Violence Soars in Germany:
Government Seeks Ban on Neo-Nazi Party
Adolf Hitler's national socialist government wasn't all bad. That's what
a lot of young Germans believe today.
A recent survey of 14- to 25-year-olds conducted
by the Forsa Institute found that one in two youth in ex-Communist eastern
Germany believe that the Nazi dictatorship had its good side, and 15 percent
of those polled think the Nazi Party in itself "was a good idea" and wouldn't
mind seeing it back in power.
Many young people in western Germany are
also smitten by the perverse allure of Hitler's murderous regime. Thirty-five
percent of those polled agree with the notion that Nazism had positive
aspects, while 40 percent maintain there are too many foreigners in Germany.
Forty-six percent of youth in eastern Germany feel a similar antipathy
Shortly after the results of this survey
were made public, German officials released another set of grim statistics,
indicating that the number of right-wing extremist offenses in Germany
had reached the highest level since the Second World War.
German authorities registered nearly 16,000
such crimes (including giving the Hitler salute and spraying Nazi graffiti)
in 2000 as compared to 10,000 incidents in 1999 Í a 60 percent increase.
Cases involving anti-foreigner violence rose by 57 percent, while anti-Semitic
attacks increased by 69 percent. Most of the suspects implicated in neo-Nazi
crimes were under 21 years old.
Neo-Nazi attacks were concentrated in economically
depressed eastern Germany, which has yet to rebound from the whiplash
transition from Communism to capitalism. Ten years after German reunification
prospects are bleak for those living in the five eastern states. In January,
Wolfgang Thierse, President of the German Parliament, painted an apocalyptic
picture of former East Germany, describing it as a region on the verge
of collapse without hope for the future. It will likely remain "a second
class country," according to Thierse, inferior to the West because of
chronic underinvestment, a demoralized population, and structural economic
In response to the upsurge of neo-Nazi violence,
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic government has vowed
to crack down on the extreme right. Local courts and police forces, which
for years have been outrageously lenient toward neo-Nazi thugs, are being
urged to get tough with the perpetrators of felonious cruelty. Public
officials have called upon ordinary Germans to stand up and show their
support for the victims of hate crimes.
Seeking to stop the spread of fascism, the
German government has initiated legal moves to ban the National Democratic
Party (known by its initials NPD), the most radical of several German
far-right political parties. Describing the NPD as the ideological seedbed
for neo-Nazi aggression, German officials accuse this party of fomenting
racist attacks throughout the country. Holocaust-denial and anti-Semitism
are the NPD's stock and trade. Its publications claim there is no evidence
that poison gas was used to kill people at Nazi concentration camps.
"The NPD damages the image of Germany,"
said Interior Minister Otto Schilly.
Founded in 1964 during an economic recession,
the NPD gained enough votes to win representation in a majority of state
assemblies in West Germany. But the party's fortunes declined as the New
Left gained momentum in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The NPD soon ran
out of steam and sputtered along at the political margins. It wasn't until
after the Cold War ended that the NPD began to mount a comeback.
The party has been on the upswing since
1996 when Udo Voigt, a young university graduate, took over as NPD fuehrer
after its previous leader was jailed for denying the Holocaust and inciting
racial hatred. Voigt dreams of establishing a new Reich that will "reunite"
Germany with its former territories in Poland. "Nazi is now a bad word,"
he explains. "It used to be a good word, short for National Socialist,
Hitler's party. I hope in ten years Nazi will be a good word again."
Because it is a registered political party
(as opposed to a club or another type of organization), the NPD has been
able to stage numerous public rallies that might otherwise be prohibited.
Last year, several hundred neo-Nazis paraded through a Turkish neighborhood
in Berlin, shouting anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic slogans on the anniversary
of Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria. They also sang the banned ultra-nationalist
verses of the German national anthem at a rally organized by the NPD,
while police stood by and watched. The NPD called the demonstration to
show its support for Jorg Haider, leader of the Austrian Freedom Party,
which had recently entered that country's national governing coalition.
Compared to Haider's suit-and-tie fascism,
the German NPD represents a much rougher brand of extremism. While NPD
candidates have recently won a few local council seats in Brandenburg
and Saxony, the party's involvement in electoral politics primarily serves
as a legal cover for grassroots neo-Nazi organizing Í with an emphasis
on direct action, street confrontations, and physical attacks against
foreigners and antifascists.
The NPD's closest U.S. ally is Dr. William
Pierce, head of the neo-Nazi National Alliance and author of the notorious
hate novel, The Turner Diaries, which the FBI has called "the blueprint
for the Oklahoma City bombing." In 1998 Pierce traveled to Germany to
attend the NPD's national convention. The leader of the NPD's youth wing,
Alexander von Webenau, subsequently visited Pierce at his remote, rural
encampment in West Virginia. While there Webenau spoke at an invitation-only
conference hosted by the National Alliance. Pierce also published an interview
with NDP chief Udo Voigt.
