Artwork & Data visualization: Fanis Kollias
Translation: Gigi Papoulias
UPDATE: On 7 October 2021, one day after the publication of our report, the Prison administration agreed to restrict phone access for ex-Golden Dawn official.
On September 11, 2021, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis inaugurated the 85th Thessaloniki International Fair at the Vellideio Conference Center.
On that same afternoon, while the Greek Prime Minister was giving his speech about the government’s financial plans, less than a kilometer away at the statue of Alexander the Great, a group of people held a rally, waving Greek flags and banners which displayed a discreet logo of the newly-formed political party “Greeks for the Homeland”.
The rally’s main speaker was Ilias Kasidiaris, former leader of the neo-Nazi organization Golden Dawn and founder of the new Party.
This wasn’t the first time that the man sentenced to 13 years in prison for operating a criminal organization was “present” at an event, live from inside Domokou prison, where he is serving his sentence. In May 2021, Ilias Kasidiaris was the keynote speaker at two of his political party’s events. In all three cases, the events were announced by Kasidiaris himself, posted on Twitter along with his audio message.
Since the historic conviction of Golden Dawn and its leaders on October 7, 2020, Solomon has steadily monitored the online presence of the man who aspires to become a major spokesperson for the Far Right in Greece.
And it shows today that, although prison time, for all his former “brothers-in-arms”, has caused their marginalization from the political scene, he has aimed to increase his influence through his regular “interventions” and by exerting his influence on current events, such as mobilizing anti-vaxxers.
Spreading propaganda on YouTube and Twitter
Let’s start from the beginning.
Ilias Kasidiaris doesn’t have a Facebook account, the most popular social networking platform in Greece, which in 2020 held a domestic market share of over 90% among social networks.
Based on the reports at the time, in 2013, Facebook deleted Ilias Kasidiaris’ account for “inappropriate content, hate speech and hate symbols”. He, along with other members of the criminal organization, claimed that a lawsuit had been filed against Facebook.
In addition, during that time, some of his YouTube videos were deleted as well. But, eight years later, along with Twitter, YouTube has emerged as his most hospitable – and effective – propaganda platform.
Ilias Kasidiaris’ Twitter account was created on March 6, 2012 and currently has 27,200 followers. About three months later, on June 10, 2012, his YouTube account was created, which has 101,000 subscribers.
Two pivotal moments: founding a new Party and conviction in court
Solomon’s analysis shows that Ilias Kasidiaris’ YouTube account began to gain substantial popularity eight years after its creation, in May 2020, when he posted a video announcing the formation of the new Party. Today, this video has 638,313 views, and is the second most popular on his account. In his most popular video, with over 925,000 views, he discusses “revelations and truths about the coronavirus”.
On May 21, 2020, the day of the announcement of the new Party, his channel had 34,600 subscribers and a total of 5,113,613 views. Since then, his numbers have been on the rise, especially after another of his announcements − right after his conviction.
On October 7, 2020, after five and a half years of litigation, seven leaders of Golden Dawn (Nikos Michaloliakos, Ilias Kasidiaris, Ioannis Lagos, Giorgos Germenis, Ilias Panagiotaros, Christos Pappas, Artemis Mattheanopoulos) were convicted of operating a criminal organization.
Three days later, Ilias Kasidiaris posted a video claiming his innocence (it currently has 257,484 views). Following the decision of the Criminal Court of Appeal not to grant the request for suspension of the sentence, Ilias Kasidiaris surrendered to the authorities on October 22, 2020.
It is during this month that his subscribers and views doubled, reaching 69,100 and 11,320,138 respectively.
The first statements and interviews from prison
During the first year of his imprisonment, his channel has gained an additional 31,900 subscribers and 7,295,506 views.
Despite the obvious difficulties of his physical detention, to a large extent, this growth was achieved because during that first year, 47 videos were posted − in other words, one in three of the total number of videos that have been posted since 2012.
Five days after his imprisonment, on October 27, 2020, and on the occasion of the October 28 national holiday, Kasidiaris posted his first video, entitled “the first message from prison”. He is heard to speak in a low voice, a characteristic that, gradually, and since he will combine at least one “intervention” a week with his prison duty as an assistant nurse, he will lose.
In that first video, he begins by talking about “self-sacrifice”, as he is now speaking “from a maximum-security prison”, after being persecuted for his “nationalistic speech” (editors’ note: It’s worth mentioning though that Kasidiaris was not tried for his beliefs or ideals, but for his involvement in specific criminal acts for which he was convicted).
He concludes by promising his supporters that his voice “will continue to be heard uninterruptedly and will be even louder.” Indeed, a few days later he was for the first time from prison on a radio show, broadcast on Metropolis 95.5 radio station in Thessaloniki.
