Julia Ebner spent two years infiltrating far-right networks. The counter-extremism expert discusses fear, loathing and democracy in an age of disinformation
One October evening in 2017, the counter-extremism expert Julia Ebner put on a wig and a pair of glasses, walked into a pub in Mayfair, London, and sat down with 20 strangers. She was attending the inaugural strategy meeting for the UK members of Generation Identity, a pan-European far-right network known for spreading anti-immigration ideas and stoking fears about a “great replacement” in which white populations become minorities. Ebner had spent months infiltrating the group’s encrypted, invite-only messaging channels under an alias and striking up a rapport with members; now she was meeting them in person.
I meet Ebner at the same pub, only this time it is mid-morning and, save for the barman polishing furniture, there is no one else here. “This feels weird,” she says. “I was really scared walking in that night so I remember it as having a dark and oppressive atmosphere. I’m surprised at how unremarkable it feels today.”