Broadcasting conspiracy theories: the alt-right media channel AUF1.TV

Originally published in German on Belltower News.

An Austrian alternative broadcaster wants to become the ARD – Germany’s joint organisation of regional public-service broadcasters – for the “querdenker” movement. The brains behind the initiative is far-right advertising entrepreneur Stefan Magnet. The station’s broadcasts are awash with antisemitic codes.

Stefan Magnet zeichnet ein dystopisches Bild der Welt in seiner Sendung (Quelle: Screenshot).

A logo reminiscent of ARD, a far-right boss and news segments that speak in hushed tones about “the globalists”. There’s a new player on the alternative media scene: “AUF1.TV”. Although the logo may suggest otherwise, the broadcaster wants absolutely nothing to do with the mainstream. Instead, “AUF1” contends that its news programmes are designed to provide audiences with information “that the mainstream deliberately withholds”. This is how the TV channel – which is broadcast exclusively via its own website – is seeking to position itself. It is “alternative”. It is “independent”. Styling itself as a “TV station” may come across as somewhat pretentious given that it is exclusively online, but its Telegram channel already has 223,000 followers. And while “AUF1” is video based, its content and the narratives it pushes makes it seem more like the Austrian counterpart to the magazine COMPACT.

Stefan Magnet’s new project

When “AUF1” first hit the airwaves from its base in Linz on 31 May 2021, viewers were greeted by Stefan Magnet. The 39-year-old boss of the station has a long history as an activist in the Austrian far-right scene (see profil [German only]). 

Magnet runs the advertising agency “MS Medienlogistik Werbe GmbH” and is now dipping his toes into the waters of the alt-right media. Before founding “AUF1.TV” this year, he worked for “Wochenblick”, an online platform with ties to the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). His journalistic roots go back much further: Magnet was a leader of the neo-Nazi group “Bund freier Jugend” [Free Youth Association] (BfJ), which was disbanded in 2007. The group – for which Magnet was active in a journalistic capacity – was accused of glorifying the thoughts and ideas of National Socialism. As far back as 2006, the native of Upper Austria appeared as a speaker at an event held by the BfJ’s parent organisation, the “Arbeitsgemeinschaft für demokratische Politik” [Working Group for Democratic Politics] (AFP), a far-right party that advances revisionist views of history. 

However, the advertising executive denies ever having been an alleged kingpin behind the far-right magazine “Info-DIREKT”, as is reported in an article by Vice. “Ingo-DIREKT” is another far-right Austrian media product that has found success in the scene and is brimming with conspiracy narratives and battle cries. It paints a dystopian picture of the world. There is a strategy behind this: in 2021, it wanted its readers to believe Europe was foundering and only Russia could save it. The broadcaster condemns sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation due to its war of aggression against Ukraine, instead branding it an “economic war” against Russia. It places the blame at the door not of Russia, but of the USA, contending that the Americans want to “sow the seeds of division between Germany and Russia” and “make Germany bankrupt”. The broadcaster sees the war in Ukraine as a NATO proxy war. 

Still, the magazine has ties to the Kremlin that go beyond the content it pushes out. As Die Zeit reported in 2016, the magazine – which is based in Upper Austria – left a lasting impression in the Russian Federation in 2015, with Russian state broadcaster Vesti FM reporting on a “sensational glut of information” that had been uncovered by “Info-DIREKT”. According to the paper, it was able to “glean from its own intelligence sources that the USA is involved in the illegal migration of refugees from Africa and the Middle East to Europe”. The goal, states “Info-DIREKT”, is for the USA to destabilise Europe. The Linz-based magazine lists a business address in its legal notice: a house on Steingasse street. This is the same address as the one listed in the legal notice for “AUF1.TV”. 

Alongside the “coronavirus pandemic” the Great Reset” and the war in Ukraine, “AUF1” turns its focus onto the media time and again. It, too, embraces the narrative of a politically controlled “lying press”, giving it the same enemy as other alternative media sources. According to the broadcaster, it is simply not possible to trust the mainstream media or public service broadcasters on a general level, as they have all been forced to toe the party line. To keep the “climate swindle” going, the broadcaster alleges that elites and “globalists” have, for example, developed a set of guidelines on how weather phenomena should be reported on in the “system-reinforcing media”. “AUF1” gives a platform to well-known figures who espouse conspiracy narratives – such as Thorsten Schulte a.k.a. “Silberjunge” and Sucharit Bhakdi – so they can spread their spurious truths. 