When asked by the journalist about how he’s able to even be on a live radio show from prison, Kasidiaris explains that he invokes his right to use a pay phone.
The regulations and the first search of Kasidiaris’ prison cell
Indeed, the regulations of detention facilities allow inmates to have phone privileges, using a pay phone. The only restrictions are excessive use, so that all inmates have equal access (in cases of excessive use and high demand, prison authorities can set the maximum usage time per inmate).
Article 12 of the regulations also stipulates that inmates are prohibited from possessing “cassette players, digital audio devices other than radios, tablets, electronic games, mobile phones, electronic agendas”. No mention is made, however, of whether or not inmates are allowed to maintain social media accounts.
Lawyers tell Solomon that the regulation which bans the use of mobile phones in prisons is an outdated provision, which deprives many inmates of the right to communicate with their families.
Similar opinions have been expressed by former inmates of Greek prisons, who argue that this ban only serves to benefit certain prison officials, who provide phones to inmates for a fee, which only significantly increases the problem of the black market economy inside the prison.
However, Kasidiaris’ assurances about the right to phone use, are not convincing and to be able to express himself with such ease and frequency raises questions about his privileged treatment in prison. Thus, on January 14, 2021, a report on (TV channel) ANT1 states that authorities searched Kasidiaris’ cell, but the mobile phone that it was claimed to be using was not found.
Kasidiaris then posted a video on Twitter, announcing in a celebratory manner that “the truth cannot be detained!”.
Interviews, no reference to convictions
Although the most important, Kasidiaris’ conviction for operating a criminal organisation because of his leadership role in Golden Dawn is not the only conviction.
In 2018, Kasidiaris was sentenced in absentia to six years in prison with a three-year suspension for “incitement to commit crimes, violence or dissent”, due to a speech in Aspropyrgos in 2011, where he called on residents to “disinfect” and rid the area of its Roma population, which he characterized “human trash”.
A few months later, in 2019, he was sentenced to four months in prison with a three-year suspension for defamation against Ilias Stavrou, a former Golden Dawn member who became a key witness to the neo-Nazi organization’s operation and structure.
However, in the interviews Kasidiaris has given from prison, to far-right media such as Makelio (and on the radio), Eleftheri Ora, and the nationalist newspaper Stohos, he is never questioned about his criminal past.
Moreover, he has never been questioned about issues that have now been proven. For example, about the fact that because of his position within the group and his close ties to the leader of Golden Dawn, Nikos Michaloliakos (Kasidiaris was nicknamed “the protected one”), he played a key role in issues such as promoting Nazi ideologies and the military training of Golden Dawn members, and on planning attacks on immigrants such as the 2011 pogrom in downtown Athens.
Thus, while he goes on in his videos and speeches, unopposed, in his interviews the conversations are held in a friendly atmosphere, as if it’s a given that he’s unjustly incarcerated, and with journalists supporting his own narrative.
In addition, his videos and interviews are posted on his account, accompanied by praiseworthy headlines. For example:
If it seems strange that his name is mentioned in literally every headline of every video that’s posted, it’s because his “Greeks for the Homeland” Party is in fact a total personality cult.
The new Party’s logo states “founded by Ilias Kasidiaris”. Its website includes videos that exclusively feature Kasidiaris. The only person pictured on the Party’s publications website is Kasidiaris. After all, the only books published by the Party are authored by him. And the comments that are written under his videos on Youtube refer exclusively to him.
Stevi Kitsou, lawyer, member of Golden Dawn Watch and Simeio: Studying and Responding to the Far Right, reflects that “Kasidiaris knows very well how to attract not only the extreme right-wing voters and the far-right audience, but any audience that is a little more vulnerable to listening to what they want to hear”.
Other interviews and an intervention by Sofia Nikolaou
In another video, Kasidiaris talks to actor Giorgos Petrohilos, one of the founding members of his Party. Others involved in the Party are also former Golden Dawn MP Konstantinos Barbarousis, former MEP Lambros Foundoulis, and former basketball player Steve Giatzoglou.
On May 9, 2021, always from prison, Kasidiaris directs the meeting of his Party’s Organizing Committee. On May 22, 2021 he speaks at a gathering to celebrate the one-year anniversary of his party’s founding. All these events are announced by Kasidiaris on his Twitter account.
He’s also appeared on two episodes of the podcast Eleftheros, which the creator Terry Hatziieremias promotes as the “largest political podcast in Greece”. On other episodes of the podcast, the creator discusses topics such as the “Masonic ceremonies Nicki Minaj carries out in her music videos to brainwash children” and the “clothing donations meant for the victims of Greece’s recent forest fires have been given to illegal immigrants”.
