supremacist Active Club movement has in recent months organised alongside the white nationalist behind a plot to expel millions of immigrants discussed by far right German politicians and trained in combat at a pan-European gathering of neo-Nazis in Hungary, an investigation by Bellingcat and Belgian and Dutch media partners can reveal. A member of the far right group was also, until earlier this month, working as an intern for the government of the Dutch province of Noord-Brabant.

Photos of a single sailboat revealed an open source trail leading to De Geuzenbond, which first emerged on the Dutch far-right scene in 2018. The group later became affiliated with the Active Club movement, a decentralised network of organisations that advocate for white supremacist fraternal brotherhood and preach extremist conspiracy theories like the Great Replacement theory.

Geuzenbond, Active Clubs and “Remigration”

Willem Wagenaar of the the Amsterdam-based Anne Frank Foundation, which researches right-wing extremism in the Netherlands, told Bellingcat that Geuzenbond “is a modern youth-oriented right extremist organisation,”

“They work in the area between small real-life activities and sending messages on social media to promote their ideas, attract a new following and mobilising support,” he said. Aside from in-person events, including combat sports training, hikes and even sailing expeditions, Geuzenbond pushes common far-right tropes in its offline and online propaganda in line with other white nationalist groups.

A screenshot of an October 2020 video published on Geuzenbond’s Telegram channel and on YouTube

Experts have identified Geuzenbond as part of the Active Club network. In an October 2023 report, the U.S.-based Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE) listed them among 150 Active Clubs around the globe, including several other Dutch groups.

Geuzenbond’s content has been shared by other Active Clubs on Telegram, including the main official international Active Club channel. As Bellingcat has previously reported, Active Clubs are inspired by the Rise Above Movement, a now-defunct militant streetfighting group whose neo-Nazi cofounder Robert Rundo is currently in a U.S. jail awaiting trial on federal rioting charges. 

Active Clubs “promise a massive status upgrade through white supremacy,” said Alexander Ritzmann, a political scientist and senior advisor at the Counter Extremism Project. “It’s specifically interesting for people who feel unaccomplished, discriminated [against], unseen.…male fragility plus a tendency for violence. That is the target audience.”

In the Netherlands, Active Clubs have attracted considerable attention from the country’s authorities in recent months. The Dutch National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), in its most recent December 2023 Terrorist Threat Assessment (DTN) report, devoted a whole section of the report to Active Clubs and similar groups. 

Geuzenbond has remained relatively small since its stated founding in 2018. The group has just over 1,000 Telegram subscribers, almost 1,400 followers on X, and almost 1,800 followers on Instagram as of January 2024. (Active Club France, by comparison, has over 7,000 Telegram subscribers).

Despite its size, Geuzenbond is well-connected to the international far right. In September 2023 the group published an interview with Thomas Rousseau, leader of American white nationalist group Patriot Front, in its magazine.  In October 2023, one of its members spoke at a far-right gathering in Brussels devoted to the concept of ‘remigration,’ which  the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) notes is used by extremists as a euphemism for “forced deportations…to create an ethnically and culturally homogenous society” and “essentially a non-violent form of ethnic cleansing.”

Speakers at the Brussels event included Dries van Langenhove, a Belgian far-right activist and former politician currently on trial for allegedly breaking racism, Holocaust denial and weapons laws. In 2018, a TV documentary exposed private racist and antisemitic messages shared by members of Schild & Vrienden (‘Shield and Friends’ in Dutch), the far-right Flemish nationalist group he founded and leads.

Another speaker was Manuel Corchia, a far-right extremist from Switzerland convicted of weapons charges and subject to fines for racial discrimination. He founded a neo-Nazi group that shared the manifesto of the perpetrator of the 2019 Christchurch terror attacks with its members on Telegram.

But the most notorious speaker there was the Austrian far-right leader Martin Sellner. Barred from the United States and the United Kingdom, Sellner has earned headlines in recent years for his correspondence with the Christchurch terrorist, who donated €1500 to him in 2018.

Sellner was also a central figure at a controversial November 2023 meeting with Alternative for Germany (AfD) politicians, where attendees reportedly discussed a “masterplan” of forced deportations from the country. Hundreds of thousands of Germans have demonstrated in recent weeks against the plan while German authorities have reportedly banned him from entering the country.

A screenshot showing Martin Sellner in a promotional video for the October 2023 event in Brussels. A member of Geuzenbond also appears in the video.

Setting Sail

In an August 2020 post on their Telegram channel, Geuzenbond posted photos from what they described as a “sailing and camping trip” in the Dutch province of North Holland. Among these photos were two of a small sailboat from which the group’s flag, in their words, “fluttered proudly from the mast of the boat.”