That Stefan Magnet has his fingers in many pies is evident from another development that occurred back in 2018. Opting to try his luck in a different industry, he founded to sell clothing to “smart fascists”, as Der Standard neatly put it. In addition to tapping into the romanticism of traditional costumes, the website featured many prints popular in the far-right scene. There was, for example, a “Cornflower Edition”, the flower used to symbolise the National Socialist Party during the period under “Austrofascism”, and which was banned in Austria from 1933 to 1938. The symbolism of the “Red-White-Red Edition” is less subtle, with shirts able to be ordered that had proverbs and slogans printed on them. Such quotes served as clear proof of the ideology of the right-wing mail-order business. One shirt, for example, was emblazoned with the phrase “Do right and fear no one”. This is likely a variation on a line from the poem “Teutscher Trost” by Ernst Moritz Arndt, an anti-Semite and racist revered and regarded as a role model by the National Socialists. 

Magnet has close ties to the FPÖ. He has produced commercials for the Upper Austrian FPÖ politician Manfred Haimbuchner and called on people to vote for the right-wing populist party in the state election for Upper Austria. In a Telegram video, he said “we have to eschew holistic solutions to the total assaults by the globalists on our country and our region. Only the Freedom Party has the answer”. It appears that for Magnet, the alleged “globalists” are the primary enemy. This hints at his anti-Semitism, given that the word is usually used as a synonym for “the Jews”. 

Another example of Magnet’s anti-Semitic tendencies: In October 2021, he used his Telegram channel to push the idea that Jörg Haider was murdered by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. A few months prior, he happily cited neo-Nazi propaganda material stating that the bombing of Dresden on 13 February 1945 led to the deaths of “up to 350,000” people. In addition, he claimed in November 2021 that Chancellor of Austria Alexander Schallenberg was a “Freemason chancellor”. 

A shop packed with codes

 As a resourceful businessman, Magnet’s “AUF1.TV” naturally has an online shop to go with it, and it takes only a few clicks to find the station head’s favourite word. The “AUF1.TV” shop carries a book penned by Magnet, which is titled: “After Corona: Why the Globalists Will Fail and Humanity Is Waking Up”. Through the book, he charts “how the globalists have followed their path for 200 years”. He does, however, see a way out: “The European peoples can mobilise sufficient reserves of strength to fight for a free and glorious future” and “do not have to live in total servitude”. 

The broadcaster’s preference for cultivating an apocalyptic mood and propagating doomsday scenarios (alongside other conspiracy myths and secret machinations) is plain to see in the shop. A tab marked “Crisis provisions” contains emergency power generators, emergency candles and emergency radios. There are also 7-day emergency kits in the event of a blackout and umbrellas for €120 that are designed for personal protection. 

Dystopia presented as strategy

As Dr Bernhard Weidinger, an expert on right-wing extremism and a representative of the Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance, explains to Belltower.News, “the broadcaster has a major predilection for conspiracy narratives that are structurally anti-Semitic in nature”. This is why the broadcaster frequently “reports” stories of how “the globalists” are working to bring about the “Great Reset”. For example, a news broadcast from last December presented Michael Yeadon’s “six-point plan”. Yeadon is one of the key figures in the British anti-vaccine movement. The report soberly intones that the “virus expert” is certain that “corona has been staged” as part of a plan by the “globalists” to bring about a “New World Order” by means of the “Great Reset”. During the episode, the vaccination is described as being “deadly”. But that isn’t enough: the newsreader goes on to say that non-vaccinated persons are being “discriminated against as subhuman”. 

For Dr Weidinger, the TV station’s strategy is designed to stoke fear: “The conspiracy narratives broadcast by AUF1 tend to be told using particularly apocalyptic language. Time and again, the broadcaster seeks to frighten its audience – a tactic successfully used by far-right groups.” Whether the strategy of “AUF1” is paying off, however, is not clear. 

Its strong support on Telegram could point to its success, but this could also be the result of manipulation. The same goes for the “AUF1” website. While there are no view counters for its videos, viewers can react to content using emojis. Based on this metric, it would appear as though each video is attracting thousands of viewers – but there is no way to verify this. The same applies to the statement that the broadcaster is funded solely through donations from viewers.