Most of the NPD's 9,000 members are German
youth who favor the party's brazen, in-your-face tactics and Nuremberg-like
pageantry. Festooned by flags, torches, and black shirts, NPD campaign
rallies typically resemble skinhead rock concerts crammed with rowdy youth.
"Not every skinhead is a member of the NPD," says Voigt, "but we have
maybe between 3000 and 5000 skinhead sympathizers."
If the German government succeeds in outlawing
the NPD, the party would lose its annual state subsidy worth nearly a
half million dollars. But some German analysts feel that a ban would only
paper over the problem of right-wing extremism. "Maybe a symbolic act
is necessary for Germany's reputation abroad," said Wilhelm Heitmeyer,
sociology professor at the University of Bielefeld, "but it won't have
much impact in the daily life of German society."
Critics of the proposed ban point out that
the NPD, in its current incarnation, includes numerous members who had
previously belonged to other neo-Nazi organizations that were outlawed.
Seventeen ultranationalist groups have been proscribed by the German Interior
Ministry since 1992, and to a large extent the NPD has benefited by absorbing
people from these factions.
"Every ban makes us stronger and more alive,"
boasts Christian Worch, a Hamburg-based neo-Nazi leader who joined the
NPD after his own organization, National List, was prohibited.
When I interviewed Worch in 1993, I asked
him what factors were inhibiting the growth of his movement. "We don't
have enough women activists," he stated, "If we had more women, more men
would get involved."
But that seems to be changing. Neo-Nazi
groups in Germany are attracting growing numbers of women, according to
Ulli Jentsch of the Berlin Anti-Fascist Archive and Education center.
Women currently comprise around one-third of the membership of far-right
organizations and they are often more dedicated and show more commitment
than their male counterparts. "Increasingly women are not joining just
because of their boyfriends or husbands, but from their own initiative,"
While women don't usually participate in
violent anti-foreigner attacks, they are enthusiastic campaigners for
neo-Nazi causes, even forming their own "Kammeradschaft" associations
to promote "racial purity" and National Socialism. Named after clubs formed
by Nazi war veterans, these networks provide a forum for women to meet
every week and engage in ideological training and political organizing.
Says Jentsch: "Many people think that the
women behind the far right are housewives raising children. The emergence
of neo-Nazi groups led by female skinheads, the Reenes, was the first
sign of a new departure in the scene and it has accelerated from there.
Part of the reason is that younger neo-Nazis have been growing up inside
a social movement. Every part of their life is influenced by this twisted
Nurtured by decades of denial, neo-Nazism
is deep-rooted social problem in Germany. It will take a lot more than
banning yet another organization to overcome this malaise.
Bedfellows Boost Extreme Right in Germany
Horst Mahler is not your typical attorney. A founding member of the now-defunct
Red Army Faction, he spent ten years in jail for his exploits with the
armed, left-wing extremist cadre, which terrorized Germany during the
1970s and 1980s. But last summer he switched sides and joined the neo-Nazi
National Democratic Party (NPD).
The German government recently asked the
country's highest court to ban the NPD, claiming it has ties to skinhead
gangs involved in a surge of violent attacks against foreigners and other
minorities. Mahler will represent the NPD when the Constitutional Court
considers whether to outlaw the organization.
Mahler sees no contradiction between his
past and present. "The labels left and right don't apply anymore today,"
he asserts, adding: "The NPD is against globalization. . . [It] knows
that the only power that can stand up against globalization is the nation."
A born-again nationalist, Mahler says he
is fighting for the identity of the German people and the survival of
German culture against pernicious foreign influences Í in particular,
mass immigration and the homogenizing juggernaut of global corporations.
Mahler's anti-globalist rhetoric has touched a raw nerve, particularly
among embittered Germans in the five formerly Communist eastern states,
where unemployment tops twenty percent and much of the population is demoralized.
The purported goal of the NPD, according
to a recent German intelligence report, is to "build a new Germany out
of the rubble of liberal capitalism." Brandishing slogans such as "Work
for Germans first" and "Big capital destroys jobs," the NPD has staged
"pro-worker" demonstrations in several German cities.