At the conclusion of the second episode, where Kasidiaris is hosted in an extremely friendly environment (the aim of the episode, according to the pinned comment, is “to expel the anti-Greeks in power”), the presenter claims: “It seems like I’m taking sides, like I’m on the side of Mr. Kasidiaris, but that’s not true. I’ve simply been hunted down [by the system] too.”
This conversation took place on August 15, 2021. About a month later, on September 10, 2021, the presenter tweeted about the rally of Kasidiaris’ party, happening the next day in Thessaloniki at the statue of Alexander the Great, stating that “Kasidiaris will also say a few words.”
The rallies where Kasidiaris appears as the main speaker seem to have caught the attention of the authorities at least three months earlier. On June 3, 2021, the newspaper Proto Thema published a letter from the Secretary General of Crime Prevention & Policy, Sofia Nikolaou, to the Athens Prosecutor’s Office, dated May 26, 2021, requesting an investigation into activities involving Kasidiaris.
At the time, the restrictive measures due to the pandemic were still in force, and the letter states that he appears “as a keynote speaker, joining remotely, participating in and directing gatherings of groups of more than three people.”
“We ask for the criminal evaluation of the said activity of the aforementioned inmate”, the letter concludes. Naturally, Kasidiaris also utilized this as an “attempt to silence him”.
The Far Right against the vaccine
The coronavirus, the management of the pandemic, the vaccine to limit its spread, are often among the topics which Kasidiaris discusses in his videos, and uses the opportunity to express his Far-Right views.
“There are clear links between the anti-vaccination movement and the Far Right,” says lawyer Stevi Kitsou.
Indeed, slogans such as “Greece belongs to the Greeks” are heard on YouTube posts from anti-vax rallies, while participants at the most recent rallies refer to themselves as “indigenous Greek natives”.
The presence of his party supporters has been highlighted at several anti-vax rallies in recent months, which is also featured on the Party website.
The anti-vax movement, however, is also echoed by the voice of another of the convicts of the Golden Dawn trial. On the website of MEP Giannis Lagos, who is also serving a 13-year and 8-month sentence for operating a criminal organization, there is a post about providing free legal assistance to those who do not want to be vaccinated.
Lagos refused to be vaccinated when a special unit of the National Public Health Organization visited Domokos prison, where he is being held, in order to vaccinate the inmates.
In other reports, The National Popular Consciousness Party (founded by Lagos in 2019), also appears to be participating in marches and anti-vax protests in central Athens’ Syntagma Square.
The splintering of the Far Right
One year after its leading members were convicted, Golden Dawn’s appeal seems limited.
From his jail cell, the “leader” Nikos Michaloliakos, posts brief texts both on his personal website and the website of his criminal organization, and on the sites of local organizations in Perama and Piraeus. This demonstrates the division that has taken place among the former leaders.
In one of his texts he says: “THOSE who have not forgotten and ONLY those, are the ones I honor and I am not interested in those who proved to be nothing but hangers-on, the outcasts on our wonderful path,” while in another he blames “the many who left and took the humble path of survival, a cheap survival without Pride, Honor, Dignity”.
Giannis Lagos posts his own interviews on YouTube, but their impact is limited. His party has also created the “Crime Report on Illegal Immigrants”, which, however, has no content.
Recent events in Thessaloniki and Athens, however, show that the threat of the Far Right is not limited to those who have been its main representatives in past decades.
“If you look at the overall picture, and see that Golden Dawn had indeed become completely disorganized, before the sentencing of its leaders, you’ll come to the conclusion that these votes somehow have been funneled to the ruling party, and on the other hand, another part is trying to be directed elsewhere. So, at the moment, there’s a question about who will ‘win over’ the far-right audience – which of course did not cease to exist because Golden Dawn was weakened,” Stevi Kitsou tells Solomon.
“The ground beneath the Far Right is shaking, even if the tremors haven’t reached us. Golden Dawn won’t spring forth again. But its offshoots, which are currently in prison, will bloom as soon as they find suitable ground,” adds Kitsou.
In the meantime, through self-promotion, Ilias Kasidiaris declares that he is ready to be elected to Parliament “for the second time, from prison”. The first time he was elected, it was after his arrest, after the assassination of Pavlos Fyssas, which also marked the political end of the neo-Nazi organization.
Will he win? The polls indicate that he won’t. Although Kasidiaris celebrates the announcement of his poll results, they show him at 1.5%. In their most recent interview, however, Terry Hatziieremias appears confident.
In his own “polls”, he says, Kasidiaris gets 40%.