'Fascists' in saffron robes? The rise of Sri Lanka's Buddhist ultra-nationalists

BBS general secretary Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara at a press conference in 2013.

Story highlights

  • An ultra-nationalist Buddhist group has been campaigning against Muslims in Sri Lanka
  • The Bodu Bala Sena is blamed by many for inciting religious riots that left 3 Muslims dead
  • A month on, a monk who gave an inflammatory speech before the riots has not been charged
  • Observers say it appears the group is operating with impunity, fueling the fears of minorities
Shortly before Buddhist mobs made a deadly rampage through Muslim neighborhoods near the town of Aluthgama, Sri Lanka last month, a man with cropped hair and glasses stood before expectant crowds to deliver an explosive speech.
Video footage of the rally, called following a traffic altercation between Muslim youths and a Buddhist monk in the coastal town, captures the speaker in full flight.
In a pointed reference to the security forces stationed nearby, he declares that the Sri Lankan police and army are Sinhalese, the mostly Buddhist ethnic majority that accounts for three-quarters of the island's 20 million people.
Then, his arm raised and his voice rising to a shriek, he issues an explicit threat to Muslims, using a derogatory term for the minority.
To roars of approval, he vows that if any Muslim, were to lay a hand on a Sinhalese -- let alone a monk -- that would "be the end" of all of them.
What is striking about the clip, aside from the viciousness of the rhetoric, is that the firebrand behind the microphone is dressed in the saffron robes of a Buddhist monk.