This would not be the last time a small sailboat appeared in the group’s propaganda, as evidenced by an October 2020 video, a July 2021 photo and July 2023 photos on the group’s Telegram channel. Bellingcat performed an image search using Google with these photos and among the first results for each were images on an English-language sailing blog written by a Netherlands-based boat owner. 

In a December 2022 post, the owner describes having searched for “a vessel suitable for [his] son to camp and sail with his mates all over the lakes and rivers close to home here in the Netherlands.” The author describes having found a zalmschouw (‘salmon boat’ in English), a small type of historical Dutch fishing boat; the post is dedicated to describing, with photos, the specific boat he obtained.

Among these photos is one that clearly shows identifying letters and numbers on the port side of the boat — ‘W K D 12.’

A photo posted in July 2021 by Geuzenbond on their Telegram channel from their self-described “summer camp” shows what is likely the same boat. Aside from several other physical resemblances, including colours, markings and other features, ‘D 12’ is visible on the port side of the vessel, with an individual’s leg obscuring where ‘W K’ would be. The positioning, font and lettering also appear identical to that of the boat posted on the sailing blog.

A close comparison of the lettering on the boat in both images confirms the similarity.

European Fight Night’s Dutch Fans

In multiple posts on the sailing blog, the author mentions having a son named Thomas and identifies him a number of times in photos on the blog dating back to 2016. 

Given that the author noted that he had got the boat “for [his] son” and that this boat appeared identical to the one that has appeared in a number of Geuzenbond social media posts, Bellingcat manually searched through other Geuzenbond social media posts for images of similar-looking young men.

Geuzenbond, however, obscures almost all the faces of participants in its events in photos it posts online, in order to avoid their identification. But in one photo from an April 2023 post on the group’s Telegram channel, a man strongly resembling the Thomas who appears on the blog can be seen holding a flag.

A cropped and blurred photo from an April 2023 post from Geuzenbond’s Telegram channel, showing a man resembling Thomas on the lower right (the other individual is from a Belgian far-right group)

This is not the only photo of the young man resembling Thomas at a far right event. Following a so-called European Fight Night in Csókakő, Hungary in May 2023, the German-language anti-fascist research platform Exif Recherche published over one hundred photos of attendees of the event in a small town in rural Hungary.

In the wake of the event, organisers Légió Hungária published a promotional post listing the nationalities of participants in the fights, indicating that there was one fighter from the Netherlands among fighters from other countries, suggesting there could have been a small Dutch contingent at the event. Among these photos are several of a man resembling Thomas.

A photo of attendees of European Fight Night in Csókakő, Hungary in May 2023, Bellingcat has blurred the faces in the photo (EXIF – Recherche & Analyse)

Thomas did not respond to Bellingcat’s questions about his activities with Geuzenbond and his attendance at European Fight Night.

Separately, while reviewing accounts and profile photos of individuals who liked Geuzenbond’s posts on Instagram, Bellingcat had noted an individual named Diederik H. liked a post from September 2019, whose profile picture resembled the man next to Thomas at European Fight Night. A quick online search for this name revealed a LinkedIn account with the same name and same profile picture.

In addition, Bellingcat observed that an individual resembling Diederik H. appeared, face unblurred, in an August 2023 Geuzenbond Instagram post.

A photo from an August 2023 Geuzenbond Instagram post (Bellingcat has blurred the face in the photo)

According to a LinkedIn profile under his name and which contains his image, Diederik H. works as an intern for the government of Noord-Brabant, a southern province of the Netherlands along the Belgian border. (The ‘about’ section of his LinkedIn profile reads, simply, “Stubborn and curious.”)

A screenshot of Diederik H.’s LinkedIn account (Bellingcat has blurred the face in the image)

A spokesperson for Noord-Brabant told Bellingcat that Diederik H.’s internship, which lasted six months, ended on February 1 and that the state “had no prior knowledge of any connection of [him] with far-right organisations and activities.”

The spokesperson added that Diederik H. received a ‘declaration of good behaviour’ (verklaring omtrent het gedrag) from the country’s justice ministry, a common prerequisite for employment in the Netherlands akin to a criminal records check. “Should he have been active in illegal activities or activities promoting the use of violence during his employment as an intern there would have been consequences,” they said.

Diederik H. did not respond to Bellingcat’s questions about his activities with Geuzenbond or his attendance at European Fight Night.

Additional open source evidence suggests that he had a Dutch comrade in Hungary him, one who was there to fight.

“A week of fighting, shooting and having fun in Budapest”

Among the accounts that liked Geuzenbond’s above-mentioned August 2023 Instagram post was not only the one in Diederik H.’s name, but also one with the username “m.sxe_” that identifies as “Merlijn.”

The Dutch name “Merlijn” also appeared as the mononymous author of a September 2022 article in Geuzenbond’s magazine.

As well, a person who looks like the man in Merlijn’s Instagram profile photo — with similar grey boxing shorts — appeared in a June 2023 video of a Geuzenbond combat sports training session.

