Last month Bert Ericksson, the head of the Vlaamse Militanten Orde (VMO), Belgium's largest fascist organization, paid a brief visit to Marietta, Georgia. He claims his stay was social. Others say it was business.
A special commission of the Belgian parliament hopes to uncover the truth. Within a few weeks it is expected to begin investigating financial and other links between the VMO and racist organizations in the United states.
"Cooperation among neo-fascist groups from many European countries -- especially Italy, West Germany, France, and Spain -- is on the rise," says Marc de Kock, president of the Belgian League for Human Rights. "Such contacts are difficult enough to keep from happening. That the contacts are extending across oceans is especially disturbing. Unfortunately, it is not surprising: The beliefs of the VMO and of the white supremacist and neo-fascist organizations in the US are identical."
"There is no doubt," according to Mr. de Kock, "that Ericksson's visit to the Georgia home of J. B. Stoner, the white supremacist, is just the beginning of closer cooperation between the VMO and the American fascist movement." Mr. Ericksson and three of his followers were expelled from the US, but why they were allowed in remains a mystery.
Mr. De Kock, a lawyer, concedes there is still no hard evidence to prove that US money went into VMO coffers. But sources here long familiar with the situation insist that Ericksson's trip was intended to revive the financial ties severed several years ago between the VMO and right-wing movements in the United States.
These sources claim that some US groups were financing certain Belgian organizations, including the VMO.
For their part, the hooded horsemen of the Ku Klux Klan have made no secret of their willingness to supply weapons to groups of the extreme right outside the US.
The VMO, or Flemish Militant Order, which was founded about a decade ago, claims some 500 members. But the number of staunch VMO supporters in the country, albeit unregistered, has been estimated to be at least twice that high.
Ericksson maintains that the VMO has only one aim -- preventing foreign workers from winning the right to vote. However, some Belgians doubt that the organization's interests end there. Earlier this year a left- wing weekly newspaper published what it claimed were photos of VMO soldiers training in forest encampments.
Ericksson himself has done little to help convince Belgian citizens that the VMO is no threat to public peace. It has been his habit to don military garb and make statements such as the one he issued at an Antwerp rally last month: "If blood has to flow, too bad."
Even more damaging to VMO's image has been the recent arrest of nine VMO members who were charged with carrying illegal weapons, threatening violence, and violating a 1934 law prohibiting private militias. The nine -- Ericksson among them -- will stand trial in Antwerp early next year.