Last year in Berlin, the star speaker at
the NPD's May Day rally was Friedhelm Busse, age 71. Horst Mahler's new-found
political comrade roused the crowd with anti-foreigner and anti-American
vitriol that elicited loud cheers from shaven-head teenagers and twenty-somethings
who waved illegal imperial German black-and-white flags. Violence erupted
after Busse ended his pep talk with a line from an old Nazi song: "We're
marching for Hitler day and night because of the need for freedom and
A veteran neo-Nazi agitator, Busse is especially
proud of the fact that he was one of the youngest members of the Hitler
Youth during the Third Reich. His current status as an elder statesman
among hard-core neo-Nazis in Germany is all the more troubling given that
his checkered past includes a controversial stint with the U.S. Central
Back in the early 1950s, Busse joined the
Bund Deutscher Jugend (BDJ), an elite, CIA-trained paramilitary organization
composed largely of ex-Hitler Youth, Wehrmacht, and SS personnel in West
Germany. Busse's group was primed to go underground and engage in acts
of sabotage and resistance in the event of a Soviet invasion. But instead
of focusing on foreign enemies, Busse's "stay behind" unit proceeded to
draw up a death-list that included future Chancellor Willi Brandt and
other leading Social Democrats (then West Germany's main opposition party),
who were marked for liquidation in case of an ill-defined national security
The Bund's over was blown in October 1952,
when the West German press got wind that U.S. intelligence was backing
a neo-Nazi death squad. Norris Chapman, a West German-based State Department
official, acknowledged in a once-classified State Department report that
the scandal had resulted in "a serious loss of U.S. prestige."
West German "stay behind" forces quickly
regrouped with a helping hand from the CIA, which recruited thousands
of ex-Nazis and fascists to serve as Cold War espionage assets. "It was
a visceral business of using any bastard as long as he was anti-Communist.
The eagerness to enlist collaborators meant that you didn't look at their
credentials too closely," explained Harry Rostizke, ex-head of the CIA's
The key player on the West German end of
this unholy espionage alliance was General Reinhard Gehlen, who served
as Adolf Hitler's chief anti-Soviet spy. During World War II, Gehlen was
in charge of German military-intelligence operations on the eastern front.
As the war drew to a close, Gehlen sensed
that the U.S. and USSR would soon be at loggerheads. In his memoirs, he
recounts how he surrendered to the Americans and touted himself as someone
who could make a decisive contribution to the impending struggle against
the Communists. When Gehlen offered to share the vast information archive
he had accumulated on the Soviet Union, U.S. spymasters bit the bait.
With a mandate to continue spying on the
East just as he had been doing before, Gehlen reestablished his espionage
network at the behest of U.S. intelligence. Incorporated into the fledgling
Central Intelligence Agency in the late 1940s, the Gehlen "Org," as it
was called, became the CIA's main eyes and ears in Central Europe Í an
arrangement that many CIA officials would later regret.
Despite his promise not to recruit unrepentant
Nazis, Gehlen rolled out the welcome mat for thousands of Gestapo, Wehrmacht,
and SS veterans. Some of the worst war criminals imaginable - including
cold-blooded bureaucrats who oversaw the administrative apparatus of the
Holocaust - found employment in the Gehlen Org, according to author Christopher
Simpson. Simpson is a member of the Nazi War Criminal Records Interagency
Working Group, which was established by President Clinton to review government
documents related to Nazi activity.
While dispensing spy data to his avid American
patrons, Gehlen operatives helped thousands of fascist fugitives escape
to safe havens abroad. Third Reich expatriates subsequently served as
"security advisors" to repressive regimes in Latin America and the Middle
East. Ironically, some of Gehlen's recruits would later play leading roles
in neofascist groups around the world that despised the United States
and the NATO alliance.
Friedhelm Busse went on to direct several
ultra-right-wing groups in Germany, while another Gehlen protügü, Gerhard
Frey, also emerged as a mover-and-shaker in the post-Cold War neo-Nazi
scene. A wealthy publisher, Frey currently bankrolls and runs the Deutsche
Volksunion (DVU), which U.S. Army intelligence described as "a neo-Nazi
party." During the late 1990s, the DVU scored double-digit vote totals
in state elections in economically depressed eastern Germany
Even before he formed the DVU in 1971 with
the professed objective to "save Germany from Communism," Frey admits
that he received behind-the-scenes support from General Gehlen, Bonn's
powerful spy chief. But when the Cold War ended, the DVU fuehrer abruptly
shifted gears and demanded that Germany leave NATO. Frey's newspapers
started to run inflammatory articles that denounced the United States
and praised Russia as a more suitable partner for reunified Germany. Frey
also joined the chorus of neofascist leaders who backed Saddam Hussein
and condemned the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 1991.
In American spy parlance, it's called "blowback"
Í the unintended consequences of covert activity kept secret from the
U.S. public. The covert recruitment of a Nazi spy network to wage a shadow
war against the Soviet Union was the CIA's "original sin" and it ultimately
backfired against the United States.
An unforeseen consequence of the CIA's
ghoulish tryst with the Org is evident today in a resurgent neofascist
movement in Europe that can trace its ideological lineage back to Hitler's
Reich through Gehlen operatives who served U.S. intelligence. Moreover,
by subsidizing a top Nazi spymaster and enlisting badly-comprised war
criminals, the CIA laid itself open to manipulation by a foreign intelligence
service that was riddled with Soviet agents.
"One of the biggest mistakes the United
States ever made in intelligence was taking on Gehlen," a U.S. intelligence
official later admitted. With that fateful sub rosa embrace, the stage
was set for Washington's tolerance of human rights abuses and other dubious
acts in the name of anti-Communism.