The m.sxe_ account’s profile picture.

By searching Merlijn’s username “m.sxe-” across Instagram, Bellingcat found that Merlijn left a handful of comments on public posts. Two of those comments stood out:

  • A September 2023 comment reading “see you there🔥” on a post from Italian band Green Arrows about a 2023 show of theirs in Sofia, Bulgaria. Bellingcat previously identified the band as performers at a far right event in Finland. (Green Arrows’ Instagram account liked Merlijn’s comment).
  • A comment tagging a user with the first initial M and a Dutch surname on an April 2023 post by Ukrainian far-right military unit Freikorps.

Speculating that the surname belonged to Merlijn, Bellingcat did a simple web search and found a public Facebook profile and a LinkedIn profile for a young Dutch man named Merlijn N.

Among the profile photos publicly visible on Merlijn N.’s Facebook account were:

  • One identical to the profile picture on the ‘m.sxe_’ Instagram account.
  • One of Merlijn N. from Sofia, Bulgaria posted on October 23, 2023.
  • One of Merlijn N. posted on May 6, 2023 holding a rifle an indoor shooting range that Bellingcat located to central Budapest. (In Hungary, shooting at licensed ranges is legal for adults with the presentation of a valid passport or national ID card; under law, weapons cannot be configured to automatic fire.)
  • Three May 2023 photos of a boxer, with his face blurred, at European Fight Night wearing shorts from Pride France, the fashion brand of French neo-Nazi Tomasz Szkatulski (a co-organizer of European Fight Night), as well as an orange Dutch national football team jersey. These photos were either deleted or made publicly inaccessible after Bellingcat’s partner De Groene Amsterdammer reached out to Merlijn N. for comment on January 29.
  • An August 5, 2023 black-and-white photo identical to one posted by Active Club Dietsland that was subsequently reposted on Active Club’s main official international channel. The faces in the photo are blurred; one of the men is wearing Pride France shorts that look similar to those from other photos on the account, as well as a bucket hat similar to that worn by the boxer in grey shorts who appeared in Geuzenbond’s June 2023 video. (This photo was either deleted or made publicly inaccessible after De Groene Amsterdammer reached out for comment on January 29.)

A Bellingcat reporter sent Merlijn N. a follow request using a research Instagram account. Merlijn N accepted the request, inadvertently providing Bellingcat with further insight into his activities. In an October 2023 post, he posted photos of himself in Sofia and Plovdiv, Bulgaria, including images of him posing with supporters of Levski Sofia,  a football team with longstanding issues with far-right supporters. He also posted a video from the aforementioned concert where Green Arrows played. 

In a May 2023 post with the caption “Weekje knokken, schieten en genieten in Boedapest” (“a week of fighting, shooting and having fun in Budapest”), Merlijn N. posted photos of himself, face exposed, wearing a European Fight Night t-shirt with a medal around his neck. He also posted a photo identical to one posted by a prominent far-right Telegram account promoting the Dutch “fight team” at European Fight Night, though in this case with his face unblurred. 

On this private account, Merlijn N. further posted a video of himself shooting what he described as an “AK-47” at the Budapest shooting range (as per Hungarian legislation, only single rounds, not automatic rounds, are visible or audible) along with a photo from the range with the caption, “Sober, proud & dangerous (and handsome).” This photo was the same one that appeared on his Facebook account.

Merlijn N. did not respond to Bellingcat’s questions about his participation in European Fight Night, his relationship if any with the event’s organisers, or whether he planned on attending similar far-right events in Europe in 2024.

Geuzenbond’s activities and connections to international far-right actors, the Anne Frank Foundation’s Wagenaar told Bellingcat, are unsurprising and indicative of more general developments on the far right. Thanks in large part to the influence of international far-right personalities on social media, like Rob Rundo and his Active Club model, Wagenaar says that “the focus on physical strength, combat training, the manosphere and violence in general resonates with the new generation of right-wing extremists.” 

Some far-right groups, Wagenaar told Bellingcat, are “more or less transparent on their ideology, goals and activities.” But in the case of groups like Geuzenbond, Wagenaar urges observers to pay attention to what he calls “the difference between their front-stage presentation and their backstage ideas and activities,” and to contrast the way groups like Geuzenbond present themselves with what they say and do away from the spotlight. 

“They pretend to be decent conservative organisations, but in fact are anti-democratic and interested in violence as a political mean,” said Wagenaar.

The Capitol Terrorist Exposers collective (@ j6dreamteam) contributed research and social media footprint tracing. Additional research and reporting was contributed by Brecht Castel and Lotte Lambrecht of Knack, Or Goldenberg and Samuel Verschoor of De Groene Amsterdammer, and Gaëtan Gras of Le Vif.

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