Swedish politician encourages ‘Unite the Right’ during Steamboat presentation
February 26, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — About 50 people spread themselves across seats in the Albright Auditorium at the Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs on Tuesday to listen to a presentation by a member of Sweden's far-right political group, the Sweden Democrats.
The Steamboat Institute, a conservative think tank, invited Mattias Karlsson to speak as part of its Campus Liberty Tour.
Before the presentation, two men sporting red "Make America Great Again" baseball caps welcomed guests by the entrance to the auditorium.
In his speech, Karlsson underscored the need to galvanize conservative groups from America and Europe to combat leftist policies worldwide.
His presentation comes as immigration issues in the U.S. and Sweden have highlighted contrary approaches to national security, divided across party lines. They have also led to a growing coalition of anti-immigration political parties across Europe.
"We are seeing a seismic shift in the political landscape in Europe," Karlsson said.
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Sweden has historically been one of the most liberal countries when it comes to immigration. Ironically, that may have led to the demise of its open-border policies in 2015.
At the start of the Syrian refugee crisis, Sweden welcomed the most asylum seekers per capita of any country in the world, according to the Migration Policy Institute. In 2015, a record 163,000 immigrants arrived in Sweden, a country of 10 million.
Increased reports of crime and rape followed the influx of refugees, including an incident in August 2018 where over 80 cars were set on fire by masked gangs in several major cities.
Karlsson's political party, the Sweden Democrats, linked the violence to immigrant gangs, which grew its constituency. The party, founded in 1988 and originally a neo-Nazi sect, had historically been shunned from mainstream politics.
Karlsson said the party has since progressed from those dark roots to embody more moderate, conservative values.
The party garnered enough votes to join parliament in 2010, and the 2018 general elections elevated the Sweden Democrats to the third-largest party in the country.
"I see that as proof that the people know that we have changed," Karlsson said in an interview before his presentation.
The party's slogan, “Tradition and Security," reflects its primary policies of stricter immigration and nationalism.
Those issues reflect much of the political scene in the U.S., where issues over border security recently led to the longest government shutdown in the country's history.
Karlsson said the political left, both in the U.S. and Europe, has succeeded in uniting its values, namely more open immigration and critiquing right-winged opponents. He called this new wave of leftist groups "cultural Communists."
"They are attacking conservatives with pretty much the same arguments and the same narratives as in Europe," Karlsson said.
At the same time, he said conservative groups have struggled to consolidate older, established groups with the beliefs and values of younger constituents.
Karlsson called for greater collaboration among conservatives across national lines to share ideas on how to address common issues. The parallel between a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and Sweden’s increased vetting of immigrates shines brightest.
"It's important for Americans to know what is happening in Europe and to be a part of that," he said.
After his presentation, a member of the audience asked Karlsson's opinion of President Donald Trump.
"As a Swede, Donald Trump is very un-Swedish," he said, smiling. "One of the worst things you can do is to brag about yourself."
He explained that the conservative identity does not need to be homogenous. Rather, the different movements should work together to find common ground, despite coming from countries with varying political environments.
"In Sweden I am considered to be super conservative," Karlsson said. "Everything is relative."