CATANIA, Sicily - Defend Europe, after repeatedly accusing the media of “fake news” coverage of their mishap-strewn mission, has used a string of falsehoods to divert attention from its latest setback.
The group’s plan to board their chartered ship, the C-Star, has fallen apart in the face of pressure from NGOs, activists and the Italian government.
Instead members of the mission flew to Cyprus on Friday morning to meet the boat whilst telling media outlets, including HuffPost UK, that it was still headed to Catania.
Defend Europe also tweeted a short video on the 27th implying the boat was leaving Cyprus and heading for Sicily.
The ship is now believed to be headed to Tunisia.
Despite the group’s members, Clement Galant, Patrick Lenart, Martin Sellner, Lorenzo Fiato and Robert Timm, leaving for Cyprus on Friday morning, a Defend Europe spokesperson told HuffPost UK in a face-to-face interview on Saturday morning that the ship was still headed for Catania and would arrive in five days.
In a video detailing the latest setback, Brittanny Pettibone, an American activist travelling with the group, said: “The Defend Europe mission has finally, successfully launched.
“Obviously there have been a lot of problems, setbacks and complications and much of that has been confused because of the fake news reporting by the media.”
Defend Europe has repeatedly accused the media and NGOs of propagating fake news despite reporting events which have been confirmed by the group itself.
There has been intense pressure from NGOs and activists to stop the C-Star docking in Catania and a symbolic blockade of the port was held on Saturday afternoon.
Lenart says in the latest video: “The problem in Catania was not economical but political. We received political pressure from different political characters.
″[There were] left-wing activists in Catania making a sit-in for a number of days but that was the least of our problems.
“Then we were followed all the time by the police in Catania but the most important thing, the most dangerous thing in some ways, was the pressure by the Italian government.
“The Minister [of the Interior] said they were looking for us and would do anything they can to stop our mission. We also had other politicians questioning our mission so we decided Catania wasn’t a safe port for us anymore.”
The group had initially intended to arrive in Catania on the 17th of July in order to meet the C-Star on the 20th at the latest
Defend Europe are part of the young, media-savvy Identitarian movement which says it wants to preserve Europe’s identity and calls for an end to immigration and multiculturalism.
Rather than saving the lives of desperate migrants setting sail from war-torn Libya, the group sees NGOs as enabling people-traffickers by “acting as a taxi service”.
Through crowd-funding the group has raised £122,000 to charter the C-Star in order to “document and observe of the doings of those NGOs”.
Thorsten Schmidt, a spokesperson for Defend Europe, told HuffPost UK: “Of course by now there is no definite proof of direct collaboration between NGOs and people-traffickers and but this [mission] is deemed necessary because the business of human traffickers is based on the fact that they expect an NGO boat to be waiting for those migrants.
“This means when the human-traffickers are expecting the NGO boat to be there, even more migrants will come.”
While the group claims it will simply observe and, if necessary, come to the rescue of any vessel in distress including those carrying migrants, a number of individuals and groups have expressed concerns to HuffPost UK that they will endanger lives by trying to disrupt search and rescue missions.
These fears are not unfounded - a similar mission by another Identitarian group in May actively tried to sail a boat into the path of the same NGO rescue ship that is currently docked in Catania.
Lauren Southern, a Canadian Identitarian, says in video of the incident: “If the politicians won’t stop the boats, we’ll stop the boats.”
In a further irony, the anti-people trafficking mission was itself accused of people-trafficking before being released.